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Ottawa’s ties with far-right Colombian president undermines human rights rhetoric on Venezuela

Canadian PoliticsLatin America and the Caribbean

Justin Trudeau speaks with Colombian President Iván Duque at the United Nations, Tuesday, September 25, 2018. Photo from the Twitter account of Justin Trudeau.

One week ago, a former Canadian soldier instigated a harebrained bid to kidnap or kill Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Launched from Colombia, the plot failed spectacularly with most of the men captured or killed.

Still, the leader of the invasion, Jordan Goudreau, a veteran of the Canadian military and US special forces, has been remarkably forthright about the involvement of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó. A leaked contract between Guaidó’s representative in Florida and Goudreau’s private security firm Silvercorp USA describes plans for a multi-month occupation force, which after ousting Maduro would “convert to a National Asset Unit that will act under the direction of the [Guaidó] Administration to counter threats to government stability, terror threats and work closely” with other armed forces. Apparently, Goudreau was hoping for a big payday from Venezuela’s opposition. He also had his eyes on the $15 million bounty Washington put up in March for Maduro’s capture as well as tens of millions dollars for other members of the government.

Even though the plot failed, Ottawa has refused to directly criticize the invasion launched from Colombia. The Canadian Armed Forces has also refused to release information regarding Goudreau’s time in the army reserves. What’s more, since the plot began, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has reached out to regional opponents of Maduro and reasserted Ottawa’s backing for Guaidó. The prime minister also discussed Venezuela with his Colombian counterpart.

The Trudeau government’s reaction to recent events suggest the global pandemic has not deterred them from brazenly seeking—even through surreptitious back channels—to overthrow Venezuela’s government. In a bid to usher regime change, Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas over the last couple of years by imposing illegal sanctions, taking Venezuela to the International Criminal Court, financing an often unsavoury opposition and declaring Guaidó as the legitimate president.

The day after the first phase of the invasion was foiled foreign minister Champagne spoke to his Colombian, Peruvian and Brazilian counterparts concerning the “Venezuela crisis and the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans.” Four days later Champagne tweeted, “great call with Venezuela Interim President Juan Guaidó. Canada will always stand with the people of Venezuela in their desire to restore democracy and human rights in their country.”

On Monday, May 11, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke with Colombian President Iván Duque. According to the official readout, they “discussed the crisis in Venezuela and its humanitarian impact in the region which is heightened by the pandemic. They underscored the need for continued close collaboration and a concerted international effort to address this challenging situation.” Over the past 18 months, Trudeau has repeatedly discussed Venezuela with a Colombian president who has offered up his country to armed opponents of Maduro.

The Trudeau government has been chummy with Duque more generally. After he won a close election marred by fraud allegations, then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland congratulated Duque and said, “Canada and Colombia share a commitment to democracy and human rights.” In August 2018 Trudeau tweeted, “Today, Colombia’s new President, Ivan Duque, took office and joins Swedish PM, Norway PM, Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sánchez, and others with a gender-equal cabinet. Iván, I look forward to working with you and your entire team.” A month later he added, “Thanks to President Ivan Duque for a great first meeting at UNGA this afternoon, focused on growing our economies, addressing the crisis in Venezuela, and strengthening the friendship between Canada & Colombia.”

Duque is a member of Colombia’s far-right; “le champion du retour de la droite dure en Colombie”, according to a Le Soleil headline. The Colombian president has undercut the peace accord the previous government signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end the country’s 50-year civil war, which left some 220,000 dead. Duque’s policies have also increased violence towards the ex-rebels and social activists. In fact, 77 former FARC members were killed in 2019. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that at least 107 mostly Indigenous Colombian rights defenders were killed in the same year.

Through the first half of 2020 the pace at which social leaders and demobilized FARC members have been killed has only increased. According to the UN observer mission in Colombia, 24 demobilized guerrillas have already been assassinated and a recent Patriotic March report on the “The other pandemic lived in Colombia” details 95 social leaders, human rights defenders and former guerrillas killed in the first four months of the year.

Trudeau’s alliance with Duque is difficult to align with his government’s stated concern for and rhetoric on human rights in Venezuela.

The same can be said for Ottawa’s failure to condemn the recent invasion attempt. The Trudeau government should be questioned on whether it was involved or had foreknowledge of the recent plot to invade Venezuela.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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