Since being elected in 2015, the Liberal government has shown little respect for the democratic will and self-determination of Latin American countries. Working in lockstep with the Trump administration, Canada has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, delegitimized free and fair elections in Bolivia, and turned a blind eye to coup attempts, all in an effort to weaken the region’s socialist movements and their related neo-developmentalist objectives.
These efforts have mostly failed. While they did contribute to the overthrow of the Evo Morales-led MAS government in Bolivia in 2019—replacing it with a theocratic right-wing regime that was handily defeated less than a year later—this ‘America First’ posture continues to define Canadian foreign policy in the region.
For those on the left, it is disappointing that Canada is keeping up the ruse. Yesterday, Canada’s Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced Canada would not recognize the results of the December 6 National Assembly elections in Venezuela, stating that “free and fair elections can only occur when democratic rights are respected.”
Citing no evidence of electoral fraud, Champagne went on to say, “We continue to call for a peaceful democratic transition.”
Indeed, Canada has been making this call for quite some time, with little proof, and to minimal effect.
Following the 2018 Venezuelan elections (in which incumbent President Nicolás Maduro won convincingly), an obscure opposition leader named Juan Guaidó, along with his right-wing allies, were propped up as the heir apparent to the democracy Maduro allegedly stole. Several Western governments, most prominently the United States and Canada, denounced the 2018 elections and called for Guaidó’s installation as president.
All this transpired despite the fact that Venezuela’s elections were declared fair by many international organizations, and that Guaidó is deeply unpopular among the Venezuelan people.
The regime change aspirations of former US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Canada’s then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland failed to materialize. Months passed without the overthrow of the existing regime, despite the imposition of illegal sanctions against Venezuela which aimed to destabilize the Maduro government. According to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, these punitive measures resulted in more than 40,000 deaths by April 2019. Plans for all-out war were publicly mooted and then scrapped, as early suggestions of a ground invasion became politically untenable.
With options running out, and sanctions failing, the nail in Guaidó’s coffin appeared to come when, in May 2020, he helped to orchestrate a farcical rebrand of the Bay of Pigs in which a group of heavily-armed Venezuelan mercenaries, along with two former American Green Berets tried to enter Venezuela to overthrow Maduro. This attempted coup, codenamed Operation Gideon, failed miserably. Many of the perpetrators were killed in the botched raid, while most others were detained by government authorities.
Failing to gain the support of the Venezuelan military and the population at large, Guaidó’s backers—principally the US State Department and its allies, including Canada—were forced to go back to the drawing board. Their new strategy seems to take its cues from Donald Trump’s playbook: if you think your preferred candidate might lose an election, why accept the vote as legitimate at all?
Guaidó and his party made the decision to boycott the election, refusing to run candidates. Yet despite the boycott, Maduro went ahead with his constitutionally mandated responsibility to hold an election on December 6, which his party appears to have won convincingly.
While US-backed organizations including the Organization of American States, the Lima Group, and other multilateral bodies have denounced the electoral process, the vote proceeded despite the self-imposed non-participation of right-wing parties.
Allaying concerns around voting fairness, a host of multilateral bodies, including the United Nations, CARICOM and the African Union were invited by the government to oversee the election as observers. The European Union, however, turned down an invitation to send observers to the country’s parliamentary elections, claiming a lack of time to organize the mission.
This brings us to yesterday’s tweet by Champagne:
Canada will not recognize the results of the December 6 electoral process in #Venezuela. We stand with the people of Venezuela in their fight to restore #democracy.— François-Philippe Champagne (FPC) (@FP_Champagne) December 7, 2020
My statement: pic.twitter.com/zhAZLm7gC0
The Trudeau government’s official stance, as articulated by public facing statements such as the one released by Champagne’s office, signals Canada’s Latin America policy remains almost identical to that of the US State Department—a status quo that insists on demonizing the Maduro government and supporting any and all efforts to depose it.
Unfortunately, this position echoes a rather distasteful posture taken by the Trump administration: elections are only fair if our side wins. If not, they’re rigged.
Calvin Simpson is a Victoria-based Canadian-American dual citizen and former organizer for Bernie 2020. He serves on the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of Canada and studies Political Science at the University of Victoria.