Canada and Lima Group allies meet in Ottawa to discuss crisis in Venezuela

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OTTAWA — Canada and its Lima Group allies are meeting in Ottawa on Monday to talk about the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as European countries began throwing their support behind the country’s interim leader.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is hosting the meeting that comes amid massive protests in Venezuela aimed at pressing the country’s socialist leader, Nicolas Maduro, to vacate the presidency.

Canada and its Latin American allies in the Lima Group, along with the United States already back Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader. Now European countries have come on board, with Spain, Germany, France, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Lithuania calling for free and fair elections as soon as possible.

Canada has already contributed $2.2 million for the humanitarian crisis that’s forced some three million Venezuelans from their homes, sending ripples across the region, particularly in neighbouring Brazil and Colombia which are now faced with a refugee crisis.

The gathering of more than a dozen of Canada’s Western Hemisphere allies is meant to find new ways to support Venezuela’s opposition and ease the refugee crisis. But sources say Canada won’t be adding to the humanitarian fund because Maduro won’t allow proper humanitarian access into the country.

The Prime Minister’s Office says Justin Trudeau has spoken with Guaido about the need for countries to send a clear message about “the illegitimacy of the Maduro regime” and to ensure that Venezuela has free and fair presidential elections.

The statement adds that Trudeau “commended Juan Guaido for his courage and leadership in helping to return democracy to Venezuela and offered Canada’s continued support.”

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted out his support today saying France recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s “president in charge” and said “Venezuelans have the right to express themselves freely and democratically.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Guaido is now Venezuela’s “legitimate interim president.”

The European support comes after their Maduro did not meet their Sunday night deadline to call a new presidential election.

Maduro has remained defiant as the swells of protest have grown inside and outside of Venezuela.

On Saturday, an air force general defected to the opposition and reportedly fled to neighbouring Colombia, and posted a video on YouTube declaring that his country’s transition to democracy was “imminent.”

“As a country that has an open arms policy towards Venezuelans, we have received many important figures from the democratic opposition,” said Federico Hoyos, Colombia’s ambassador to Canada

Maduro has blamed the United States for manufacturing a military coup against his country. The U.S. is not a Lima Group member, but its denunciations of Maduro and its recognition of Guaido are viewed as being in lockstep with the coalition meeting in Ottawa, according to several government sources.

Guaido is “now the only legitimate representative of the Venezuelan state. Ex-president Maduro does not have a mandate any more,” said Denis Fontes de Souza Pinto, Brazil’s ambassador to Canada.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press