Canada politicizes pandemic to seek intervention in Venezuela
Consistent with an interventionist agenda, the Canadian government and other Lima Group member nations are turning to COVID-19 to single out Venezuela, claiming the socialist nation is undergoing a pandemic-related "crisis.” Yet, according to official figures, Venezuela is not only doing well but leading the fight against the novel coronavirus.
According to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Venezuela's mortality rate due to covid is among the lowest in the hemisphere. As of May 13, the ECDC reported 10 deaths and 423 cases in total.
Yet, in a May 4 tweet tagging counterparts from Peru, Colombia and Brazil, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the group had discussed Venezuela's alleged "crisis" during the pandemic.
"We discussed the covid-19 pandemic, the impact on the Americas, notably the Venezuela crisis and the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans," Champagne wrote.
The tweet also tagged Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan National Assembly leader who in January of 2019 arbitrarily proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela, undermining that country's 2018 legitimate presidential election results and misinterpreting its constitution to do so. Canada had worked for months behind the scenes to help Guaido, and it is among the 60 or so nations that publicly support him.
While the US and Canada have tried to use Venezuela’s economic hardships as a pretext to infiltrate the country and install Guaido under the auspices of providing humanitarian aid, it is important to note that their unilateral sanctions have largely contributed to those hardships in the first place.
Lack of access to food, medicines and other necessities as a result of these unilateral sanctions have caused the deaths of “hundreds if not thousands of Venezuelans,” former United Nations Special Rapporteur to Venezuela Alfred de Zayas told the Media Co-op in a previous interview. In the opinion of the eminent human rights and international law expert, Canada should be brought up against the International Criminal Court on charges of “crimes against humanity.”
- Related: Canada: The Empire's Shadowy Cousin
- Related: Interview with Former UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas
Nevertheless, it appears Canada is once again politicizing the pandemic by claiming that Venezuela is undergoing a crisis.
But that makes no sense, according to the ECDC's data.
The numbers, in fact, show that it's the Lima Group nations that require immediate attention as they have the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths caused by the virus. Brazil, led by extreme right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has openly mocked and derided the seriousness of the pandemic, has reported 12,400 deaths; Mexico, 3,926; and Ecuador, also a Lima Group supporter, 2,237. Canada’s total is at 5,169, and the US reports 82,387.
The Media Co-op's requests for comment from Global Affairs Canada have gone unanswered
A tool found on Our World in Data's website can map this information and create a graph that visualizes the stark contrast between Lima Group nations stacked against Venezuela. The socialist Caribbean nation is clearly doing much better.
Some have criticized the Venezuelan government’s reliance on rapid blood antibody test kits as opposed to the more common nasal swab test as a way to keep the numbers down. If results from the former return positive, a swab test will be performed in the country’s only testing facility located in Caracas, and only then will the case be officially counted, Reuters and CTV news reported. According to the Reuters report, this system has created a backlog “that has kept Venezuela’s coronavirus case count artificially low.”
But as US-Venezuela relations analyst Leonardo Flores argues in a Monthly Review article, the country’s successful containment is based on a combination of international solidarity, the Venezuelan government’s quick containment actions taken from the outset, a resilient population and, perhaps most importantly, the mass organizing and mobilization of people and resources through Venezeuela’s many popular socialist communes.
In fact, on May 1, Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announced that UN representatives had asked permission to study and replicate their suppression model.
“They talk about it being a strategy of suppression -- that’s what it’s called epidemiologically," Rodriguez said in Spanish following a roundtable discussion with the representatives at the Miraflores Palace through the state’s official broadcaster VenezuelaTV (VTV).
"And they are asking for authorization to study this model in the hopes of being able to replicate it in other countries."
Critics of Canada's interventionist foreign policies are calling out the government for its apparent double standards.
Yves Engler is a political analyst and Canadian foreign policy expert who has written extensively on Canada's interventionist policies in South America, including Venezuela. According to him, this type of "rhetoric" is common, and it is meant to "market" the idea that Venezuela must be saved in order to justify an intervention.
"Global Affairs [Canada] is fully aware...of the [UN] Secretary-General saying there should be a pause [of sanctions] during the pandemic," he told the Media Co-op in a phone interview.
"They understand that there’s some pushback globally and within Canada [regarding support of Guaido]... The federal government knows they need to frame what they’re doing in trying to oust [President Nicolas] Maduro as somehow a way to deal with the pandemic.”
On March 24, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres penned a letter to the G-20 nations, which includes Canada. He encouraged them to waive "sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support," Foreign Policy reports. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also called for “sectoral sanctions [to be] eased or suspended,” saying that “in a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”
Echoing that call to peace is an open letter signed by hundreds of prominent Canadians that was recently sent to Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking to lift sanctions on nations, including Venezuela, during the pandemic as a genuine way to provide aid. Another letter signed by the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, and The United Church of Canada was also sent to Champagne asking the same thing.
But the government has shown no sign of backing off.
In fact, it has explicitly doubled down on its support for Guaido and the removal of Maduro, despite evidence linking Guaido to the failed military incursion.
A Clear Endorsement
Champagne's May 4 tweet came the same day Venezuelan authorities neutralized a second insurrectionist coup attempt in which two US citizens/mercenaries were caught.
Since then, information has come to light proving that Guaido had been aware of those plans and had, in fact, signed an agreement with Silvercorp USA, the private security firm that carried out the botched operation. Guaido has denied involvement despite his own former political strategist, Juan José Rendón, publicly stating they had signed a "preliminary agreement."
On May 11, Rendon tweeted his resignation letter.
On May 8, after Guaido's involvement had been publicized by mainstream media, including the Associated Press and the Washington Post, Champagne reasserted support for Guaido – whose spotlight appears to have fizzled over the last year.
"Great call with #Venezuela interim president @jguaido," he tweeted. "Canada will always stand with the people of Venezuela in their desire to restore democracy and human rights in their country."
Guaido had first met with Canadian-born Jordan Goudreau, the founder of Silvercorp USA, in February of 2019, during the so-called Venezuelan Aid Live Concert. The event was organized by opposition members and billionaire Richard Branson with the excuse of providing humanitarian aid to Venezuela. There, while working security, Goudreau had first heard the opposition's desires to overthrow Maduro and decided to cash in.
While the show was supposed to raise $100M for humanitarian aid, according to its organizers, by April 22 of that year, two months after, only $2.5M had been raised, according to official figures on the event's website.
But according to Venezuelan journalist Orlando Avendano, representatives from Guaido’s team in Colombia who were in charge of taking care of Venezuelan army deserters and of coordinating food donations, embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in “hotels,” “clubs” and “expensive clothes.”
“[Rossana] Barrera [a member of the opposition Voluntad Popular Party] appointed by Guaido, designed a scheme to embezzle funds meant to be for humanitarian aid and to feed soldiers in Cucuta,” Avendano wrote in Spanish, adding that up to 60 percent of donated food had gone to waste as a result.
During an audit in late May of last year, Avendano reports, Barrera produced receipts adding up to $100,000, though according to his unnamed Colombian intelligence source, the real figure was “formidably” higher.
Quoting that same unnamed source, Avendano revealed that “[opposition member] Leopoldo Lopez and Juan Guaido were aware of everything Rossana Barrera and Kevin Rojas [another Guaido representative] were doing.”
It should be noted that Avendano’s publication, PanAm, is a Miami-based news outlet that has extensively criticized late Venezuelan Commander and President Hugo Chavez as well as Maduro. Avendano’s book, in fact, translates as: “Days of Submission: how Venezuela’s democratic system lost to Fidel.”
It was during that event that Goudreau met prominent opposition figures, including Cliver Alcala, with whom he began hatching plans to train some 300 Venezeulan deserters in Colombia. Alcala, a former Major under the presidency of Chavez, would go on to be indicted in drug trafficking charges, and is now suspected of cooperating with the US government.
Critics of the event, including Engler, the Venezuelan government and countless other academics, celebrities and world leaders, have always held that the concert was a sham meant to create conditions that would justify a military intervention or infiltration into the country.
Governments such as Canada's that are hostile to Maduro and interested in controlling Venezuela's oil have tried to delegitimize these fears as conspiracy theories.
But the government's ongoing unwavering support for Guaido despite his now-proven involvement in the failed attacks, says Engler, suggests Canada either knew of the plot or, at the very least, condoned it. What's certain, he says, is that Champagne's tweets further prove that Canada is an imperialist nation that supports unconstitutional regime-changing operations, which should dispel any notions of a conspiracy.
"If this doesn't prove to people that there is an international campaign with important segments of the Venezuelan opposition to get rid of the government by any means necessary, I don't know what can prove it," he said.
Canada has openly endorsed all of the concerted attacks Guaido and the Venezuelan opposition have led against Maduro since last year.
Before the May 3 foiled military incursion, one of the most egregious acts of violence by the opposition was the April 30, 2019 botched uprising. Though a few army defectors joined Guaido's desperate call to violence, the government quickly restored order.
Official records prove Canada openly supported that uprising.
That very same day, in fact, Canada released an official statement via the Lima Group, which can be found on the Global Affairs Canada website. In it, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland once again called “on the National Armed Forces of Venezuela to demonstrate their loyalty to... Juan Guaidó” and to “cease to serve” Maduro’s government.
The statement also "rejected the qualification" of that failed coup d'état "as a coup d'état."
Engler sees Champagne’s recent tweets as a continuation of that support.
"That's essentially the same kind of statement [from] Champagne...in all his recent tweets," he said. "It's basically saying, 'No matter what violent, unconstitutional cause that you pursue, we back you.' So it's a very clear endorsement."
Since the failed military putsch in spring 2019, Guaido and other Florida-based leaders of the opposition have been working around the clock to grow their support among US business and military circles.
Enter Canadian-born Jordan Goudreau, who, as the Globe and Mail reports, served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the ‘90s before joining the US Special Forces.
US Investors support Venezuelan coup
According to Drew White, Goudreau's former Special Forces colleague and former Chief Operating Officer at Silvercorp USA, Colorado-based investors had shown interest in Goudreau’s plans to secure Venezuelan oil fields after overthrowing the government.
In an interview White gave to the Military Times, he said the investors had heard Goudreau's $700M-pitch to invade Venezuela under the auspices of mobilizing “essential assets and resources to transport humanitarian aid" – at least that's what documents Goudreau had presented as proof of US government backing said.
However, White told the magazine, investors pulled out when they began doubting the veracity of the documents and that Goudreau actually had government support. Eventually, when Goudreau wasn’t able to produce his government contacts, “White said he and the other investors had no interest."
The US government has denied involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told reporters the government had no "direct involvement," while President Trump has repeatedly claimed total ignorance.
While there is no official evidence that Canada's government or military officials knew of the operation, Engler says that given its interventionist history, it is not out of the question.
“I wouldn’t exclude that,” he said, recognizing that there is no concrete proof for it.
“It would be hard to imagine that the Canadian military hasn’t been following this issue closely, [and] also...coordinating with the American military on Venezuela. They almost certainly have been coordinating.”
Global Affairs Canada has ignored multiple requests for comments through email and Twitter.
Their only response so far came earlier this month in an email, stating: “Canada is aware of reports of developments in Venezuela and is following the situation closely,” and that "Canada is committed to working with its partners around the world to ensure a peaceful transition."
Orlando Viera-Blanco, described on Twitter as "Venezuela's Ambassador to Canada" under Guaido's command, has not responded to requests for comment either. Viera-Blanco has officially been accredited by Canada’s government, though, since Guaido has no official power, Viera-Blanco and his one-member staff do not provide consular services.
That’s left to Luis Acuna, described as Maduro’s top diplomat, and the other three diplomats staffing the embassy in Ottawa, according to a Globe and Mail article. They provide services including passport, birth certificates and visas processing for Venezuelans
Otttawa supports Venezuelan insurrectionists
In 2019, Canada held a series of meetings with Guaido and with other Lima Group members to strategize ways to remove Maduro.
From one of those meetings with the Lima Group in Ottawa came the so-called Ottawa Declaration.
Among other things, the document publicly calls for Venezuela's army to defect -- thereby violating their pledge and duty to the democratically elected government and the constitution -- and join Guaido's illegitimately assumed command.
Among the 30-plus people so far arrested in connection with the failed military incursion of May 3 and 4 are deserter Venezuelan army officials and generals who had been training with Goudreau in Colombia.
On May 11, Venezuela's People’s Power Minister for Foreign Relations, Jorge Arreaza, announced the government would be taking Colombia's president to the ICC for allowing mercenaries to train inside its borders.
"So that they assume before the world and before their people the responsibilities of attacking a neighboring and brother country," Arriaza said, according to a government press release.
The minister has also “questioned the inaction of the Colombian government to investigate the matter” of the mercenaries who had been training in Colombia during last year’s Venezuela Aid Live concert with the “intention of forcing the entry of the alleged ‘humanitarian aid.’”
While it won’t be taken to the ICC any time soon, Canada’s politicization of a global pandemic and bastardization of humanitarian aid to justify political intervention in a sovereign nation should be of concern to every individual that seeks peace and respects sovereignty.