House of Commons Debates
Deteriorating Political Situation in Venezuela
Borys Wrzesnewskyj, M.P. (Etobicoke Centre)
Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Lib): Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member for Thornhill has distinguished himself in his human rights advocacy, and I would like to thank him for this important motion. I welcome the opportunity this debate affords to enhance our government’s robust response to the crisis of democracy and human rights in Venezuela.
Much has transpired in Venezuela since we began this debate last spring, none of it encouraging. We support all the recommendations in Motion No. 128.
Canada’s foreign policy seeks to support freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Latin America has travelled a difficult path and has paid a heavy price on its journey toward respect for human rights and democracy. These values are being gravely violated in Venezuela. Canadians will not stand by silently as the Government of Venezuela strips its people of their fundamental democratic rights.
Last week’s announcement of sanctions against the Maduro regime underscored our unwavering commitment to defending democracy and human rights in Venezuela. We have made it a foreign policy priority to maintain pressure on the Maduro government to restore democratic order, to respect human rights and the rule of law, to release all political prisoners, and to confront the self-inflicted humanitarian crisis.
Our government has repeatedly issued strong statements and continues to raise the issue of Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship, with our hemisphere’s counterparts working toward consensus on concerted actions. In addition to spearheading efforts multilaterally and within the Organization of American States, Canada is a very active participant in the Lima Group, a group of like-minded countries committed to working for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. In Lima this August, Canada joined 11 countries of our hemisphere in signing on to the Lima Declaration, rejecting the Venezuelan government’s recent slide toward dictatorship and committing the group to concrete actions.
At the group’s second meeting last week, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was pleased to join her regional counterparts in reaffirming our commitment to remaining actively engaged on this crisis. Canada is playing a leading role within the hemisphere to maintain pressure on the Maduro government. We are pleased to confirm that Canada will be hosting the third meeting of the Lima Group in October.
We applaud the appointment of Canadian professor, and former colleague, Irwin Cotler to an independent international panel of experts convened by the OAS to examine evidence of possible crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela. If warranted, it will submit its findings to the International Criminal Court. We simply cannot afford to let international attention to this crisis wane.
Let me address the current situation. When Venezuelans took to the streets in April, following an attempt by Venezuela’s Supreme Court to take over the powers of the democratically elected national assembly, they demonstrated their collective will to defend their democratic rights. During four months of protest, more than 5,000 Venezuelans were arbitrarily detained, hundreds of civilians were tried before military courts, and more than 120 Venezuelans were killed. At least 650 political prisoners are currently believed to be incarcerated.
A report released last month by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights contains disturbing findings, including the systematic use of excessive force, the arbitrary detention and ill treatment of demonstrators, and the targeting of journalists.
Disturbingly, the Government of Venezuela’s response to the courage of protestors was to further diminish their rights. On July 30, the political crisis in Venezuela reached a tipping point with the rigged election of a national constituent assembly, or ANC, to rewrite the country’s constitution. This initiative proceeded without the matter being put to a referendum, as required by the Venezuelan constitution. In fact, prior to the ANC election, the opposition-led national assembly held an unofficial referendum in which 98% of more than seven million Venezuelans were against the creation of the ANC. In response to this vote, Canada and many countries issued a statement urging the Venezuelan government to respect the will of the people and to restore constitutional order.
Regrettably, these calls were ignored and the ANC’s election proceeded amidst allegations of vote rigging and a boycott by the political opposition. The then attorney general, Luisa Ortega, committed to opening an investigation, but she was promptly dismissed and replaced by the newly created ANC. The company that supplied the voting machines had to flee the country after discovering that the government had tampered with the results.
The mass protests in Venezuela have quieted as the government’s repression and persecution of opponents is ongoing with the help of the ANC’s expansive control over all government institutions.
Along with rewriting the country’s constitution, the body has formally stripped the democratically elected national assembly of its core lawmaking functions. It has also established an Orwellian-sounding truth commission to investigate those who were involved in the civil protects and to vet those who intend to run in gubernatorial elections slated to take place on October 15. Against this backdrop of diminished democratic freedom, rates of violent crime remain some of the highest in the world, and shortages of food and medicine are endemic.
We firmly believe that the long-term resolution to the current Venezuelan crisis must be rooted in respect for human rights and dialogue, and Canada stands ready to facilitate and support any negotiation process that is genuinely focused on a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Faced with mounting international pressure, in mid-September, the Venezuelan government agreed to take part in a new process launched by the Dominican Republic to develop a framework for negotiations with the opposition. Canada hopes these efforts will bear fruit but reaffirms that a serious commitment by the Venezuelan government and concessions are required for the talks to be meaningful. Canada has been one of the leading voices in addressing this crisis, and we will continue to exercise a leadership role until a peaceful resolution is negotiated.
Despite our efforts and those of the international community, the Maduro regime continues to consolidate its authoritarian rule. The prospects for democratic restoration appear low. That is why our government has announced, this past Friday, September 22, strong targeted sanctions against 40 leading members of the Maduro regime who have played a key role in undermining the security, stability, and integrity of democratic institutions in Venezuela. These sanctions send a clear message that anti-democratic behaviour has consequences and those involved will be personally sanctioned. We will maintain pressure on the government of Venezuela to restore constitutional order.
We are also continuing to support those who defend human rights in Venezuela, including opposition leader and political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez and his wife Lilian Tintori, who has mounted an international campaign to defend the rights of Venezuelans. Canada’s Prime Minister, Canadian opposition leaders, and other parliamentarians met with Ms. Tintori in Ottawa on May 16, when we reaffirmed our collective resolve.
The Government of Canada is focused on creating space for civil society to promote human rights and democratic governance, and our embassy in Caracas is very active on this front. While Canada’s efforts have been substantial, we understand that a coordinated international approach increases their impact. As mentioned, we are committed to working with the Lima Group to take strong decisive actions.
At the Organization of American States, Canada is recognized as an active and constructive participant. The Minister of Foreign Affairs welcomed the opportunity to take part in a special meeting of foreign ministers in May to consider the situation in Venezuela and to further advance dialogue, at the OAS general assembly held in Mexico from June 19 to 21.
In conclusion, I believe it is clear that Canada’s actions exemplify our shared commitment to protecting and promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. A secure and prosperous future for Venezuelans is important not only for Venezuela and its citizens but for the entire hemisphere. The Government of Canada will remain fully engaged on this important issue.
© 2018 Borys Wrzesnewskyj. All rights reserved.