In Multipolarity

Commentary by Jim Hodgson and Steve Stewart, published on, May 15, 2017

“The Venezuelan people are again dying in the streets as they battle an on-going coup d’état being carried out by a group of politicians who oppose our government, and who since April 19, have been carrying out acts of violence, killing people and destroying our national patrimony, just as they did in 2002 and 2014.”

These are the words of Bishop Elida Quevedo of the Evangelical Pentecostal Union of Venezuela (UEPV), but hers is not a story that you will see in major media. Instead, facts are distorted to make it appear that it is government forces who repress a “pro-democracy” movement. Bishop Quevedo goes on to describe the April 20 attack by anti-government activists on a maternal and child hospital, and sniper shootings of pro-government demonstrators and security forces.

As a coalition of Canadian civil society organizations long engaged in solidarity, social justice and development work in the Americas, we call for a more even-handed approach to issues in Venezuela than that shown recently by Canada and several other members of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Since early April, opponents of the government of President Nicolás Maduro have participated in demonstrations — some of them peaceful, but many that have included acts of vandalism, arson, and attacks on security forces. Protests began after the Supreme Court suspended some powers of the opposition-dominated National Assembly after it refused to comply with court rulings on electoral corruption and foreign investment. Even though the court decision was almost immediately rescinded, protests continued.

Since then, as many as 37 people have been killed, but government forces are not responsible for the majority of these deaths. In cases where public security forces have been linked to violence, investigations are carried out and in some cases, charges filed. The dead include trade union leader Esmin Ramírez, killed after being kidnapped April 23 in the southeastern state of Bolívar, and Jacqueline Ortega, an organizer of an alternative food distribution program in greater Caracas.

Clearly, the situation in Venezuela is marked by polarization. But instead of building bridges to enable dialogue between the government and sectors of the opposition that reject violence, the government of Canada and the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights have echoed the voice of the OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro, and taken up the cause of the hardline opposition.

On March 28, Almagro had pressed the OAS permanent council to expel Venezuela from the organization. When it was evident he could not rally a majority of members to apply the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela, the session ended without a vote.

But on April 3, without the presence of either Bolivia (president of the OAS Permanent Council) or Haiti (the vice-president), just 15 of the 35 members (including Canada) approved a resolution “by consensus” — despite opposition from four other members — declared an “alteration of the constitutional order” in Venezuela and resolved to “urge action by the Venezuelan government to safeguard the separation and independence of powers.”

On April 28, Venezuela served notice that it would begin a two-year process to withdraw from the OAS. [News reports below.] With regard to Venezuela, the OAS has consistently failed to fulfil its role as a space for multilateral dialogue to resolve conflicts.

In challenging Venezuela’s democracy, Canada has aligned itself with the governments of Colombia, Mexico and Honduras — all of which face serious human rights issues themselves — plus several others, including Brazil which, after the removal last year of the democratically-elected president, is also facing waves of popular protest.

The government of Canada should make clear its support for constitutional government, electoral democracy and the rule of law in Venezuela. It could support a mediation initiative led by former heads of government from Panama, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Spain. This initiative proposed last year by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and has sparked the interest of Pope Francis.

Canada should condemn foreign intervention in Venezuela’s internal affairs via the funding and training of groups and individuals seeking regime change through violence or other unconstitutional means, and support dialogue as the only appropriate means of achieving peace and reconciliation in Venezuela.

Jim Hodgson is a member of Common Frontiers, a Canadian civil society coalition on trade justice issues. Steve Stewart is executive director of CoDevelopment Canada, a Vancouver-based international development agency. A shorter version of this commentary was published in the Hill Times on May 10 under the title ‘In Venezuela, Canada should support democracy, not just condemn the government’.

Note by New Cold
An alternative view to the above commentary was published in Canada’s Globe and Mail national daily on May 15, 2017 under the title ‘Canada can help save Venezuela’s democracy‘. It calls for Canadian intervention to help unseat Venezuela’s elected president and was authored by Lilian Tintori. She is the wife of a right-wing activist in Venezuela who was convicted to 14 years in prison for his role in violent protests in 2014 that saw 43 people killed. The Globe and Mail describes Tintori as “a Caracas-based human-rights activist and wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.”For background, see:

* Ecuador denies entry to Venezuela opposition figure Lilian Tintori, visiting to campaign for right-wing activist husband Leopoldo Lopez, Telesur, March 16, 2017, and
The making of Leopoldo López, by Roberto Lovato, Foreign Policy Magazine, July 27, 2015

Canada’s state-run broadcaster, the CBC, has for weeks been beating the drums for ‘regime change’ in Venezuela in its radio and television news reporting. Meanwhile, an April 27, 2017 statement by the Canadian government calls on the Venezuela government to “restore constitutional order and respect for the Venezuelan people’s democratic rights — as enshrined in the charter of the OAS [Organization of American States].”

The Canadian statement continues, “The intention to withdraw from the OAS further marginalizes Venezuela within the Americas at a time when freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law must be protected for the Venezuelan people.” The statement was issued on the day that Venezuela announced its decision to withdraw from the U.S.-controlled OAS. See below for weblinks to news reports on that decision.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in January 1962. The expulsion was lifted in 2009 but Cuba has declined to rejoin the organization. The Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara famously called the OAS Washington’s “ministry of colonies”.

Venezuela begins process to exit ‘interventionist’ OAS, Telesur, April 27, 2017

Venezuela’s OAS exit gains support from international allies, TeleSur, April 27, 2017

Venezuelan foreign minister slams ‘interventionist’ statement from Latin American governments, by Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas, Venezuela Analysis, April 18, 2017

‘Forced to flee Central America’s northern triangle: A neglected humanitarian crisis’, special report by Doctors Without Borders, May 11, 2017

An estimated 500,000 people cross into Mexico every year[1]. The majority making up this massive forced migration flow originate from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, known as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), one of the most violent regions in the world today…

Despite the existence of a humanitarian crisis affecting people fleeing violence in the NTCA, the number of related asylum grants in the United States and Mexico remains low…

Refugees from Central America a humanitarian crisis on Canada’s doorstep, says aid agency, by Lisa Laventure, CBC News, May 13, 2017

Canada asked to make asylum easier for refugees fleeing from violence

… People escaping the region have long been painted as economic migrants by countries of refuge, including Canada, says the group, widely known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF…

Canada must urgently rethink its approach to immigration from the region, including formal resettlement, said Jason Cone, executive director of MSF USA, who is calling the policies of refuge countries such as Canada and the United States as “wholly inefficient to the gravity of the situation”…

Honduras bleeding: The 2009 coup and its aftermath, by Eric Draitser & Ramiro S. Funez, Counterpunch, June 29, 2015

June 28 marked the six year anniversary of the military coup in Honduras – the day that a democratically elected left wing government was ousted by a US-backed, US-trained cabal of generals and right wing politicians and landowners. It could correctly be called a “Quiet Coup” primarily because it took place with very little fanfare from the corporate media which, to the extent that it covered it at all, did so mostly from a distorted perspective which spread more misinformation than truth. Today, six years (and many innocent lives, and billions of dollars) later, this shameful moment in recent history still remains largely forgotten.

Hillary Clinton backed the military dictatorship in Honduras, news compilation on the website of the Canada Haiti Action Network, March 11, 2016

Rates of homicide per 100,000 population, selected countries (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014)

United States        3.9
Mexico                 15.7
El Salvador         64.2
Honduras            74.6
Guatemala           31.2
Venezuela            62
Russia                    9.5


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