In Background, Canada, Discussion, Latin America and the Caribbean, Lima Group, North America

© NOAA An image from 22,300 miles in space captures the image of fires burning in the Amazon Rainforest on Aug. 21. Patricia Aldana argues that Canada’s co-operation with the Lima Group means it is working with Latin American partners that ride roughshod over Indigenous rights in the rainforest and elsewhere.

Although Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland likes to say that Canada is a rule-of-law country, as do many Canadians, it’s clear from this piece by Patricia Aldana that Latin America does not see Canada is this way.

By Patricia Aldana

Published on, Aug 29, 2019

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland likes to say that Canada is a rule-of-law country. We Canadians like to think of ourselves as exemplary on the world stage. But, in Latin America, Canada is not seen as a “rule-of-law country.” It is known as a country that organized and cavorts with the Lima Group—an intergovernmental organization formed to address the crisis in Venezuela—at Donald Trump’s bequest.

Interestingly there was no mention of the Lima Group in Mr. Trudeau’s recent foreign policy speech, though he decried populism and praised efforts on the environment and Indigenous rights. Here is a brief introduction to “Canada’s Friends in Latin Ameria.”

Guatemala—Jimmy Morales. This former comedian was elected in a wave of anti-corruption protests. Since then he has disbanded the most important UN backed anti-corruption investigative team in Latin America (CICIG); attempted to amnesty the military officers who have been convicted of crimes against humanity in Guatemala’s civil war of the 1980s; consorted with narco-traffickers; and ignored a ruling by the Constitutional Court that it was illegal to sign an agreement with Donald Trump making Guatemala a “Safe Third Country for Refugees.” In an Aug. 22 op-ed in the New York Times, scholar Anita Isaacs wrote that Guatemala is at risk of becoming a failed state.

Honduras—Juan Orlando Hernández. A document just filed in New York’s Southern District refers to him as a co-conspirator who worked with his brother and former president Porfirio Lobo “to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras” and to buy his election in 2013. A number of Indigenous leaders and protesters have been killed by members of the security forces.

Colombia—Iván Duque. The Peace Accord signed between the previous government and the FARC was attacked by Duque in his re-election bid. He has since complied with only a quarter of the terms of the accord. Hundreds of local civic leaders have been murdered by paramilitary forces with impunity.

Peru—Martín Vizcarra. He plans to build an airport near Machu Pichu. Opposed by UNESCO, archeologists, environmentalists and academics from around the world, as well as Indigenous local citizens, such an airport will affect the environment of the sacred valley surrounding Machu Pichu.

Brazil—Jairo Bolsonaro. The Amazon is burning at a record rate. Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that deforestation in June was 88 per cent higher than last year. Indigenous communities are facing threats as protection for their tribal lands have been cut. And Bolsonaro has a long record of racist remarks about Indigenous people. One example: The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13 per cent of the national territory?” Bolsonaro also advocates shooting criminals in the street by police or private citizens.

The target of the Lima Group is Venezuela—Nicolas Maduro. The situation there is undeniably disastrous, but the Lima Group is in no institutional or moral position to determine Venezuela’s future, and has substantially worsened the plight of Venezuelans while undermining opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s legitimacy.

What do these “Friends of Canada” have in common? There are substantial Canadian mining interests in these countries. In Latin America, Canada is not known as a “rule-of-law country” but as the home of aggressive mining companies that are environmentally destructive and often in violent conflict with Indigenous communities—see current court cases against Hudbay Minerals, Tahoe Resources, Nevsun Resources, and Blackfire Exploration in Chiapas.

In 2017 the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School linked 28 Canadian mining companies to 44 deaths, 403 injuries and 709 arrests, detentions and legal complaints in Latin America from 2000 through 2015. The targets were often anti-mining demonstrators.

Canada—anti-populist, environmentalist and supporter of Indigenous people? A “rule of law country?” Not in Latin America.


Patricia Aldana is a Guatemalan Canadian who is a book publisher specializing in bringing books from around the world to North America. She has worked as a volunteer with Central American refugee children in Central America and at the U.S. border. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2010.


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