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Ashton defends her criticism of Canada's support for Venezuela's congressional leader

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2019 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton is dismissing criticism after she denounced Canada’s response to Venezuela’s authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro.

"The NDP has a history of speaking out against imperialist initiatives, and certainly calling out, against U.S.-backed military coups," the MP for northern Manitoba told the Free Press on Friday.

In her only interview on the topic, Ashton would not say whether she considers Maduro a dictator.

Venezeula has slid into economic chaos and violence under Maduro, and whose government has reportedly tortured dissidents. Another leader has emerged Wednesday saying he’ll take hold of the presidency if the military supports him, quickly earning the support of Western governments.

Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido takes the oath of office as president of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela.

FERNANDO LLANO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Venezuelan lawmaker Juan Guaido takes the oath of office as president of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela.

In a tweet sent just before midnight on Wednesday night, Ashton slammed the Trudeau government for siding with President Donald "Trump's regime change agenda" through "support of someone calling for a military coup in Venezuela."

Liberal MP Michael Levitt replied Thursday morning on Twitter that Ashton was "supporting the dictator of Venezuela." Alberta's conservative leader Jason Kenney accused Ashton of "ignoring" actions by "the thug Maduro regime."

Ashton did not respond to the tweet or clarify her position, despite engaging with the platform at various points over two days.

Speaking with the Free Press late Friday afternoon, Ashton accused her critics of "trolling," a term for disingenuous criticism online meant to sidetrack a debate.

"My tweet was not in defence of Maduro; it was condemning support for someone who calls for a military coup," she said. "I think my tweet and my message were pretty self-explanatory."

When asked if Maduro is a dictator, Ashton did not provide a yes-or-no answer.

"I’m not the foreign affairs critic. What was important to me was to make it clear that we can't be endorsing those who call for coups," she said.

In her tweet, Ashton also referred to Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro as a "fascist" — an assessment that is not uncommon among elected officials, but one they seldom voice publicly.

Ashton also caused a stir in June 2016 when she joined her father Steve in campaigning for Bernie Sanders in North Dakota during his run for Democratic presidential nominee.

While some took issue with Ashton intervening in a foreign vote, her volunteer work complied with American laws and was during a parliamentary break.

Why are two men claiming to be Venezuela’s president?

OTTAWA — Years of poverty, instability and violence in Venezuela culminated in a legitimacy crisis this week, through the use of a constitutional loophole.

In 2013, Nicolás Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez, presiding over a troubled economy that still boasts the world’s largest oil reserves. Under Maduro, Venezuela slid into outright poverty, with millions fleeing hunger, untreated illness and political repression to neighboring countries.

OTTAWA — Years of poverty, instability and violence in Venezuela culminated in a legitimacy crisis this week, through the use of a constitutional loophole.

In 2013, Nicolás Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez, presiding over a troubled economy that still boasts the world’s largest oil reserves. Under Maduro, Venezuela slid into outright poverty, with millions fleeing hunger, untreated illness and political repression to neighboring countries.

In May 2018, Maduro was re-elected in a vote that is widely perceived as rigged and not recognized by numerous countries.

But on Wednesday, the country’s congressional leader Juan Guaidó declared himself president, through a constitutional clause that allows someone in that position to ascend to power in the case of an incapacitated president

Within hours, Canada, the United States and countries across the region said they recognized Guaidó as leader. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told media she’d spoken with Guaidó in the days leading up to his Wednesday declaration.

Analysts believe whichever leader has the support of the country’s military will emerge as president. Maduro has helped high-ranking officials get rich while most of the population struggles to eat. Yet Guaidó has hinted at amnesty for military officers if he takes over the government, and has drawn crowds of supporters across the country.

Regardless, the situation has caused consternation for many who identify with South America’s wide range of leftist parties, after decades of U.S. intervention that often saw military coups against governments that impeded American access to resources in the region.

Venezuela has had some of the highest violence rates in the world in recent years, while treatable diseases have spread due to a lack of drugs and an inflating currency.

—Dylan Robertson

On Thursday, Sanders tweeted similar pushback against "regime change or supporting coups," but had noted that Maduro "waged a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution" and made the economy "a disaster."

The South American country’s prolonged political crisis hit a turn Wednesday when congressional leader Juan Guaidó declared himself president through a constitutional loophole. Western governments including Canada recognized him as head of government within hours.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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