October 22, 2020

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Canada can't solve Venezuelan crisis alone

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/2/2019 (625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland should not expect to be the heroic saviour who brings the Venezuelan catastrophe to a happy ending. This week’s Ottawa meeting of the Lima Group of countries trying to end Venezuela’s nightmare was a nice Canadian gesture, but Canada is, at best, a minor player in the unfolding drama of President Nicolás Maduro and his long-suffering country.

The reckless misrule of Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, has plunged Venezuela into desperate poverty despite its enormous oil and mineral wealth. They lavished money and social programs on the poorest citizens and on their friends and allies, neglecting the national oil industry, until the money was gone.

Now, China and Russia are keeping Mr. Maduro equipped with weapons and his armed forces enjoy what little food is available. The rest of the people search the garbage bins for food scraps and dream of fleeing across the border to Colombia.

The watching world is forming into rival camps. Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Xi Jinping in Beijing, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and Hassan Rouhani in Tehran all find that Mr. Maduro is their kind of guy. U.S. President Donald Trump hints darkly at military intervention to end Mr. Maduro’s rule. Canada and the 12 other member countries of the Lima Group, along with leading European governments, are asking Mr. Maduro to go quietly.

Ariana Cubillos / The Associated Press</p><p>Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores.</p>

Ariana Cubillos / The Associated Press

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and first lady Cilia Flores.

No one in Venezuela has any particular reason to heed Canada’s advice about how they should run their country. Venezuela’s success or failure makes little difference to Canada’s prosperity and security. If our advice proves unwise, we suffer no penalty. Nevertheless, it is plain that Venezuela’s 32 million people, three million of whom have already fled the country, are in deep trouble. Canada should help if we can.

The first things Venezuelans need are the basic necessities of life, denied them by Mr. Maduro’s reckless misrule. These will be hard to deliver because Mr. Maduro and his army will seize any food supplies or medicines that turn up. Then they need a government that will govern wisely and extract them from the grip of Russia and China. That, too, will be difficult because, while Mr. Maduro starves his people, he does feed his army and the volunteers in his paramilitary forces.

Canada, the U.S. and many others have already recognized Juan Guaidó, president of the national assembly, as the interim president of Venezuela. Mr. Guaidó enjoys huge support from street demonstrators but he has no army to enforce his decrees. Mr. Maduro is still there and shows no sign of surrendering.

It took many years to get rid of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, even after Chile’s friends around the world had all agreed he had to go. He had to be gently persuaded by former pope John Paul II and others to allow an orderly succession that might include his departure. Mr. Maduro and his cronies may need a similar chance to leave on their own terms, a soft landing and a decent delay before the recriminations and the score-settling begin.

Mexico’s new leftist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, may be a voice Mr. Maduro will listen to. He has not yet joined any of the alliances to back either Mr. Maduro or Mr. Guaido. Ms. Freeland should find out what role Mr. López Obrador is willing to play in rescuing Venezuela from its current madness.

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