(Bloomberg) -- Canada is looking to restore ties with President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government in Venezuela, falling in line with other allies after a push to install a rival leader collapsed.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has long opposed Maduro’s regime, sanctioning the president in 2017 before many other Group of Seven peers. Canada enthusiastically backed the US-led effort to install former National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader, but that effort failed and Guaidó was ousted by the opposition in January.
Since then, western nations have reassessed their stance toward Maduro’s regime. The US suspended sanctions on oil, gas and gold last month as a gesture of goodwill ahead of a Nov. 30 deadline for Maduro to clear a path for all opposition candidates to run in next year’s election and to release political prisoners.
Now, Trudeau’s administration is preparing to open up lines of communication with Venezuela as part of a new “pragmatic” approach to diplomacy and an effort to engage with non-like-minded countries, according to an internal Canadian government memo seen by Bloomberg.
“Canada is seeking to reestablish diplomatic relations with Venezuela,” the government says in the document, which summarizes a meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and her Peruvian counterpart at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. An agreement has been reached to send lower-level diplomats to Venezuela and vice versa, but a final decision on restoring ties will hinge on the Venezuelan government delivering on its pledge to hold free elections.
The move would represent a sharp turnaround in the Trudeau government’s approach to Venezuela since it refused to replace its ambassador in 2018 after Maduro’s reelection in a vote Canada called “illegitimate and anti-democratic.” But the cautious reopening of diplomatic channels would also keep the northern nation in lockstep with its allies.
Canada’s foreign-affairs department is recommending to Joly’s office that it reopen lines of communication with Venezuela through limited, low-level engagement, according a person familiar with the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters. The level of engagement would be lower than that of the US, which is awaiting Maduro’s response after temporarily easing sanctions, as well as the UK, whose embassy is open as it continues to engage directly with the regime.
The person said being able to directly communicate with Venezuela would allow Canada to better defend its interests in Latin America, including supporting Canadians in the country. The approach is still under consideration, the person said.
Peru’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the issue. It recognized Maduro in 2021, four years after launching the Lima Group effort that Trudeau’s government aggressively championed in hopes of finding a peaceful solution to the democratic crisis in Venezuela. Canada hosted a meeting of the Lima Group in 2019 and Guaido visited Ottawa the following year.
A spokesperson for Trudeau’s foreign ministry said Canada remains “deeply concerned” by the ongoing political, social and economic crisis in Venezuela, but welcomes the Maduro government’s deal with the opposition to set the stage for fair elections.
“We are closely monitoring developments in Venezuela and expect Venezuelan authorities to show clear signs that they are implementing the agreement in good faith,” Jean-Pierre Godbout said in a statement. “Canada will work with our international and other partners to address the urgent needs of all Venezuelans inside and outside their country and to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.”
--With assistance from Marcelo Rochabrun and Patricia Laya.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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