(CBC) Relations between Canada and Venezuela took a sudden plunge today as Ottawa appeared to reject an ultimatum issued by President Nicolas Maduro on the eve of his second inauguration.
The dispute began with a letter sent by the Lima Group of 13 nations (12 in Latin America and the Caribbean, plus Canada) declaring Maduro’s election undemocratic and illegitimate, and appealing to him not to take office today.
Maduro rejected that appeal and went on television to issue an ultimatum to what he called “the Lima Cartel”: retract that letter within 48 hours or his government will take “crude, urgent and energetic measures.” He also claimed that Venezuela was experiencing a coup attempt backed by its foreign enemies.
He made it clear that the measures he was considering were diplomatic, leading some observers to wonder if he intends to finally break relations and expel diplomats.
And a senior official at Global Affairs Canada told CBC News the department is bracing for the possible expulsion of diplomats and breaking of ties on Friday. “We are very well prepared for any and all eventualities tomorrow,” the official said, when asked about the logistics of getting Canadian staff out of Venezuela in the event of a break.
Just under 24 hours later, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland shot back with some of the harshest language her government has ever used against another nation:
“Today, Nicolás Maduro’s regime loses any remaining appearance of legitimacy,” she said in a written statement. “Having seized power through fraudulent and anti-democratic elections held on May 20, 2018, the Maduro regime is now fully entrenched as a dictatorship. The suffering of Venezuelans will only worsen should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.
“Together with other like-minded countries in the Lima Group, Canada rejects the legitimacy of the new presidential term of Nicolás Maduro. We call on him to immediately cede power to the democratically-elected National Assembly until new elections are held, which must include the participation of all political actors and follow the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.”
Freeland went on to say that Canada now considers the only legitimate authority in Venezuela to be the National Assembly that was elected in 2015. That assembly currently operates without any real authority after Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice — packed with supporters of Maduro’s United Venezuelan Socialist Party — stripped it of its powers.
Those powers have been transferred to a new “constituent assembly” that is appointed, rather than elected.