Address by the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the third ministerial meeting of the Lima Group

Speech

October 26, 2017 – Toronto, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Good morning.

As I welcome all of you—colleagues and friends from the Americas—to Toronto for this Third Ministerial Meeting of the Lima Group, I want to acknowledge that we gather today on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

We meet at a critical moment in our region’s history. Never have the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights been more important.

Nearly 4,000 kilometres to our south, a crisis rages. Not one born of natural causes, as we have before faced as a region. But rather, a crisis that is politically driven, whose purpose is meant to secure power for the few, no matter the toll it takes on the many

The Maduro regime tells us that we should have no say in its internal affairs. That how it governs Venezuela is none of our concern.

To that, I unequivocally say this:

The widespread hunger among citizens—the deliberate denial of medical supplies to treat the sick—concerns us all.

The mass arrests—the beatings and torture of innocent civilians—concerns us all.

The bulldozing of democratic institutions—the wilful disregard of democratic norms—concerns us all.

And the very future of our regional stability—of what has arguably been, for almost 70 years, a strong and solidary family of American states—concerns us all.

And it is out of concern for our fellow human beings, for the people of Venezuela who right now face turmoil and hardship the likes of which most have never seen, that we cannot and will not stand idly by.

From a Canadian perspective, let me say that I am eager to work with you, my counterparts and colleagues from across the Americas, to broaden our coalition and coordinate our actions in response to the Maduro regime’s repeated and egregious flaunting of democratic principles. 

The Government of Venezuela is choosing the path of dictatorship, engaging in illegitimate electoral tactics, rampant institutional corruption and a sustained retrenchment of civil liberties that has silenced a large majority of Venezuelan voices.

It cannot be allowed to continue down this path.

Just weeks ago, the country’s regional elections gave the regime a resounding victory.

But how can these results instill any sense of legitimacy when the government controls the National Electoral Council and subjects it to its every desire? 

How can we look upon these results with anything but suspicion when the electoral process itself was fraught with so many irregularities that favoured government candidates?

We cannot.

And in the face of a systematic failure of the rule of law, the Government of Venezuela must face consequences that go beyond harsh words and condemnations. 

That is why Canada has imposed sanctions on 40 Venezuelan individuals who have worked to undermine the security, stability and integrity of democratic institutions in Venezuela.

It is why we implore other countries to take similar decisive action.

And it is why we demand that the Maduro regime make a clear and legitimate turn toward democracy:

  • The regime must release all political prisoners.
  •  The regime must recognize the supremacy of the democratically elected National Assembly.
  •  The regime must allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
  •  And the regime must reconstitute an arm’s-length National Electoral Council with a clear timetable for free and fair elections.

If the Government of Venezuela chooses to ignore these demands, Canada will have no choice but to broaden and tighten its sanctions against the regime.

And any other country that, like us, believes in a system of government that gives all citizens the right to freely and fairly vote for and disagree with their elected officials, to hold them to account and to speak out against injustice without fear of repercussions, should do the same.

At the same time, we must continue to support the Venezuelan people—in the defence of their human rights and in their basic human needs. As such, I am pleased to announce that Canada is providing $310,000 in funding to address the most pressing needs of people affected by the crisis, including access to health services, nutrition and food supplements.

And in light of the fact that the effects of the crisis have spread beyond Venezuela’s borders, Canada will also provide approximately $35,000 to improve health and education services provided to the 480 Venezuelans sheltered at the Immigrant Reference Center in Boa Vista, Brazil.

Here today, we must coordinate our actions to put enough international pressure on the Maduro regime to bring about peaceful change in Venezuela.

The alternative is more violence. More despair. More suffering for Venezuelans who have suffered far too much.

The time has come for us to act together and to take further measures to support a peaceful transition in Venezuela.

Because a peaceful settlement is possible. I firmly believe that. But it must be driven by Venezuelans themselves.

There is enough knowledge and experience around this table to move the current dynamic toward that. 

As members of the Lima Group, as strong regional partners in the larger community of the Americas, let us work together for Venezuela and its people. 

There is simply too much at stake, too much to lose, if the Maduro regime manages to keep steering Venezuela deeper into dictatorship.

I look forward to discussing some ideas with you.

Thank you.

Contacts

Adam Austen
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Adam.Austen@international.gc.ca

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
343-203-7700
media@international.gc.ca
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