On Monday, the Trudeau government backed calls for the Venezuelan military to enter politics and choose the next President of Venezuela.
That hawkish call has put the Trudeau Liberals and their Foreign Affairs Minister, Chystia Freeland, out of step with many of Canada’s traditional allies.
Last Thursday, several European countries – Spain, France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden – established an international contact group to help find a way out of the Venezuelan crisis. That group has now been expanded to include Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Costs Rica and possibly Mexico.
The expanded group meets in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Thursday, February 7.
But Canada won’t be there. Chystia Freeland continues on her one-track military approach. Neither the European nations or the international contact group has endorsed Freeland’s call for a military change.
Different theories have been offered on the motive for Freeland’s position as foreign policy hawk.
It does duplicate the Conservative position, preventing any attack from Canada’s political right, an advantage in an election year. Some have suggested it may be aimed at proving Canada is not the national security risk Trump claimed when placing tariffs against our steel and aluminum. Others have offered that this get-tough look is a story to cover recent weakness on China and India. Or it may simply be that Freeland is a hawk who thinks military solutions are the stuff of foreign policy realists, and those working hard to join them.
Whatever the motive, Freeland’s plan heads down a dangerous path – one which could lead to bloody chaos, even civil war. Once fractured, the military could degrade into rival militias of the sort we’ve seen too often before.
No one can know how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would respond. And no one can doubt that Maduro has a significant political following – in society, the Venezuelan state and the armed forces. Mudaro’s party has held the presidency without interruption since 1998. His PSUV lost its National Assembly majority in 2015 for first time since 2000.
Meanwhile, Trump’s National Security Advisor and super-hawk John Bolton has been musing to Fox News about getting “American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela” and sending signals about moving troops into next-door Colombia. In this worrying context, Freeland’s military call risks creating a lawless scramble for control of a petrostate. It is absolutely the wrong move.
In contrast with the Liberals and the Lima Group they set up in 2017, the New Democrats have been supportive of the European grouping and its evolution into the international contact group.
That support has continued even though the European Union last weekend voted to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president, a step the NDP has not taken.
The Venezuelan episode has the eerie reminiscence of the Iraq invasion, with President George W. Bush, like Donald Trump now, threatening military action. And UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, like Freeland today, clearing the pathways.
Whether something hopeful can come from the international contact group meeting in Montevideo is hard to know. Unfortunately, despite the importance of the issue and countries participating, Canadian news reports have been scant leading up to the meeting. Hopefully there will be some reports from international media on the meeting communique, assuming there is one.
What’s worrying isn’t just that Canada won’t be with allies in Montevideo, hoping to find a way to peace. It’s that, Freeland, for whatever reason, has fallen into step with Trump, Bolsanaro and other hawks who are stuck on a single, dangerous military track.