VIDEO, PODCAST & TRANSCRIPT
Canada has followed the Trump administration’s lead on Venezuela, but it’s charting a very different path with regard to Cuba. Yves Engler explains that while there are material reasons for the difference, Canada has followed the U.S. lead for a long time.
By Greg Wilpert
Published on TRNN, May 22, 2019
To listen to the podcast of this interview, click here.
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Canada is ratcheting up its effort to help oust Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Just last week, Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, returned from a trip to Cuba where she lobbied Cuban officials to withdraw, or at least reduce, their support for the Maduro government. Before that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had meetings or phone conversations with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, European Council President Donald Tusk, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez— all on the same of topic on Venezuela. Here’s what Chrystia Freeland had to say on Venezuela shortly before she left to Cuba last week.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND The Maduro regime’s chronic economic mismanagement has squandered Venezuela’s enormous potential for prosperity, but we remain hopeful that under a freely-elected government representing the best interests of Venezuela’s people, prosperity can be restored. Canada is very proud to work with our hemispheric partners to find an urgent and sustainable solution to the crisis and we will continue to seek new ways together to support the people of Venezuela.
GREG WILPERT Why is the liberal government of Justin Trudeau so interested in ousting Maduro? Is it because Trudeau and Freeland are genuinely concerned about the situation in Venezuela? Joining me now to discuss this issue is Yves Engler. Yves is a Canadian commentator and author of several books. His most recent one is Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada. Thanks again for joining us, Yves.
YVES ENGLER Thanks for having me.
GREG WILPERT So, I have already mentioned a couple of the lobbying efforts that Freeland and Trudeau have been engaged in with regard to Venezuela. As far as we know, what are they hoping to achieve from these discussions about Venezuela with Cuba, Spain, the EU, and Japan, and are there any indications that they might be succeeding?
YVES ENGLER Well, I think they are trying to rally support for Juan Guaido, for the head of the National Assembly who is self-appointed president. Trudeau also had a phone conversation with Juan Guaido last week. I think they have had some success in the diplomatic arena in terms of convincing other countries to join this effort to try to undermine Maduro’s government. I think, for some countries from the standpoint of the Trump administration, its better if the phone call is coming from Justin Trudeau than if it’s coming from Donald Trump, so I think that Canada to some extent puts a little bit of a nicer face on this campaign to undermine the Venezuelan government, to undermine the Maduro government. Obviously, with regards to Venezuela specifically, they aren’t having success. They have attempted to overthrow this government in quite an open and aggressive way for the past four months and that has not transpired, but they have been able to deepen the economic problems in the country.
Canada brought in another round of sanctions against the fourth round of sanctions over the past two years in mid-April, sanctioning, I think, another 43 Venezuelan officials. So, they have been able to build this international coalition of dozens of countries that are trying to isolate the Maduro government. Canada’s been right at the center of that and Freedland has been incredibly active in that campaign, but obviously, the main objective has been a failure. With regards to Cuba specifically, it’s obviously also been a failure. Cuba is still very much aligned with the Maduro government, despite this pressure, which I should also mention included a phone call from Trudeau representing the Lima Group of governments opposed to the Maduro government in the hemisphere, where Trudeau contacted the Cuban President to present the Lima Group’s position to try to break off Cuba from Venezuela. So, no, I don’t think it’s been successful in its big objectives, but it has been, I think, successful in developing an international coalition.
GREG WILPERT Now, what else has Freeland been doing with regard to Venezuela? Tell us about her actions with regard to the April 30th coup attempt, when self-declared interim President Juan Guaido called on the military to rise up against Maduro and claim that segments of the military had joined him. What was Canada’s reaction?
YVES ENGLER Well immediately, Freeland was tweeting in favor, you know, in support of basically any violence that transpired. By definition, it was the responsibility of the Maduro government, even though it was an open military coup attempt. She put out a video of her, sort of, speaking to the Venezuelan people to try to rally them to support these efforts. She immediately called for an emergency phone call meeting of the Lima Group, which put out—Again, of countries that are hostile to the Venezuelan government’s throughout atmosphere, which that meeting put out a statement, again, critical of the Maduro government. Then, they had an emergency meeting of the Lima Group in person, which Freeland traveled to Chile, where I believe it was held. It’s very—I mean, it’s this very active campaigning of diplomatic interventions.
Canada—There’s another element that gets little attention, but Canada continues to give out this human rights prize, which they did at the end of April. They’ve been doing this for 10 years now to Venezuelan groups. They gave this prize, again, to another group that’s a bit hostile to the Maduro government. There’s a long line of these human rights crises that the Canadian embassy in Caracas has been giving out and it’s about building up oppositional forces. These groups then get to tour Canada and they get a certain amount of money to go on this tour. I believe they also do some form of tour within Venezuela and it generally leads to a certain amount of media attention. So, it’s really this continued pressure campaign.
GREG WILPERT You know, as you’re pointing out, there is a very big dichotomy that on the one hand Canada is not completely in the Trump administration’s corner when it comes to Venezuela, but on Cuba, they’re steering a, kind of, contradictory direction. That is, historically there is this connection between Cuba and Canada. Now, apparently, they’re being pushed also too harshen their tone towards Cuba in order to put pressure on Venezuela, but I’m wondering what’s at the bottom of this? That is, why is it that Canada is so interested and willing to play along with regard to Venezuela when clearly it doesn’t want to play the same game with regard to Cuba, precisely because of these long historic relations, all of the investments that Canada has in Cuba, and the companies that could be affected now by these harshened sanctions that allow citizens, that allow people basically, to sue Canadian companies in US courts if they benefited from the expropriations after the Cuban Revolution? So, why do you think there is so much alignment on Venezuela, but not with regard to Cuba?
YVES ENGLER Yeah. I mean, I think part of the thing with regards to Venezuela is clearly just the liberal governments supporting Washington and its aggressive campaign, but part of it is also the fact that there is a major segment of Canadian corporations that have been hostile to the Bolivarian Revolution going back to the late 90s, early 2000s, and that’s been expressed in many forms. The main segment of corporate Canada—There’s Canadian banks that have, there’s many stories of Canadian banks that have not been happy with the Chavez government and the Maduro government. Petro-Canada had some of its operations nationalized in 2007, but the main segment is the mining sector. There’s a number of major Canadian mining companies that have had multibillion dollar, $1.3 billion, I think one, and $1.2 billion court decisions that they won against the Venezuelan government for having their gold concessions. Crystallex and Rusoro had their gold concessions challenged by the Chavez government back in the early mid-2000s. And more broadly, Canadian mining dominates the hemisphere and the Canadian mining sector has tens and tens of billions of dollars invested in Ecuador, in Peru, in Mexico, and any moves towards more nationalistic resource policies, are a threat to Canadian mining companies in Venezuela.
So, I think that the Freeland government is following Washington on Venezuela, but there’s also a major segment of corporate Canada that’s hostile to the transformations in Venezuela. But I think also when we look at the Cuba question, sometimes I think there’s been an exaggeration of how much Canada has been sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution. In fact, if you actually go back to the fact that Canada and Mexico, I think, were the only two countries in the hemisphere that didn’t break off diplomatic relations with Cuba after the revolution. We have the internal files from this period that show that the Diefenbaker government in Canada actually was pressured by the Americans not to break off diplomatic relations. They didn’t want to break off diplomatic relations because they wanted Canada to continue to spy for the US on Cuba. That transpired and we have internal government documents that show that the Communications Security Establishment, which is essentially Canada’s version of the NSA, had major spying operations from the Canadian embassy in Havana. Canada was even spying on Cuba from other countries in the hemisphere. So Canada, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Americans said that some of the best intelligence they got actually came from Canadian diplomats.
Canada has always had a little bit of two faces to its policy vis-a-vis Cuba. Yes, Canada has continued diplomatic relations. Yes, there has been Canadian business relations. Though, after the Cuban Revolution, Canadian banks were nationalized, they were compensated, unlike many American companies. I think that there’s also a history of Canada aligning against Cuba in Nicaragua, claiming that the Sandinistas in the 1980s, that Cubans were responsible for what was going on in Nicaragua. So there also is this history of Canada aligning with Washington’s push of blaming Cuba for all the problems in the hemisphere, and the like. I think that, you know, in some ways this is a really, you could see it in the most open and, kind of, flagrant way with regards to Canada-Venezuela-Cuba right now, but it does also fit within a bit of a broader historical pattern.
GREG WILPERT Well, I think that’s very important to keep in mind, but we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Yves Engler, author and activist from Canada. Thanks again, Yves, for having joined us today.