Ottawa (AFP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Monday pledged Can$53 million (US$40 million) in humanitarian aid for Venezuelans amid a deepening crisis.
“Today, Canada is stepping up and announcing $53 million to address the most pressing needs of Venezuelans on the ground, including almost 3 million refugees,” Trudeau told a gathering of the Lima Group of nations.
“The bulk of the funds will go to trusted partners, and neighboring countries to help them support Venezuela and Venezuelans,” he said.
The 14-member Lima Group, which includes most Latin American countries and Canada, met to discuss how to support opposition leader Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president last month.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Deputy Head of European Diplomacy Helga Schmid were to participate by videoconference in the debates.
Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, addressed the gathering in a video message, saying he looked forward to having “free and fair elections as soon as possible in order to restore democracy to Venezuela.”
Venezuelans are “very close to reclaiming their freedom,” he said.
Most of the bloc last week urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down, and make way for elections to deal with an economic collapse that has sent Venezuelans flooding into neighboring countries.
Madrid, London, Paris, Berlin and several other European capitals on Monday also backed Guaido as interim president of Venezuela after Maduro refused to call a presidential election despite a European ultimatum.
Created in 2017, the Lima Group includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (which did not recognize Guaido), Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Saint Lucia.
– Trudeau, Guaido call –
Trudeau, who has been personally involved in the crisis, spoke with Guaido by telephone on Sunday. The two men called for the organization of a “free and fair” presidential election in Venezuela and reaffirmed the “illegitimacy” of Maduro’s presidency.
Maduro began a new term in office last month after disputed 2018 elections whose results were rejected as invalid by the opposition.
Julio Borges, leader of the Primero Justicia Party of Venezuela and Guaido’s special envoy, told reporters as he arrived for the Lima Group meeting that European backing of Guaido was “very good news.”
“We are hoping and we are expecting at this meeting of the Lima Group to have full support for the humanitarian channel, for the coalition for freedom in Venezuela, full support for free elections in our country, full support for new measures for democratic pressure in order to finish the regime of Maduro,” he said.
“We really believe that what we are doing is not only for Venezuela, it’s the fall of the Berlin wall in Latin America and it’s a new chapter for history.”
The Canadian funding will go specifically to providing emergency food assistance, healthcare, water and sanitation, education and protection services for those most affected by the crisis, including refugees.
Canada will also help monitor and report on the human rights situation in Venezuela.