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Ottawa and the Worst of the Venezuelan Opposition

Canada has not only financed and supported opposition parties in Venezuela, but has also openly allied itself with some of that country’s most undemocratic and extremist elements. The Canadian liberal government has openly supported the Voluntad Popular (VP) party’s offer to seize power by force since January 2019, although Ottawa has actually given its support for years to this electorally marginal party in the US nation.

The VP party that sponsors Juan Guaidó has an unfortunate history for Venezuelans. Shortly after Henrique Capriles, the presidential candidate of the opposition coalition Mesa Redonda de Unidad Democrática recognized his defeat in January 2014, its leader, Leopoldo López, launched the “La Salida” movement in an attempt to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, VP activists formed shock troops for the 2014 guarimbas protests that left 43 Venezuelans dead, 800 wounded and a large amount of property damage. Dozens more died in a new wave of VP-backed protests in 2017.

While VP has been effective in fuelling the violence, it has not, however, managed to win many votes. It occupied 8% of the seats in the 2015 elections, in which the opposition won control of the National Assembly. With 14 of the 167 deputies in the Assembly, VP won the majority of the four seats in the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition. In the December 2012 regional elections, its vice president was only the sixth most successful party and performed somewhat better in the next year’s municipal elections.

Founded in late 2009 by Leopoldo Lopez, VP has always been known for its close contacts with the United States, especially its relations with U.S. diplomats, according to the Wall Street Journal.

López studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Internally, Lopez skillfully manages his distant relatives as great-great-grandson of Latin American independence leader Simón Bolívar, and his status as great-grandson of a president and grandson of a member of a presidential cabinet.

Between 2000 and 2008 he was mayor of Chacao, a Venezuelan municipality of some 65,000 inhabitants.

During the 2002 military coup, López orchestrated public protests against legitimate president and revolutionary leader Hugo Chávez and played a leading role in the “citizen’s arrest” of the Venezuelan interior minister. In 2014 Leopoldo López was sentenced and sentenced to 13 years in prison by the attorney general’s office and the Supreme Court of Justice for inciting, planning and leading violence during the guarimbas protests of that year.

Canadian officials are known to have had close contact with López’s emissaries after his conviction. In November 2014, his wife Lilian Adriana Tintori Parra, a well-known Venezuelan sportswoman and political activist, visited Ottawa to meet with Foreign Minister John Baird, his colleague in the conservative cabinet of Jason Kenney, Prime Minister of Alberta Province since 2019, and leader of the Conservative Party of that province since 2017. After meeting Lopez’s wife, Baird demanded the release of Lopez and other political prisoners of VP.

Three months later, Carlos Vecchio, National Policy Coordinator of the fantom government of Guaidó, visited Ottawa along with Diana López, Leopoldo López’s sister, and Orlando Viera-Blanco to speak before the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the United Nations Permanent Commission on Foreign Affairs and International Development. There, in a press conference, they attacked the Venezuelan government and in a forum at McGill University they spoke about the supposed “crisis due to the decline of democracy and the repression of human rights in Venezuela”.

The spectral government of Juan Guaidó named Carlos Vecchio and Orlando Viera-Blanco as its ambassadors to the United States and Canada, respectively. In October 2017, Vecchio and Congresswoman Bibiana Lucas attended an Anti-Maduro group meeting in Toronto.

Canada has undoubtedly strengthened the VP’s hard-line position within the opposition. A February Wall Street Journal article titled “What the hell is going on,” asks, “How did a small group seize control of the opposition?

As Montreal writer and political activist Yves Engler writes, Venezuelans did not need Canada to come and give impetus to a marginal party that can only help lead their country into an increasingly serious and complex conflict.

Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.

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