Canada’s role in Colombia’s humanitarian tragedy

Canadian imperialism grows rampant in Latin America & Colombia

Written by: Luis Alberto Matta


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What is the international agenda from Canada in Latin America, and particularly for Colombia? Is Canada just following and compliant with US foreign policy in regards of Latin America? These two, apparently innocent questions, have been floating through my thoughts for some time now. The questions started back from seeing the ultra-conservative Harper government’s policies in Latin America, but continue now seeing the Liberal government’s actions headed by Justin Trudeau.

Only five years ago a thunderous silence from Canada followed the antidemocratic impeachment against Dilma Roussef in Brazil. Nothing has been said that may disturb the abusive “kingdom” of human rights violations run by Sebastian Piñera in Chile. Even worse, Canada has blindly supported the Organization of American States that played a role in the destruction of Bolivia’s democracy, during the former illegal government of Jeannine Ánez, one of the leaders of the coup against Evo Morales. Despite one year of political repression and racism in Bolivia, sadly Canada said nothing.

Instead, Canada has been the unfortunate leader of the Lima Group, a cluster composed by highly questioned presidents such as Piñera, Lenin Moreno from Ecuador, Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil, and Ivan Duque from Colombia, under the coordination of the US “bishop” Luis Almagro, secretary of the OAS, which main goal is to overthrow the legitimate  government of Venezuela. The previous Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chrystia Freeland, without any shame or blushing was the host of a meeting in Ottawa, whose central objective, at least for some members of the group such as the government of Colombia, was to overthrow the government of Venezuela.

Meanwhile Colombia is bathed in innocent blood. Hundreds of social leaders, teachers, and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia after the peace agreement between the FARC guerrillas and the previous Colombian government. The leaders of the party supporting the current government publicly and openly promised, as a part of their political campaign towards the presidency they finally won, that they were going to destroy the peace process: “we are going to tear the peace agreement apart”. 230 disarmed FARC members, peace signatories, have been killed since the moment that the peace agreement came into force.

Did Canada voice any concern about the tremendous political violence in in Colombia? You can guess, but the answer is no. Apparently Canada is very busy and focused on Venezuela and Nicaragua, and not by mere chance, in coincidence with USA.

Canada is losing a great opportunity in Latin America. With the lack of prestige of the United States in what they consider “its backyard”, Canada rather than being a leader of democracy, peace and human rights, has become the backup of the US government in its regressive and imperialistic international policies.

In contrast with this unwanted reality, this upcoming November 19th, the CLAA (Canadian Latin America Alliance) and CASA (Colombian Action Solidarity Alliance), are organizing an international online forum that includes the Canadian Member of the Parliament Leah Gazan, the Colombian social leader Charo Mina Rojas, and the Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda to discuss about the Canada’s role in Colombia’s humanitarian tragedy. I am delighted to invite the readers to connect and register to participate in this forum through and to keep an eye in what is Canada doing in Latin America.

Luis Matta is a Colombian writer and human rights activist in exile.



Critican silencio del gobierno de Canadá ante violencia en Colombia


Firma una petición al primer ministro Trudeau para que El exija la plena implementación del Acuerdo de Paz del 2016 y condene las masacres, los asesinatos selectivos y la brutalidad policial en Colombia. En total 1.024 personas defensoras de derechos humanos, líderes sociales y comunitarios, personas defensoras del medio ambiente, firmantes de la paz desmovilizados, comunidades indígenas y afrocolombianas y líderes/as LGBTQ2S+, han sido víctimas de asesinatos selectivos.

La peticion se encuentra en tres idiomas inglés, español y francés: Demand an end to the massacres, targeted assassinations and police brutality in Colombia 

Canada and Bolsonaro

By now most environmentally conscious people understand that Jair Bolsonaro is a bad guy. Brazil’s president has scandalously blamed environmentalists for starting fires burning in the Amazon region, after having called for more “development” of the huge forests.

Canadians are lucky we have a prime minister who is not such an embarrassment and understands environmental issues, right?

While Justin Trudeau has called for better protection of the Amazon, his government and Canadian corporations have contributed to the rise of a proto-fascist Brazilian politician who has accelerated the destruction of the ‘planet’s lungs’.

In 2016 Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a “soft coup”. While Canadian officials have made dozens of statements criticizing Venezuela over the past three years, the Trudeau government remained silent on Rousseff’s ouster. The only comment I found was a Global Affairs official telling Sputnik that Canada would maintain relations with Brazil after Rousseff was impeached. In fact, the Trudeau government began negotiating — there have been seven rounds of talks — a free trade agreement with the Brazilian-led MERCOSUR trade block. They also held a Canada Brazil Strategic Dialogue Partnership and Trudeau warmly welcomed Bolsonaro at the G20 in June.

Bolsonaro won the 2018 presidential election largely because the front runner in the polls was in jail. Former Workers Party president Lula da Silva was blocked from running due to politically motivated corruption charges, but the Trudeau government seems to have remained silent on Lula’s imprisonment and other forms of persecution of the Brazilian left.

With over $10 billion invested in Brazil, corporate Canada appears excited by Bolsonaro. After his election CBC reported, “for Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities, especially in the resource sector, finance and infrastructure, as he has pledged to slash environmental regulations in the Amazon rainforest and privatize some government-owned companies.”

Canada’s support for right-wing, pro-US, forces in the region has also favored Bolsonaro. Since at least 2009 the Canadian government has been openly pushing back against the leftward shift in the region and strengthening ties with the most right-wing governments. That year Ottawa actively backed the  Honduran military’s removal of social democratic president Manuel Zelaya. In 2011 Canada helped put far-right Michel Martelly into the president’s office in Haiti and Ottawa passively supported the ‘parliamentary coup’ against Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo  in 2012. In recent years Canada has been central to building regional support for ousting Venezuela’s government. The destabilization efforts greatly benefited from the ouster of Rousseff and imprisonment of Lula. Brazil is now a member of the Canada/Peru instigated “Lima Group” of countries hostile to the Nicolás Maduro government.

Ottawa has long supported the overthrow of elected, left leaning governments in the hemisphere. Ottawa passively supported the military coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and played a slightly more active role in the removal of Dominican Republic president Juan Bosch in 1965 and Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973. In Brazil Canada passively supported the military coup against President João Goulart in 1964. Prime Minister Lester Pearson failed to publicly condemn Goulart’s ouster and deepened relations with Brazil amidst a significant uptick in human rights violations. “The Canadian reaction to the military coup of 1964 was careful, polite and allied with American rhetoric,” notesBrazil and Canada in the Americas author Rosana Barbosa.

Along with following Washington’s lead, Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup was driven by Canadian corporate interests. Among the biggest firms in Latin America at the time, Toronto-based Brascan (or Brazilian Traction) was commonly known as the “the Canadian octopus” since its tentacles reached into so many areas of Brazil’s economy. Putting a stop to the Goulart government, which made it more difficult for companies to export profits, was good business for a firm that had been operating in the country for half a century. After the 1964 coup the Financial Post noted “the price of Brazilian Traction common shares almost doubled overnight with the change of government from an April 1 low of $1.95 to an April 3 high of $3.06.”

The company was notorious for undermining Brazilian business initiatives, spying on its workers and leftist politicians and assisting the coup. The Dark side of “The light”: Brascan in Brazil notes, “[Brazilian Traction’s vice-president Antonio] Gallotti doesn’t hide his participation in the moves and operations that led to the coup d’état against Goulart in 1964.”

Gallotti, who was a top executive of Brascan’s Brazilian operations for a couple decades, was secretary for international affairs in the Brazilian fascist party, Acao Integralista. Gallotti quit the party in 1938, but began working as a lawyer for Brascan in 1932.

Historically, Canadian companies empowered fascists in Brazil. Today, corporate Canada appears happy to do business with a proto-fascist trampling on Indigenous rights and fuelling climate chaos. Ottawa has also enabled Bolsonaro. At a minimum the Trudeau government should be pressed to follow French President Emmanuel Macron’s call to suspend free-trade negotiations with MERCOSUR until Bolsonaro reverses his wonton destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’.

Children of former refugees urge Ottawa to increase refugee intake from violence-torn Central America

Growing up in Canada, children of Latin American immigrants weren’t directly exposed to the violence and political chaos that marked their parents’ lives, but they heard the tales of sorrow, struggle and survival.

“For all of us growing up in our neighbourhood, we all had a strong sense of history and exile,” said Pamela Arancibia, whose family was part of Canada’s first big wave of Latin American immigrants fleeing dictators and guerrillas from the 1970s to the 1990s.

“Every household was politicized.”

That consciousness is still collectively held by this now-grown generation — especially in light of an escalating refugee crisis in Central America where violence by organized criminal gangs, particularly in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, have turned the region into one of the most dangerous places on Earth, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee at the very same time that the Trump administration has restricted access to asylum.

As a result, some offspring of Latin American migrants have created the Coalition for Northern Central America to lobby Ottawa to repeat the generosity Canada showed to their parents.

The coalition, formed following a University of Toronto panel discussion about the crisis earlier this year, has just launched an online petition to ask the federal government to increase its intake of resettled refugees from the so-called Northern Triangle. They also plan to start community outreach to raise public awareness about the crisis, said Arancibia, one of the group’s founding members.

“You see women and children walking the distance to find safety. It’s not a decision these people take lightly,” said the 37-year-old University of Toronto PhD student who was born in Calgary to Chilean refugee parents.

“Given Canada’s history with refugees and the resettlement of our own families, we, as second-generation, are in a better position than our parents to advocate for these refugees.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of refugees displaced from Central America is expected to reach 539,500 by the end of this year.

A World Bank report in 2016, the latest available, found El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world, 83 homicides per 100,000 people, followed by Honduras, with 57 per 100,000, while Guatemala ranked 10th, with 27. (As a comparison, in Canada, it was 1.69.)

Yet, most recent figures show that in 2017, Canada allocated only 380 of 25,000 refugee resettlement spots to those from the Americas, down from 590 in 2013.

Arancibia’s father was a political activist in Chile in 1975 when he was scooped up off the street, blindfolded and threatened in an attempt to get him to reveal the identities of members of the banned Revolutionary Left Movement. Upon his release by secret police, he fled to Argentina where he and his family were referred to resettlement in Canada by the UN.

“We were approved in two-and-a-half-months. Canada saved many lives from Latin America then,” recalled Roberto Arancibia, now 69. “It makes no difference whether you’re fleeing violence from the military, drug cartels or criminal gangs. You fear someone is tearing down your door in the middle of the night and threatening to take your life.”

Monika Oviedo, who was born in Canada to Salvadorian refugee parents, said she has close family ties in the U.S. and in El Salvador, and that migration rhetoric and policies from the Trump administration have concerned them all. The diaspora, she said, is disappointed that Canada has been silent over the mounting refugee crisis.

“My family history is tied to the opportunity to resettling in Canada,” said Oviedo, 26, whose family was resettled in Kitchener from El Salvador in 1991 amid a prolonged civil war. She believes Canada should not be afraid to stand up against the U.S. over Central American affairs.

In the 1970s, Canada opposed political intervention in Latin America by the U.S., which supported anti-Communist regimes in the region during the Cold War. In the 1980s, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney continued to voice opposition to U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s policies and took in refugees.

“Canada, under Mulroney, took a strong stand against U.S. foreign policy led by president Reagan as the U.S. was directly funding repressive regimes in Central America, including the Salvadoran military. So we have seen Canada deviate from the U.S. before,” said Oviedo.

Oviedo’s mother, a former teacher and now a bookkeeper, said her family wouldn’t have left El Salvador if they had other options. “We consider ourselves very blessed, but our heart is still with the people back home. We feel very grateful for the opportunity to be here and we hope others can have that opportunity as well,” said Helen Oviedo, who is in her 50s.

Pati Flores, who as a teenager came to Canada from Honduras with her mother in 1995, returned to her homeland last year and witnessed the poverty, political oppression and fear of gang violence there. She feels the diaspora and other Canadians have an obligation to speak up.

“A lot of immigrants and refugees from my community feel as if we carry the trajectories, stories and borders marked in our bodies,” said Flores, 42, a multimedia artist, who sends money to help relatives in Honduras.

Flores’ mother, Norma Zubickova, said that with the surge of displaced people from Latin America, Canada must step in to offer a safe pathway for legal migration through resettlement.

“It’s dangerous what’s going on in the U.S. People can’t even go and find safety there,” said Zubickova, 64, who came to Canada under a sponsorship by her second husband, a Canadian.

“I was so pleased when my daughter told me about this new coalition they were creating. I’m retiring soon and I’m going to get involved and do all I can to help. It is important that we stay connected to our roots.”

Canada’s Anti-Venezuela Policy: A Result of Material Interests and US Subordination


May 22, 2019

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.

Story Transcript

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.

YVES ENGLER Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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