Inside Canada’s outsized and under-scrutinized bid to overthrow Maduro

Canada’s Special Envoy for Venezuela, Allan Culham, center, speaks with OAS head Luis Almagro. Photo | Twitter

By Alexander Rubenstein, Mintpress News, June 19, 2019

Canada’s foreign policy, under the auspices of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, is bucking the country’s long standing tradition of generally staying out of the affairs of governments to its south in Latin America. Indeed, Canada has been one of the major players orchestrating repeated coup attempts in Venezuela since Juan Guaido declared himself president in January.

One opinion piece in a major Canadian publication, the Toronto Starnotes:

Almost immediately after Guaido anointed himself president, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that he was Canada’s guy and that Maduro should cede power to him.

Maduro won’t do that without a fight. So what Freeland was really saying was that Canada would support anything, including an armed coup, to remove Maduro.”

Meanwhile, another major Canadian publication, the Globe and Mail, reports:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with Juan Guaido to congratulate him on unifying opposition forces in Venezuela, two weeks before he declared himself interim president.

Separately, Ottawa was told by opposition groups, former diplomats and a Venezuelan émigré to expect a major announcement.”

That was reported based on sourcing from a “senior Canadian government source who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.”

Perhaps it should be no surprise that Freeland — who said she was “proud” of her grandfather, a Nazi collaborator — sympathizes with Popular Will, the political party of Leopoldo Lopez, who appears to have kept a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in his library.

Lopez was under house arrest for organizing violent riots in 2014. He was freed during the attempted military coup by Guaido but had to quickly take refuge in the Spanish Embassy. He has previously admitted to kidnapping government officials in 2002 and had endorsed the military coup against President Chavez that year.

Canada was among the first group of nine nations that immediately recognized the interim presidency of the then-obscure Guaido.

Ben Rowswell, former Canadian ambassador to Venezuela, told Globe and Mail that “Ottawa would have thoroughly examined the strategy the Venezuelan opposition was proposing before publicly supporting Mr. Guaido,” according to the outlet. He added:

To have countries that represent two-thirds of the population of Latin America do it in minutes shows there was a remarkable alignment that’s got to be nearly unprecedented in the history of Latin America.

What you might be seeing here is success of some extraordinary quiet diplomacy.”

Perhaps the strongest indicator that Guaido’s Popular Will party coordinated Guaido’s self-declaration of presidency with international backers is a tweet from long-time opposition leader María Corina Machado. She took selfies with Guaido in 2014 at the height of the violent Guarimba protests that left 43 dead and hundreds injured by mobs and opposition booby traps.

About a week before Guaido’s declaration, Machado tweeted that he “is the president” and “the governments of the hemisphere are ready to recognize it.” Five days later, she gave an explicit death threat to Maduro on a Miami-based news station. Indeed, Machado had been tweeting about Juan Guaido — as well as his “ambassador” to the U.S., former Exxon lawyer Carlos Vecchio — as far back as 2010.

Machado’s Sumate NGO has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy, a cutout of the Central Intelligence Agency that serves as a front to protect the legitimacy of the civil-society groups it bankrolls. Machado was previously charged with involvement in a plot to assassinate Maduro.


Guaido’s team of elite brand ambassadors

Machado shares an important backer in Canada with Guaido: his “ambassador” to the country, Orlando Viera-Blanco. Viera-Blanco wished her a “happy birthday” on Twitter in 2012, calling her “Cariños Maria Corina,” meaning “sweetheart Maria.” He since then has described her as a “fighter with a sweet and noble look,” and adulated her for “practically alone” standing for “one of the most serious, in-depth agendas: the departure of Cubans from Venezuela.” In 2014, at the end of the Guarimba protests, Viera-Blanco accompanied Machado as she lobbied the Canadian parliament, including the foreign affairs committee.

“Days before the guarimbas began, it had been decided that Maria Corina Machado would be the leader of the conspiracy —  that decision was made in the United States,” Venezuela Analysis reported, citing a retired Venezuelan colonel who admitted to colluding with her. Audio recordings document Machado inciting more Guarimba activity.

Viera-Blanco has long advocated, even before the Guarimbas, that the opposition needs to hold street protests and that Leopoldo Lopez and Machado are the true leaders of their fight.

For his part, Viera-Blanco has been president of the Canadian Venezuelan Engagement Foundation, an NGO focusing on “elite leadership training and humanitarian aid,” and an international corporate lawyer and partner at his own Viera Blancos & Associates since 1988. He is also on the board of advisors for a Miami-based “technology-enabled real estate company” that specializes in luxury condos.

While members of the diaspora with deep pockets like Vecchio and Viera-Blanco are repping Guaido’s shoestring foreign ministry abroad, Canada and the U.S. have retained ultra-hawks to oversee their Venezuela policies.


Canada’s coup overseer

A few months ago, a Canadian government-run publication posted a contract — picked up by reporter Yves Engler — for a “Special Advisor on Venezuela,” a position similar to that of war-criminal Elliott Abrams, the White House’s “Special Representative for Venezuela.”

“Canada is playing a critical role regionally and globally in efforts to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government to end the violence, unrest and deprivation, and return to constitutional order,” the job description reads. It sought someone with not just “TOP SECRET” clearance, but who is also able to “[u]se your network of contacts to advocate for expanded support to pressure the illegitimate government to return constitutional order” and,

“[u]se your network of civil society contacts on the ground in Venezuela to advance priority issues.”

The contract was posted even though the job continues to belong to Allan Culham because of a technicality in Canadian law.

Cullham got his start in politics with the Canadian International Development Agency. There he planned agency programs and served as “Director of Corporate Information.” Over the years, Culham worked his way up the ladder before he was appointed as, first, ambassador to Guatemala, then to El Salvador, and then to Venezuela, where he served between 2002 and 2005, starting months after the coup in 2002 against President Hugo Chavez.

He would eventually go on to serve as Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organization of American States.

According to a 2004 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Culham called Machado’s Sumate NGO “impressive” and “transparent.” Machado had, of course, endorsed the 2002 military coup. Culham also condemned Chavez as a “bully” and “aggressive.”

In 2015, Culham said he “met López when he was the mayor of the Caracas municipality of Chacao [2000-2008] where the Canadian Embassy is located. He too became a good friend and a useful contact in trying to understand the many political realities of Venezuela.”

During his time in politics, Culham as railed against the “Chavista Bolivarian revolution” and advocated “hardline pro-corporate, pro-Washington” policies, Engler notes. This history and the connections he can leverage make him perfect to fill the position of, as Engler calls it, “Canada’s Elliott Abrams.”

Whether it be from the side of the U.S. or Canadian government, or on the side of Juan Guaido’s shadow cabinet, it’s clear that financial and political elites are calling the shots. As MintPress News recently reported, the Venezuelan opposition doesn’t even hide it, with one Popular Will director explicitly admitting that the country’s elites fill the ranks of his party.


Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.


Posted July 4, 2019