Federico Hoyos is ambassador of Colombia to Canada.
The Lima Group’s actions concerning the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela have been subject of debate and criticism. As ambassador of Colombia, a country directly affected by the complex situation of our neighbouring country, I would like to share some ideas regarding the importance of the Lima Group in light of the current events, the value of Canada’s role, and the critical need to act and to keep acting through diplomatic and humanitarian channels until the Maduro regime in Venezuela gives way to a new, democratic government.
In a world of mounting polarization and uncertainty, both in politics and society, it is remarkable to see a group of countries come together to work over a key problem affecting us all. The Venezuelan humanitarian crisis triggered by the death throes of a dictatorial regime is one such issue.
The Lima Group has best been described as “multilateralism by demand” – a term coined by Andres Molano, a Colombian professor and adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is indeed a joint effort by countries that came together to solve a specific problem that demands action, following years of failed attempts at dialogue and negotiation between the Venezuelan opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s regime, unwilling to guarantee transparent elections that offer Venezuelans a real democratic choice.
While some still call for dialogue, the regime holds onto power while scores of people keep dying due to lack of food and medicine, and widespread crime. Millions have fled the country into neighbouring countries and beyond, originating a regional crisis far beyond the confines of Venezuela’s internal affairs.
Some might see Venezuela’s situation from a distance and think that Venezuelans need to solve matters on their own, and that foreign countries have no business interfering. To this, I say they are flatly wrong. After years of despotism, mass emigration and deprivation, our neighbour has become too broken to fix itself. An inflation rate of 1 million per cent, severe scarcity of food and medicine that has caused the average Venezuelan to lose more than 24 pounds of body weight, and virtually no freedom of press or opinion, are some factors that prevent the democratic forces in Venezuela from acting on their own. Prominent opposition political figures have been either jailed or forced to flee the country.
As years go by, the problem keeps worsening and far too many have remained content to sit back and watch the country unravel from afar. The brunt of the cost has been borne by the Venezuelan people, but it has been felt far beyond its borders. Countries such as Colombia have suffered the direct effects of the rupture in Venezuela’s democracy. We have welcomed over a million Venezuelan migrants with open arms, providing them with access to our health-care and education systems, despite our many challenges.
Colombian President Ivan Duque has said that all countries in the region must show solidarity and work together to provide proper assistance to Venezuelans fleeing the regime, but has also clearly stated that the solution to the mass exodus is to denounce the Maduro dictatorship internationally, until there is a transition to a democratic government chosen by the Venezuelan people.
This is why the Lima Group has recognized the National Assembly as the remaining legitimate Venezuelan democratic institution, and its president, Juan Guaido, as constitutionally mandated to lead an interim government to organize free elections.
The success of the Lima Group so far has resided in the unity of our voices, and a common fundamental message: the need for a return to democracy in Venezuela and the end of the Maduro dictatorship. Throughout this process, the steadfast participation and active leadership of Canada within the group has been instrumental in mobilizing the international community and creating worldwide awareness. In consequence, most countries in the European Union have now joined Canada in recognizing Mr. Guaido as interim President.
Backing Venezuela’s return to democracy is not a matter of wishing to have a friendly and like-minded neighbour; rather, it is an ethical responsibility toward millions of human beings that are living in overwhelming poverty and fear. This is not an opinion, but a fact. There have been many condemnations and fruitless attempts at mediation in the past. Now, the hemisphere is coming together, and Mr. Maduro and his cronies are being gradually isolated by the world’s democracies. This momentum must be maintained.
It is time for action. It is time to focus on human dignity and to surround those who suffer and wish to rebuild their country after years of hardship and mismanagement. This begins by supporting the interim government and the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who are in desperate need.