Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is hosting the coalition of Western Hemisphere countries on Feb. 20, 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada hosts Lima Group meeting to find solutions to Venezuela crisis

GATINEAU, Que. — Canada is hosting the gathering of foreign ministers today from the coalition of Western Hemisphere countries who are trying to solve the Venezuela crisis.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is hosting the Lima Group in Gatineau, Que. today. The group is a coalition of regional countries, minus the United States.

The meeting comes amid a renewed push for a new presidential election in Venezuela, one aimed at ousting the country’s dictator president, Nicolas Maduro.

Canada and dozens of other countries recognize opposition legislator Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, and view Maduro as an illegitimate president who stole his country’s last election in 2018.

Guaido is not expected to be at the meeting at the Canadian Museum of History across the Ottawa River from Parliament Hill.

Canada last hosted the Lima Group one year ago, and that meeting resulted in a call to Venezuela’s military to peacefully switch sides, but that never happened.

The United Nations estimates that six million Venezuelans will have fled their country by the year’s end, as its economic, health and education systems collapse.

The exodus has fuelled concern among some UN officials that the migration out of Venezuela and into neighbouring countries might be irreversible as new migrants start new lives and Maduro clings to power in their hollowed-out country. Some fear that Venezuela, once oil-rich and prosperous, might be on a slide towards becoming a failed state.

Colombia’s ambassador to Canada, Frederico Hoyos, flatly rejects that assessment and maintains Venezuela’s decline can be reversed with a peaceful, democratic transition. He says fleeing Venezuelans — all 1.4 million of them — will always be welcome in his country.

But he says the goal is the bring stability to Venezuela through free and fair elections so refugees can eventually return to their homeland.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

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