Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido made a surprise appearance via video Monday at a summit of countries called to try to find a solution to the chaos in the country.
The summit, held in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, brought together the host country, the United States, several European countries and Latin American member countries of the Lima Group.
Guaido said the country led by Nicolas Maduro has usurped democracy.
“Unfortunately, we are still under a dictatorship in Venezuela at the moment,” he said by video link. “I would like to reaffirm our actions and our co-operation with the Lima Group, along with Canada, and all the countries.”
The summit countries agreed to increase pressure on Maduro to step down.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced at a press conference following the summit that Venezuela, led by Guaido as Maduro’s replacement, has been recognized as a full-fledged member of the Lima Group.
The countries, including Canada, maintain that Maduro is a dictator who took power through rigged elections last May. Guaido is the head of Venezuela’s legislature.
Canada also announced CAN$53 million (US$40.4 million) in aid to Venezuela, a country reeling from political, economic and humanitarian strife with a lack of food, medicine and other services. Rioting in the streets is commonplace as Venezuelans press to have Maduro step down.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015 in search of food, healthcare and other basic services, Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Monday on its website.
The exodus has created a refugee crisis in South America, particularly in neighboring Brazil and Colombia.
"This is a pivotal moment for the people of Venezuela – we are observing a widespread rejection of the Maduro regime's illegitimate claim to power following fraudulent elections last May," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Freeland did not mince words at the press conference.
“Venezuela’s National Assembly and now interim president Guaido have charted a constitutional path forward to establish an interim government,” she said. “We must do everything in our power to assist them in this effort.”
Also at the press conference, Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio Bardales said the ongoing demonstrations are “the beginning of the end” for Maduro.
The Lima Group includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Mexico is also a member but was conspicuously absent from Monday’s summit because it continues to back Maduro, as does Cuba and Bolivia.
Freeland ruled out military intervention. But with the summit countries vowing to continue the pressure to have the beleaguered president step aside, the next move is Maduro’s.
By Barry Ellsworth in Trenton, Canada