Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out to Cuba to help resolve the crisis in Venezuela, calling for free elections as President Nicolás Maduro holds tight against a U.S. campaign to replace him.
With President Donald Trump’s administration leaving the option of military force on the table, PM Trudeau joined a group of 14 Latin American countries in turning to Venezuela’s closest ally to try to move forward from a standoff that’s also drawing in Russia.
Trudeau “underscored the desire to see free and fair elections and the constitution upheld in Venezuela” in a call with Cuban President Miguel Díaz -Canel late Friday, according to a Canadian statement. They discussed “ways they could work together to support a peaceful resolution to the crisis.”
Tension is running high after a failed recent attempt to overthrow Maduro. The so-called Lima Group, meeting Friday in Peru’s capital, decided to enlist Cuba in brokering a solution to turmoil that has pitted Maduro against Juan Guaidó, whom more than 50 countries recognize as Venezuela’s interim president.
Russia, a key ally of Venezuela, is signaling deepening concern. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to meet his Venezuelan counterpart in Moscow on Sunday, a day before planned talks with U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Europe. Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton were briefed on Friday “on a wide range of military options” for Venezuela, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. blames Cuba for propping up Maduro, whose re-election in a rigged presidential ballot last year prompted a backlash in and outside Venezuela. Cuban agents are alleged to run Maduro’s security apparatus.
While Cuba has previously rejected the Lima Group’s support for Guaidó and its allegations of Cuban interference in Venezuela, a senior diplomat recently cited Cuba’s mediation in past regional conflicts.
“Dialogue is what will help,” Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, said in an interview. “If there is willingness, solutions can be found.”
Vidal was the key liaison to the U.S. for the normalization of relations under the Obama administration. Canada hosted some of the secret talks that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.