Photograph Source: Harvey K – CC BY 2.0
Throughout the years I have known some people who were very vocal and eloquent supporters of humanity and its various causes. Yet, personally, they were quite disagreeable people, very unforgiving of the actual humanity that surrounded them, their families, acquaintances and, neighbors. It always made me wonder about their public sincerity when their private actions were so at odds with it.
Something like that happens to me at the broader scale when I think of Canada’s foreign policy: big words but mean actions. What great eloquence we get from the prime minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers! The government of Canada presents itself – to itself, to its people, to the world, as great defenders of human rights, great lover of humanity, of law and order, of humanitarian actions. And yet, what shabby, incongruous, filthy foreign policies it has!
Canada’s role in Libya, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, has not been anything to boast about. Furthermore, Canada has voted against every UN resolution upholding Palestinian rights, and its support for Saudi Arabia -even when it is chopping up journalists- extends to making arms deals with them.[i] And in Latin America, Canada has been responsible for outrages in Haiti, Honduras, in Añez’s Bolivia, in Bolsonaro’s Brazil…and for 20 years of vile persecution of the beleaguered Venezuela, nation that has done no wrong to Canada or any Canadians. Hence Ottawa’s silence on the kidnapping by the USA of the Venezuelan ambassador, Alex Saab.
Here’s the thing. Venezuela counts very little in terms of Canada’s political or diplomatic priorities. As we all very well know, the most important factor, overwhelming really, that matters to Canada internationally is its relationship with Washington. Nothing else comes remotely close to it.
Canadian trade with Venezuela has always been minimal. There has been little tourism between the two countries, (mostly due to Venezuela’s incipient tourism industry) therefore, not many Canadians travel there. The number of Venezuelans living in Canada is also very small compared to people who immigrate from other countries. In short, Venezuela is of slight importance to Canada other than the mining establishment and its desire to please Washington.
What has happened is that at one point, in order to – as the renown Canadian writer Linda McQuaig would say- in order to hold on to the bully’s coattails, ie of Uncle Sam’s, Canada agreed to do his dirty work in Latin America and foremost, ”to go after Venezuela”. [ii]Canada can easily afford “to give this bone” to the USA.
However, there is also another factor. Canada is the world’s leading mining headquarters and what drives its poisonous actions against Venezuela is also the greed of both Canadian financial institutions and Canadian mining that have their eye on the extensive and rich gold mines of Venezuela, and all its other prodigiously rich mining resources. The Venezuelan Constitution has determined that all natural resources belong to the Venezuelan people to be used for their welfare, and not mainly for the purposes and gains of international corporations. There is the rub for imperial capitalism that wishes to dominate Venezuela.
Trudeau and his ministers, not content with ruling Canada, want to play with the big boys, and in their delusions, actually believe that Canada is somehow very important internationally, because they say so. Canada is a big country, second biggest in size, but has comparatively, a small population and economy, and very modest military capacity.
Canadian politicians give sundry speeches supporting “the international community”, the “rule of law”, better still “the international rule of law”, “the support for Human Rights”, they decry governments that Washington declares are anti-democratic governed by demagogues, dictators, narcotraffickers, even terrorists. In a court of law it is necessary to prove with evidence any accusation made, but in imperial politics, it is enough to simply launch accusations to condemn a country or a leader that does not obey.
Canada has proposed various sorts of “humanitarian interventions” to supposedly “save” entire populations, however unwilling these populations may be of such interventions. This is a new masquerade of the old racist idea of “white man’s burden”, of “we do this for your own good”, as if the peoples of other nations did not have the sovereign right to conduct their own domestic affairs. The USA, EU and of course, Canada are adept at throwing out accusations and inept on presenting actual evidence especially when they denounce President Maduro.
How hollow these accusations sound to Venezuelans, Hondurans, Haitians, to Evo Morales, to Nicolas Maduro! How hollow the narrative of human rights is to the indigenous population of Canada who have long suffered wilful neglect from their government, both historically (to mention the horrific genocide of hundreds of indigenous children in residential schools) and to this day when too many indigenous people make up disproportionally the prison population, when many of their communities have been waiting for years to have pure water and many public facilities. Where is the defense of their human right to water, education, health services, and self- determination?[iii] Canada has sent $2 billion to Ukraine, of which $1 billion is for military arms and assistance, and thus it helps Uncle Sam in his war of proxy with Russia. They have funds for Ukraine but not for the needs of Canadian indigenous peoples. [iv]
It is an appalling irony that US and Canada accuse Russia of “weaponizing food’ in Ukraine and are utterly and wilfully blind to how the US/Canada and EU have weaponized food, also medicines and worse, Covid vaccines against the Venezuelan people, doing everything in their power to bring the government down by impoverishing, starving, and making Venezuelans ill. 100,000 Venezuelans have died due directly to these US/EU/Canadian illegal sanctions that stop the country from buying food and medicines, and of selling their oil. Canada has expressed no regret, sympathy or concern for these deaths and sufferings –none, but has the audacity to accuse President Maduro of these ills.[v]
It is true that it was the USA that physically kidnapped this bona fide diplomat, from a third country, Cabo Verde on October 2021, and up to now he has been cruelly detained in a US jail for more than 2 years. So why do we bring up Canada in this scenario?
Because this is a criminal kidnapping. It is practically an unassailable conclusion of this USA unilateral action that mirrors that of vigilantes of the Old West movies. If you like, it is a diplomatic lynching. And so we ask, where is Canada’s concern for the “international rule of law” in all this?
The kidnapping has been an appalling act, firstly on the purely human level. This man is suffering, physically, mentally, and emotionally as attested by lawyers and his own wife. What about the actual human being, Alex Saab and his wellbeing and rights, or do they not matter? It is similar to the torture of Julian Assange.
But what about the broader picture? Why should Canada, its government and its people, care that a Venezuelan ambassador is seized and jailed despite having diplomatic immunity? What is its importance in the scheme of things? What does it tell us about the political system under which we live?
It is important to underline that diplomatic immunity has been a very established international practice, dating from antiquity, almost universal. Its symbol is the white flag. This has been customary law, longstanding almost everywhere there has been conflict. And let us remember that during the two world wars, – absolutely horrific wars- diplomats and the embassies of the belligerent parties were respected, and even diplomats were allowed to be evacuated through neutral countries.
After WW II, the principle of diplomatic immunity was enshrined in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, that formally acknowledged and codified the political status of diplomats. It has been ratified by the UN, that is, most of the existing nations in the world. Violation of diplomatic immunity is considered a serious crime.
Washington accuses Ambassador Saab of not being a diplomat and money laundering, of engaging in commercial activities for his own purpose, not the state he represents. But Alex Saab’s lawyer, Inhriana Parada has presented documents that prove Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State for US President Trump) admitted to Alex Saab’s diplomatic status. So when Canada talks about it being a country that respects international law, when has it decried the kidnapping and imprisonment of Ambassador Saab?
The US’s kidnapping of a bona fide diplomat may open a slippery slope in the international scene, whereby a precedent is set and what is good for the goose may be good for the gander; and therefore, puts in danger all diplomats. If Ambassador Saab can be taken, so can anyone else, even diplomats from the US/ Canada and EU.
But the Canadian position indicates a deep malaise within its political culture.
First of all, Canadian politicians suffer from the self-delusion that their international status and power is very significant. It is an illusion because they know they have become in fact, subservient to the US economy and politics. Their inability to obtain a seat, twice in 2010 and in 2020, at the UN Security Council is proof of this.[vi]
Canadian power self-delusion is very sadly, tinged with racism. They go after the poorer, smaller progressive nations, especially of late, in its incursions in Latin America so they can exercise this fictional sense of power. As Owen Schalk has mentioned: “…The truth is that Canada, like the USA, is governed by a ruling class that scorns popular left-wing movements in the Global South and especially what their capitalist allies call “resource nationalism”.[vii] Resource nationalism considers that the people should benefit from their own resources not international corporations. It is abundantly clear that the attitude of these elites is that of: “How dare the mobs of little, brown people defy our capitalist, neo-liberal system?”
Secondly, the Canadian government in its present configuration has shown quite clearly its moral failure, its hypocrisy in pretending to be protectors of some vague “rule of law” when in fact they are violating clear, specific, tenets of established, universally accredited, international laws. This moral cowardice contributes to the disdain growing around the world for Canada, who once upon a time was one of the founders of the United Nations and basked in real peacekeeping duties.
Today Canada is seen as a warmonger, a supporter of political criminals, as partner in regime change adventures, an enemy of Indigenous governments, whose “peacekeeping” has turned out to be the militarizing of police and arming of the military for compliant anti-democratic leaders. For example, there have been angry protests by thousands of Haitians, not against the US but against Canada. They have on various occasions marched against the Canadian embassy and have been decrying Canada’s role in ousting the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide, coup d’etat that has greatly been the source of so much suffering and chaos in that country. [viii]
Thirdly, the present Canadian government shows evidence of stagnation and inability to learn from experience, thus, repeats its mistakes. This folly is what Barbara Tuchman calls “protective stupidity”.[ix] Canada’s foreign policy has been, in fact, mostly a string of failures that they have been unwilling to admit or remedy.
Canadian politicians –and let us not forget the supine and mendacious mainstream media that so much loves a war and coup d’etat so they can put up a “show”- they demonstrate little curiosity of wanting to learn, to find out the roots of issues, to hear the voices that counter the political narrative, the propaganda, that is spouted. Why don’t they go to Venezuela to see the real situation? Why do they not go to the many elections that have taken place there under the eyes of hundreds of international observers?
The reason is because to change towards Venezuela would mean to admit defeat, to admit they were wrong, to see in Venezuela a true participatory socialist democracy at work for which Alex Saab, as ambassador, was working to obtain the food and medicines that the Venezuelan people so desperately need. His sin was trying to feed and heal his people.
Take for example, the whimpering death of the Lima Group, which Canada itself funded on 8 Aug. 2017. Its members were all presidents of dubious democratic credentials, criminals some of them, all fell by the wayside of the ballots of their people for their corruption and repressions. Did Canada say, “Oops, we made a mistake? We picked the wrong friends”. No. Just a deep silence, especially from that fascist supporter, minister Freeland, founder of the Lima group.
So we come back to that suffering man, Ambassador Saab. Canada’s failure to exert any action or give even words of sympathy, on his behalf, (or on Julian Assange’s) shows just how rotten the Canadian political culture at present finds itself in. It is willing to accept any ignominy perpetuated by its partner in crime, Washington, no matter how devious or power-hungry are the imperial people at Capitol Hill.
Let us not accept Canadian platitudes and hypocrisies.
Let us demand more of these moral cowards, because in the end, we all get splashed with their muck and a good man is being sacrificed for nothing on the altar of their crass political and moral ineptitude.
[i] CBC, “Canada loses its bid for seat on UN Security Council”, CBC News, 18 June 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/united-nations-security-council-canada-1.5615488
[ii] Linda McQuaig, Holding the Bully’s Coat, 2010
[vi] CBC, “Canada loses its bid for seat on UN Security Council”, CBC News, 18 June 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/united-nations-security-council-canada-1.5615488
[vii] Owen Schalk, Why is Canada still humiliating itself on the world stage by persisting in its regime change efforts against Venezuela?, 1 October 2021, canadiandimentions.com
[viii] Global News, “Thousands protest in Haiti against Canada, US sending pólice and military supplies”, 18 Oct. 2022
https://globalnews.ca/video/9207676/thousands-protest-in-haiti-against-canada-u-s-sending-police-and-military-supplies/; Yves Engler, “Ottawa has given Haitians many good reasons not to like us”, Canadian Dimensions, 14 Oct. 2022, https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/ottawa-has-given-haitians-many-good-reasons-not-to-like-us
[ix] Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, 1984
María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.
Photograph Source: Harvey K – CC BY 2.0