Cuba, Canada foreign ministers discuss resolving Venezuela crisis

HAVANA (Reuters) - Canada’s foreign minister addressed Venezuela’s crisis on Thursday with her Cuban counterpart during a half-day trip to Havana, according to the government, after the island recently said it was willing to help mediate.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out to Venezuela’s longtime ally Cuba two weeks ago on behalf of the Lima Group, a bloc of mostly Latin American countries seeking a peaceful resolution to the Venezuelan standoff.

A top Cuban diplomat said subsequently in an interview with Bloomberg that Havana was willing to help, but that leftist ally President Nicolas Maduro would have to be at the table.

“Cuba ratifies its willingness to contribute to initiatives that promote respectful dialogue with the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet on Thursday after meeting with Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland.

The two ministers will continue discussions, the Canadian Foreign Ministry said.

The Venezuelan opposition has of late rejected negotiations with Maduro, but after a short-lived uprising against Maduro failed earlier this month, the opposition’s stance may have softened.

“Cuba has a long history of playing a constructive role in settling conflict in which it has a stake - in Angola, Central America, and Colombia,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University.

“Cuba won’t abandon its ally and won’t agree to any solution that the Maduro government opposes, but it may encourage Maduro to be more flexible at the bargaining table,” he added.

Freeland’s Havana visit comes as talks are underway in Norway between Venezuela’s government and opponents, according to a government envoy.

It also follows U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent comments in a CBS television interview saying the Trump administration was working with the Cuban government on Venezuela.

Pompeo’s remarks surprised many, coming days after U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to impose a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if it did not immediately end its military support for Maduro, charges Havana denies.

The United States has tightened an already decades-old embargo on Cuba to pressure the government, including allowing lawsuits for property confiscated after the 1959 revolution.

Canada, the European Union and other countries have rejected the decision and said they would defend their companies operating on the island.

Freeland’s visit marks the first by a high-ranking Canadian government official since Trudeau traveled to Havana in November 2016.

Freeland visited Canada’s embassy, which has been reduced to skeletal staffing levels after an unexplained rash of mysterious illnesses among both Canadian and U.S. diplomats in Cuba over the last few years.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker