Pence calls on Canada to do more to engage Cuba over Venezuelan crisis

OTTAWA (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday called on Canada to do more to engage directly with Cuba over what Pence called the island nation’s “malign influence” on Venezuela’s political crisis.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Pence said earlier in his visit to Ottawa that Canada should help “expose” Cuba’s negative impact, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded that he thought Cuba could still help resolve the crisis.

Canada and the United States want Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down to open the way for opposition leader Juan Guaido to take over until new elections can be held.

But they do not always see eye to eye on the best way to achieve that. The United States has accused Cuba, a longtime ally of Venezuela’s socialist government, of providing intelligence personnel to help prop up Maduro. That is denied by Havana.

“The United States sees Cuba’s role for what it is, and we will continue to bring pressure to bear on Cuba until the people of Venezuela are free,” Pence told reporters traveling with him.

Trudeau, meanwhile, has reached out to Cuba on behalf of the Lima Group, a bloc of mostly Latin American countries seeking a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

“Cuba can potentially play a very positive role in the well-being and future stability of Venezuela,” Trudeau said.

Guaido has vowed to press ahead with street protests after talks with government officials hosted by Norway ended on Wednesday without progress toward resolving the long-running political crisis.

Guaido in January assumed a rival interim presidency, citing Venezuela’s constitution, and denounced Maduro’s government as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely criticized as rigged.

Pence said he spoke to Guaido on Wednesday after the Norway talks ended to assure him the United States still supported him.

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 has joined with the European Union in opposing the Trump administration’s move to allow lawsuits, vowing to defend its businesses operating in Cuba.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to impose a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if it does not immediately end its military support for Maduro.

Reporting by Steve Scherer and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Bill Trott and Rosalba O’Brien