Canada joins 13 nations calling on Venezuela to release political prisoners and return to democracy

MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON — A group of 14 nations urged Venezuela on Thursday to hold elections and release “political prisoners,” in a joint statement that kept open the option of seeking to suspend the South American country from the Organization of American States.

The statement, which Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said was aimed at encouraging Venezuela to “re-establish democracy,” called for dialog and negotiation to resolve a crisis in the oil-exporting country, which is suffering severe food and fuel shortages.

Suspending Venezuela from the OAS was a last resort, the nations said, and something that should be avoided unless other diplomatic efforts have been exhausted.

“We reiterate that inclusive and effective dialog is the right path to achieve lasting solutions to the challenges faced by the Venezuelan people,” the statement said.

Venezuela has jailed around 100 government opponents it accuses of inciting violence and planning the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro. Opposition activists and human rights groups say they are prisoners of conscience.

In October, Venezuela’s election board suspended the opposition drive for a recall referendum against Maduro despite the country’s crushing economic crisis, the government’s unpopularity and public opinion in favor of a plebiscite.

Venezuela has also delayed until 2017 elections due in December for state governorships.

The declaration by the 14 nations called for the separation of powers, the rule of law and the establishment of an electoral calendar for postponed elections.

The group that signed the declaration, which includes regional powerhouses the United States, Mexico, Canada and Brazil, also called on Venezuela to recognize the legitimacy of the country’s national assembly, which has been defanged by Maduro’s government since the opposition won a majority in 2015.

Delcy Rodriguez, Venezuela’s foreign minister, called Videgaray “servile” and a “traitor” for siding with Washington in a new push to isolate her country, which has been at loggerheads with the United States since the left-wing government of the late President Hugo Chavez.

“Foreign Minister @LVidegaray attacks Venezuela to please his imperial owners,” Rodriguez said on Twitter. “He is building walls with Latin America instead of defending the sovereign rights and interests of its people.”


The pressure by countries, including several former Venezuelan allies who have elected right-of-center governments in recent years, follows a call by the head of the OAS to expel Venezuela if it does not hold general elections quickly, a move that would require the support of two-thirds of the Washington-based body’s 34 General Assembly members.

Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS and a former foreign minister of Uruguay, calls Maduro’s government a dictatorship. He said earlier this month that, if Venezuela did not comply quickly, it should be suspended for violating rules that require members to adhere to democratic norms.

In the past the OAS suspended Cuba and Honduras for breaking with democracy but was criticized for not taking such action against right-wing dictatorships during the Cold War.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was concerned by the state of democracy in Venezuela.

“We urge the Venezuelan government to comply with the constitution … and hold elections as soon as possible,” Toner told a briefing for reporters.

“We’re not pushing for Venezuela’s expulsion from the OAS at this time. We do think that the OAS is the appropriate venue to deal with the situation in Venezuela,” he said.

However, a senior White House official said suspension from the regional body remained an option. Although numbers supporting Thursday’s declaration fell well short of the requirement to take strong action through the OAS, the official said the statement was a significant first step.

“If Venezuela continues down the path that it’s on, the notion that it’s going to belong to an organization committed to democratic principles doesn’t make much sense,” the official told Reuters, adding that the United Sates could also consider sanctions. “There are going to be ramifications,” the official said.

Mexico’s decision to openly take a stance on the situation in Venezuela is a shift from a usual preference by Latin America’s second-largest economy not to interfere in other countries’ affairs.

“We should not continue to be indifferent, we cannot continue to be indifferent,” Videgaray said earlier on Thursday, emphasizing that Mexico would respect Venezuela’s sovereignty and act according to international law and in agreement with the countries of the Americas.

Mexico’s change in tack may reflect an effort to have constructive relations with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly antagonized Mexico.

“It reinforces what has been a general comment throughout these past weeks and months about how important Mexico is to the United States, not only bilaterally but as a regional player,” said Andres Rozental, former deputy foreign minister for Mexico.

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I am Canadian, too: Inside Moosehead’s cross-country push

Cans of Moosehead Lager showcasing its original logo wait to be shipped from Saint John, N.B.

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As with any neighbour you’ve known for years, New Brunswick is on a first-name basis with its beer. Here, it’s just Moose – Moose Green for the lager, and Red for the original Moosehead beer, even though the ale no longer has a red label.

But that doesn’t mean they always drink the beer from Moosehead Breweries Ltd. At a pub in uptown Saint John, a lager order goes through without a hitch, but when asked for the ale the bartender hesitates. Instead, he pours a taste of a pale ale from a Fredericton craft brewer, Graystone, to compare with a taste of Moosehead’s ale.

“Moose Green, I love it. I drink it like it’s going out of style,” he says. But pointing to the two glasses, he insists, “You can just tell one is a domestic” – a bigger brewer – “and one’s not.”

This is Moosehead’s problem. For the growing number of people gravitating to craft beer in search of new flavours (or just a cooler-looking label that will confer a bit of hipster status), it’s too big to love. And outside of its home turf, the situation is even worse.

“‘You guys are owned by Molson, aren’t you?’ That’s a consistent piece of feedback,” says Trevor Grant, vice-president of sales and marketing at the independent, family-run brewery.

More than 1,200 kilometres away, on a craft-heavy pub menu in downtown Toronto, Moosehead lager is listed under “Macros and imports we don’t hate.” This kind of grudging respect is about as good as it gets for a big-ish brewer these days.

Moosehead is indeed a macro compared to the newest players on the beer scene. There has been a boom in licensed breweries in Canada – reaching 644 last year, a huge jump from 290 just seven years earlier – driven largely by operations producing less than 2,000 hectolitres (200,000 litres) per year, according to Beer Canada. (Moosehead contributed too, opening the Hop City craft brewery in Toronto in 2009.)

But while Moosehead is bigger than those upstarts, and is the fourth-largest brewer in Canada – behind Molson, Labatt and Sleeman – it is a distant fourth. The big two have more than 75 per cent market share of beer sales nationwide. Moosehead has 2 per cent to 3 per cent.

The company draws roughly $200-million in annual revenue – a number that has stayed relatively flat for at least eight years, though the makeup of the business has changed: it is selling more of its own beer and beers it distributes in Canada such as Boston Beer Co.’s Sam Adams. That has made up for losses in its contract brewing business – most notably when it lost the Guinness account a few years ago – and the steep decline in its U.S. sales amid the explosion of competition from both craft beer and imports there.

The Oland family has been managing these business challenges all while grappling with personal tragedy: the brutal murder in 2011 of Richard, brother of the chairman, Derek, and uncle of the current CEO. With the accused, Richard’s son Dennis, awaiting a second trial, they will not be able to put the ordeal behind them for some time, even as professional demands loom.

Andrew Oland, president of Moosehead Breweries, left, and father Derek Oland, check on the operations of the packaging line.

Moosehead needs to grow. To do that, the leaders believe they need to tell their story as an independently-owned operation as old as Confederation. Sure, it has emphasized its conveniently patriotic founding date – 1867 – on packaging and in ads for years, but without the money to wallpaper its brand across consumers’ field of vision, and lacking some consistency from one ad campaign to another, the message hasn’t really stuck.

Meanwhile, competitors with deeper pockets have been freely, and some might say dubiously, riding the wave of Canadian heritage. Molson Coors Brewing Co. – now a multinational – trades on the slogan “ I am Canadian“; and Sleeman, now owned by Tokyo-based Sapporo Breweries Ltd., has used its ads to romanticize its “