OTTAWA — Canada suspended operations at its embassy in Venezuela on Sunday, saying President Nicolas Maduro's regime is increasingly clamping down on diplomats who oppose his rule.
The diplomats' visas are set to expire at the end of June, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement, and Maduro's regime — which Canada has denounced as illegitimate and characterized as a dictatorship — has made it so they cannot be renewed.
"As Venezuela slides deeper into dictatorship, and as Venezuelans continue to suffer at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime, the regime has taken steps to limit the ability of foreign embassies to function in Venezuela, particularly those advocating for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela," she said.
Freeland said the operations are being suspended temporarily, effective immediately.
"We are also evaluating the status of Venezuelan diplomats appointed by the Maduro regime to Canada," she said in the statement.
News that embassy operations were being put on hold came a day before Freeland was set to meet in New York with other members of the Lima Group — a bloc that includes more than a dozen Latin American countries opposing Maduro.
Canada is among as many as 50 countries that have said Maduro stole last year's election and is no longer the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Instead, the Lima Group backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself Venezuela's interim leader at the beginning of this year.
Freeland said that through its work with the Lima Group, the government will continue to advocate for democracy in the South American nation.
Canada has imposed sanctions on more than 100 officials in Maduro's regime in a bid to hold them accountable.
The country's political and economic crisis has forced three million people to flee their homes in search of food, health care and other basic services since 2015.
Global Affairs said Canadians in Venezuela who need consular assistance can reach out to the Embassy of Canada to Colombia, in Bogota, and noted that Ottawa has advised against travelling to Venezuela for the past several months.
The Canadian Press