The OAS is AWOL on VenezuelaThe Organization of American States is betraying its essential mission to defend representative democracy.
The Organization of American States (OAS) sits silent on Venezuela, even as political unrest, government violence against student demonstrators, and economic catastrophe threaten to tear that country apart. At long last, the regional body that years ago was sequestered by Venezuela’s petro-diplomacy has been bound and gagged.The “permanent council,” comprised of the region’s ambassadors, was set to meet last week to review events in Venezuela, at the request of Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli. The meeting was abruptly “postponed” after Dominican president Danilo Medina, whose ambassador is the council’s chairman, followed Venezuela’s instructions to delay his envoy’s return to OAS headquarters in Washington. The Dominican chairman arrived only yesterday and will convene the council at the convenience of the Venezuelan government.
The OAS’s member states made history on the fateful day of September 11, 2001, by adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter and making the promotion and defense of democracy one of the organization’s essential missions. It remains to be seen if it has any relief to offer the people of Venezuela at this perilous hour.
The OAS is where governments — not people — have their say. And, it operates by consensus, rarely putting matters to a majority vote. Even if a significant group of countries were determined to adopt a simple resolution of concern, such an action would be unthinkable over the objections of the Venezuelan representative. However, a meeting of the council would require the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to explain its use of excessive force against peaceful protesters, and, more important, it would give other countries an opportunity to weigh in on worrisome events in a sister republic.
Ideally, the OAS would afford governments the opportunity to actually do something about willful violations of the Democratic Charter or human rights conventions. But, today, the OAS is less than the sum of its parts. Since the late Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chávez and his acolytes began to work as a unit in regional fora a decade ago, they have succeeded in undermining a powerful inter-American consensus for promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Their goal was to dismantle regional organizations that have been built by decades of diplomacy.
Does the former coca grower who is Bolivia’s president have any use for a commission that fights drug trafficking? Does a caudillo waging a campaign against the independent media in Ecuador have any use for a special rapporteur on freedom of expression? Does a man who is rigging the rules in Nicaragua to hold on to power indefinitely have any use for the separation of powers? Does the regime whose thugs are beating protesters in Venezuela have any use for the American Declaration of Human Rights or the Inter-American Democratic Charter? Of course not. However, these are the men who have hijacked the OAS.
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