OAS and Venezuela: What’s the big deal?
The Organization of American States (OAS), the regional body of countries across the Americas, will meet today in Washington DC. But this is no ordinary get together of diplomats and political leaders. Today’s meeting could send a hugely important message to Venezuela’s authoritarian leader, President Nicolas Maduro. But this isn’t an issue which solely impacts Venezuelans. It’s an issue which should concern anyone who loves freedom and democracy. Here’s why…
> Venezuela is on the brink of implosion
Despite enjoying some of the world’s most abundant oil resources, rank neglect by the Maduro regime has seen inflation skyrocket. The International Monetary Fund expects it to reach at least 720 per cent this year. The net result is a collapse in the availability and affordability of basic goods. Venezuelans are struggling to eat, with food riots killing at least four people in the last two weeks. Daily blackouts mean that Venezuelans cannot heat their homes. And if they do get sick, hospitals will be little help, given that 95 percent are experiencing a dangerous shortage of supplies. Venezuelans are rightly angry, protests are gathering pace. The country is poised to implode.
> The Venezuelan people are being denied their democratic voice
Given the level of desperation, surely the people will vote for change? Well, they did. The opposition won parliamentary elections in December by a significant majority. Yet, because Maduro has packed other crucial institutions such as the judiciary and the National Electoral Council (NEC) full of his own supporters, the parliament elected by the people has little power. The opposition has called for a recall referendum, as specified in the constitution, to vote on Maduro’s rule. It has huge public support, with around 1.85 million Venezuelans signing a petition to begin the process within a few days. Yet, Maduro has ruled out a change of administration, while the NEC is doing everything possible to sabotage the referendum process.
> Maduro has no plan to save the country
Maduro has no plan to leave office. Yet, he equally has no intention of doing anything to dig Venezuela out of its deep hole of suffering. There is no rescue plan. There is no change of direction. Maduro is simply closing his eyes and hoping for an unlikely massive rise in oil prices to turn the economy around. In the meantime, he ludicrously blames fictional ‘foreign plots’ for the deprivation he himself has caused.
> Only outside pressure can make a difference
Given Venezuela’s terrifying downward economic spiral, Maduro will inevitably need to look to foreign partners in order to avoid total economic ruin. The international community can and must use this leverage to bring about change. Starting with Venezuela’s nearest neighbors. The Organization of American States (OAS) brings together 35 states from across the Americas, including the United States, in order to promote core common values such as peace, justice and democracy. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has initiated an emergency debate today on Maduro’s disregard for democracy. He has proposed invoking the body’s Democratic Charter, a measure which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension. Almagro’s initiative is a perfect example of how the international community must turn the screws on Maduro and apply pressure for change.
> Secretary Kerry must support Almagro’s position
And yet, Washington has refused to back Almagro. Secretary of State John Kerry has even described the prospect of Venezuela’s OAS suspension as “unconstructive.” Instead, Washington is endorsing an attempt at internationally-mediated dialogue between Maduro and the opposition, which is doomed to failure. Senior opposition leaders have called the process an attempt by Maduro to waste time in order to deflect calls for a recall referendum. In other words, Kerry’s support for dialogue is actually reducing the chance of Venezuelans voting for desperately-needed change. It is extinguishing possibly their final glimmer of hope.
Sarah Fynmore is the Policy Associate at the Venezuelan American Leadership Council.