Does the OAS have a “double standard”?
Freely translated from the text “¿Tiene la OEA un “doble rasero?”, from Rafael Uzcátegui
This question was asked to me recently by an international journalist, prompting me to meditate on the subject. According to this strand of opinion in the region, the OAS has a “double standard” due to its proactive stand in the case of Venezuela, a stand that does not seem to have for other countries in the area. The journalist named, quoting pundits, the cases of forced disappearances in México, or the activities of paramilitary groups in Colombia. She missed United States and GITMO, common places for chavista intellectuals like Luis Britto García to argue about the supposed docility of OAS and its branches when faced with the United States, but in this case I include it in my reply. Does the United States, to say it more informally, “have a thing” for Venezuela?
I will start from the back, to work my way up to the front. The Organization of American States, as its name says, is a union of regional nation-States, that among other things, agreed to create and develop a “system” to protect human rights, based on pacts and regional treaties accorded by their affiliates, and to maintain two institutions to monitor responsibilities on the subject of human rights each one: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In a “normal” situation, these two institutions would channel the different complaints regarding human rights violations within the countries that are OAS members. Both of them have different instruments to operate, and in the case of Venezuela, due to the refusal of its government, few are available: Thematic hearings, precautionary measures, and reports for the IACHR and hearings about cases that took place before September 2013, for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. For Venezuela do not apply the visits of IACHR rapporteurs called “in loco”, not any other of the dialogue apparatuses with the authorities that do occur in the rest of OAS members.
For those that do wish to have an informed opinion, away from unsubstantiated prejudices, it is possible to check that as a consequence of the intensive dialogue of these apparatuses with civilian authorities in each country, IACHR deals with different strategies the human rights violations that happen in the Latin American territory. In the case of visits to other countries, to quote the most recent example, on March 30 and 31, the Rapporteurship on Children’s Right was in Guatemala to continue its work after the fire of “Virgen de la Asunción” Safe Home. Only an ill-intentioned person would mention the case of the 43 missing “normalistas” students from Ayotzinapa, in Mexico, precisely the case IACHR spearheaded, the kind of handling we would like to have for some of the situations we see in Venezuela. For the 43 of Ayotzinapa, OAS devised an special apparatus to investigate what happened, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, for its Spanish acronym), one of its results was the release of a report that is now a regional reference in the human rights oriented research. GIEI’s work revealed key details of what occurred that night, for example the falseness of the official version that assured the burning of the bodies happened in a dumpster. So today, if you are Mexican and Left-leaning, possibly friendly to chavismo, you will find yourself defending IACHR’s work, tooth and nail.
I would not like to extend myself longer than I should in this part, but I can not help but to address the absurdity of the other two examples: Colombian paramilitarism, and GITMO (Guantánamo): In the first case, the human rights movement of our brother country, a lot of them with their hopes put on the Bolivarianismo on this side of the border, have held numerous thematic hearings about the armed conflict, and most recently, one about the guarantees of the peace process. The last work visit about the subject to the country (I’ve been in Colombia in several occasions dealing with other situations) was on December 2012. Besides, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights have dealt with both Colombian military and paramilitary. Just to quote a reference, the one sentencing the “Massacre of Mapiripán”, july 1997, where the Colombian State was condemned by the collaboration of members of its Armed Forces and affiliates of United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. As for GITMO, while intellectuals like Britto García do some poetry about this place, IACHR have held nine hearings on the subject since 2002, which include the approval of precautionary measures of protection to several of its inmates. Also, IACHR did a special report on GITMO, the first multimedia web (with a print version) experience for the organization.
Almagro’s initiative is in response, therefore, to the impossibility that OAS and its different apparatuses have to dialogue with the Bolivarian authorities, so he appeals to the main tool available for them: The Inter-American Democratic Charter.
None of the above possibilities are available for Venezuela, where the rest of the countries channel their complaints about human rights. The deterioration of the democratic situation among us coincided with the election of the new Secretary General, Luis Almagro, in March 2015. That is why, having as a precedent the tepid performance of his predecesor (who, by the way, contrasted with the pro-active stance of Cesar Gaviria in the same post, faced with the 2002 coup d’etat in Caracas) the ONG’s tried, from the very first moment, to position the situation of our country within the new OAS leadership, even when the chosen candidate was someone promoted by the Venezuelan government. I won’t go into the details of our fist encounter, but to sum it up, the ONG’s that assisted to that meeting found a very cautious Almagro, cagey about how to deal with what was happening in this the land of your humble server. What motivated the change? First, the exacerbation of the Venezuelan crisis, second, the diplomatic chutzpah emanating from the presidential palace of Miraflores, and third, the patient coming and going of both information and lobbying on the part of several acting citizens, whose documentation efforts allowed to raise the level of information on the different dimensions of human rights violations that occur among us. Almagro’s initiative is in response, therefore, to the impossibility that OAS and its different apparatuses have to dialogue with the Bolivarian authorities, so he appeals to the main tool available for them: The Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Those who wish to be honest in their assessment should do well in remember that it was then Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff the one that asked for a meeting with Almagro when she was illegally deposed by means of an impeachment instrument. The difference lies in the availability of the different OAS apparatuses that can be deployed in Brazil. Then, why invoke the charter in Venezuela, and not in Brazil? The Brazilian human rights activists, some of them with affinities with the Bolivarian government, should answer that. They haven’t argued, to my knowledge, what we have argued regarding the necessity to activate this due to our current predicament, perhaps because there is a democratic and independent body of institutions in that country, however flawed and limited.