Latin America Advisor Reporter Elisabeth Burgess interviewed Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza lasat week. Below are Parts I and II of excerpts from the interview, published in the daily newsletters of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Latin America Advisor: I'd like to talk about the crisis in the Andes. Yesterday—
Jose Miguel Insulza: —I don't like the "Andean crisis" expression. I've read it a lot in the US press, and it makes me nervous ...
LAA: So, how would you refer to the situation?
Insulza: Well, "the problems" between Ecuador and Colombia. The problems with Venezuela are different.
LAA: Yesterday [last Wednesday] Colombia and Ecuador decided to cooperate in defense and police issues [on their shared border]. How do you view this agreement?
Insulza: Well, we've promoted it. I see it very positively, and we'll keep advancing the issue.
LAA: Do you think it will lead to the restoration of diplomatic relations?
Insulza: Yes, eventually. When there's more trust and the resentment [caused by] the March 1 event [is gone], they'll return to that.
LAA: It seems like one of the challenges to restore diplomatic relations is allegations of support by Venezuela and Ecuador for [Colombia's FARC rebels]. If these allegations are proven, what role could the OAS play?
Insulza: Look, in the first place, I think that, beyond that fact that the problems are similar, the truth is that the allegations regarding Ecuador are definitively less than regarding Venezuela ... With respect to [Venezuela], it's of course Colombia's job to decide what it wants to do. And I find it almost funny that people consider demanding that the OAS do something, when neither Colombia nor anybody, nobody has asked the OAS to do it—that is, that the OAS should act on its own, in an autonomous fashion without the protagonists asking. This is contrary to the essence of an organization of states. An organization of states acts at the behest of the member states.
LAA: What does the fact that no country has raised the issue in the OAS say about governments' willingness to address the most serious issues in the Hemisphere?
Insulza: I don't want to judge that. But, I don't believe that the best way to address the challenges is through open conflict. It's better to address it through diplomacy and dialogue, and for that the OAS is very useful.
LAA: In your view, what would be the most positive solution to the allegations that Venezuela has supported the—
Insulza: —I think it is good for the allegations to be clarified ... I understand that Colombia plans to do this by turning the evidence over to all of the different countries' judicial branches. That's their decision. Now, if they turn it over to the OAS, I assure you I know what I will do with it. But first they have to turn it over to me.
LAA: What are you going to, what would you do?
Insulza: I will do it when they turn it over to me. I'm not going to get ahead ... But they haven't given me a single paper. I have just as many papers as you have. Would you dare, with the documents you've seen, begin an investigation? I wouldn't dare begin an investigation with the things I read in the newspapers. They haven't given me a single paper. Not a single one. I understand that they won't hand over the Ecuador papers, I understand, because of Colombia's and Ecuador's problems, but of the Venezuelan ones they haven't presented me with a single one.
LAA: People say you have the possibility of raising this issue.
Insulza: Yes, and when they say this, this is why I ask them what the OAS is for. I know what the OAS did in the past: the work they didn't want to do. Well, let them do their work, and don't ask me. That is, that the OAS exists to do the work they don't want to do: the OAS isn't for that.
Latin America Advisor: How do you see the current state of political relations in the Hemisphere?
Jose Miguel Insulza: I think the key word here is change. There are many changes in the region. They are changes that are happening in the democratic sense. We're living in an epoch we have never experienced in our history. If you look at the OAS' 34 active members in the three years since I arrived at the organization, 28 have had general or presidential elections ... the remaining six, including the United States, will have them in the coming months. So, within a year all of the OAS' member governments will have had democratic elections to change or to confirm their governments. And naturally this also frames a better economic situation, and I would say a greater awareness by many people in the Hemisphere about the need to improve things and take control of the problems of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and violence. Naturally, the answers to these problems will be different, and the ideas behind those answers—although all considered under the umbrella of democracy—will also be divergent ideas ... There is a great desire for democratic unity, there is an integration effort, but there are also problems of discord and dangers of fragmentation. But this is all part of the process.
LAA: In your view, what are the biggest dangers of fragmentation?
Insulza: Well, I can't speak to any country in particular. I can speak about a sense of things, not about real risks of fragmentation today. The main problems we're experiencing today are caused by two types of difficulties. First, the difficulty of an economic nature ... Haiti is a classic case but there are others as well. Second, the problems of discrimination, backwardness, and poverty together ... And the problems of a strictly speaking ideological nature, at the center of which is certainly Venezuela. I believe this is all a manageable problem to the degree that we move forward together ... and look for solutions to our difficulties and a good path for our changes, without exacerbating the conflict between us. I believe this will be so in the end. When the Hemisphere's next series of elections comes around, people will ask their governments not were you left-wing or were you right-wing, were you revolutionary or not, but if there is more justice, less poverty, more economic growth, more democracy—this is what they will ask—and less violence.
LAA: In Bolivia, Santa Cruz voted for autonomy [from the central government] and other departments will have similar referendums. With social and political tensions so high in Bolivia, do you think the country will be able to overcome the fragile situation?
Insulza: Bolivia's situation is difficult because there are two parallel processes: the search for radical change on the part of Bolivia's majority—discriminated against, ill-treated, and marginalized for years—and the desire for autonomy in the peripheral departments. I believe the only way out, however, is the democratic and united way, because I don't think a Bolivia without the east, or the east without the rest of Bolivia, is viable. And so this is where the face of the crisis is today.
LAA: Do you think there will be a democratic way out through the referendum on Evo Morales and the governors?
Insulza: Look, he runs the risk of everyone being confirmed, making the need to negotiate even more manifest. It could very well happen that Evo Morales wins the referendum clearly and that the [governors] also win it, something that is materially possible given the differences in voting in each department. There would be a solution if one is recalled and the others are not, or the reverse, if they are recalled and he is not—then one would win. Even then, it would be difficult to maintain stability in Bolivia. But it looks like both sides will be confirmed. So, I don't see any solution except sitting down to dialogue and making resolutions.
LAA: Could the constituent assembly be opened up again?
Insulza: I don't know. No, that part I don't know. Some form of agreement must be sought through dialogue.