WASHINGTON -- The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States is set to talk Thursday about the crisis in Venezuela at a meeting requested by Panama and amid calls by South Florida lawmakers for action against the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., pushed recently for some kind of response to the violence in the South American country. In a February letter to the OAS, Nelson cited the deaths of three people during a protest and said the “government continues to detain or arrest activists and journalists, and it has issued arrest warrants for opposition leaders.”
His February letter also cited the “the Venezuelan government’s crackdown on protesters who are opposed to continual crime, corruption and censorship — remnants of the Hugo Chavez era.”
“We pay a lot of attention to situations like this when they happen further away, and this is something that’s happening with one of our immediate neighbors,” Nelson said Wednesday in supporting the OAS meeting.
The meeting, which is closed to the public, will be held at the OAS’ Simon Bolivar Hall in Washington.
The OAS is the world’s oldest regional organization, and it brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas.
For its member nations, the OAS is designed to bring “peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence,” according to its website.
Whether the effort will be significant is unclear. Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, said in a statement that the “senseless deaths and arbitrary arrests in Venezuela have gone unnoticed by many in the global community.”
He said the leaders of Colombia, Panama and Peru stand out in Latin America for their calls for peace and dialogue, but added that “much of the region remains silent.”
Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the OAS’ preference for reaching consensus on most issues can be a strength but is also a potential weakness. The search for consensus can make it less likely the organization will push for strong action, he said.
“If they come out with a statement that says they are encouraging the two sides to engage in dialog — well, who doesn’t know that?” Meacham said. “They need to move beyond that into something specific.”
The meeting could end up being significant, he added, but right now it’s too early to tell. If the OAS, for example, moved to send an official mission to Venezuela, “that would be a big deal.” But it would also run into roadblocks from the Venezuelan government.
The OAS announcement comes a day after the House approved a resolution sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, supporting peaceful protests in Venezuela.
The House voted 393-1 in favor of the legislation, H.R. 488, which decries repressive tactics by the Maduro’s government.
Ros-Lehtinen is circulating a letter among members of Congress asking President Barack Obama to impose sanctions against Maduro and his administration, including denying U.S. visas, freezing their U.S. assets and blocking any financial transactions.