Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned the Venezuelan government’s disregard for democracy and human rights in Miami on Wednesday as Venezuelans took to the streets in massive numbers and the Venezuelan ambassador faulted the OAS for violence associated with recent protests.
Almagro’s remarks came shortly after a Venezuelan teenager shot in the head during anti-government protests died in an operating room. For the past two weeks, opposition and pro-government marches have roiled Venezuela.
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“There is not a coup d’etat in Venezuela, there is no intervention, no one is bombing Venezuela,” Almagro said in an interview with Miami Herald and El Nuevo reporters and editorial writers. But people are in the streets because they are hungry and the government isn’t guaranteeing their rights or providing adequate healthcare, he said.
Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada blamed an April 3 OAS resolution for the violence that has taken place during the marches. The resolution expressed “grave concern” about the unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order in Venezuela.
Almagro recalled that when he joined Uruguay’s foreign service in 1987, he was asked to review files from the 1970s, and found that Uruguayan ambassadors from that era defended the then-dictatorship in his country and its abuse of human rights.
“What Moncada is doing is the same, defending a dictatorship and defending human rights violations in his country,” he said. “What we have in Venezuela today are people in the streets who are demonstrating they are not happy with the government. They have been shot and killed because of that.”
As a result, he said, Moncada’s hands are “dirty with blood” as are the hands of the Venezuelan regime. “What he did was shameful, professionally and personally.”
On March 14, Almagro urged Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to call elections within 30 days as a way to avoid suspension from the OAS. Without a legitimate government, he said on Wednesday, “the country will completely collapse.”
There still hasn’t been an OAS vote on suspension of Venezuela and Almagro said it isn’t really his desire to see Venezuela kicked out of the organization. He called it a “last option” and said “the international community has to try everything before” Venezuela is suspended.
There could be further OAS resolutions or new diplomatic efforts, he said. Almagro also said the United States was moving in the right direction when it slapped sanctions on Venezuelan Vice President Tarck El Aissami in February and accused him of being an international drug kingpin. “The sanctions were a huge step forward,” Almagro said.
Asked about Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, whose 14-year jail sentence for inciting violence during 2014 protests was recently upheld by Venezuela’s Supreme Court, Almagro said López was facing “a very unjust detention.
“All he was guilty of was being a politician, and a politician who could put people in the streets to demonstrate and manifest their discontent with a dictatorship,” Almagro said.
López’s continued detention, he said, diminishes everyone in the Americas: “Any political prisoner in this continent and in this world is like putting in jail all our civil and political rights. When there is a political prisoner, everyone is exposed. We cannot allow this anywhere in the continent. We need to keep denouncing this, denouncing this as a loud as possible.”