Andres Oppenheimer

Venezuela, no longer a democracy, should be suspended from OAS

A protester, wearing a Ghostface mask and holding a banner that reads in Spanish, "Enough," takes part in a protest against President Nicolás Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela Wednesday.
A protester, wearing a Ghostface mask and holding a banner that reads in Spanish, "Enough," takes part in a protest against President Nicolás Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela Wednesday. AP

Now that Venezuela’s autocrat Nicolás Maduro has broken the rule of law and closed all avenues to a peaceful resolution of his country’s crisis, there is only one way to prevent a possible bloodbath: an international diplomatic offensive to restore democracy in Venezuela.

It’s no longer enough for the United States and Latin American countries to express their “strong concern” about the Venezuelan regime’s latest authoritarian measures. Twelve countries — including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, the United States and Canada — did just that in a joint statement on Oct. 22.

The time for words is over. To prevent violence and a Syrian-style refugee crisis that could impact the whole region, Venezuela’s neighbors should threaten to suspend Venezuela from the OAS if it doesn’t restore the rule of law by — let’s say — Nov. 15.

Maduro’s latest move to effectively kill the opposition’s constitutional right to gather signatures to demand a recall referendum that could force him out of office has closed all paths to a legal resolution of the crisis.

Now, OAS member countries should follow the steps of South America’s MERCOSUR common market — made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela — which recently suspended Venezuela’s chairmanship for not abiding by the group’s democracy clauses. MERCOSUR is now considering suspending Venezuela’s membership.

Skeptics argue that Maduro’s regime couldn’t care less about being suspended from the OAS, but they are wrong.

Suspending Venezuela from the OAS would be an important show of support for Venezuela’s opposition, and — internationally — it would help spread the notion that Venezuela has become a dictatorship. Becoming a pariah in his own region would make Maduro look weaker, and it would make it more difficult for him to get emergency loans or refinance Venezuela’s debts.

According to OAS diplomatic sources, the Obama administration is not pushing for Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS because it fears there won’t be the two-thirds of OAS members’ votes needed to do so. Many Caribbean nations that still get some Venezuelan oil subsidies are reluctant to vote against Maduro.

In addition, the Obama administration may fear that if Venezuela is suspended from the OAS, Bolivia and Nicaragua will quit in solidarity, which would weaken the organization. Obama is still hopeful that the Vatican’s mediation, in addition to the negotiations led by former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, will help find a peaceful solution to the country’s escalating conflict.

My opinion: It makes no sense for the Obama administration to continue focusing exclusively on “engaging with Venezuela” and supporting mediation efforts such as Rodríguez Zapatero’s, which have only helped the Maduro regime win time. Obama’s unspoken goal may be to avoid an escalation of the Venezuelan crisis before he leaves office in January because it would taint his foreign policy legacy.

But, in light of Maduro’s power grab, the United States and all OAS democracies should invoke the group’s democratic charter and say: “Either Venezuela restores its constitutional order before Nov. 15 and allows a recall referendum by Jan. 10, or Venezuela will be suspended from the hemisphere’s diplomatic community.”

That would be the most effective way to reopen a constitutional path to solve the country’s crisis and avoid an escalation of violence, and a possible wave of hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of Venezuelan refugees that would join the estimated 1.4 million who have already left the country. It’s time to act, before it’s too late.


Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español