Despite the 34-country Organization of American States’ recent failure to pass a resolution demanding that Venezuela restore democratic rule, domestic and international pressure on Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro is likely to increase in coming weeks.
Don’t be fooled by Maduro’s temporary diplomatic victory at the June 19 OAS meeting in Cancún, Mexico, nor by Maduro’s apparent control of the armed forces following a confusing June 27 incident in which someone in a police helicopter apparently fired shots on Venezuela’s government-controlled Supreme Court.
Venezuela’s political crisis, which has already resulted in 77 deaths in street protests over the past three months, will keep heating up.
Maduro won a diplomatic battle at the OAS meeting thanks to the help of a handful of small Caribbean countries. Amazingly, they managed to defeat a resolution backed by 20 major countries — including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — that demanded a restoration of democratic rule in Venezuela.
The stunning diplomatic upset was in part due to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s disastrous decision not to attend the OAS meeting of foreign ministers. If Tillerson had been there to meet with his counterparts from small Caribbean islands, offer them incentives and twist their arms, the resolution would have most likely been approved, diplomats say.
So what’s going to happen from now on? Here are some of the things being discussed in Latin American capitals and Washington, D.C., as the political and economic crisis escalates in Venezuela:
First, the U.S. Congress is likely to propose a larger-than-average cut in U.S. foreign aid to the countries that voted against the OAS resolution, or abstained, in hopes of pressing them to vote for democracy in Venezuela the next time.
St. Vincent and Grenadines, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Nicaragua and Bolivia voted against the OAS resolution, while Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda abstained. The resolution needed three of these votes to reach the required a 23-vote majority.
“Let there be no doubt Haiti, Dominican Republic & El Salvador support for Nicolas Maduro will impact relationship with U.S.,” Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on June 22. A well-placed congressional aide told me that “it is becoming difficult for U.S. lawmakers to support U.S. foreign assistance to holdout countries that back the Maduro regime.”
Trump has proposed a 32 percent overall cut in U.S. foreign aid for 2018 but — even if that amount is approved by Congress — the Trump administration could allocate the funds in ways that would reward pro-democracy countries and punish those that are backing Maduro, congressional sources say.
Second, the OAS may soon invite Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz — a longtime government ally who recently accused Maduro of breaking the rule of law — to address the organization’s general assembly in Washington, D.C. Her report of human rights abuses by the Maduro regime could make it harder for some countries to maintain their abstentions in future OAS votes on Venezuela.
Third, Venezuela’s opposition-majority National Assembly, most of whose powers have been illegally cut by Maduro, could soon decide to appoint a transition government and request its recognition by the international community.
It sounds far-fetched, but the National Assembly and the country’s attorney general have already determined that Maduro has broken the country’s constitutional rule. In addition, 17 major OAS member countries have already signed a declaration in early April stating that there has been a “serious alteration of constitutional rule” in Venezuela.
If Maduro goes ahead with his plan to convene a constituent assembly to draft a Cuban-styled constitution that would abolish the democratically elected National Assembly, those National Assembly legislators would have few options but to go on the offensive, appoint a transition government and ask other countries to recognize it.
My opinion: Sure, the OAS foreign ministers meeting in Cancún was a defeat for the cause of democracy in Venezuela. But the game is far from over. There are growing signs of dissent within the Venezuelan regime, increasing Latin American anger at the rupture of democratic rule in Venezuela, and a growing appetite in the U.S. Congress for cuts in aid to countries that still support Maduro. This movie is just beginning.
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Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español