Andres Oppenheimer

Venezuela needs OAS action right now

Organization of American States head Luis Almagro
Organization of American States head Luis Almagro AP

What a shame. The historic decision by Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro to call for an official regional discussion on Venezuela’s break with democratic rule may be derailed by a group of countries that say they support democracy, but are really buying time for the Venezuelan regime.

The group is led by Argentina, whose foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, in effect needs Venezuela’s backing for her bid to become Secretary General of the United Nations. It is proposing an alternative resolution that it says is supported by more than 20 of the OAS’ 34 member countries, and that in effect postpones the Almagro-proposed regional meeting.

The group’s draft resolution calls for giving more time to a mediation effort by former Presidents Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Martin Torrijos of Panama “to reopen an effective dialogue” between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

Malcorra had already told me that much in a recent interview . She said that she supports ongoing mediation efforts by Zapatero and South America’s UNASUR bloc to allow a recall referendum in Venezuela — which is allowed by the Venezuelan constitution — but that “the conditions are not there” for an OAS meeting under the group’s Democratic Charter to discuss the break with the rule of law in Venezuela.

According to OAS chief Almagro’s spokesman Sergio Jellinek, Almagro submitted his proposal under the OAS Democratic Charter on May 31 after Argentina failed to show him a list of countries allegedly supporting a motion to give the Rodriguez Zapatero mediation mission a new chance.

Some OAS member countries say Almagro acted on impulse, without following diplomatic etiquette or consulting with member countries. Others fear that Almagro’s action could set a precedent for similar OAS calls for a regional debate on Brazil, or other countries in the midst of political crises.

Almagro’s proposed meeting on Venezuela, included in a 132-page report he presented, could lead to creation of a new mediation commission that could demand that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accept the laws passed by the opposition-majority National Assembly, free political prisoners, and proceed with a constitutionally allowed referendum on whether he should stay in power until the end of his term in 2019.

The Argentine-backed resolution offers “support” for the Rodriguez Zapatero mediation effort “with the goal of finding alternatives to favor political stability, social development and the economic recovery of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

Problem is, what’s needed to solve Venezuela’s rapidly deteriorating crisis is a much wider mediation commission that — unlike Rodriguez Zapatero’s or UNASUR’s — is not viewed as friendly to the Maduro regime. Under Almagro’s proposal, supported by the Venezuelan opposition, there should be a combined mediation effort that would include the OAS, UNASUR and the United Nations, as well as former presidents such as Rodriguez Zapatero.

“For the past seventeen years, the so-called dialogues between the Venezuelan government and the opposition have been media shows that helped the regime buy time without changing anything,” says Carlos Vecchio, a well-known Venezuelan opposition leader. “The only way to solve the crisis will be through international pressure for a real dialogue that produces results.”

At the time of this writing, the Argentina-sponsored resolution was likely to be approved. The Obama administration and Venezuela’s opposition were considering endorsing it, because the alternative — calling for an OAS vote on Almagro’s proposal, and losing it — could give the Maduro regime a major propaganda victory.

My opinion: The Argentine-sponsored alternate resolution is a textbook case of political hypocrisy. You can’t support democracy in Venezuela while delaying efforts to put greater international pressure on Venezuela’s regime to stop acting as a dictatorship, and to begin to abide by democratic rules such as respecting the Venezuelan Congress’ right to pass laws.

Venezuela needs OAS action, and now, to prevent a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis. If member countries want to give a last chance to the Rodriguez Zapatero mediation commission, so be it, but they should set a deadline for it to produce results by June 13, when the OAS General Assembly meets in the Dominican Republic for its annual foreign ministers meeting.

By then, there should be strong regional backing for a more credible mediation commission in Venezuela. The previous ones — including that of UNASUR and the ongoing one led by Rodriguez Zapatero — have proved to be too tolerant of Maduro’s systematic violation of the rule of law.

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

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