Sen. Marco Rubio sent a strong warning to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Haiti on Monday, saying that it would be difficult to protect them from possible cuts in U.S. aid if they fail to defend democracy when the Venezuelan government comes up for a possible sanctions vote at the Organization of American States (OAS).
The Florida Republican, one of the harshest critics of the Venezuelan government in Washington, told El Nuevo Herald that the OAS vote set for Tuesday is exceptionally important for the future of democracy in the region, and of the hemispheric organization itself.
The vote would even affect the assistance that Washington provides to El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, he added.
“This is not a threat, but it is the reality,” said Rubio, one of the architects of U.S. laws that already sanction Venezuela’s chavista government because of the corruption and human rights violations in the oil-producing country.
“We have a very difficult situation in Washington, where massive cuts in foreign aid are under consideration,” the senator said. “And it will be very difficult for us to justify assistance to those countries if they, at the end of the day, are countries that do not cooperate in the defense of democracy in the region.”
Rubio said he was surprised that some countries in the region had not yet decided how to vote this week at the OAS, despite a hard-hitting report by Secretary General Luis Almagro that details how the regime of President Nicolas Maduro has become a dictatorship, led by drug traffickers, that regularly breaks all sections of the organization’s Inter-American Democratic Charter.
He was especially surprised by the indecision in El Salvador, Dominican Republic and Haiti, all countries that Rubio said “have suffered a lot in terms of humanitarian issues and have themselves suffered the consequences of the lack of democracy.”
In order for Venezuela to be suspended, two-thirds of the OAS members would need to vote in favor. Last year, the nation survived a push by Almagro to open proceedings against it for violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter when Haiti and two other nations voted against the move. Haiti’s support of Venezuela did not sit well with some of Almagro’s supporters, who noted that he had backed the country's interim government's decision to redo its fraud-plagued presidential elections despite objections by the United States.
Since then, a new government has taken power in Haiti and it remains unclear how it will vote. Past Haitian governments have routinely sided with Venezuela in international disputes because of the historic ties both nations share — Venezuelan leader Simon Bolivar received food and shelter in southern Haiti before liberating South America from Spanish rule — and the discounted PetroCaribe oil program.
Rubio said he’s been in touch with President Donald Trump and the presidents of Costa Rica and Honduras to win their support for Almagro’s proposal to activate the Charter in the case of Venezuela, which would trigger sanctions on the South American nation.
The U.S. government will undoubtedly support the Almagro proposals on Tuesday, the senator added, along with many other countries in the region that have become concerned over the deterioration of democratic institutions in Latin America.
“The next few days will be very important for the future of democracy in the region,” Rubio said.
Miami Herald Caribbean Correspondent Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.
Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter: @DelgadoAntonioM