The Organization of American States on Wednesday is hoping to achieve the unlikely: force Venezuela’s government and an emboldened opposition to hold talks that might quell violence and chart a path out of a crushing economic and political crisis.
Foreign ministers from more than 20 OAS member countries are scheduled to meet Wednesday with the sole purpose of discussing Venezuela’s troubles.
Among the goals are to establish a “contact group” that might help get both sides back to the negotiating table, said senior U.S. State Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Because of the regime’s poor choices and poor management, Venezuela now faces an interlocking series of crises: political, economic, humanitarian and social,” the official said. Those problems will only be able to be resolved through “good faith negotiations amongst all Venezuelans.”
The problem is, good faith is in short supply. The opposition — burned by talks that went nowhere in the past — has said it will continue to protest until the government calls general elections and releases political prisoners.
And while President Nicolás Maduro says he is interested in dialogue, he continues to accuse the opposition of being illegitimate and obsessed with mounting a coup. To complicate matters, in Maduro’s eyes, the OAS is part of the problem.
The administration is calling for marches of its own Wednesday to coincide with the meeting in Washington. Elías Jaua, who is leading the government’s controversial efforts to overhaul the constitution, said it would be an “anti-imperialist march to tell the governments that are meeting [Wednesday] at the OAS — with the intention of approving meddlesome measures against Venezuela — that the fatherland must be respected.”
Last month, Venezuela announced that it is withdrawing from the body, which includes every nation in the hemisphere but Cuba, but the exit won’t be effective until 2019.
Wednesday’s extraordinary meeting comes as two months of protests have left almost 60 dead on both sides of the political divide.
Over the weekend, Goldman Sachs got pulled into the fray after it emerged that it had bought $2.8 billion worth of Venezuelan government bonds at a steep discount of 31 cents on the dollar.
In a scathing letter to Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Julio Borges, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, called the deal an “outrage” that provides a “lifeline to [an] authoritarian regime that is systematically violating the human rights of Venezuelans.”
“Moreover, the fire sale nature of this transaction is clear evidence the Maduro regime did not have Venezuela’s best interest in mind when conducting this operation,” Borges wrote. “The regime’s decision to conduct this transaction was made under duress driven by its desperate desire to gain resources needed to secure weapons and other instruments of repression in order to stay in power.”
He also said he would work to keep future governments from recognizing the debt.
In a statement, Goldman Sachs Asset Management team said it bought the bonds, which were issued in 2014, on the secondary market from a broker and did not interact with the Venezuelan government.
“We recognize that the situation is complex and evolving and that Venezuela is in crisis. We agree that life there has to get better, and we made the investment in part because we believe it will,” the company said.
It’s unclear how many foreign ministers will be at Wednesday’s meeting and how many might agree to reprimand Venezuela. Despite growing pressure from neighbors like Colombia, Maduro still counts on the support of many Caribbean nations, where Venezuela provides subsidized crude.
The State Department official said that Venezuela has historically been “very influential” in the region, which allowed it to control the debate at the OAS.
“But we have seen an increasing number of countries that have been so concerned about events on the ground in Venezuela, including the humanitarian situation and the spillover effect in neighboring countries, that they’ve been willing to take a firmer position,” he predicted.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss