The member countries of the Rio Treaty agreed on Monday in New York to impose sanctions against members of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, but for the moment refused to consider using military force.
The approved resolution establishes that member countries may sanction and extradite members of the Maduro regime who participate in drug trafficking, terrorist activities, organized crime and human rights violations, as well as freeze their assets.
The agreement was described as “a momentous step” by Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.
The resolution was approved by 16 countries. Uruguay voted against, and Trinidad and Tobago abstained. Cuba was not present at the meeting, as it was expelled from the inter-American institutional system and has not formally requested its reinstatement.
The meeting of foreign ministers of the 18 active members of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance — known as TIAR for its initials in Spanish — which includes the United States, is the first in 18 years. It was convened at the request of the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó — recognized as interim president of Venezuela by the United States and more than 50 countries — to increase regional pressure on the Maduro regime.
Specific actions were addressed at the meeting to respond to what the Colombian ambassador, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, described as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in the region,” but the use of force was not discussed.
In discussions before the meeting, it had become clear that the military option would not have the majority support of the members of TIAR, Gustavo Tarre, Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States, told el Nuevo Herald.
”We do not propose battles to obtain symbolic victories except when we have the votes, and today we did not have the votes,” Tarre said.
“It has been a very arduous process to get countries to adopt these sanctions,” said Julio Borges, Guaidó’s envoy to the Lima Group, a Latin American organization founded to try to resolve the Venezuelan crisis. “You have to take things intelligently, gradually.”
The resolution adopted Monday establishes that member countries will share a list of people who would be sanctioned. Borges said that many countries have information on the assets of people linked to the regime.
Although the U.S. had warned that the activation of the TIAR group was not aimed at the approval of the use of military force, the meeting had caused great “speculation,” the Colombian foreign minister said before requesting that the meeting be held privately, without media coverage.
Guaidó sent a delegation to the United Nations to press for more sanctions against Maduro. Guaidó himself, in a video broadcast during an event organized by the Atlantic Council at noon Monday, said that the serious crisis that Venezuela is going through would not end “without the end of usurpation” and Maduro’s exit from power.
Early in the morning, Borges met with Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has submitted several critical reports of human rights violations under Maduro in Venezuela.
In the Atlantic Council event, Carlos Vecchio, the ambassador to Washington appointed by Guaidó, stressed that it is necessary to “go to the roots of the problem” causing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, which also affects several countries in the region due to the migration of millions of Venezuelans.
Vecchio blamed Maduro for the failure of recent negotiations in Barbados, sponsored by Norway, and took the opportunity to ask for more sanctions.
”We blame Maduro for closing a political solution” to the crisis, he said. “This is the time to increase the pressure to create the conditions for a transition. It is what we are asking the international community.”
Vecchio also said that the Maduro regime represents a security problem for the region.
Representatives of the Venezuelan opposition and the Colombian government have stressed that Maduro and its his government constitute a danger due to the support they are offering within Venezuela to members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, both considered terrorist groups.
For the Venezuelan opposition, this argument was key to requesting a military intervention under the umbrella of TIAR, although several U.S. officials had declared that the activation of the treaty aims to provide the necessary legal framework to impose multilateral sanctions, not military action.
Throughout the day it became clear that the countries in the region would not approve military action at this time.
In the morning, the Lima Group, composed of 13 Latin American countries plus the United States and Canada, also discussed the Venezuelan issue at a meeting at U.N. headquarters.
The group expressed its willingness to adopt new sanctions against the Maduro regime to favor a transition, but clarified that it should be “without the use of force.”
However, the U.S. would not agree to exclude the use of military force from the joint declaration approved by the members of TIAR “so as not to run out of options in the future,” said a State Department source who asked not to be identified to speak about the negotiations.
A few minutes before the start of the TIAR meeting, a senior official of the Trump administration said that the inclusion of a sentence to exclude the use of force in the statement was “superfluous.”
”I don’t think anyone in this hemisphere or in Europe believes that invoking the Rio Treaty is a path to war,” the senior U.S. official told reporters minutes before the TIAR meeting.
On Wednesday, the Venezuelan opposition will have another opportunity to advocate for more pressure against Maduro, when President Donald Trump meets with hemispheric leaders to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
McClatchy DC reporter Michael Wilner contributed to this story.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres