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Venezuela calls for extraordinary OAS meeting

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a government meeting Tuesday in Caracas. He pledged to remain tougher than ever in the face of an effort to recall him.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a government meeting Tuesday in Caracas. He pledged to remain tougher than ever in the face of an effort to recall him. Palacio de Miraflores

The Venezuelan government, in a surprise move, has requested an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of American States as members discuss whether the socialist nation should be suspended from the group.

The move to have the OAS meet Thursday to discuss what is taking place in Venezuela, where the government recently cut its workweek to two days in the face of electricity shortages, marks a change in strategy by the government, which previously has accused the OAS of interfering in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

It comes just two days after government opponents turned in petitions containing as many as 1.85 million signatures demanding that President Nicolás Maduro face a recall referendum and shortly after a delegation of opposition leaders from Venezuela’s General Assembly traveled to Washington to ask OAS officials to invoke the organization’s Democratic Charter, which sets standards for government behavior.

A finding that the Maduro government has violated the charter could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from most OAS activities.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez called for the meeting, presumably to defend the socialist government.

Maduro is under intense pressure. The oil-dependent nation has spiraled into economic turmoil as oil prices have plummeted. Venezuelans face acute shortages of food and medicine, and a drought has cut the production of electricity, leading to the shortened public sector workweek, rolling electricity blackouts and the closure of schools on some days.

We are prepared to help Venezuela get back on its feet economically. But we’ve got to have an executive authority in Venezuela which is ready to respect the people and respect the rule of law.

Secretary of State John Kerry

Venezuelan legislator Richard Blanco, who was among the opposition leaders who traveled to Washington, said the Venezuelan people couldn’t continue to live this way. He accused the Maduro government of blocking the General Assembly’s effort to pass legislation to deal with the country’s problems.

Blanco said it was ultimately up to the OAS member states whether to suspend the Venezuelan government.

“What we are asking is that the OAS evaluate what options they have to help improve democracy in Venezuela,” he told McClatchy in an interview.

It’s unclear whether the OAS’s 35 member states would support such a drastic move. Latin American leaders have shown little interest in taking strong action against another sitting government. But Venezuela’s political influence has been waning with its worsening economic problems and its weakening subsidized oil-export program, Petrocaribe – a powerful tool that the Venezuelan government has been able to use to wield political influence in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer last month that the United States supported the idea of invoking the charter.

“Pressing for full democracy and full respect for elections is always a good idea,” Kerry said in an interview broadcast on CNN Espanol. “We are prepared to help Venezuela get back on its feet economically. But we’ve got to have an executive authority in Venezuela which is ready to respect the people and respect the rule of law.”

The door is always open for Cuba to participate in these conversations.

Juan Gonzalez, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America and the Caribbean

The request for the special meeting came as officials from Caribbean and Central American nations met in Washington for the U.S.-Caribbean-Central American Energy Summit, geared toward helping the developing nation’s gain energy independence.

U.S. officials say the conference has nothing to do with Venezuela, but the oil-rich nation served as a backdrop to discussions with the international delegations. Juan Gonzalez, deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America and the Caribbean, said that the conference was about energy independence. But he acknowledged that the yearlong decline in oil prices provides an opportunity for nations to drop out of the Petrocaribe program.

“The drop in energy prices has really led a lot of countries, particularly Caribbean, to look to the spot market rather than rely on Petrocaribe,” he said.

The United States has reached out to Venezuela to discuss how the two countries can work together to support energy independence in the region, he said. Gonzalez said Cuba was invited to the summit but chose not to attend.

“We don’t interpret this as something negative,” he said. “The door is always open for Cuba to participate in these conversations.”

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