OAS scared of its own democratic charter

Miami Herald Editorial Board

A woman kicks the shield of a National Guard soldier during a protest demanding food in Caracas last week.
A woman kicks the shield of a National Guard soldier during a protest demanding food in Caracas last week. AP

When it comes to defending democracy, Latin American leaders talk a good game, but the moment someone proposes taking action on that principle, they scramble for cover. Case in point: Venezuela.

Last week, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, took the bold step of issuing a detailed 114-page report that indicts the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro for destroying what was once a democratic country.

He wants to call a meeting to boot Venezuela out of the community of democratic nations.

That Venezuela is no longer a democracy is not open to debate. During his 14 years as president, the late Hugo Chávez systematically dismantled the country’s democratic institutions of government and committed sweeping violations of democratic rule. By the time he died in 2013, he had shut down the independent media and jailed, exiled or silenced all effective opposition.

Mr. Maduro has followed in his footsteps, but his incompetence has led to a loss of popularity, and last year he lost control of the legislative branch. No matter. He has repeatedly resorted to dubious “emergency decrees” to bypass legislative authority and do as he wants.

Although these blatant violations of democracy are no secret, Mr. Almagro went to the trouble of laying out the government’s shameful record in painstaking detail in his report.

It calls attention to the social, political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, including the shortages of food and medicine, the economic collapse and the lack of political freedom.

“We have a multilateral commitment to uphold shared values and principles,” Mr. Almagro wrote in an effort to justify an urgent session of the OAS this month to consider whether to invoke the democratic provisions of the OAS charter that could lead to the ouster of Venezuela.

Mr. Almagro’s earlier warnings about the direction of Venezuela had already drawn President Maduro’s wild accusations that the OAS chief was a “traitor” and a “CIA agent.”

Yet in spite this sorry record, leaders across the region have voted instead to support a mediation effort led by former presidents of Spain, the Dominican Republic and Panama. Argentina led the way on this timid initiative because the country’s president may need Venezuela’s vote to help Argentina’s foreign minister become head of the United Nations. And most other Latin American countries happily went along because they fear “intervention” and accusations that they are supporting U.S. policy in the region.

That’s nonsense. Secretary of State John Kerry says he’s supporting the mediation effort, as well, but it’s bound to fail for a variety of reasons.

1. Effective mediation requires Venezuela to show that it’s interested in resolving the crisis and playing by the rules of democracy. There hasn’t been evidence of that for years. 2. It’s too late. Venezuela is a time bomb. There’s no time to waste on stalling tactics. 3. There’s no point in buying time for Mr. Maduro to “dialogue” with the democratic opposition — that’s exactly what he’s refused to do for years. What’s changed?

The case for invoking the democratic charter against the Maduro regime is overwhelming. OAS ministers should heed Mr. Almagro if and when the permanent council takes up the full report later this month. If they fail, they should admit that the OAS “commitment to uphold shared values and principles” is just so much baloney.