For the OAS, the May 20 elections in Venezuela are not legitimate, meaning: the OAS does not recognize Maduro and his regime as the legitimate holders of power in Venezuela.
The process, says its June 5 resolution, didn’t conform to international standards, excluded most political actors and lacked basic guarantees of being free, transparent and democratic.
Approved by 19 countries in favor, 11 abstentions and 4 votes against (including Venezuela’s), this is the latest giro de tuerca in the international community’s efforts towards forcing Venezuela’s return to democracy, also paving the way towards formally implementing the OAS Democratic Charter , which could mean Venezuela’s suspension from the organization.
The number of countries that abstained was surprising, given how obvious the devastating effects of the economic, political and humanitarian crises are being felt all over the region. The most salient among the abstentions was Uruguay’s, which had voted in favor of the February 23 resolution, calling for the date of the elections to be reconsidered and asking for humanitarian measures to be taken. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ecuador also abstained, while Suriname changed its vote from against to abstention. Perhaps the most remarkable position was that of Dominican Republic, which voted in favor after abstaining in February. Coming from the government that hosted two formal rounds of “dialogue” (and numerous informal meetings between the regime and the opposition), this gesture can only be interpreted as the Dominicans final realization of Maduro’s true character.
The resolution is unambiguous regarding the alteration of the Constitutional order, and the lack of separation of powers. Most significantly, it recognizes the regional impact of the humanitarian crisis in terms of health and migratory flows, asking for concrete measures, including an appeal to Venezuela’s regime to allow humanitarian aid into the country. It also asks for the implementation of epidemiological surveillance measures, given the resurgence of measles, malaria and diphtheria, and it clears the path for countries to exert pressure of their own, something that could translate into further financial and economic sanctions.
The idea of Venezuela’s suspension of the OAS has stirred some debate over the past few days, as it presents a not-so-minor dilemma. Some argue against it, saying this would leave Venezuelans vulnerable and unprotected, and it’d be aligned with the regime’s plan to isolate itself from international scrutiny on democracy and human rights. Sure enough, this is exactly what Maduro wants and the reason why it has already denounced the OAS Charter and prepared Venezuela’s exit from the organization, effective on April 2019.
But letting a regime that shows utter disregard for the well-being of its population (and for diplomacy, multilateralism, democracy and justice, values upon which the OAS was built) to be a member state, would be against the organization’s very raison d’être, which is no other than to work collectively to promote and protect democracy as the political system that guarantees justice, equality and progress.
A suspension under Article 21 will not exempt Venezuela from its obligations derived from the OAS Charter, and neither will a final exit. And while there are various interpretations of this fact, Article 143 of the OAS Charter establishes that states “shall cease to belong to the Organization after it has fulfilled the obligations arising from (it).” These obligations include, among others, the payment of overdue contributions and the implementation of rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, like in the case of the Caracazo.
Suspension seems to be not only the more viable option, but also the more desirable.
In fact, in a press conference right after the resolution’s adoption, Secretary General Almagro stated that Venezuela’s exit from the OAS is not at all clear, as he had received a letter from then National Assembly Speaker Julio Borges, and a note from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice in exile, stating that the move to denounce the Charter was unconstitutional. This is a tricky issue, as Article 236 of the Venezuelan Constitution confers the Executive the power to direct the country’s foreign relations and ratify agreements, previously approved by the National Assembly. The note denouncing the Charter was delivered in 2017, so the argument that the government was not legitimate does not apply. Yet, as this decision would have direct effects on Venezuelans, especially on the Inter-American System of protection of human rights, it certainly could have merited a thorough discussion across different branches of power.
But no matter which course the issue of suspension versus exit takes, the reality is that in both scenarios diplomatic efforts to restore democracy will not cease, not only as a matter of principle, but also as crude political calculation, since it’d be the only possible way of decreasing the influx of migrants and counteract the epidemiological threat Venezuela has become.
Those diplomatic efforts are doomed to fail if: 1) There’s no internal political unity and organization, as there are limits in how far the OAS can go, and; 2) There’s no recognition of the true nature of Maduro’s regime, and how it defies existing international and regional institutional frameworks and tools, an issue Almagro has raised on several occasions, but still needs to be looked at closely. The regime’s desire to hold on to power is not only associated to ideological and political plans; it guarantees impunity for crimes of various sorts that are becoming more blatant across the globe.