At the OAS, Nineteen Countries Move to Reject the Legitimacy of Maduro’s New Term

The atmosphere was electric at a session that showed only Bolivia, Nicaragua and a dwindling band of Caribbean microstates remain on Maduro’s side.

Photo: La Verdad de Monagas retrieved

Yesterday, at the OAS, I witnessed the most shocking display of international cohesion I’ve ever seen in a vote on Venezuela: an unprecedented 19 votes in favor of a motion against the Maduro regime. (There were also six against, eight abstentions and one no show.)

Yes, Mexico abstained (López Obrador said he wouldn’t support the resolution), but the Dominican Republic broke its own trend and even Haiti defied expectations. It would have been reasonable to assume they’d stick to their previous positions and support chavismo but, yesterday, the room erupted in applause, as agreed to “not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s new term, as of the 10th of January of 2019.”

Ok, it wasn’t quite an ovation, but some people applauded, others half applauded and others (like me) weren’t sure what to do. The resolution passed. Por los pelos, but it passed.

The resolution passed. Por los pelos, but it passed.

I got to the OAS building as early as I could, to be sure I didn’t miss any of the action. Outside, everything was calm at the time; we would later hear a demonstration just outside, below-freezing temperatures be damned. We knew one had been called for, yet the weather made us doubt. They did show up, and I have nothing but respect for the more than 40 people that braved the weather to support the allies of the Venezuelan people.

It was a packed house, and the air carried an odd mixture of hope and nihilism. By the time I sat down at the Libertador Simón Bolívar room (amused by the international observers expected to be in attendance, including Hungary), Maduro was being sworn in. People around me cracked up with laughter when Maikel Moreno forgot the words to the travesty they called “oath” but there wasn’t much time for fun and games, as the session was about to start and no one came to play carritos.

The political waltz began: Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela all came out against the consensus proposed by Colombia. Venezuelans around me made snarky comments on how shocked they were by the turn of events, yet, after the delicious dinner (19 votes in favor, remember), it was time for dessert.

David Smolansky, head of the OAS’ migration task force, addressed reporters at this time. He spoke of the great progress that meant getting the DR and Haiti on board, reassuring people that this was a step in the right direction and warning regional heads of state about the cost of inaction (as many as 2 million more Venezuelan migrants this year that would have to be added to more than 3.3 million already abroad).

Smolanski spoke of the great progress that meant getting the DR and Haiti on board, and warning regional heads of state about the cost of inaction. 

The belle of the ball was taking the stage, as Smolansky ended his brief. Vicecanciller Samuel Moncada didn’t disappoint, delivering a speech that was as passionate as it was contradictory. He complained about the OAS suspending Venezuela, forgetting how his delegation promoted the suspension of Honduras and Paraguay when friendly regimes were ousted. He attacked the Tribunal Supremo en el exilio for trying to form a government in exile, skipping over the fact that chavismo recognized the exiled government of Saharaui as legitimate.

However, he was passionate and he was also cocky. He recalled previous instances when the United States meddled in Venezuelan affairs and failed, predicting it would fail again. I was surprised to hear someone so arrogant, yet so desperate about the sanctions placed by the U.S. government. What is it then, Mr. Moncada? Is the U.S. too powerful, or too inept?

We did see Juan Guaidó’s press conference, with the session now over. I must say, even in the OAS we were bewildered by the comments that poured as he spoke, from people who were expecting him to name himself president right then and there.

But, all in all, the air seemed lighter. Venezuelans outside seemed to immune to the cold, as they kept high spirits, chanting for democracy. Their energy and optimism was certainly inspiring; Venezuelans in the room seemed hopeful, too, about taking this step. I had the chance to speak to an ambassador who seemed disappointed about not making greater strides.

I reassured him, as I want to reassure you now, that most important battles are never won quickly. Dr. Strange dixit, “we are in the end game now.”

Pedro Garmendia

Pedro is a Penn State alumnus focusing in politics and philosophy. After a four year stint at the OAS, he now works in Washington D.C. analyzing political risk and geopolitics for private sector clients.