By Stefano Palestini Céspedes*
Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General, met with Freddy Guevara, First Vice President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, in Washington, DC in early February 2017. / Juan Manuel Herrera, OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s second report on Venezuela, issued on March 14, reflects his personal commitment to enforce the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but risks getting ahead of the organization’s member states and could ultimately hurt the credibility of the charter and OAS. The 73-page document states that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has become a “dictatorial regime” that violates “every article” of the Charter; concludes that all attempts at dialogue have failed; and essentially calls for the OAS to suspend Venezuela’s membership in accordance with the charter’s democracy clause. Almagro said the UNASUR negotiation (supported by the Vatican) has failed to achieve any of its proposed objectives and has become “a tool for reinforcing the regime’s worst authoritarian features domestically and, externally, for not engaging in international condemnation and pressure.”
- The report concludes with an ultimatum: If the government does not call for general elections, release all political prisoners, restore all laws it has annulled, and select a new electoral authority and a supreme tribunal in the next 30 days, Venezuela should be suspended from the OAS. Few observers believe Maduro could meet these conditions even if he wanted.
Almagro’s actions, including his forceful call for application of Article 21 of the Charter – the “democracy clause” – moves his office and the OAS into uncharted territory as it would be the first time it is applied against an elected government. Article 21 was applied against the government in Honduras that came to power in a coup in June 2009, but the sanctions were initiated at the request of ousted President Zelaya and strongly supported by Latin American governments – including Hugo Chávez – and Washington. To enforce Article 21 against an incumbent government, a strong consensus needs to be built.
The Secretary General’s showdown with President Maduro presents a test for the Charter and, ultimately, for the OAS, as it pushes the organization beyond its traditional institutional limits. Any decision on suspension must be approved by a two-thirds majority of member states, whose delegates represent executive branches that traditionally have shied from intervening in each other’s affairs. Some insiders also grumble that the Secretary General has fallen short in his consultation with the member states; instead he seems to take a partisan position such as by inviting Maduro’s opposition to OAS headquarters this week for a press conference. If the members back Almagro’s call for suspension, he will have demonstrated that principled arguments can break even strong institutional barriers – moving OAS into a new phase. In that case, the Secretary General together with the member states will need to come up with a post-suspension plan; only then will OAS become part of the solution to Venezuela’s crisis. If member states do not support the Secretary General’s call, Almagro will be respected as a leader moved by convictions, but the OAS will probably move one step down towards irrelevance.
March 21, 2017
* Stefano Palestini Céspedes is CLALS Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he specializes in international organizations and regional governance.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 21, 2017
By Michael McCarthy*
Photo Credits: Nicolas Raymond and 2 dvx ve (modified) / Flickr and Wikimedia Commons, respectively / Creative Commons
Venezuela is just beginning to feel the shock waves of the opposition’s landslide victory and humbling defeat of President Nicolás Maduro’s PSUV. Riding a wave of discontent with the Maduro government’s management of the economy and political repression, the opposition Mesa de Unidad (MUD) coalition won at least 112 seats in the 167-seat parliament, giving it a commanding two-thirds majority. The MUD won the popular vote 56-41. The political scenarios are wide open. Some preliminary analytical judgments follow:
- Maduro has accepted the election results, but serious questions remain whether he and his advisors will engage in the give-and-take necessary to make divided government work. He is restructuring his cabinet and has called on supporters to “relaunch” the Bolivarian Revolution. He says he will strenuously oppose any amnesty law for imprisoned opposition members – a top MUD priority – and that he will “go to combat” if the opposition tries to remove him from office.
- Despite its historic achievement, the opposition will face challenges to build sustainable unity. The MUD is a heterogeneous electoral alliance, and the hardline and moderate factions are likely to disagree about strategy – whether the time is ripe for pressing for Maduro’s resignation or for cultivating support from disaffected chavistas.
- The opposition faces the challenge of demonstrating a commitment to what they have criticized most about chavismo – democratic inclusion. If they want to put Venezuela back together, for example, the MUD will have to decide how to provide PSUV officials guarantees of political inclusion.
- Passing an amnesty law for political prisoners and addressing the dire economic situation are high on the MUD’s unified agenda – and probably will remain part of a consensus platform.
- Less clear is how aggressively the opposition will push its agenda from the National Assembly. Most in the MUD are more closely aligned with the moderate strategy of former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, but others will want to push harder. They may try to remove chavista-appointed Supreme Court judges likely to oppose Constitutional changes that would curtail Maduro’s powers.
- The forced resignation of Guatemalan President Pérez Molina and the recent opening of an impeachment process against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff may embolden similar initiatives in Venezuela.
- The country’s tarnished election system functioned better than many critics had predicted. The 74 percent voter turnout was eight points higher than the last legislative elections. Reports of violence and irregularities were few. The Armed Forces provided effective security at the polls, and behaved in a manner that suggests an interest in defending their institutional reputation. The National Electoral Council (CNE) disappointed many by issuing an unprecedented call for voting centers to remain open even if there were no voters in line, and for delaying reporting the final results, but the voting process was clean enough.
- Outside Venezuela, chavismo’s loss may be a setback from some leftists – but a relief for most others. Maduro’s defeat is a potential liberation from the albatross that the disastrous Venezuelan regime has become. For most left-leaning leaders, chavismo had become a deeply flawed project that has, for several years, been toxic.
- For anti-chavistas outside Venezuela (including some in Washington), the election results indicate that the way to overcome the catastrophe over which Maduro presided was not to threaten the regime with sanctions and encourage extremists in the opposition, but instead to push for the election to take place, with the most safeguards possible. There is precedent for Latin American dictatorships falling in elections that they put on the agenda and then could not stop.
- Although Maduro’s saber-rattling along the Colombian and Guyanese borders failed to divert attention from his internal mess, his rhetoric of resistance to yielding power suggests the international community should keep an eye on him in case he tries again.
- The Venezuelan victors should also understand the anxiety of their neighbors over the future of Petrocaribe and other initiatives. Venezuela under Chavez did an enormous service to the region by subsidizing oil in ways that helping governments achieve important social advances. Long before Chavez, Venezuela used its oil wealth to support allies. Such assistance is as important now as it has been for decades.
December 9, 2015
* Michael McCarthy is a Research Fellow with the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.
Posted by clalsstaff on December 9, 2015
Photo credit: INTERNATIONAL REALTOR | Foter.com | CC-BY
Three weeks after elections to choose Hugo Chávez’s successor, confusion still reigns in both Caracas and Washington. The Venezuelan opposition has rejected the results of the election, which the electoral tribunal says Chávez’s handpicked man – Nicolás Maduro – won by only 1.8 percent. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles originally asked only for a vote recount – considered reasonable by many because of the narrow margin – but his lawyers upped the ante on 2 May when they officially demanded that the vote be invalidated and new elections be held. Isolated incidents of political violence turned up the heat in Caracas, although the Götterdämmerung scenarios in the streets that some analysts predicted have not yet materialized.
Every major country of the hemisphere has recognized Maduro as President – except the United States. (Canada wavered at first but seems to have moved on.) Washington has invested millions of dollars in “democracy promotion” programs over the years and has provided Capriles and the opposition enduring political support in their efforts to beat Chávez at the polls and later to beat Maduro as his hand-picked successor. Since the April election, the U.S. government has endorsed the opposition’s call for a vote recount. So has the OAS, which offered experts to assist in the process. But only Washington has said that while it is “working with” the Maduro Government, it doesn’t recognize its legitimacy. The State Department spokesman dodged the issue repeatedly last week, and in an interview with Univisión broadcast at the conclusion of his visit to Mexico last Friday, President Obama himself refused to say whether his Administration officially recognized Maduro as President. He left little doubt as to his real position, however, when he said that basic principles of human rights, democracy, press freedom and freedom of assembly were not observed in Venezuela following the election.
As AULABLOG pointed out on 23 April, the irony of the United States demanding a hand-count of the ballots is not lost on millions of Latin Americans who remember Washington’s performance in the 2000 Bush-Gore vote – and that it was a politically divided Supreme Court that made the final decision. The tightness of the vote, Venezuelan electoral realities (past and present), and President Maduro’s over-the-top rhetoric – last week he again accused Washington of backing “neo-Nazis” allegedly trying to overthrow his government and accused a filmmaker of being a spy – make it hard for observers to argue that the elections are legitimate. President Obama’s statements, including his remark that the spying charge was “ridiculous,” have been measured and continue a noteworthy shift since the near-hysteria about Venezuela during the Bush Administration. But the fact remains that the U.S. Government’s posture on Venezuela – perhaps unique in its bilateral relations with Latin America since the Cold War – has made it once again the outrider and, among people who remember the Bush-Gore decision, the butt of many jokes. Importantly, Capriles may be reading Washington’s stance as an endorsement of his own increasingly puzzling demands. As our 23 April post suggested, Capriles ought to see himself as having a historic chance to lead, poised to challenge Chavismo easily at the polls the next time around. Yet, like Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2006, he may be squandering an opportunity to present himself to the Venezuelan electorate as the responsible grownup in the room.
Posted by clalsstaff on May 6, 2013
Photo: Venezuela elections 2012 | by World Development Movement | Flickr | Creative Commons
Polls in anticipation of Venezuela’s presidential election on October 7 yield, not surprisingly, wildly different results. A survey by Datanálisis puts President Chávez ahead of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by nearly 15 points, and Consultores 21 predicts a much tighter race and places Capriles on top with just a narrow margin. Both Chávez and Capriles have declared that they have the support of the majority of Venezuelans. Chávez insists that he needs to complete his “Bolivarian Revolution.” Capriles has vowed to tackle everyday issues, such as rising crime and violence, and has pledged to liberalize currency controls and promote investment in agriculture. Both predict dire consequences if they lose. Chávez contends that “civil war” will break out, and Capriles insists that a Chávez victory would take Venezuela one step closer to becoming “another Cuba.”
Polling data are notoriously unreliable wherever elections are not strictly about choosing a government but, to some citizens, are perceived as involving a change in the underlying regime. For many Venezuelans, both pro- and anti-Chavista, the balloting in October is precisely about regime continuity or change. The surveys undoubtedly reflect that this may indeed be a transcendent election in Venezuela. This unreliability further complicates analysis of what happens after the election: how both sides would respond to a razor-thin margin of victory or to a decisive verdict. In the latter circumstance, the losing parties would seem to have no option but to relent, but the challenge would be no less daunting if Capriles wins and has to effect a smooth transition.
The Obama Administration, for its part, has tried to keep its distance from the Chávez government – except for the occasional counternarcotics cooperation – and overall has avoided interference in the electoral process. But persistent tensions in the relationship make it hard for Washington to assert neutrality in the elections. Capriles, in an interview with the Miami Herald, criticized the Obama administration for caring little about Latin America, saying “I think the bureaucracy ate him up.” Capriles urged the U.S. to establish a “relationship of equals” with Latin American nations. Such criticism most likely reflects a desire by Capriles to appear independent of Washington, but should he find himself in the Presidency, it may take on a life of its own – and he may join most of the region’s leaders in regretting U.S. aloofness toward the region.
Posted by clalsstaff on September 26, 2012