A special commission of the two largest associations of Latin American nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, which includes all of the Latin America and the Caribbean) and Union of South American Nations(UNASUR, which represents South American countries) met to discuss US attacks on Venezuelan democracy in a February 11 meeting.
Held in Montevideo, Uruguay, to analyse the relationship between the United States and Venezuela as well as the situation inside Venezuela, the joint commission was convened at the request of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The commission includes the foreign ministers of Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil, as well as UNASUR secretary general Ernesto Samper.
Early indications are that this broad-based association is calling for the US to cease interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela; for the start of a US–Venezuela dialogue, and for Venezuela's government to resume a dialogue inside Venezuela.
This call is the latest in a series of statements of solidarity with Caracas and rejecting US meddling in the internal affairs of Latin American nations that have been issued by regional political and economic associations, as well as social movements.
On February 9, Council on Hemispheric Affairs Larry Birns noted: “Washington is basically being berated by Latin America for its campaign to pressure and to otherwise weigh-in against the region’s sovereignty and its inalienable right to conduct its own economic and political policies according to its own writ.
“It appears that Washington believes it can carve away, in silence, the rest of Latin America, including Cuba, from Venezuela. But the statements coming out of UNASUR and CELAC should serve as a strong reminder that Latin American unity remains intact.”
The UNASUR commission has convened at a time of increasing US belligerency towards the Maduro administration in the form of sanctions, unsubstantiated bids to criminalise and delegitimise the government, and increases in soft-power funding to opposition groups inside Venezuela.
In response to the expanded sanctions imposed by Washington against Caracas, Venezuela's Foreign Ministry said in a February 3 statement that Venezuela deplores US measures that “continue violating the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and non-interference in the internal affairs inherent in international law”.
There is an urgent sense within the “Chavista” camp, as the mass revolutionary movement led by the Maduro government is known, that with a divided right-wing opposition inside Venezuela, foreign interference will be stepped up.
This view is shared by others. At a February 4 meeting between Maduro and Samper, the UNASUR secretary general said: “I want to reiterate publicly that the position of UNASUR that is in its charter … is absolutely clear and unequivocal in pointing out that any attempt at destabilisation that is brought about against a democracy or attempt to destabilise a government can count on the unanimous rejection of the countries of the South.”
At the Montevideo meeting, Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patino said, on behalf of the commission: “[It is] absolutely illegal for the US to impose and activate new sanctions against officials of the Venezuelan government.”
The commission expressed concern that Washington’s attack against Venezuela would be perceived as giving the green light to the more violent elements of the Venezuelan opposition.
There was also a comparison made between the mounting assault on the state from both inside and outside the country and the events leading up to the 2002 US-backed coup that briefly ousted then-president Hugo Chavez.
The UNASUR commission meeting comes one year after the so called “exit now” strategy was waged by elements of the US-backed opposition. This campaign pushed for regime change and led to violent street demonstrations in some middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods.
The UNASUR meeting is being held just months before parliamentary elections in Venezuela that will help determine the future direction of the nation's political and economic policies.
The Maduro administration has been under huge pressure to resolve serious consumer product shortages, bring inflation under control, and address the erosion of salaries in the face of currency devaluation.
These problems are worsened by the fall in oil prices that has dramatically cut Venezuela’s export income. Maduro has stepped up enforcement of anti-hoarding laws and calls for the acceleration of domestic agricultural production.
The government says shortages are largely the result of an economic war being waged by some key elements of the business sector that would like to finish the Bolivarian socialist project. Speculators are also accused of diverting products from store shelves into warehouses or transporting goods into Colombia where they fetch much higher prices than governmental legal prices.
As Maduro pushes back against hoarding and speculation, and commits to continuing the social missions introduced by Chavez a decade earlier, a divided opposition is pushing for market-oriented reforms.
These include removing price controls on some basic goods, repealing pro-worker laws and a rise in provision of dollars for use in importing goods at preferential exchange rates.
Maduro, however, is holding firm to the legacy of Chavez in pushing the socialist project, though he has also faced criticism from the Chavista left, who sometimes charge him with moving too slowly in this direction.
[Abridged from Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Frederick B. Mills is a COHA Senior Research Fellow.]