OAS threatens to suspend Venezuela, but ignores ouster of Brazil's Dilma Rousseff

June 1, 2016
Video: OAS Threatens to Suspend Venezuela While Ignoring Recent Ouster of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. YouTube/DemocracyNow.

The Organization of American States has announced it will hold an emergency meeting to discuss whether to suspend Venezuela for violating the OAS Charter. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said on May 31 that Venezuela had suffered "grave alterations of democratic order." But supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have criticized the OAS for targeting Venezuela, not Brazil, where democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff was recently removed from power in what many have described as a coup.

Democracy Now! spoke to Venezuela's ambassador to the OAS, Bernardo Álvarez, on the situation in Venezuela and the OAS's stance.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we turn to Latin America. The Organization of American States has announced it will hold an emergency meeting to discuss whether one of its member nations should be suspended for violating the OAS's Democratic Charter. But you may be surprised by what country is being targeted. It's not Brazil, where the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff was recently removed from power in what many have described as a coup. Instead, the OAS is going after Venezuela, which is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in years.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said Tuesday Venezuela had suffered, quote, "grave alterations of democratic order." In a letter, Almagro criticized the government of the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, writing, quote, "They have forgotten to defend the general and collective long-term good, over short-term individual gain ... Immoral politics loses this vision because its only interest is staying in power." The OAS secretary general, Almagro, also accused Maduro of disrupting democracy by blocking the opposition-controlled Congress and putting loyalists in the Supreme Court.

The move by the OAS to seek suspension of a democratically elected government is unprecedented. In the past, the Democratic Charter has only been invoked following coups, most recently in Honduras after the 2009 coup against Mel Zelaya, the democratically elected president. On Tuesday, the Venezuelan president, Maduro, criticized the OAS for intervening in Venezuelan politics.

PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] The international right wing carried out a coup in Brazil, and the Organization of American States went silent. Right now they're threatening to intervene in our country—the secretary general of the Organization of American States. We're going to give them battle in the streets of Latin America and the Caribbean. We will fight the battle for Venezuela, for independence, for peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Henry Lisandro Ramos Allup, the president of Venezuela's opposition-controlled Congress, praised OAS's action.

HENRY LISANDRO RAMOS ALLUP: [translated] Neither the international community, including OAS, will turn away or cover its eyes to the serious humanitarian crisis we are experiencing. It is not only lack of medical and food, it is a human rights violation.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the situation in Venezuela and the actions of the OAS, we're joined now in Washington, D.C., by Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez. From 2003 to 2010, he served as Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, under Hugo Chávez.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador. Talk about the significance of invoking the Democratic Charter, the secretary general of the OAS, against Venezuela, the first time ever. Is this right?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Yeah, well, the thing is that he has done that itinerary on his own, with no legal support to do it, because, I mean, the only ways—the only way to invoke the Democratic Charter is when one state, a member state, will do it, or there is another state that does it with the blessing of the government of the country involved, or if there is no government in the country. So, the secretary general of any state could go into the Permanent Council and ask for—you know, to a collective appreciation of the situation. None of this has happened in Venezuela. Venezuela has not asked. Mr. Almagro has been taking a position, a political position, in Venezuela, sitting aside next to the Venezuelan position with no request from the Permanent Council or from any state. So, I think this is a very illegal, undiplomatic and basically a political move that he's doing, representing an alliances—an alliance of right-wing people from Latin America, Venezuela and even the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what it will now mean.

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Well, what happened is, he has asked—according to Article 20, he has said that he wants to go to the Permanent Council to present a report that, as I said, nobody has asked him about this report, on the situation of Venezuela and invoking the Democratic Charter. The Democratic Charter, as I said, could be invoked—basically, it's invoked by governments, by member states, not by the secretary general of the organization. And he can only do that if there is a major alteration of the democratic order or the constitutional order. It basically, in the past, has been when there is not a government—of course, also when there is a coup d'état. So it's a very strange situation. And he has taken this as a very—in a very irresponsible way, acting, you know, on his own, with not commission from the Permanent Council.

And what is more important, Amy, is that when you see what he has done, he has taken a political position from the very beginning. If you see, he has—he thinks—he said that he's asking a request from the National Assembly of Venezuela. And in international law, the one—the power that represent the Venezuelan state in the OAS is the executive branch, not the Parliament. And so, he's saying that because he has requested by the Venezuelan Parliament, then he wants to invoke the Democratic Charter against Venezuela. This is very unusual, illegal, and it goes beyond any provision of the Charter of the OAS.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to the head of the OAS, Almagro, urging the international body to invoke the Democratic Charter to press your country, Venezuela, to restore judicial independence and the protection of fundamental rights. In the letter, Human Rights Watch wrote, "Since the political takeover of the Supreme Court in 2004, the Venezuelan judiciary has ceased to function as an independent branch of government. ... Venezuelan authorities have repeatedly exploited the justice system's lack of independence to arrest and prosecute prominent political opponents on dubious charges." Your response, Ambassador Álvarez?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Well, this is the same—the same script. Amy, when you see—I don't recall—even during my times here in Washington with Bush, I don't remember a moment where there has been such a massive campaign, media campaign, against Venezuela, accusing Venezuela of everything. And this is—the actions of the secretary general are in the context of this, because he has been basically a lot of media, and he has had a lot of media exposure regarding Venezuela. And he's taken the position of the opposition in Venezuela. Imagine. Those guys, the opposition, they won an election; they won the election last December. And President Maduro recognized that a minute after the National Electoral Council presented the result. And they say, from the very beginning, that the whole task of the new National Assembly was to get rid of President Maduro in six months. So this is a very undemocratic way of acting, a very undemocratic behavior. But nobody says anything. And this is the same opposition who is asking Almagro to invoke the Venezuelan [OAS] Charter. Again, it's illegal, because—imagine that the Congress of the U.S. goes to the OAS and asks the OAS to invoke anything against the government of the U.S. I mean, this is not the way to do it. And as I said, he has taken political position from the very beginning. He is not a diplomat. He is not a neutral player trying to mediate in a situation that might happen in a country. No, he is the one taking the position of the opposition. So he's another member of the opposition, so he has disqualified himself to play any role regarding Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: In April, Florida Republican senator, the former presidential candidate, Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor to call for an extension of the 2014 sanctions against key Venezuelan officials. Senator Rubio also called on OAS member states to put pressure on the organization to, quote, "recognize the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela," citing U.S. support of their countries.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Right now we are about to give hundreds of millions of dollars to these countries in Central America, in the Northern Triangle, the Alliance for Prosperity. I think that's a good idea. But we should ask them to support what we're trying to do at—what we're hoping we'll try to do at the OAS. The same with Haiti. We have poured millions of dollars into Haiti's reconstruction. We should use that as leverage to ask them to support something happening at the OAS. What's happened in Venezuela is nothing short of a coup d'état, a de facto coup. And the Organization of American States, if it has any reason to exist anymore, it should be to defend democracy in the region. It is the reason why we have an Organization of American States. We will soon find out whether that organization is even worth continuing to exist, if it cannot pronounce itself collectively on the outright violation of democracy in a nation that purports to be a democratic republic.

AMY GOODMAN: Pushed by Senator Rubio, the Senate agreed to extend sanctions against Venezuelan officials for three years, and President Obama used his executive authority to extend the sanctions. In return, Senator Rubio stopped blocking Obama's nomination of Roberta Jacobson as ambassador to Mexico. Jacobson had been instrumental in normalizing relations with Cuba, which Rubio had opposed. She was confirmed to the post at the end of April. Do you think the Obama administration is behind the OAS decision?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Well, what is clear is that you—when you listen to Senator Rubio, you might understand who is behind Mr. Almagro. By the way, when all those sanctions against Venezuela were imposed, the Organization of American States didn't say anything. We asked Mr. Almagro to say something, and he didn't say anything. So, my feeling is that there is a whole coalition of right-wing people that has been supported Mr. Almagro, because basically, you know, in this city—you know, big media in this city, if you attack Venezuela, there is no political cost. You might even get some applauses. And so, the unfortunate—the result of that is that Venezuela and the U.S. as countries and government get apart. But I feel that there is a strong group of people that are behind Mr. Almagro and his attempt to destabilize Venezuela, and they are using the OAS.

By the way, the OAS is an institution with a very low reputation in America—Latin America. And what I think now, they're even losing—they're losing more reputation in Latin America because what they have been doing. Nobody believes that there is a coup d'état in Venezuela. Nobody. There is a legitimate government. There was an election six months ago that was won by the opposition, and the president of Venezuela recognized it immediately.

So, there is not any, any, any of the provision of the Democratic Charter. And I think it has been a big media and political, let's say, conspiracy, if you want, and trying to present Venezuela as a country that is going to implode. And then there is, international intervention is needed. So, but on the other hand, we have now a group of former presidents trying to broke a dialogue between the opposition in Venezuela and the government, and trying also to help with new recommendations regarding the economic situation. So, on the one hand, you have people trying to help and to enhance and to support Venezuela, to get along in this very difficult situation, and on the other hand, countries, people and people like Almagro using this difficult situation in Venezuela to try to do the last push of what has been—what's been a policy against, the destabilization against Venezuela for the last 10 or 15 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, spoke to protesters outside Venezuela's Supreme Court in downtown Caracas. He said a recall referendum to end President Nicolás Maduro's term was possible this year.

HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI: [translated] There is no sentence, no measure, nothing that will impede us from going to the National Electoral Council to demand they respect Article 72 of the Constitution, allowing for a recall referendum. Friends, the referendum is our right, and it will take place this year, in 2016.

AMY GOODMAN: Will there be a new election this year, Bernardo Álvarez?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Look, first, it's very funny to see how people that opposed the Venezuelan Constitution presented by President Chávez, including the recall referendum, now are happy because they have this instrument. This is not for us, for me and to the government to say; this is for the Electoral Council. There is a process of activation of the recall referendum. The recall referendum is not a political retaliation instrument. I mean, this is a very serious matter, because you are recalling the mandate of somebody who was elected by the people. So, they—there is a whole procedure. And if they go through this procedure, they might—they have—they have the right to the recall referendum.

What is going to be—to happen in this recall referendum? I don't know. This is for the Electoral Council to say. The problem is, Amy, what they don't remember what I said, that at the beginning of the year, they say, "We need to get rid of the government of Maduro this year, or in six months." They have done a lot of things, asking for President Maduro to resign, doing a constitutional amendment, but they did a date later—they knew that it was going to apply to the next president, not to this president. And if the referendum is held before the end of the year, and if they win, President Maduro has to leave, and in 30 days there will be new elections. If the referendum is done in January, February next year, then the vice president has to complete the term of President Maduro. This is a whole thing. But the referendum as a possibility is always there, but there is a—this is a process of activation of the referendum, and they have to go through this process. And it's for the Electoral Council of Venezuela to determine that.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, your country, Venezuela, is in a deep crisis, a deep economic crisis that hasn't been seen like this in years, triggered by low oil prices, a crisis in water shortages, blackouts, the instatement of a two-day work week for government employees. Can you describe the extent—hospitals closing. What do you feel, Ambassador, needs to be done?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: Well, the thing is, you know, we have gone through a very difficult process. Let me just tell you two things. First, we lost 70 percent of the oil income, national income coming from oil. And we have reduced the import of Venezuela by 60 percent over the past three years. It is a major, major adjustment. We haven't done it in the traditional IMF way. We have done it in a different way, avoiding massive unemployment, avoiding increases of prices, and trying to put together a program to subsidize and to keep the majority of the social programs. It hasn't been easy, because there is a lack of foreign exchange.

But I think what is—what is the real situation right now is that all Venezuelans, we have to come to the conclusion that the rentist economy—I mean, the rentist society, that was basic—based—was based basically on the oil income, is over. And we need to take advantage of that for many years to do a massive distribution of wealth. And I think Venezuelans today recognize that this has been done. Now we are in a difficult process because this is a transition, and you cannot solve that in one month. And fortunately, prices of oil—prices of oil are stabilizing a little bit, and this is going to help us. But this is a major challenge we have here, to go from a rentist economy to a more productive economy. And this is a responsibility of the government. He's trying to do, and he's doing all he can right now. But it's also a responsibility of the country. And what we see is that some sectors have been using this difficult situation to try to, as I said, do like a final push to try to destabilize and get rid of President Maduro and the legacy of President Chávez.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, compare what's happening in Venezuela with what's happening in Brazil, the removal of the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff and the response of the OAS to each of your countries.

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: We—you know, we respect all countries, and we participate in multilateral organization. For Venezuela—Venezuela along with members of the ALBA, they issue a communiqué from the very beginning, and they say that what we have seen in Brazil is a coup d'état. As you have said, Brazil has not raised the issue of the political situation in Brazil in the OAS, and Mr. Almagro has not done it also. So, this is also what you can see as a double moral, how you qualify situations in countries and how you act in some countries and in other not. So, again, I think what is behind this is a huge political and media campaign, and trying to destabilize the government of Venezuela. This is not new. They have been trying to do that since 50 years ago. I haven't seen in the past such a huge campaign.

But the reality is that Venezuela is—I mean, is in peace. We are trying to get and we will get through this situation in peace. And the constitutional process will continue. In December, we have elections for governors. So, and this is—we have done more than 20 elections since Chávez was elected. We have done 12 recall referendums, including one for President Chávez that he won. So, I want to see countries that have done such a magnificent job regarding participation of people and using the instruments of the Constitution. This is the reality. And it's very far from what they have been trying to present or what Mr. Almagro wants to present in a report that nobody asked him to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you call the—what happened in Brazil, the removal of the president, Dilma Rousseff, a coup?

BERNARDO ÁLVAREZ HERRERA: We—Venezuela has done it and has said—not only Venezuela, ALBA countries, they issue a communiqué, and they said clearly that, for us, it was a coup d'état, what happened in Brazil.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernardo Álvarez, I want to thank you for being with us, Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States. From 2003 to 2010, he served as Venezuela's ambassador to the United States.

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