A March 14th New York Times op-ed by David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), entitled “Venezuelan Democracy Needs the Hemisphere’s Help” begs the United States not to take unilateral steps against Venezuela.
Smilde summarizes his testimony to Congress, provided at the request of Senator Bob Corker (R- TN). He claims that the United States should let other Latin American countries isolate Venezuela through the efforts of the Organization of American States (OAS) and groups such as Mercosur. Smilde suggests waiting two years for the Venezuelan elections and if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro turns manipulative, it “would draw back the attention of the country’s neighbors.” Meanwhile, Smilde and his organization are willing to give dialogue and diplomacy a chance.
The day Smilde published his op-ed, the Secretary of the OAS, Luis Almagro, published a full 75-page report describing the hopeless situation in Venezuela.
The report is thorough and clear; the Venezuelan government has systematically undermined dialogue with the opposition and there has been no progress. “We cannot allow the premise of a false dialogue to continue to be used as a smokescreen to perpetuate and legitimize the authoritarian power,” writes Almagro. “Such dialogue,” he continues “promoted by elements close to the Venezuelan government, some sectors in the opposition, and part of the international community have presented this dialogue as the solution to a humanitarian, social, economic, financial and political crisis.” However, Almagro points out, this method of dialogue “was instrumental to the Venezuelan government’s strategy of keeping itself in power on the basis of consistent violations of the constitution which have had a devastating effect on the people of Venezuela. The Venezuelan people today confront a government that has ceased to act responsibly: the constitution has no meaning; there is no rule of law… the citizens of Venezuela have no chances whatsoever.”
The Maduro regime has violated human rights. It has allegedly looted more than $300 billion through corruption and theft while starving its own people. More than 25% of children, five years or younger, suffer from malnutrition. Diseases, believed to have disappeared decades ago, such as diphtheria are returning. The government imprisons political dissenters. Prisons have become revolving doors where citizens are arbitrarily arrested with no judicial guarantees. The leader of “Voluntad Popular,” Leopoldo Lopez, has been imprisoned now for more than two years and lives in an 8.5 by 8.8-foot cell where he is allowed to see the sun for only one hour a day. He was not allowed to see his children for more than seven months.
Government officials are responsible for the institution of torture, which includes intentionally inflicting pain in open wounds, application of electricity, severe beating, burning parts of the body, rape, and the placement of plastic bags on prisoners’ faces in order to cause asphyxiation.
The Venezuelan Supreme Court justices are merely political tools of the government, and many of them have been charge in the past with criminal, illegal or unethical activities. In fact, the president of the Supreme Court has been accused of homicide twice.
Almagro complains about the fact that the participation of the Vatican as one of the mediators in the dialogue has served as an excuse for member states of the OAS to elude the Venezuelan crisis, while “waiting for progress that has no chance of ever materializing.” Almagro continues “It is time to recognize that the dialogue has failed as a mechanism to restore democracy and the prosperity of the population. Dialogue was a tool to consolidate the worst authoritarian practices and to mitigate the effects of international pressure”
Almagro is very clear: not only has the dialogue failed but the entire international community has been misled.
Therefore, the report calls to apply the democratic Charter. In 30 days, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro must call for general elections, release political prisoners, elect a new electoral council and a new Supreme Court following Venezuela’s own constitutional principles. Otherwise, Venezuela will be expelled from the OAS.
However, if Venezuela is expelled from the OAS, Maduro can always delegitimize the organization as an instrument of imperialism and find refuge in other organizations created and inspired by left-wing governments such as the Union of South American nations (UNASUR) and Latin American and Caribbean Community of States (CELAC).
It is clear that Almagro is crying for help and is asking to stop the pusillanimity of the entire international community.
No action by the OAS can be effective if it does not take place in tandem with crippling and painful sanctions. Suspension from the OAS may not bring the Maduro regime to its knees.
Smilde and his organization, WOLA, support this failed mechanism of dialogue that has only enabled the criminal government of Venezuela to buy time and cheat. Senator Corker, Congress and the Administration should not be persuaded by strategies such as those suggested by Smilde. WOLA, intentionally or not, has protected Maduro for too long.
The solution is a fair system of elections and the application of the OAS Democratic charter fully. The “recall referendum”, which is a constitutional procedure that allows citizen to vote on the deposal of the president, was systematically undermined and illegally blocked by the national government and governors loyal to Maduro
Only halting the purchase of Venezuelan oil and applying additional crippling sanctions on the Venezuelan political and military leadership can make diplomacy more effective. The Venezuelan government will not accept a recall referendum because countries of the region request it. Maduro’s continuation in power is a direct threat to the region and to the U.S, as it is a narco-state and an ally of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.