By Mark Weisbrot
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)
June 3, 2016
The U.S. and one of its principal allies, OAS (Organization of American States) Secretary General Luís Almagro, suffered an unambiguous defeat this week at the OAS, when Almagro’s attempt to use the hemispheric organization against Venezuela was rejected unanimously by the hemisphere. Almagro had used — a number of governments thought “abused” — his authority as Secretary General to convene the Permanent Council of the OAS in order to invoke the “Democratic Charter” of the OAS against Venezuela. The Charter allows the OAS to intervene when there is an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.”
With the exception of the right-wing government of Paraguay — itself installed in a 2012 coup that the U.S. used the OAS to help consolidate — there were no takers. The Permanent Council instead issued a statement that had, in sharp contrast to Almagro’s efforts, a friendly tone; it included “support for the initiative of the former presidents of Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Panama to reopen an effective dialogue between the government and the opposition.” The international media was gracious enough not to notice that Almagro had suffered a crushing defeat.
Almagro and President Maduro of Venezuela had exchanged some harsh words, with Almagro saying to Maduro that “You, Nicolás Maduro, betray the political ethics with your lies,” and “You betray your people.”
But more importantly, since it has evaporated down the U.S. media’s “memory hole,” Almagro was part of a vigorous international campaign to de-legitmize the congressional elections in Venezuela last December. Whatever one thinks of Almagro or his motives, it is important to recall that he turned out to be objectively very wrong about those elections. He had insisted that without observers from the OAS (who have a sketchy track record in elections where the U.S. has an interest), the government would cheat; but in fact, the opposition won a large majority and there was no argument about the vote tally.
Needless to say, it is pretty obvious that Almagro’s current effort, like the last one, is a purely political offensive against Venezuela; it has nothing to do with democracy within the country. The deep irony of ignoring Brazil’s unfolding coup d’etat, which really is an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order,” was undoubtedly impressive to member governments. But really the effort to invoke the Democratic Charter against Venezuela’s democratically elected government never had a chance in 21st century Latin America; it was just a public relations stunt to support the Venezuelan opposition’s (and U.S.) current efforts at regime change in Venezuela.
To his credit, Almagro on April 15 wrote a well-argued letter denouncing the impeachment process underway in Brazil. Since then, there have been leaked conversations supporting Dilma’s position that right-wing Brazilian politicians, collaborating with the Brazilian media and judiciary, had launched the impeachment in order to protect themselves from the corruption investigation launched by Dilma’s government. Two ministers of the interim government have resigned in the face of this new evidence, and the interim government has suffered a considerable loss in international credibility. At this point it is not clear if they will even get the two-thirds majority that they need in the Brazilian Senate in order to oust the elected president.
But Almagro, who could use his bully pulpit in the media to support defenders of democracy in Brazil, has been silent about these recent developments. He has shifted his focus (combined with extreme rhetoric) towards Venezuela. It is possible that the Big Boyz in Washington informed him that his April 15 letter on Brazil was off message. The U.S., after all, funds most of the OAS budget and typically has disproportionate influence on the bureaucracy there. We will see what happens.