Many voices are demanding actions from the international arena vis-à-vis the serious human rights situation in Venezuela. A concrete action condemning Maduro’s dictatorship—and support for the brave Venezuelan people defending their freedom in the streets—would be for the Latin American governments truly committed to defend democracy to leave the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
This would demand from governments a willingness to strip the legitimacy out of a corrupt body of authoritarianism and at the same time make a stand that coexisting with political differences has as limit: that of not validating anti-democratic practices in other countries.
So far, the regional democratic community has not been able to make much progress in face of criminal repression and the total collapse of the rule of law in Venezuela, now accountable for more than a hundred lives.
The Organization of American States (OAS) failed to consider a resolution in the latest General Assembly held in Cancun, Mexico, given the support provided by member countries and allies of the Bolivarian Alliance For the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and those of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to autocrat Nicolas Maduro.
At Mercosur’s most recent meeting, held in Mendoza, Argentina, Venezuela’s situation was discussed leaving the applicability of the democratic clause out of the question. UNASUR, on the other hand, under the pro tempore presidency of Argentina, has also not applied the democratic clause to Maduro’s regime, because it requires a consensus that will not be reached because of the unconditional support for chavismo from Evo Morales, President of Bolivia.
For several governments in Latin America that have denounced human rights violations in Venezuela, abandoning CELAC would send a political signal to Maduro and his unconditional regional allies, especially if the fraudulent Constitutional Assembly in Venezuela installs a single-party political regime as in Cuba. It is inconceivable to be part of an organization that defines itself as an “intergovernmental mechanism for dialogue and political agreement” when members repress political opposition.
It is worth remembering that the creation of CELAC was based on the unrestricted respect for the rule of law, the defense of democracy, as well as the safeguard of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as basic requirements to integrate the body.
Even on December 3, 2011 in Caracas, CELAC ironically adopted the “Special Declaration on the Defense of Democracy and the Constitutional Order,” also signed by Cuba, whose single-party political regime clearly violates the declaration, along with Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez had already begun to take several steps toward authoritarianism. It would be naive to think that CELAC will apply its democratic clause to Venezuela when ALBA countries handle this organization at will.
An attempt to camouflage the Bolivarian essence of CELAC, which appealed to a “unity in diversity” effort, placing democracy level with dictatorships, has failed. But the fact that many member countries with an intention to supplant another body of higher institutionalism reflects a worrisome contradiction, like when Rafael Correa, then president of Ecuador, stated that CELAC should replace the Organization of American States (OAS) at the Second Summit of Heads of State and Government in Havana in January 2014.
For development aspiring Latin American countries, CELAC is an ineffective organization and an unwise time and resource investment, as the real objective of the denominated ALBA bloc is to politically influence and condition the region, converting CELAC into “the only spokesperson for the region in international fora and multilateral organisms.”
Considering Venezuela’s current situation, repression in Cuba, plus the erosion of democratic institutionalism in Bolivia and the consolidation of authoritarianism in Nicaragua, to remain in this pseudo-Bolivarian organization called CELAC means failing to vow for all repressed human rights activists, persecuted and imprisoned political opponents, and victims of state terrorism.
In any case, it would be wise to question two CELAC founders, Felipe Calderón and Sebastián Piñera, former presidents of Mexico and Chile respectively, if the time and the facts show that abandoning this body is a decision that deserves to be considered in order to legitimately and honestly defend democracy in Latin America in the face of the silence sought by the authoritarian governments of the region.
Gabriel C. Salvia is president of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).