The Organization of American States (OAS) began its 48th Regular Session of its General Assembly in Washington D.C. on June 4th. While the morning was business as usual, the afternoon saw some heated speeches especially by the Venezuelan delegation.
As has become custom at the OAS, the region’s biggest players took the time to address the growing humanitarian, political and economic crisis in Venezuela, with the United States once again calling for the country’s potential suspension, and other member states rejecting the results of the May 20th “election.” But as soon as the delegations finished speaking, one after another without exception, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza reacted to defend the Maduro regime and denounce the statements.
Most of Arreaza’s scripted reactions followed the historical playbook of Venezuelan disruptions at the OAS, denying any wrongdoing on the part of the Maduro regime during the election. Arreaza even called the OAS a cartel and its Secretary General Luis Almagro a “sicario” (hitman), and denounced the call of the “imperialist” U.S. to suspend it from the organization. In almost all of his responses Arreaza backed his claims citing articles 19 and 20 of the organization’s charter.
Article 19 declares that no state or group of states has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of any other state, including military interventions and attempted threat against a state’s political, economic and cultural elements. Article 20 declares that no state can use coercive measures to force the will of another state and obtain from it advantages of any kind. In citing these two articles, Venezuela argues that through its sanctions and calls to suspend the country from the OAS, the U.S. is not only triggering and perpetuating the economic crisis, but also failing to follow the organization’s charter—the very charter it helped establish 70 years ago.
Aside from these remarks, Arreaza had a few spats with the delegations of Argentina, Canada, Chile, and of course, the United States. After Argentina’s Minister of External Affairs, Jorge M. Faurie, finished his remarks and condemned the Maduro regime, Arreaza responded by questioning Faurie over Argentina’s own human rights issues, including the case of Santiago Maldonado, a missing activist who was last seen when security forces evicted a group of Mapuche from lands in the Patagonia region of Argentina.
In his response to Canada, Arreaza told Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland that “Venezuela is a free land, and it is not a colony of the U.S., neither, of course, of Canada,” in a reference to Freeland’s last name. Arreaza also mentioned that Canada was the only country that prevented Venezuelans living in the country from voting during the May 20th elections, that it barred Venezuela’s volleyball team from entering the country in a violation of the team’s “right to sport,” and called Canada’s attacks towards Venezuela’s sovereignty an effort to show off for its boss, the United States. Freeland took the mic once again and admitted to the imperfections of Canada and its treatment of indigenous communities, but highlighted that its imperfections did not disqualify the country from speaking out on human rights around the world. She ended her remarks by stating that Venezuela is not up against imperialism at the OAS, instead “this is about [Venezuela’s] neighbors, countries in region, standing up for the rights—which are being horribly violated—of the people of Venezuela.”
But if his spats with Argentina and Canada—and any other country who vaguely mentioned Venezuela—weren’t enough, Arreaza also provoked the fury of Chilean Minister of External Affairs, Roberto Ampuero. After saying that Chilean President Sebastian Piñera participated and supported Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) and claiming the levels of repression in the country are the same as they were during the the dictatorship, Ampuero fired back. In a passionate speech, he denied the accusation that Piñera took part in the dictatorship, and reproached Arreaza’s tone and comments towards his fellow ministers saying: “If this is the way in which the Minister speaks and treats diplomats who represent other states in a foreign country, imagine how he treats Venezuelans—the people who are under his rule, who are suffering from hunger and repression by the state.” Ampuero went on to say that Arreaza is the perfect representation of Venezuela’s dictatorship “because he is unwilling to accept any argument against him and is unwilling to admit he could be wrong.”
As the General Assembly comes to a close, the resolution that would open the path towards suspending the country from the organization was approved with 19 votes in favor, 11 abstentions and 4 rejections. Nonetheless, the effects to suspend Venezuela from the multilateral body is not the final or even most important collective action by the countries of the hemisphere to pressure the regime, but an additional step in the measures and sanctions that, either collectively or individually, further isolate the Maduro regime and limit its ability to continue to repress its citizens. While the passage of this resolution is a small multilateral victory, the countries of the Americas must not give up in their efforts to restore constitutional order in Venezuela. After all, this is what we—citizens and states alike—signed up for 70 years ago.