More than six months after abandoning the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR or “Rio Pact”), in response to a United States and Lima Group-led effort to use the treaty as a basis to sanction Venezuela, Uruguay rejoins the agreement. The government’s decision to remain in the TIAR is an important reversal of its previous policy.
On March 10, 2020, Uruguay announced it will remain in the Rio Pact, a regional defense agreement first signed in 1947, that binds its 18 members to resolve disputes peacefully and promises mutual defense in the case of an attack by another state—based on the principle “an attack against one is an attack against them all.”
The move comes after, when on September 24, 2019, former Foreign Minister Nin Novoa announced Uruguay’s withdrawal as a response to the “obvious attempt” by members of the TIAR to punish Venezuela, a move the country deemed was in violation of international law. However, as we noted back then, leaving the TIAR—while dramatic—was an ineffective means of addressing Uruguay’s concerns. In light of these issues, the recent decision to remain in the Rio Pact may be the right choice—allowing Uruguay greater influence in the region and the ability to shape how the Rio Pact interacts with Venezuela moving forward.
Uruguay’s decision to leave was driven by concerns that the U.S. was trying to use the pact to justify a military intervention in Venezuela. And although the U.S. and other TIAR members adopted sanctions against individuals connected to President Nicolás Maduro’s government, the U.S. stressed that it did not intend to use the treaty to push for military intervention.
Despite these assurances, Minister Novoa expressed Uruguay’s opposition to the resolution, claiming that Uruguay could not “allow a measure…that allows foreigners to enter a country to capture, extradite and sanction without the consent of the country.” Furthermore, he stressed that the resolution illegally threatened Venezuela with military force, which would go against international law.
While Minister Novoa was correct to say such a threat would be illegal, it was very unlikely the Rio Pact would be used to make or justify such a threat. Indeed, the resolution only called on member states to take action against sanctioned officials if they entered their own country—it did not authorize or suggest any state enter Venezuela to enforce the sanctions.
As we argued in September, leaving the TIAR would have left Uruguay unable to shape how the pact interacts with Venezuela in the future. The debates surrounding the TIAR’s Venezuela resolution made it apparent that many states had differing views on how to best address the Maduro regime and its involvement in drug trafficking and possible terrorist activities. In his statement on remaining in the Rio Pact, Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi noted the importance of promoting Uruguay’s foreign policy in the region. In particular, he pointed out how remaining in the TIAR provides Uruguay an important voice in regional discussions about defense and collective security.
While critics and opposition parties have pointed out that the decision immediately followed discussions between Uruguay’s new government and the U.S., this does not address the core value of remaining in the pact. By remaining in the treaty, Uruguay is better positioned to influence regional decision-making through these multilateral forums. While the TIAR may still be open to valid concerns about its Venezuela policy, it seems clear that remaining a member provides far more benefits than Uruguay would find if it left.
Kyle Rapp is a Ph.D. Candidate in political science and international relations at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on the structure of international law and its use in foreign policy.
Nicolás Albertoni is a Uruguayan Fulbright-Laspau Scholar at the University of Southern California, where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science and international relations. He is the Principal Investigator of the Trade Policy Project for the Security and Political Economy Laboratory at USC.