Human Rights & Civil Society Groups to OAS: Hands off Venezuela!

In a strongly-worded open letter drafted by the well-respected Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a number of U.S. human rights and civil society groups as well as concerned individuals, myself included, have urged the Organization of American States (OAS) to desist from its current plans to interfere in Venezuela's political process and to instead allow the government and opposition to resolve their differences through their ongoing peaceful mediation process.

This letter is in response to the OAS's call earlier this week for an emergency meeting to consider whether Venezuela should be kicked out of the OAS. In calling for this meeting, the Secretary-General of the OAS, Luis Leonardo Almagro Lemes, said that he "considers that the institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes to the Executive power." One interpretation of such an aggressive missive is that Almagro believes that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who was democratically elected three years ago, should be removed from office. And indeed, the open letter to Almagro chides him for misusing the OAS Charter "on purely partisan grounds to favor the Venezuelan opposition and aid in its attempts to oust the Maduro government."

A little background on the OAS and its sordid history is in order here. For decades, the OAS has been accused, quite rightly, of being a tool for U.S. intervention in Latin America. In this excerpt from a three-part piece on the OAS in Cuba's Granma newspaper, the OAS is condemned, in quite colorful terms as

[t]he organization that backed the 1952 coup d'état [of General Batista] in Cuba; that was so inert in the face of the military action against the constitutionally-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala; that backed the satrap [Nicaraguan dictator] Anastasio Somoza, and in 1961 failed to condemn the mercenary [Bay of Pigs] invasion of Cuba, just as it avoided any criticism of the coup d'état against Velazco Ibarra, the elected president of Ecuador, remained the same as the one that had indulgently sponsored the military invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, the shipment of Green Berets and weapons to Guatemala in 1966, and to Bolivia in 1967, while it applauded the graduation of hundreds of torturers and repressors from the Panama Canal School of the Americas.

It contemplated U.S. government-sponsored coups in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. It was silent in the face of the death of Salvador Allende, in the face of the murder and forced disappearance of tens of thousands of South Americans during the sinister Operation Condor. It failed to promote peace in Central America during the 1980s, in a conflict that cost nearly 100,000 human lives. It did not back any investigation into the suspicious death of General Torrijos in Panama, nor did its ambassadors stop drinking their coffee during the inglorious invasions of Grenada in 1983, and of Panama itself in 1989.

And, quite apropos to the current issue involving Venezuela, this same piece notes that the OAS remained silent for the duration of the short-lived coup against democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002. And, it did so for the same reason that it is now calling for President Maduro to be removed: because it is siding, as it has always done, with the U.S.'s campaign against left-leaning governments of Latin America.

As the COHA letter to the OAS Secretary General explains, the OAS has been engaged in a long-term effort to undermine the Venezuelan government by its "strong support" of the efforts of MUD, the aptly-named opposition group, "to pressure the OAS into invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter against the Maduro government; your attempts to cast doubt on the democratic legitimacy of last December's legislative elections during the weeks preceding the vote; your intense lobbying in favor of the highly controversial amnesty bill; the selective nature of your expressions of indignation over violation of human rights; and your failure to denounce Washington's increasingly belligerent posture towards Caracas."

In terms of the OAS's attempt to cast doubt on December's legislative elections, even before they took place, it must be noted that the opposition handily won these elections, and the Maduro government quickly accepted their results, thereby showing that the OAS's feigned concerns were misplaced. And, in terms of the OAS's selective indignation over human rights, it should be noted that the OAS has remained silent as the corrupt right-wing of Brazil maneuvers to impeach President Dilma Rousseff in order to avoid being prosecuted for their own crimes; and the OAS has not seen fit to raise concerns about the mass graves of Mexico or Colombia's paramilitary reign of terror. For more on the OAS's selective indignation, check out this great piece by Telesur.

As someone who witnessed first-hand the brutal U.S.-sponsored Contra War against Nicaragua - a war the U.S. waged in an attempt to reinstall the dictatorship it had been sponsoring in that country for the decades prior to the 1979 popular Sandinista Revolution -- I will not sit idly by as my government, with the aid of the OAS, again attempts to quash popular governments in Latin America. For all of its shortcomings, the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro is one such government which has struggled mightily, despite collapsing oil prices beyond its control, to reduce poverty and inequality and to give dignity to the poor both in its country and throughout the Hemisphere. I stand with COHA and many others in this country in rejecting the attempts of the OAS to bully that government into submission.