Even though the 35th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) took place on U.S. territory, the Bush administration collided head-on with the dignity of the Latin American and Caribbean people. The State Department delegation intended for members of the Organization to approve a resolution through which the Permanent Council would implement a system of “supervision” or “evaluation” of the democratic processes of the continent. Perhaps they forgot that just two weeks earlier the Permanent Council rejected—32 votes to 2—the proposal to create a commission to watch over democracy in Ecuador after the overthrow of Lucio Gutierrez.
History repeated itself last June 14, only in this instance it happened within the entrails of the empire itself, in the meeting room where a day earlier George W. Bush spoke of liberty, trade, and democracy; and where two days earlier Secretary Rice pronounced in less than 20 minutes the word democracy more than 30 times. Although it was to be expected, this failure constitutes one of the principal humiliations that the Bush government has suffered in its two terms. It was Venezuela, through the brilliant statements of Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, which opposed on principle these interventionist aspirations. In fact, the corporate media presented this meeting of the General Assembly as a stand-off between Caracas and Washington. Effectively, our [Venezuelan] government confronted the White House, but we were not alone. Caracas was accompanied by Brazil, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago, Kingston, Mexico City, etc., etc. The failure is not only signified by a mere Latin American and Caribbean rejection of the northern interventionist proposal, it extended to the point that all members, except the US of course, approved the Venezuelan proposal that obliges the member States to respect the norms and principles of international rights, including the principles established in the OAS Charter of 1948, practically the same as those of the UN Charter. The ones that the US has flagrantly violated every time it has invaded a country or meddled in the internal affairs of other States.
These constitutional principles would be left by the wayside by an OAS that attempts to create interventionist tools such as those provided for by the Pan-American Democratic Charter in its preliminary version. Therefore, upon initial introduction to the General Assembly of the US proposal for “monitoring democracies,” Foreign Minister Rodriguez invited the delegates to re-read the essential principles of the OAS Charter. Let’s review them:
2nd part of Article 1:
The Organization of American States does not have more faculties than those expressly conferred by the present Charter, none of whose dispositions authorize intervention in the affairs of the international jurisdiction of member States.
Essential proposals of the OAS elaborated in Article 2:
a) To guarantee the peace and security of the Continent;
b) To promote and consolidate representative democracy while respecting the principle of non-intervention;
Some of the Principles articulated in article 3:
a) International law is the norm of conduct of States in their reciprocal relations.
b) International law is essentially composed of the respect of the personality, sovereignty, and independence of States and of faithful completion of the obligations emanating from treaties and of other sources of international law.
e) All States have the right to choose, without internal interference, their political, economic, and social system, and to organize themselves as they deem fit. They also have the duty to not intervene in the affairs of another State. Subject to the above considerations, the American States cooperate greatly among themselves with independence as to the nature of their political, economic, and social systems.
Precisely to rescue these principles, Venezuela proposed the respect for international law resolution, approved by 33 votes (all except the US), that shields member States from potential interventionist actions of the US or any other country as has happened many times before. It is evident that to have approved a system of “vigilance” or “evaluation” of our political systems, the OAS would have violated the immense majority of its own founding principles. In fact, in the context of the 35th General Assembly, analyzing the difficult socio-political situation occurring in Bolivia, particularly after the resignation of President Carlos Mesa, the member States approved by acclamation a declaration that was really only an expression of what has been and what should continue to be the role of the OAS in similar cases and was the first sign that the Washington proposal would not be accepted as it was presented:
6. To express the disposition of the Organization of American States to offer all cooperation that is solicited by legitimate Bolivian authorities in order to facilitate dialogue as a means to overcome the crisis and guarantee the preservation of democratic institutions.
To put in perspective the diplomatic triumph of Venezuela in the OAS, we analyze the initial version of the proposal of the “evaluation of democracies,” presented by the US and the final version approved in the Assembly:
[to commission] the Permanent Council with developing a process to evaluate the situations that can affect the development of the institutional, democratic, and political process of a Member State or the legitimate exercise of power; and to formulate concrete recommendations, using the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a guide and with the contributions of civil society, regarding the manner in which the Permanent Council should opportunely treat threats to democracy, anticipate a crisis that could undermine democracy and strengthen democratic institutions;
We see the intention to give the Permanent Council the jurisdiction to “evaluate,” to “formulate concrete recommendations,” and to take into consideration the “contributions of civil society.” In fact, the White House considered that the Permanent Council would foment the creation of an “overseer of democracy” composed principally by members of “civil society” (Sumate, for example). In contrast, the final version of this article stated:
The Secretary General, after consulting with the Permanent Council, and taking into account the proposals and principles of the OAS Charter, especially that of promoting and consolidating representative democracy, is entrusted with elaborating initiatives of opportune, efficient, stable, and gradual cooperation, to undertake in situations that could affect the development of institutional democratic political processes or the legitimate exercise of power, conforming to what is established in Chapter IV of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, concerning the principle of non-intervention and the right to self-determination, and presents these to the Permanent Council.
In the final version it is the General Secretary who acts, but does not impose, based on the principles of the OAS Foundational Charter (explained above) and elaborates proposals of “cooperation” with the affected State. It practically reiterates that which is already established in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and finally it establishes that sovereignty and the internal affairs of the State will be respected. That is to say, dear readers, the OAS must limit itself to the role given it by the already existing legal instruments and to cooperate in non-interventionist terms with respect to that which it has offered Bolivia. This is completely contrary to the aspirations the hosts of the Assembly and of it functionaries such as Sumate.
The reading we give this is evident: the masks have fallen on the American continent. The supposed “democracies” that have existed, useful for an economic system, the liberal, neoliberal, capitalist one, is reaching its end. This political model has not provided answers for the majority. Very much to the contrary, it has generated and caused inconceivable social exclusion, misery and moral deterioration. The Latin American people have woken up and today oblige governments to govern with and for the majority, whether through the election of popular or progressive governments like those of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay; or, if this possibility is denied, through social pressure that has caused various Latin American presidents to resign. The exhaustion of the political model and, as a result of the economic model, is of such magnitude that our people have undertaken an incessant search for solutions that are democratic, far-reaching, popular, and inclusive; a transformation of the prevailing models that can guarantee the establishment of peace and justice in our region. The US must take notice of this new reality and re-adapt itself to it if it wants to continue to maintain cordial and cooperative relations with our counties. The dignified and popular morale of our new Latin America and Caribbean is high and firm. The time of Anglo-Saxon imposition has passed. Latin American integration is a process in motion that will mold a new economic and social model and that, at minimum, will bring our people closer to a new condition of inclusion, social justice, and true democracy. The discussion and negotiation in the very heart of the OAS, about the Social Charter of the Americas, is palpable proof of this new process of southern integration that seeks to create an alternative model that guarantees justice and social equality.Translated by Dawn Gable