Venezuelan Opposition’s Baffling OAS Hypocrisy

VA's Ryan Mallett-Outtrim argues that the Venezuelan government's decision to withdraw from the OAS last week is a game of chicken gone wrong for the opposition, which has repeatedly lobbied for the country to be suspended since 2016.

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim – Venezuelanalysis.com
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Venezuela's opposition has decried the government's decision to leave the OAS as a coup, despite having pushed for the country to be suspended since 2016. (Telesur)
Venezuela's opposition has decried the government's decision to leave the OAS as a coup, despite having pushed for the country to be suspended since 2016. (Telesur)

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or headbash a wall after seeing Venezuela’s opposition acting so furious about the government’s decision to pull the country out of the Organisation of American States (OAS). That’s because the opposition itself has long been demanding Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS; making this whole saga feel a lot like a game of chicken gone wrong – at least for the opposition.

Take Julio Borges, the head of the opposition controlled National Assembly. He recently slammed President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to leave the OAS as "the worst decision" possible, and a “coup d'état”. The irony, of course, is that just a few weeks ago Borges and his fellow opposition lawmakers voted to endorse Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS

Then there’s Miranda Governor and former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who condemned Maduro’s decision to leave the OAS by arguing it would “isolate us from the world”. Those are interesting words coming from someone who – just like Borges – was openly calling for Venezuela to be suspended from the OAS up until just a few weeks back.

“All the conditions for the implementation of the Democratic Charter have been met,” he said back in March. For anyone who doesn’t quite get the black comedy playing out here, then here’s a quick primer on how the OAS works: the Democratic Charter is basically a set of rules that require OAS member states meet a basic level of democracy. If the OAS decides one of its member states has lost its democratic rule, then the charter can be invoked, and that country can be suspended. This happened to Honduras in 2009, though the most famous case was Cuba, which was suspended from 1962 to 2009. Although Cuba wasn’t suspended under the charter itself (which wasn’t signed until 2001), in both the above cases the reasons for suspension were pretty similar: to impose political pressure and isolation. 

So much so, that in both cases it was pretty normal for the terms “suspension” and “expulsion” to be (inaccurately) used interchangeably.

Moreover, speaking more generally, the reasons for suspension and expulsion aren’t all that different either, and mostly boil down to that same story of pressure and isolation.

Knowing this, a very obvious question springs to mind: did Capriles, Borges and others on the right think Venezuela wouldn’t be at all politically isolated by the OAS suspension they openly demanded? What did they think was going to happen? Did they somehow believe a suspension would bring Venezuela deeper into the OAS fold? Did they think a suspension would reduce the country’s (abet exaggerated) political isolation?

At this point, it’s worth pointing out there’s plenty of hypocrisy, incompetence and inconsistency on Maduro’s side too, which I’ve written about myself on numerous occasions. In fact, I’d argue Maduro’s decision to leave the OAS will probably be remembered as another misstep. Now don’t get me wrong, Maduro’s decision to leave makes a lot of sense. As his foreign minister Delcy Rodriquez argued, the OAS is an organisation of “interventionism and interference” that mostly exists to enforce US power in the region. Almost the entire history of the OAS has been one of the US acting like a mob boss, using subservient OAS member states as goons to beat up on countries that don’t tow tow the line on issues ranging from cooperation in the disastrous drug war to subservience to the even more disastrous neoliberal dogma. Today, OAS head Luis Almagro is little more than a compliant mouthpiece for the US-backed right-wing in Venezuela. He’s done a great job of turning the organisation into a platform for a show trial for Maduro, or perhaps a glorified marketing event for Voluntad Popular. Either way, the Maduro administration does have some good reasons to give the OAS the flick.

However, we must remember that the past decade saw the OAS undergo a massive transformation. That transformation resulted in the organisation becoming almost entirely captured by the Pink Tide, leaving the US surprisingly isolated in the region throughout much of the Obama era. The Pink Tide has now fallen on tough times, but we may well see similar such movements arise again in the years to come. When they do come, Venezuela needs to be there, ready to step into the ring to defend dissident nations from the OAS goon squad. There is no other option: a mass exodus from the OAS isn’t on the cards, and alternatives like ALBA and CELAC just don’t have the clout yet to directly challenge the OAS. In short, Maduro’s decision to leave the OAS seems short-sighted, with few tangible benefits. I’m sure not everyone on the left will agree, and there’s an argument to be made that any act of resistance against the US empire is in itself valuable, no matter how symbolic it might ultimately be.

Of course, the Venezuelan opposition isn’t interested in any of this nuance. This brings us to the real reason the opposition is upset about Venezuela leaving the OAS. By voluntarily leaving, Maduro has deprived the opposition of one of its pressure strategies. The right-wing had hoped it could use the threat of an OAS suspension to squeeze some kind of concession out of Maduro. It’s a bit like the mob threatening to torch your car if you don’t pay up. The joke is that in this case, they picked an old bomb of a car that Maduro was already itching to sell off for scrap.

Put simply, this was a game of chicken, and the opposition just lost. Naturally, the opposition has every right to feel upset about losing yet another of its pretty little political games. The incompetent opposition struggles to get much of anything done nowadays, and frustration is understandable. But let’s not pretend this latest failure is anything other than than just one more bungled, insincere ploy on the opposition’s behalf. 

Indeed, this is just one more act of hypocrisy to throw on the opposition’s faux moral outrage bonfire. In fact, it’s not even the only major addition to said bonfire in the past week.

For example, the opposition has spent years blaming the government for Venezuela’s financial crisis. In retrospect, that now seems pretty hypocritical, given that last week we discovered Borges himself has been secretly lobbying for an international financial boycott of Venezuela. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve long argued Maduro deserves plenty of blame for this crisis. However, it’s disingenuous for the opposition to complain about a problem that we now know (without any shadow of a doubt) they had a hand in exacerbating. In this sense, Borges and others are like compulsive arsonists who give lectures on fire safety, while flicking cigarette butts out their car window.

To put it as bluntly as possible, it’d be great if they’d just cut the crap.