Ft. Lauderdale, FL, June 6, 2005—Latin America has 240 million people living in poverty, 100 million of them in extreme poverty, said Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Alí Rodriguez Araque in an address to the 35th General Assembly of the OAS. Rodriguez spoke, along with several Foreign Ministers of other countries in the assembly’s first meeting of the General Committee.
“In these conditions quality of life simply doesn’t exist,” said the Venezuelan Chancellor, “And in consequence, the quality of democracy is clearly precarious.” If member states of the OAS don’t confront the poverty crisis immediately it will continue to become the most important factor affecting the region’s politics.
“The countries mired in misery must confront threats to democracy. To make this an authentic effort, not only political rights must be guaranteed, but also social and economic rights,” said Rodriguez. “Democracy and poverty are simply incompatible… Where the calamities of hunger and poverty exist, democracy is in doubt and human rights are a fiction.”
In response to this state of affairs, Venezuela submitted a proposal for a Social Charter of the Americas to the OAS, which was approved in June 2004 at the regional body’s meeting in Quito, Ecuador. The Social Charter is designed to compliment the existing Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS, by focusing on social and economic aspects.
A working group has been established, led by Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS Jorge Valero, which Rodriguez hoped would be able to overcome the obstacles that this initiative had been forced to confront until now.
“We salute the importance that the approval of this working group represents,” noted Rodriguez, affirming that the Social Charter is “linked directly to the founding principles of the OAS, the violation of which puts the very existence of the organization in question.” In particular, the Venezuelan Chancellor identified articles 1, 2 and 3 of the founding charter of the OAS, which are “extremely clear with respect to non-intervention in the internal affairs of member-states, the right to elect government without external interference…With all due respect to my fellow Foreign Ministers, I invite you to carefully revisit these articles.”
Rodriguez suggested that in deciding that the OAS charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter are insufficient, those calling for reform are proposing the creation of procedures and mechanisms “that are not considered by a single statute of this organization.” “What is more,” continued the Foreign Minister, “to give a role to external sectors in purely internal affairs, to those who—without clearly defining the term—call themselves “civil society. To give currency to these ideas, we are talking about a different kind of organization, but never an organization of states.”
The US proposal at the OAS, titled “Delivering the Benefits of Democracy,” calls for tougher measures in applying the OAS Democratic Charter. “We must replace excessive talk with action,” said US Secretary of State Condoleezza last night at the Assembly’s opening ceremony. Early in the day, Rice told reporters on the airplane to Florida that “the OAS has intervened in the past.” In an apparent reference to Venezuela, she added “this is not a matter of intervening to punish; it is a matter of intervening to try and sustain the development of democratic institutions across the region.”
“The OAS should be an organization promoting democracy,” said Rodriguez in his statement this morning, an indirect response to Rice’s statements, “not an organ for intervention in the internal affairs of our contries.”