Puebla, Mexico, June 1, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Organisation of American States ended a key meeting Wednesday, with calls for dialogue in Venezuela amid demands for a suspension of the country from the regional bloc.
The meeting brought together regional representatives to discuss Venezuela's political situation, after OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called for invoking the bloc's Democratic Charter against Venezuela. If invoked, the charter would force Venezuela's suspension from the OAS.
After hours of negotiations, the meeting was suspended at the request of Venezuela, after complaints the government in Caracas was not consulted before talks began.
Venezuela's move to suspend the sudden talks was backed by regional allies including Nicaragua and Bolivia, while Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa accused Almagro himself of acting “out of line” by taking the unusual step of publicly calling for Venezuela's suspension.
“The call by the OAS secretary was not based on consensus. The other member countries of the OAS were not consulted,” he said.
The meeting ended with a joint agreement among OAS member states to encourage dialogue between Venezuela's government and right wing opposition.
During Wednesday's meeting, Venezuela's OAS Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez accused the regional bloc and its head of being influenced by an international media war against Venezuela.
“We have been subjected to the most brutal media campaign you can imagine … (and) unfortunately this organisation has gotten involved,” he said.
Bolivia's Ambassador Diego Pary backed Venezuela, and warned of “interventionist” attitudes influencing the talks.
Other countries likewise complained over Almagro's handling of Venezuela. "Jamaica considers totally unacceptable and unfortunate certain recent utterances by the Secretary-General (Luis Almagro) in his response to the president of Venezuela," said Jamaican Ambassador Julia Elizabeth Hyatt.
The meeting was chaired by Argentina, which has softened its stance on Venezuela in recent weeks. Earlier this year, President Mauricio Macri called for Venezuela to be suspended from the trade bloc Mercosur, and accused the government in Caracas of widespread human rights abuses.
However, on Wednesday, Argentina's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said “dialogue is fundamental” to resolving Venezuela's political situation.
“I firmly believe that it is important to give space and pause to the dialogue because I know of no other way to find a solution to the problem of Venezuela,” she told Reuters in Buenos Aires.
Almagro and Maduro Continue Butting Heads
Wednesday's meeting came a day after Almargo himself backed the invocation of the Democratic Charter against Venezuela, claiming the country is at risk of falling into a “situation of illegitimacy”.
“The institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch,” Almagro stated.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hit back Tuesday, telling Almagro he could “shove it”.
“Mr Almagro, you can take your Democratic Charter ... put it inside a thin little tube and shove it wherever it fits,” he shouted during a political rally in Caracas.
Later that day, Maduro appeared on state television to call for a “mobilisation against interventionism”, including an “anti-imperialist and anti-Almagro march”.
“Seeking to intervene in Venezuela is a crime,” he said.
Almagro and Maduro have repeatedly butted heads in recent months, with the OAS head accusing the Venezuelan leader of being a “petty dictator”. The Venezuelan government has hit back by accusing Almagro of being a US puppet.
In the latest trading of barbs, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez accused Almagro of being obsessed with ousting Maduro, including attacking the president over social media.
"He has dedicated 36.4 percent of his Twitter account against Venezuela," she said.
However, the right wing head of Venezuela's National Assembly, Ramos Allup, welcomed talks on invoking the OAS Democratic Charter.
“The international community, including the OAS, will not turn away or cover its eyes to the serious humanitarian crisis we are experiencing,” he said.
Referring to Venezuela's economic downturn, he said, “It is not only lack of medical and food, it is a human rights violation.”
Venezuela is currently facing its worst economic crisis in years, with sky rocketing inflation and shortages of consumer goods.
While talks at the OAS continued throughout the day, Maduro held the support of ALBA Movements– an alliance of regional social movements that stands in parallel to the leftist multilateral bloc ALBA– which issued a statement warning Venezuela was under “attack”.
“The OAS … was created by the US to dominate the other nations of the continent. Since coming to office, Luis Almagro has become a servile pawn of North American interests,” ALBA Movements stated.
The statement continued by accusing Almagro of a double standard.
“Almagro didn't invoke the OAS to condemn the coup in Brazil,” the bloc stated, referring to the recent removal from office of Brazil's Dilma Rousseff.
Along with ALBA Movements, other grassroots organizations both within Venezuela and abroad have expressed support for Maduro's administration. On Tuesday, the organisation Youth Working in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution issued a statement “categorically rejecting the actions seeking to suspend Venezuela from the OAS”.
Meanwhile in Caracas, thousands of transport workers rallied in support of Maduro. According to teleSUR correspondent Iain Bruce, some demonstrators carried mock coffins bearing Almagro's name.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Venezuela's right wing has supported Almagro, and for months has been calling for the country to be hit with the Democratic Charter. The right wing controlled National Assembly infuriated Maduro earlier this year when it sent a delegation to urge Almagro to push for Venezuela's suspension from the OAS.
The Recall Referendum
The efforts are part of a broader effort by the right wing to remove Maduro from power by the end of the year. However, the centrepiece of this campaign has become the push for a recall referendum, which could force Maduro from office early. Two time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is one of the right wing's loudest advocates for a recall, describing it as an “exhaust valve” for democracy.
“The recall is a democratic route,” he told Reuters earlier Wednesday.
He continued, “Chavez subjected himself to a recall referendum, why not Maduro?”
Chavez easily survived a recall referendum in 2004 with 58 percent of the vote, though Maduro may not win so easily. Two thirds of Venezuelan voters think Maduro should be removed from office before the end of the year, according to a recent poll published by Reuters. Over 57 percent of poll respondents said they would vote against the president in a recall referendum.
If a recall referendum takes place this year, new snap elections will be called if Maduro fails to secure enough votes to stay in office. However, if the referendum is put off until 2017, Maduro would be replaced by his vice president if he loses. So far, both the government and opposition have accused each other of slowing down the referendum organisation process. While the right wing has claimed the country's electoral authorities are dragging their feet, the government has accused the opposition of slowing down the process with procedural irregularities.