Puebla, Mexico, April 27, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela will begin Thursday preparations for leaving the Organisation of American States (OAS), after months of tension with the regional bloc’s head Luis Almagro.
Speaking late Wednesday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said her country’s withdrawal from the bloc “has to do with the dignity of our people”.
“In the future, Venezuela will not participate in any activity, any event, that promotes interventionism and interference … that only seeks to disrupt the stability and peace of our country,” she told state broadcaster VTV.
She continued, “Because now we know that this coalition of governments from the region has its sights on the sovereignty of our country.”
The move means that Venezuela will be the only country in the Western Hemisphere to not be a member of the bloc. But the exit could hit the government's already depleted finances hard if Caracas is forced to pay its estimated US$8.7 million in debt to the OAS.
It will also be the first time any country has officially left the OAS, though in the past some member states have been suspended. Venezuela’s close ally Cuba was barred from participating in the OAS from 1962 to 2009, but technically remained a member.
Although the mechanisms for allowing a country to leave the OAS have never been put to the test, Rodriguez said Venezuela has already started preparations for the process of withdrawal.
“Tomorrow, as President Nicolas Maduro has instructed, we will present a letter of denunciation to the Organisation of American States; and we will initiate a procedure [to leave], which takes 24 months,” she said.
Maduro himself took to Twitter to state, “The Venezuela Bolivarian Revolutionary and Chavistas will continue marching toward our true independence, and nothing and nobody will stop us."
The OAS has repeatedly come under fire from progressive governments across the region in recent years, who accuse the body of being a mechanism for US domination in Latin America.
Bolivian President Evo Morales recently made waves when he referred to the bloc as the "Ministry of Colonies" on Twitter.
The Venezuelan opposition has responded by condemning Maduro’s decision to leave the OAS, despite having lobbyied for months for the country to be suspended. In March, the opposition controlled National Assembly (AN) overwhelmingly approved a measure demanding the OAS invoke the Democratic Charter against Venezuela. A country found to be in violation of the charter can be suspended from the bloc. At the time, opposition leaders argued a suspension from the bloc could help pressure Maduro to leave office early.
However, on Wednesday AN head and opposition leader Julio Borges condemned the government’s decision to voluntarily leave the OAS as a “coup”.
Meanwhile, another leading opposition figure, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, accused the Maduro administration of seeking to “to isolate us from the world”.
“A withdrawal from the OAS would violate our constitution,” he said.
The Changing Winds at the OAS
Venezuela’s decision to leave the OAS came just hours after the bloc agreed to hold new talks on the political situation in Caracas. Previously, Maduro had warned he would pull his country out of the OAS if such talks were held, after a similar meeting at the end of March convened to discuss Venezuela's democracy was criticised for having broken the body's own protocol.
Venezuela has already been at the centre of a long running controversy at the OAS for months, with the bloc’s head Luis Almagro repeatedly calling for the country’s suspension since May 2016. The Venezuelan government has accused Almagro of leading a campaign against the country in response.
Almagro's calls have been met with mixed responses at the OAS. Right-wing governments in Argentina and Brazil have been critical of Venezuela, however, left-leaning countries in the region like Uruguay have spoken out against removing Caracas from the OAS.
“Venezuela's problems must be solved by the Venezuelans themselves. We must extend a helping hand to the Venezuelan people,” Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez said earlier Wednesday.
The division at the OAS is in stark contrast to the past decade, during which Venezuela and other leftist governments of the Pink Tide managed to dilute Washington's influence in the bloc. However, in 2015, Argentina’s leftist government was defeated at the polls by the right, while in 2016 Brazil’s leftist president Dilma Rousseff was ousted in what many observers described as a "coup" against her.
The change in governments has left Venezuela increasingly isolated at the bloc. The new administrations of Argentina and Brazil have been firm supporters of Almagro's attempt to have Venezuela removed from the regional body.