OAS Head Labels Venezuela a "Dictatorship", Urges “Increasingly Severe Sanctions”

Almagro said that democracy had been “completely eliminated” in his latest OAS report on Venezuela. 

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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OAS head Luis Almagro
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro appears in an eight minute video summarising his fourth report on Venezuela's political situation. (screenshot)

Bogota, September 26, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) - The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, called for tougher sanctions on Venezuela Monday in his latest report on the South American country.

Entitled “The Denunciation of a Dictatorial Regime’s Consolidation in Venezuela”, the forty page report is the fourth published by Almagro taking aim at the Nicolas Maduro government since May 2016.

Citing sources such as Spain’s El Pais, Venezuela’s opposition newspaper El Nacional, and US financed NGO Freedom House, Almagro charges the Venezuelan government with violating human rights and separation of powers, undermining the rule of law, and failing to guarantee transparency in government activities. He also alleges that the government has “murdered” 130 demonstrators since April,  though reports have cast doubt on this claim.

In statements that echo the US Donald Trump administration — which labeled Venezuela a "dictatorship" for the first time in August — Almagro says the document shows that democracy in Venezuela was “completely eliminated” on July 30, when Venezuelans went to the polls to choose delegates for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) to redraft the country’s 1999 Constitution.

“A dictatorial and illegitimate regime has established itself in Venezuela,” states the text. 

The ANC was proposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to bring an end to months of bloodshed, after deadly anti-government protests erupted in April. 

Though more than 8 million people are reported to have voted in the ANC elections,  some observers have alleged that they were fraudulent. 

In particular, the company Smartmatic, which provides the electronic voting machines to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, said the vote had been inflated by up to a million. The company has still not provided evidence to back up its assertions. Meanwhile other electoral observers, such as the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America, maintain that the vote was transparent.

Almagro’s report was also accompanied by an official eight minute video, in which the OAS chief states that the ANC election sounded the death knell for “periodic, free, fair elections based on universal and secret suffrage" in Venezuela.

“We have gone from the alteration of the constitutional order to the complete breakdown of the democratic order… The fundamental components of democracy as defined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter have been systematically and repeatedly violated” states the OAS head.

Almagro concludes the video by making a string of demands of the international community, including “admitting that the situation in Venezuela is a risk to the peace and security of the hemisphere”, “reparations” for the people of Venezuela by “ordering” the annulment of the ANC, and investigating government officials for “crimes committed against the civilian population”. 

Almagro also urges international powers to push for immediate free and fair elections and impose “ever more severe” sanctions on the Latin American country. 

According to the text of the report, Almagro will also present the five different demands to the permanent council of the OAS for approval, signaling that another debate on Venezuela at the organization could be imminent. 

Almagro's comments come on the heels of US financial sanctions imposed on Venezuela in August as well as new Canadian sanctions announced this past week. 

Since the beginning of last year, Almagro has unsuccessfully tried to get the OAS’ thirty-six member-states to apply the democratic charter against Caracas for the alleged violation of democratic norms. Such a measure would potentially pave the way for legal sanctions against the Venezuelan government.

But member-states have so far failed to reach a consensus on how to negotiate Venezuela’s acute political stand-off. While some favor a more heavy handed approach, the majority have so far called for dialogue between the government and opposition. 

The failure to approve the OAS resolution against Venezuela means that a question mark now hangs over the legality of both Canada and Washington’s sanctions and whether they are in violation of the OAS Charter. 

In chapter four, article twenty, the OAS text states that “No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind”.

For his part Almagro has also been sharply criticized by several OAS member states, who have accused him of overstepping his authority and acting irresponsibly. The Bolivian government petitioned for Almagro’s resignation in March this year, arguing that he had sown a crisis at the heart of the OAS that threatened the stability of the organisation.

Despite the majority of OAS member states’ preference for dialogue, Almagro appears to conclude his report by making a jibe at sectors of the Venezuelan opposition that recently began talks with the government in the Dominican Republic.

“No negotiation should be premised on the distribution of power, but on restoring democracy to the country,” the OAS head concludes.

The Venezuelan opposition is currently deeply split between radical factions that favor ongoing protest to remove the government by force, and others which are more open to dialogue. 

Opposition differences over whether to participate in dialogue and regional elections led to the renewed outbreak of protest in the wealthy district of Chacao Monday. Protesters belonging to the self-proclaimed “resistance” blocked roads in protest, alleging that they had been “betrayed” by the opposition figures taking part in the talks.

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