BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News, I’m Ben Norton. The Organization of American States is a Cold War era international body of countries in North and South America that claims to be independent and neutral, but in reality, frequently acts as a proxy for the United States government. The OAS is notorious for its extreme bias against left-wing governments in Latin America, particularly Cuba and Venezuela. Western corporate media outlets frequently echo the OAS’s anti-Cuba and anti-Venezuela reports, without providing any further information as to what exactly the OAS is, and what interests it serves. In reality however, the OAS was formed at the behest of the U.S. government as a coalition of anti-communist governments at the beginning of the Cold War.
In 1948, the U.S. convened the International Conference of American States. At this meeting in Colombia, which was led by the U.S. Secretary of State an infamous cold warrior, George Marshall, the right-wing governments of Latin America joined the U.S. in signing a charter that established the Organization of American States with the explicit goal of fighting the spread of socialism and defending capitalism in North and South America. Although media outlets today cite the OAS as if it were supposedly an independent and impartial source, U.S. government bodies have openly admitted otherwise.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, which is an ostensible aid organization that serves as the soft power arm of the U.S. government, wrote very clearly in its 2008 Congressional Budget Justification, that the OAS, “promotes U.S. political and economic interests in the Western Hemisphere by countering the influence of anti-U.S. countries such as Venezuela.” On May 29, an OAS panel released a report accusing Venezuela’s leftist government, led by elected President Nicolás Maduro, of supposedly committing crimes against humanity. The panel plans to present evidence for these alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court. Journalist Max Blumenthal attended the OAS press conference on May 29 in Washington D.C. In the Q&A session, Max Blumenthal called out the OAS for its extreme bias and hypocrisy.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I questioned the members of the panel about their moral consistency and claim of independence. Max Blumenthal- my question is, I was told that independent experts would be at this panel. Mr. Cotler has been a lawyer for the right-wing coup leader Leopoldo Lopez, and he’s also spent his career defending Israeli human rights crimes. He recently defended the shooting and killing of 62 protesters in the Gaza Strip, along with the shooting of thousands more.
BEN NORTON: That was Max Blumenthal, speaking at the OAS press conference. Joining us to discuss this is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books. He is also the editor of the investigative journalism website, The Grayzone Project. Max just published an article and an accompanying video at that website. The article is called, OAS Panel Accusing Venezuela of “Crimes Against Humanity” is Grilled on Moral Hypocrisy and Open Bias. You can find the article and the accompanying video at grayzoneproject.com. I also cohost the Moderate Rebels Podcast with Max and I contribute to his website. Thanks for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Great to be on.
BEN NORTON: So, can you just speak about what happened at this press conference you attended in Washington D.C. and what you told the OAS?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: First of all, thanks for that really informative introduction. It really highlights the role, the damaging role, that the OAS plays in the Western Hemisphere, where all Latin American countries are expected to pay into this organization. That means that millions and millions of taxpayers in Latin America have to pay into the budget of this organization. And it’s used simply as a weapon of Washington against any government that violates the Washington consensus, in this case, Venezuela. The last two OAS Secretary Generals, the current one and the last one, Insulza, have just waged these obsessive campaigns to push regime change in Venezuela. And when I got to this event yesterday, it was 2:00 PM and this was the only panel I’d heard about. But I was told that there were five other panels on Venezuela. It’s like, just this nonstop Woodstock of regime change and it’s going to continue, I think, into the OAS General Session, which will just be held on Venezuela.
What brought me to the panel was the nature of the so-called independent experts who were seated on the panel. I was just shocked at who they were, especially Irwin Cotler, who is the Canadian version of Alan Dershowitz. I think Alan Dershowitz even said, “He’s my Canadian mirror image.”
And Irwin Cotler is this- he was a right-wing Canadian parliamentarian with the Conservative Party until fairly recently, who had just used his position to push the Israel lobby’s line in parliament and in Canadian society and across the world. And whenever Israel committed some kind of atrocity, the Mavi Marmara massacre or one war after another in Gaza, Cotler would rush out, just like Dershowitz, as Israel’s public advocate. He’s also claimed that he was Nelson Mandela’s lawyer. And I don’t know what kind of evidence there is there, but in Nelson Mandela’s memoir, The Long March to Freedom, there is no mention of Irwin Cotler. There’s a lot of mention of Oliver Tambo, but nothing about Cotler. So, he’s just a suspicious, sort of morally dubious, figure. And for him to be on this panel, I think they just deserved to be questioned about that.
When I got there, the OAS Secretary General was waving around this 400-page report accusing the Venezuelan government of crimes against humanity and demanding that President Nicolás Maduro, who is now facing crushing sanctions because he won an election, should be brought before the International Criminal Court. All the other panelists echoed this recommendation. And I noticed that Santiago Canton was also on the panel. Canton is an Argentinean lawyer who’s also a regime change activist. And in 2002, when Canton was the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, he attempted to legitimize the coup dictatorship that briefly overthrew President Hugo Chavez, and wrote a letter to the Foreign Minister of this briefly installed dictatorship, before it was thrown out again by Venezuelan citizens, referring to him as “His Excellency,” and basically saying, “Please take care of Chavez when he’s in your custody and you’re the new government.”
So, the whole panel was compromised, but it’s emblematic of what the OAS as an organization is. And it was me sitting there in a room full of all of the major news agencies taking pictures of the panel and asking softball questions. And as soon as I got home after the panel, Bloomberg and Reuters and all the agencies had articles up that said, “OAS Accuses Venezuela of Crimes Against Humanity.” And all the headlines basically supported, without any criticism, what this 400-page document contained. And I would just point to one comment by Irwin Cotler which summed up the hyperbolic and propagandistic nature of the whole presentation, which is that “Venezuela was responsible for the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Latin American history.” So, I mean, worse than the genocide of the indigenous population? I mean, that’s basically what he was saying, and that kind of rhetoric prevailed throughout the entire session.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, of course, we recently saw Ríos Montt, who was a U.S.-backed dictator in Guatemala, who himself was responsible for actual crimes against humanity. He oversaw genocide against indigenous Maya in Guatemala as part of a larger anticommunist counterinsurgency campaign. And then of course, there’s the “Dirty Wars,” again backed by the U.S., and Pinochet the Chilean dictator. So, it’s certainly an extremely hyperbolic for him to claim that. But just quickly wrapping up here Max, I’m wondering if you can just briefly comment on how this reflects this kind of Washington D.C. bubble, where you see corporate media outlets will just trot out to these events and just film what these panelists say without ever questioning who the panelists are, what they’re prerogatives are, and just reciting and echoing verbatim, their claims as news.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, I couldn’t have put it any better than that. And what you see with the “Beltway culture” and the nexus with mainstream media is a de-democratization of the American public on the issue of foreign policy. When reporters don’t go to these events, or to the think tank events, and ask critical questions of fake experts who are actually just activists on behalf of the Washington consensus, and when the public is not involved in any of these forums, and when the media doesn’t report critically, there’s very little reason for the public to question foreign policy at all. Everything’s just fine. We do see a debate on things like local school budgets, or you see some critical reporting on the school-to-prison pipeline, domestic issues. But on foreign policy, it’s just this kind of elite debate carried out inside, or it’s not a debate at all.
There’s an elite consensus carried out inside a foreign policy bubble in the Beltway, and the OAS event was completely a portrait of that. When I got up and asked this question, you could see the OAS staff start to whisper to each other, “How the hell did he get in this room?” And I just registered as a journalist and asked what I thought was a fair but critical question. And they were really upset. And I was also approached by several journalists afterwards, just asking, “Who are you?” Kind of like, “What wandered into this room?” But you know, I think that’s our job. And as long as I’m in Washington, I’ll report on it just like I reported on any other place. It’s unfortunate that the agencies won’t.
BEN NORTON: Well, thank you for your reporting Max, and thanks for joining us here. I was joined by Max Blumenthal, who is an award-winning investigative journalist and the author of several books. He’s also the editor of The Grayzone Project, which you can find that grayzoneproject.com. He just published an article and an accompanying video about this OAS panel on Venezuela. Thanks Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot, Ben.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.