Divisions between countries on display as OAS weighs Venezuela crisis
Top diplomats from across the Western Hemisphere held an urgent meeting Wednesday aimed at ending Venezuela’s worsening democratic crisis, but struggled to reach consensus about whether foreign nations had any right to intervene in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
At an emotional gathering of the Organization of American States, foreign ministers broadly shared one hope: that Venezuela, which has vowed to leave the regional group in protest of its potential intervention, would reconsider. Beyond that, there were few points of agreement and ideological differences that have divided countries in North and South America were on sharp display.
“We’re talking about people dying, dying,” said Brazil’s Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes. He argued that democracy was “not a luxury” and asked plaintively: “What can we do collectively to make a difference, to reach out to the Venezuelan citizens, to rescue their fundamental freedoms?”
But left-leaning nations that have been sympathetic to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro insisted the OAS had no business interfering in the crisis, in which protests against Mr. Maduro’s government have left at least 60 people dead. Nicaraguan diplomat Luis Alvarado said his country condemned and rejected the attempt to “subvert the rights” of a sovereign country.
“We demand the end of the political lynching,” Mr. Alvarado said through a translator. “Nothing can be imposed on the great and sovereign nation of Venezuela. It is absolutely essential that these actions cease.”
His comments were echoed by Bolivia’s Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni Mamani, who accused the OAS of choosing “aggression” and “confrontation.”
Protesters have flooded the streets of Venezuela for months — including on Wednesday — demanding new elections and faulting Mr. Maduro’s leadership for the country’s triple-digit inflation, surging crime rates, and dire shortages of food and medicine. The opposition accuses Mr. Maduro of putting Venezuela on a path toward full-on authoritarianism.
Mr. Maduro has vowed to resolve the crisis by forming a special assembly to rewrite the constitution, a proposal protesters have rejected as yet another attempt by the populist protégé of former President Hugo Chavez to consolidate power. Mr. Maduro’s opposition says the process outlined by the president for selecting the assembly is designed to skew it in his favor by stacking the assembly with his supporters.
At Wednesday’s meeting in Washington, foreign ministers were considering two draft resolutions. Both drafts call for a reduction in violence but differ in their wording on other demands for Mr. Maduro to change course. Given the concerns voiced by Nicaragua and others, it was unclear whether the group would manage to find enough common ground to proceed.
Despite the harsh criticism of Venezuela’s government by the Trump White House, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not attend the meeting taking place at OAS headquarters just a few blocks from Mr. Tillerson’s State Department offices. Veteran diplomat Tom Shannon, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, went instead, urging Venezuela to stay in the group and defended the OAS’s right to try to resolve the crisis.