Di­vi­sions be­tween coun­tries on dis­play as OAS weighs Venezuela cri­sis

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JOSH LEDERMAN

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.

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