Reply to Tinker Salas, Weisbrot and Ellner: We agree on some basics, but differ in interpretation and prioritization of issues.

David makes many points that I would make, so let me be succinct in a few points about the OAS and then try to point out some areas of agreement and disagreement about the current crisis in Venezuela. Like David, I believe most of our disagreements are about interpretation of history and the balance we give in those interpretations:

  1. The OAS does not equal the Secretary General, as Steve, Miguel and Mark seem to conflate.
  2. The OAS is a club of presidents and prime ministers and spends most of its time defending each other (i.e. their primary reactions come in response to coups), rather than defending their populations against abuses (or failures to act) of each other. They do so not because of some lofty principle of sovereignty, but because they fear criticism of their own actions. See my analysis of their 21st-century record here.
  3. The OAS includes the second-most advanced human rights system in the world (after Europe) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, have criticized boldly many of the human rights violations flagged by Mark and Miguel.
  4. There seems to remain a general confusion about the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is not meant to be a punitive instrument, but rather a hemispheric commitment to democratic rights as human rights. It seeks to provide assistance to strengthen those democracies, good offices to help resolve democratic disputes, and only has one punitive measure: suspension of membership. The “invocation” or “application” of the Charter does not mean automatic expulsion, as Steve implies. See my explanation here.
  5. The OAS has been paralyzed and polarized in many regards since 2004 by a cold war competition between Venezuela and the U.S. As David describes, the consensus decision-making model and one-country, one-vote gives vastly disproportionate weight in decision-making to citizens of the Caribbean versus citizens of the U.S. or Brazil, making our own electoral college mal-apportionments look tame in comparison.

Do we agree on anything? I think at least four of us agree (not sure about Mark) that Venezuela is in the midst of a terrible situation that currently seems deadlocked and needs some help getting out.

I think all five of us agree that the original chavista goals of providing greater inclusion for marginalized citizens of Venezuela and the experiments in new forms of participatory and communal democracy, production and redistribution of national wealth were laudatory in principle.

We disagree on how far they have gone awry and who is responsible for that. David and I have emphasized that democratic rights are human rights. I would also emphasize that governments in general, which hold in principle a monopoly on the use of force and also control the national purse-strings, should be held to different standards than groups of citizens.

We may have been closer in alignment in assessing in 2002 that forces opposed to the government acted undemocratically, and had the means to do so when allying with military factions. I see 2017 in a very different light, with a very different correlation of forces.

In Venezuela in particular, where the government now holds virtually all of the levers of the power (in contrast to 2002 when power was effectively divided in different arenas of media, economy, public institutions, and security forces), we should not make a moral equivalency between protestors in the street who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails out of frustration, and security forces with a whole range of weapons at their disposal representing the government with its primary mandate to protect its own citizens.

We also disagree on the severity and characterization of the violations of democracy. I agree that democracy does impose obligations on all of its citizens to respect the rights of other citizens and to not incite violence, much less carry it out. But what I see happening in Venezuela today is a strangulation of all peaceful outlets (elections, protests, media discussions, influence over policy) to express severe grievances. The people are in pain, and avenues to express that pain and to have any hope of change are choked off.

Steve claims that “the government’s arguments are credible enough to deny a black and white conclusion or blanket condemnation” of its “breaches of democratic norms.” But his own list of the government’s violation of citizen rights, and its own constitution, omitted several key points: the obstruction of the recall referendum, the intervention in the National Assembly starting with the non-recognition of the election of deputies from one state that have never been addressed since Jan 2016, the trying of ordinary citizens in military tribunals, and the introduction of a constituent assembly as a clear distraction from the current crisis, with all the problems David listed.

While I agree with Steve that a call for a constituent assembly could have” the potential to bring together diverse sectors in order to solve concrete problems”, this situation is not one of those. It was done without consultation, without following constitutional procedures, and with such apparent cynicism that it is virtually impossible to serve that purpose now. Instead, it will undoubtedly function as Steve’s alternate scenario: “On the other hand, if it fails to reach beyond the hard-core Chavistas, it will only aggravate an already critical situation.”

As we watch the OAS debate once more on June 19, I echo some of David’s sentiments. The value of such political debates (and they are political in nature, but hopefully based in legal principle of commitments the country’s have all voluntarily adopted) is to bring attention to crises in the hemisphere, and help protect citizens where they cannot protect themselves. The only leverage such an international organization has is the legitimacy it can grant or withdraw to a member-government. We can’t expect much more, and I expect less – given the continued politicization and divisions within the hemisphere, I think it will be an opportunity missed to provide the incentives and structures that I suggested in my first post to encourage both sides to break their stalemate.

By Jennifer McCoy, Georgia Stare University

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