The OAS has no positive role to play in resolving the political crisis in Venezuela, any more than would Senator Marco Rubio or other Florida politicians who seek regime change there. At this point, it should be clear to any informed observer that the organization is currently an instrument of those who simply want to use the current crisis to topple the Venezuelan government.
I say this without exaggeration or hyperbole. People who want to avoid escalating violence or civil war in Venezuela should not pretend otherwise, no matter how much they hate the current government or want to see the opposition in power. They should not try to support a process that is so blatantly illegitimate, ill-intentioned, and dangerous.
In Washington bubble circles, the large media outlets and US government are the ultimate arbiters of political legitimacy. Since these actors and their allies are all willing to pretend that the OAS is currently neutral, some well-intentioned people may want to also pretend that this is the case. They may believe that such intervention as the upcoming May 31 OAS meeting of foreign ministers, despite being controlled by partisan actors, would increase pressure on the Venezuelan government to negotiate.
But it is much more likely to have the opposite effect, causing the government and its supporters to dig in their heels against intervention, which can accurately be described as Washington-led (Rubio even publicly threatened the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Haiti with punishment if they did not cooperate with US efforts against Venezuela within the OAS). It could encourage the government to refuse concessions that they should make to the opposition’s legitimate demands. For those who do not know, because it is almost never mentioned in these discussions, a Washington-led strategy is considered suspect because the US government has been trying to undermine, destabilize, and get rid of the Venezuelan government ― on and off ― for more than 15 years.
Nobody is fooled by the fact that some of South America’s most important governments, including Brazil and Argentina, are contributing to this effort. Their new right-wing governments (with Temer hanging on by a thread to his illegitimate presidency) are closely aligned with the Trump administration.
On the opposition side, this strategy of manipulating the OAS for partisan purposes will likely encourage the more extreme and violent elements of the Venezuelan opposition to pursue a strategy of toppling the government by extralegal means.
For some in the Trump administration, this is exactly the intention, and it has been done before. The renowned humanitarian Paul Farmer, who was Bill Clinton’s deputy special envoy of the UN to Haiti testified to the US Congress on the regime change effort there during the early 2000s: “Choking off assistance for development and for the provision of basic services also choked off oxygen to the government, which was the intention all along: to dislodge the Aristide administration.”
The OAS played a vital role in justifying the brutal treatment of Haiti, and therefore the toppling of its democratically elected government. The organization originally concurred with other election observers that the 2000 elections were “a great success for the Haitian population,” but then changed its position as the US regime change effort got underway. Their reversal was key to de-legitimizing the government, which was subsequently starved and overthrown in a US-backed coup in 2004. That has almost always been part of the playbook of regime change: before a government can be overthrown, it must be delegitimized.
There are other recent examples of the OAS being manipulated by Washington for such purposes. In 2011 in Haiti, and OAS mission did something that was never done before in the history of election monitoring: it simply overturned the results of the first round of Haiti’s presidential elections, without a recount or even a statistical test. The US government then threatened Haiti with a cutoff of desperately needed post-earthquake aid if it did not accept the commission’s results, thus choosing who could compete for the presidency of Haiti. In her memoirs, Hillary Clinton describes how she successfully manipulated the OAS to prevent the democratically elected president of Honduras, Mel Zelaya, from returning after the military coup there in 2009.
And now the OAS has a secretary general, Luis Almagro, who is more openly partisan and hostile to a member government (Venezuela) than any leader of the organization in perhaps decades. Among other interventions, he campaigned vigorously in 2015 in a failed attempt to delegitimize the December National Assembly elections in Venezuela.
Venezuela is still a politically polarized country. Any party that seeks to mediate the conflict must have the trust and confidence of both sides. There are political actors who could play this role, as the Vatican tried to do last year. Those who sincerely want to promote dialogue and negotiation for a peaceful resolution of Venezuela’s crisis should support honest mediation. It is desperately needed, and it won’t be coming from the OAS.
By Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research.