Venezuela: When Will the International Community Intercede?
AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Venezuela: When Will the International Community Intercede?
AP Photo/Fernando Llano
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The Venezuelan government was recently given a new mandate to continue running its country into the ground. The culprits this time: an international community scared of its own shadow. Within 24 hours of Venezuela becoming the first country in history to face the possible invocation of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Democratic Charter against the will of a national government, any hope of collective action faded.

Without time to digest the 132-page report released by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro on the erosion of democracy, an emergency OAS meeting on June 1 ended with the recommendation to promote further dialogue between the Chavista government and the opposition. Little support was voiced for moving forward with the Charter.

However, as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has consistently demonstrated, there is little room for dialogue in the Palacio de Miraflores. Instead, past attempts at dialogue have been a smokescreen, hiding the real purpose of delaying any reconciliation. The current talks led by former presidents of Spain, Panama, and the Dominican Republic are likely to be no different. For Chavismo and the opposition, no incentive exists to negotiate when the ultimate objective is a knockout punch.  

In the likely event that talks prove inconclusive, and democracy continues to evaporate, OAS member countries should be prepared to act -- and quickly -- using the most powerful apparatus at their disposal. Although this is an issue that must be solved by Latin American countries, the 501-94 vote in the European Parliament on June 8 expressing “grave concern” over events in Venezuela provides a needed push for action from the broader global community.

For all involved, this is a big deal. Regardless of the outcome, the OAS finds itself revived with a renewed sense of purpose and relevance, while the inter-American system will be put through a test that could determine its future role in the region.

The Democratic Charter is an instrument of the OAS that states that representative democracy is indispensable for peace and development, and that member governments have an obligation to defend it. Venezuela has tested the Charter’s boundaries with a number of emergency decrees over the years. But ever since the opposition won control of the National Assembly, the government has further thwarted the will of the people through emergency decrees that bypass the Assembly’s authority.

The most pressing issue now is a recall referendum to oust Maduro and hold new elections. Needing fewer than 200,000 signatures to trigger the next stage in the referendum process, Venezuela’s opposition was able to collect nearly 2 million in about a week. But the National Electoral Council, packed with Maduro loyalists, delayed approval of this first step for over a month. Only under mounting pressure did the Council finally approve 70 percent of the signatures, which still numbered more than 1 million more than was needed. Next up: validating the names and then collecting an additional 4 million signatures in three days.

In accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, if the referendum passes after Jan. 10, 2017, Maduro will simply be replaced by his vice president, all but ensuring the continuation of the current humanitarian crisis. It is worth noting that Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz explicitly asserted last week, “There will be no referendum this year.” The obstruction of this referendum represents the regime’s most brazen abdication of its democratic responsibilities.

Why is this important? Venezuela’s decline into crisis has been years in the making, but up until recently, only a few former heads of state were willing to speak up. Most other governments preferred not to suffer the consequences of public criticism. Caracas has invested lavishly in courting allies in the region, from oil financing through Petrocaribe to more direct financial support to select political parties. Even with the evaporation of sky-high oil prices, Venezuela’s sway over Petrocaribe recipients was on full display at the OAS meeting earlier this month.

While the invocation of the Charter would have little practical impact on Venezuela, symbolically it would represent a huge blow. The Maduro government would not only suffer a loss of legitimacy if approved by a majority of its peers, but the decision could also galvanize a fatigued opposition. After being stripped of its congressional supermajority through technicalities, the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition has repeatedly attempted to remove Maduro through constitutional channels, but to no avail.

Many are wondering if this is beginning of the endgame for Maduro and Chavismo. The short answer is no. The regime has muddled through crisis for years. But change may be on the horizon.

The majority of the country's population is living in deplorable conditions, with inhumane scarcity of basic goods, foods, and medicines. Their rights to representation are repeatedly stymied. No matter what happens, a transition is coming at some point in the future. As such, the key focus should not merely be the ousting of the regime, but rather what must be done in order to extricate the Venezuelan people from this horrific situation.

When the moment comes, the international community has a responsibility to be prepared to help.