Commentary: The OAS dangerously in disarray

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Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own. Responses to: www.sirronaldsanders.com

By Sir Ronald Sanders

Over the last few days there has been a serious overreach by Luis Almagro of the authority he has as secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

If Mr Almagro continues to exceed his authority, plainly set out in the Charter of the OAS, the already fragmented organisation will be headed for grave fracture.

The job of the secretary-general of any multi-national or international organisation is to represent the positions of the collective membership of the organisation either after direction by the appropriate governing bodies or after discussion with them that establishes a consensus. Almost from the day of his installation, Mr Almagro has steadfastly ignored any such requirements.

In his latest overreach, Mr Almagro has taken upon himself to unilaterally and publicly anoint an “Interim President” of Venezuela. Almagro’s selection is Juan Guaidó who was elected by the National Assembly — made up of only opposition party representatives — as its president “for a year”. He made this spontaneous statement at a meeting on January 15 at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think-tank based in Washington, DC.

No official organ of the OAS has made any such decision or even discussed it, and none has authorised Mr Almagro to make it.

This latest unauthorised statement on Venezuelan matters is the most recent in a series by Almagro, directed at the Venezuelan government that ruled-out both he, as secretary-general, and the OAS as honest brokers in trying to reach a settlement to the political divisions that have plagued Venezuela over the past five years.

The secretary-general has also taken to tweeting his personal views, which he incorrectly represents as speaking for the OAS, a grouping of 34 countries. In a tweet on January 11, Luis Almagro stated: “We support the agreement in Venezuela’s national assembly declaring the usurpation by Nicolás Maduro and the need to apply constitutional article 233 on a transitional government and the call for an election”.

Exactly who is the “we” to whom Almagro referred is unknown, since he did not identify them. But what is known is that it is not any official organ of the OAS, including the Permanent Council, which is the highest decision-making body, representing all member states at ambassadorial level.

It may be that Mr Almagro is working with a handful of countries which, from their own governments’ declarations, oppose the government of Nicolas Maduro to the point where they are using every means to topple it, but in doing so, he is not representing the OAS or the collective will of the member-states. Governments are free to pursue their own national policies on Venezuela, but they have no entitlement to impose those policies on the OAS.

The reality is that the membership of the OAS is deeply divided, not over the troubling humanitarian, political and financial crisis in Venezuela, but over the response to it.

There is no member state that condones the political impasse created by both ruling and opposition parties; the shortage of food and medicines; the hardship being endured by a large number of Venezuelans; and now the flow of refugees into neighbouring countries. The disagreement arises from the manner in which 14 countries, calling themselves “The Lima Group” has held private meetings to fashion decisions which they then try to push through the Permanent Council of the OAS on a majority vote of 18.

The problem with this approach is that when a majority of 18 secures passage of a resolution or a declaration on which others have not been consulted and that is unpalatable to them, a trail of bitterness is left among the 15 others, particularly when it is known that governments have been cajoled and pressured to help attain the majority of 18.

It is sad that in the Americas, the governments of countries that benefitted from the wisdom of the founding fathers of the United States, ignore the observation of Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of the US Constitution, that: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression”.

Tied-up with Secretary-General Almagro’s disdain for the official organs of the OAS is his decision now to run for a second term, although he had previously indicated that he would not. His stance on Venezuela, particularly, would have endeared him to those member states whose governments might wish him to remain as an additional instrument for advancing their peculiar interests.

But, if Mr Almagro is not reined-in and his overreach not curtailed, many member-states will not tolerate it, and the organisation will be damaged irreparably. Governments, except the timid and the frightened, will not sit by idly while their rights are eroded, and their voices disregarded.

Mr Almagro’s latest dangerous pronouncement, made casually at the CSIS meeting on January 15, is that, if what he calls “the interim president” of Venezuela being Juan Guaidó, one of the leaders of the opposition, designates representatives to the OAS, he will accept their credentials and seat them, presumably ousting the current delegates.

The secretary-general has no such authority. No instrument of the OAS gives him that power. And, if it is that Mr Almagro is setting-up this possibility for any vested-interest group in the OAS to force adoption of such a notion by a majority vote of 18, the OAS, in its present form, will not survive it.

To be clear, objection to any such action will not come because any country is blindly supporting the Maduro government in Venezuela; it will come because the precedent it would establish would be far-reaching and dangerous for any other country that is targeted for whatever reason.

The rules of international organisations and international law must be respected and upheld, or disarray will result.

Venezuela needs a negotiated and sustainable solution for the sake of its people and for the stability of the region. Promoting division within Venezuela and isolating its de facto government from diplomatic discourse simply protracts the hardships the people endure.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. This is a lucid, objective view. Members of OAS should not allow that the individual disagreements with a particular government hamper the protocols and procedures of the organization. The point is not whether Maduro is an awful President. The point is that consensus and democratic procedures are necessary to take any decision within OAS.

    • Daniel B.
      Your post is spot-on!
      Which Latin-American country, or any other member of the OAS, will be next in line for the ‘Lima-Group’s wrath? This US-Government-sponsored consortium of anti-socialism members’ , HAS, and WILL, overstep the laws of the original membership-consulted and ratified, OAS Constitution.
      Luis Almagro, has, from day-one of his self-appointed tenure as Secretary-General, has been the outspoken mouthpiece of the American Government’s presence and determination of the RE-DIRECTION of the OAS Organization’s Latin American business model.
      Endless rhetoric from the US-Financed opponent’s who try to cause ‘regime-change activities’, to destabilize the Socialist-leaning countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean, does NOT GO UNNOTICED by the intelligentsia and other concerned folks around the world.
      This pressure to enshrine the outdated ‘Monroe Doctrine’, by the United States Government Warmongers’ just got a notice from the CHINESE GOVERNMENT today, January 24th, 2018.
      It stated loudly and clearly, DO NOT INTERFERE WITH VENEZUELAN POLITICS! Their problems must ONLY be settled politically, with mutual discussions and agreements.
      Keep in mind US Interests’, RUSSIA is another ally in Venezuela’s war chest.
      Either of these two entity’s, together or singly, present a very formidable opponent to America’s greed and hegemony in Latin America.
      Don D.

  2. Dear Mr. Sanders,

    In your commentary you mention that “The job of the secretary-general of any multi-national or international organisation is to represent the positions of the collective membership of the organisation either after direction by the appropriate governing bodies or after discussion with them that establishes a consensus.” You indicate that Secretary Almagro has not bothered to achieve that consensus in the case of Venezuela, something that has led, according to your words, to the OAS being “dangerously in disarray.”

    Ideally, the consensus to be achieved in a multilateral organization should reflect the position of a majority of its member countries’ populations, something that is not happening at present and that can truly become the cause of the Organization’s disarray and eventual non-functioning governance.

    The OAS’ fundamental problem has become obvious in dealing with the Venezuela case. This country’s repeated violation of its citizens most elementary human rights would justify the OAS member countries’ approval and enforcement of its Democratic Charter. Nevertheless, it has not been possible to achieve the required supermajority of the total 34 members because of the opposition of 12 quite small Caribbean island, none of which are actually independent republics and all of them scarcely populated (their average population being 150 thousand inhabitants, with several of them having populations below 10,000). Their land mass range from 37 sq.km to 14,000 square kilometers (their total area being below a total of 60 thousand sq.km).

    Your islands Antigua and Barbuda, for instance Mr. Sanders, have only 81 thousand people inhabiting 440 square kilometers.

    Compare the statistics of the group of 12 that block the Democratic Charter with the numbers of the 14 countries that make up the “Lima Group”: these 14 countries have a population of at least 557 million people and a land mass of 26 million square kilometers.

    It is obvious that there exists and unsusteinable equillibrium at the OAS, a dangerous disarray, as you call it, when a group of countries that represent half a billion people feel they should safeguard democracy and human rights in one ot its member countries, is blocked by another group of countries whose main interest is to look only at the short term material benefits they derive from their position for their population ( a total of 2 million).

    Clearly, a solution has to be found to this untenable situation.

  3. Youri Kemp
    Caribbean News Now associate editor;

    Mr. Kemp, you besmudge the validity of the Caribbean News Now website!
    Your biased, one-sided, Venezuelan/Maduro post, was a terribly distorted account of the actual happenings at the OAS Illegal Meeting by the Lima Group proponents and their US-Controlled Puppets!
    Luis Almagro’s out of control, illegal, overriding of the constitution of the OAS, should have been stopped, or at the very least, be accurately reported on by YOU, in your capacity as an associate editor of a major Caribbean news source, Caribbean News Now!
    I hate to think that this fine (until now) Corporation, is, as shown by your reporting, under the influence of the American Government.
    SHAME, Mr. Kemp, and, SHAME on Caribbean News Now, for being complicit with the American, Government-Controlled Content, in your reporting of this illegitimate debacle.
    Don D.

    • Guyana will have to invade Venezuela with the assistance of Exxon-Mobil and the US Navy. If it wasn’t for Exxon-Mobil, Guyana would have remained a dirty, unclean and uncivilized country.
      Exxon-Mobil will transform Guyana from a third world country to a developed first world country that will rival wealthy countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg.
      Guyana has over 100 billion barrels of oil, and they’re for GUYANA. If Venezuela needs to be nuked and destroyed, then let it be, because Venezuela cannot stand in the way of progress and intimidate our personnel at sea.

  4. Mr. Youri Kemp
    Caribbena News Now associate editor.

    Dear Mr. Kemp,

    Three days ago a sent a comment to Mr. Sanders article on the OAS dangerously in disarray. Up to today, my comment has not been prineted, supposedly waiting for “moderator approval”.

    Can you please no censure comments and stand for freedom of information and freedom of opinion by allowing my comment tobe published? Nothing less would befit your fine newspaper.

    Thank you,

    Raul Lacayo

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