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Several Latin American nations are concerned that The Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro could become an “an instrument of the [US] state department…to intervene in the internal affairs of member states,” says Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

On June 1, Almagro convened a meeting of the OAS permanent council in Washington, DC to invoke the Democratic Charter of the OAS against Venezuela.

The charter allows the OAS to intervene when there are serious concerns with the democratic order of member states.

The OAS secretary general tried to push for a “revocatory referendum” by the end of the year that would prevent Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro from handing power to vice president Aristobulo Isturiz in the case of a successful recall effort.

But the member states “completely disregarded his recommendations and instead called for a national dialogue,” says Main. “They completely ignored the appeal that Secretary General Luis Almagro made for much more intense intervention in Venezuela’s internal political affairs.”

Main says there is “double standard of the [US] state department when it comes to Brazil versus Venezuela. The disruption of left-wing and independent government is “the overarching strategy of the US in Latin America,” says Main.

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The secretary general of the OAS, that’s the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, convened a meeting of the permanent council of the OAS on June 1 in Washington, DC to invoke the Democratic Charter of the OAS against Venezuela. The charter allows the OAS to intervene when there is an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order of member states. There was a lot of mainstream press about this when the OAS secretary general first called the meeting, but since the motion was absolutely defeated at the OAS there has been absolutely no press. Joining us now from Washington DC is Alex Main to discuss this. Alex is Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, where he focuses on US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Alex, good to have you with us. ALEX MAIN: Great to be on, Sharmini. PERIES: So Alex, let’s start with just describing this spat with Maduro and the secretary general of the OAS going back and forth. There was a lot of news about that. What was that about, and then what happened on June 1 in the OAS? MAIN: Well, sure. So, Luis Almagro, who’s been the secretary general of the OAS for about a year now, his sort of main obsession since he’s been in office has been Venezuela, getting involved with Venezuela and, particularly from the Venezuelan opposition’s point of view, defending the Venezuelan very heatedly and in a way that really, I think for most countries in Latin America, isn’t very befitting of someone who is the head of a multilateral organization and as such is supposed to represent sort of all of the governments, and certainly the consensus around the region. So, he had been building up to this big moment just a few days ago when he released an enormous report on Venezuela that’s, I believe, over 130 pages, which is meant to sort of create a strong case for invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter. This is sort of a treaty within the Organization of American States that was approved back in 2001 and that allows member states when the treaty is invoked to discuss the democratic situation in various countries and discuss what to do about it. So, he made a strong case in this report for that. He also had some recommendations which included calling for a revocatory referendum against the president, Nicolas Maduro, and calling for it to take place before the end of 2016. And this is significant, both because this revocatory referendum, it would be the product of an internal process which involves a petition from the opposition with, you know, the requisite amount of signatures. The processing of that position, it’s a whole complex endeavor that of course has taken place once already inVenezuela under the 1999 constitution, back in 2004 when there was a revocatory referendum against Hugo Chávez. Of course, he was victorious at the time. The opposition is trying to do the same thing again, and the secretary general feels that he has a mandate to get involved in the internal political situation of Venezuela and demand that this revocatory referendum take place before the end of the year. And why before the end of the year? Because if it doesn’t take place by January 10 of next year, that would mean that if it took place the current president, Nicolas Maduro, could potentially leave power, but then he would have to give to power to the vice president, Aristóbulo Istúriz, who is of course a Chavista politician, whereas if the revocatory referendum takes place before January 10 then there would be new elections, and of course that’s what the opposition wants. That’s what Almagro wants, and it seems that that’s what the state department wants as well. But in this permanent council meeting of the Organization of the American States that took place just a few weeks ago it was made very clear that nearly the entire rest of the region is opposed to these efforts on the part of Almagro, opposed to invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter, opposed to the recommendations he’s making. They completely disregarded the secretary general’s report. They completely disregarded his recommendations and instead called for a national dialogue, something that in fact the government of Venezuela has been calling for and that has involved former Spanish president Zapatero, among others, and that’s a process that may or may not be moving forward, and it’s a process that was supported by the rest of the countries while, again, they completely ignored the appeal that Secretary General Luis Almagro made for much more intense intervention in Venezuela’s internal political affairs. PERIES: Now, this is a very interesting situation. It brings into question, who is Almagro backed by? And it’s obvious that the United States, the state department is the largest funder of the OAS initiative and therefore it has a lot of clout. I want to take a look at a clip here of the Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani questioning the state department about what happened and then comparing it to why they’re not commenting on Brazil while they’re pushing for this motion to take place at the OAS and to have a strike against Venezuela that would eventually lead to the, if successful, if Almagro and the US are successful, it would lead to the expulsion of Venezuela from the OAS, so let’s have a look. ZAID JILANI: So, recently the US joined the OAS in expressing concerns about Venezuela’s democracy, and yet we have yet to see any concerns displayed about what’s happening in Brazil. This week it was reported that the new ruling government which, again, was not elected, came to power in a non-elected fashion, has been using the military to spy on the PT, which of course was the incumbent party before they took power. I mean, is that really consistent with democratic norms, and why is there sort of an inconsistency in that we’re willing to criticize Venezuela sort of violating democratic norms but we haven’t done the same for Brazil yet? MARK TONER: I’m not aware of the particular allegations that you’ve raised and, you know, what I’ve said about Brazil previously remains. We believe it is a strong democracy, that it has the kind of institutions that can weather the political crisis that it’s undergoing, but in terms of your specific allegations I just don’t have any– PERIES: So, Jilani here is clearly questioning the unequal assertions on the part of the US when it comes to Venezuela and then, you know, given the political upheaval that’s going on in Brazil, that they’re very limited in terms of their comments on it, and a number of other journalists that was in the room also took that up. What’s this all about, Alex? MAIN: Well, and then a little bit later on in this same press briefing the state department spokesperson Mark Toner went on to make a strong appeal in favor of Luis Almagro’s initiatives, praising the report that was made on Venezuela and also, you know, echoing Almagro’s call for the revocatory referendum to take place this year. Again, a very heavy intervention. The revocatory referendum process is a complex one. It can drag out over many months. It’s not clear whether, if it in fact takes place, whether it could take place this year. I don’t think that’s clear at all. But the US, with Almagro, are pushing very hard for it to take place this year. They feel that it is a way of defeating Nicolas Maduro and allowing, perhaps, the opposition to get back into power, and all this is very reminiscent of what happened back in 2004 during the revocatory referendum then that took place against President Hugo Chávez. Again, the US was practically alone in the region, pushing very, very hard for the revocatory referendum to take place as soon as possible. Again, there was this fear that if it took place too late then the government would stay in Chavista hands. That was unacceptable to the US, and here they go pushing again very hard. They’re very isolated, a little less isolated because the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, is on their side, but the secretary general, again, his obsession has been really attacking Venezuela, attacking the Venezuelan government for many, many months now, and I think most member states are very uneasy with what he’s been doing. And in terms of, yes, this double standard of the state department when it comes to Brazil versus Venezuela, well, absolutely. I mean, the state department has just consistently repeated, oh, we have the utmost confidence in Brazil’s democratic institutions even though at this point the whole impeachment process, it’s very clear what it’s about. You’ve had leaked recordings, that, you know, have made a huge amount of noise in the Brazilian and international press, where the people behind the impeachment process make very clear that their intention is to try to get rid of Dilma Rousseff in order to put a halt to these corruption investigations that are affecting them so, you know, really very criminal motivations, and yet the US continues to express confidence in the democratic process in Brazil. So, it’s interesting to see this double standard at work very heavily, and echoed by a number of sort of establishment organizations. I think one that’s worth mentioning is Human Rights Watch, which has also very strongly backed Luis Almagro and his initiatives against the Venezuelan government while not saying anything about the developments in Brazil. So, you have sort of the same actors that are again mobilized against Venezuela. But, I think what’s interesting is that in the region, whether the governments are right-wing or left-wing for the most part, and the big exception has been the very right-wing government of Paraguay, but for the most part these governments don’t want to see the secretary general of the OAS becoming an instrument of the state department, an instrument being used to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. PERIES: All right. And I understand that Raúl Castro in Cuba has also come out, making a statement against what’s going on at the OAS, and it’s really interesting times because Cuba’s under consideration terms of being accepted as a member of OAS which they have been denied all these years, and with the opening up of relations with Cuba that option is available, but Raúl Castro offered a statement saying that they’re not willing to join the OAS as long as these kinds of witch hunts against against Venezuela are going on. Your comments on that, and then we’ll wrap up. MAIN: Well, yes. I think this is interesting, because we’re seeing how sort of the overarching strategy of the US in Latin America, which involves containing and rolling back the left-wing, more independent governments, clashes with this sort of policy around Obama’s legacy in Latin America, which of course involves Cuba and the normalization of relations with Cuba. The fact that the US is continuing to target the Venezuelan government as it is could scuttle, I think, the, you know, continuation of good, you know, bettering, improving relations with Cuba, and not only with Cuba but with much of the rest of the region. And I think it’s worth noting that in the OAS permanent council meeting that took place late last week you had a number of Caribbean states, including Jamaica, which, you know, is normally very close to the US. The current government at least is very close to the US, and they have been very critical of the secretary general’s behavior and the manner in which he is, you know, attacking the Venezuelan government so repeatedly and getting so involved in Venezuela’s internal affairs. So, I think this is going to backfire, not just on the secretary general of the OAS, but also on the US, which is so very clearly supportive, and almost the only supporter of the secretary general’s maneuvers. PERIES: All right, Alex. Thank you so much for joining us today, and we will follow this issue to its logical end here at the OAS, but I hope to have you back and I hope you join us them. MAIN: Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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In his work at CEPR, as Director of International Policy, Alexander Main focuses on U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean and regularly engages with U.S. policy makers and civil society groups to inform the public debate. He is frequently interviewed by media in the U.S. and Latin American and his analyses on U.S. policy in the Americas have been published in a variety of domestic and international media outlets including Foreign Policy, NACLA and the Monde diplomatique. Prior to CEPR, Alexander spent more than six years in Latin America working as an international relations analyst. He has a degree in history and political science from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France.