OAS Meets to Discuss Venezuela as Economic Crisis Deepens

  • Council to assess threats to country’s ‘constitutional order’
  • Maduro met senior U.S. envoy Shannon in Caracas on Wednesday

The Organization of American States will meet Thursday to discuss the deepening crisis in Venezuela, where the opposition is pushing forward with efforts to activate a recall referendum of President Nicolas Maduro amid acute shortages and sporadic looting.

The meeting of the OAS’s Permanent Council comprising its active member states will assess a report by Secretary-General Luis Almagro, citing an “alteration of the constitutional order” that “gravely affected” the country’s democracy. The council could activate its charter and initiate a process potentially leading to Venezuela’s suspension.

South America’s largest oil producer, where the economy is expected to shrink for a third year amid triple-digit inflation, has been on tenterhooks after a rash of increasingly violent protests over shrinking supplies of basic goods from shelves after a rout in the price of crude. The meeting comes amid regional mediation efforts led by former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held direct discussions with his Venezuelan counterpart.

Given these efforts and signs that some regional allies are unwilling to put pressure on Maduro’s government, few expect the charter to be activated. Still, the debate could help move Venezuela’s political stalemate.

“The effort will put subtle pressure on Venezuela to adhere to the referendum process,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer of international policy and public affairs at Columbia University.

Discussions, Positions

Maduro held a two hour meeting with senior U.S. diplomat Thomas Shannon on Wednesday, who traveled to Venezuela at the request of Kerry to thaw icy bi-lateral relations and help foster dialogue in the country. The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control defended its use of sanctions against Venezuela this week as a means of responding to “repression.”

If approved this year, a successful recall vote would force Venezuela to hold new elections, potentially ending 17 years of socialist rule.

Speaking at an oil-worker rally in central Caracas on Wednesday, Maduro said he supported a “respectful agenda” with the U.S., but reiterated he would not accept foreign interference. “With or without the OAS, Venezuela will continue with its Bolivarian and socialist revolution."

‘International Reputation’

Long-standing tensions between Venezuela and the OAS came to a head last month when Almagro urged the body to apply its democratic charter after presenting a 114-page report that advocated for referendum this year and the release of political prisoners.

The report offered a detailed analysis of the current economic, political and social situation in Venezuela and called for the appointment of new impartial justices to the Supreme Court and urgent action by the government to address nationwide food shortages, deteriorating health care and a surge in crime.

Earlier this week, the Permanent Council was briefed by Zapatero on the dialogue process he’s spearheaded under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations, known as Unasur, with Leonel Fernandez and Martin Torrijos, the former leaders of the Dominican Republic and Panama, respectively.

Even with Kerry’s support and mediation led by Zapatero, the opposition has been divided on the issue, with Governor Henrique Capriles saying that no talks should be held with the government unless it commits to holding the referendum this year. He accused Maduro of trying to buy time and said a similar dialogue attempt after anti-government protests in 2014 yielded no concrete results.

"There’s not much in material outcome or impact,” said Jennifer McCoy, a professor of political science at Georgia State University. “The stakes for Venezuela are that it’s international reputation could be damaged even further.”

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