June 2016

The Organization of the American States (OAS) held an emergency meeting on Thursday, June 23 to consider OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Venezuela. The Democratic Charter was signed by 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere in 2001 to defend democracy. Article 20 allows either the Secretary General or any member state to call an emergency meeting if they there has been “an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.” Venezuelan Chancellor Delcy Rodríguez opened the permanent OAS session asking for its cancellation, claiming that the democratic charter was a “coup from [Secretary General] Almagro of this organization and of Venezuela.”

Since its founding in 1948, the OAS has played a meaningful role in fulfilling its mission of defending and promoting democracy, monitoring elections, and promoting human rights in the Western Hemisphere. However, the effectiveness and credibility of the OAS faded over the last decade, as member states forged new alliances (such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA, and the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR) and turned away from the forum. Under Almagro, the OAS has taken a strong stance in the context of sustained regional silence surrounding Venezuela, signaling a renewed readiness to promote dialogue, advance democracy and human rights, and advocate for regional and hemispheric partnerships.

On May 30, Almagro presented his assessment to the permanent council, justifying his position that Venezuela has acted in contravention of the Democratic Charter. Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor, faces an emboldened opposition, widespread frustration, and a deteriorating state. Almagro argued that Maduro’s government has violated basic democratic principles, such as the erosion of the separation of powers, lack of due process for political prisoners, and obstacles to fair and free elections. He also highlighted the increased rates of poverty and violence in the nation. The country’s fiscal mismanagement has contributed to many social problems; Venezuela now has an inflation rate of over 700 percent, a fiscal deficit of 17 percent, and $130 billion in foreign debt. The lack of sufficient dollars to purchase imports and the decline in the price of oil, coupled with a strong black market, has contributed to food and basic-good scarcities. Additionally, hospitals lack basic and specialized drugs.

While the session ended with strong opposition from Venezuela and its allies, such as Ecuador and Bolivia, and no decision on whether or not to invoke the Democratic Charter, Almagro forced member-states to face the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and spurred a new debate surrounding democracy and human rights in the region. Regardless of whether Venezuela will be suspended from the OAS, this is an important moment in OAS history as it aims to recover trust and credibility and assert hemispheric leadership.