The country members understood the importance not only of the issues to deal with, but also the context of this meeting celebrating 70 years since the OAS was founded. Most of the countries sent to Washington their foreign ministers as heads of delegations. The United States sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to address the assembly and make it clear that the Venezuelan regime should be observed and sanctioned according to the rules of the Democratic Charter.
After two days of tough discussions and verbal confrontations between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and each one of the other foreign ministers (with very few exceptions)the General Assembly passed a resolution aimed at suspending Venezuela from the organization and not recognizing the legitimacy of the May 20 presidential elections.
There were 19 votes in favor, 4 against and 11 abstentions. Countries that abstained include Surinam, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti and Nicaragua.
Ecuador and Nicaragua were very close to Venezuela in the last decade. But this time they gave a first step to separate from the old alliance.
Four countries rejected the measure: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Venezuela, Bolivia and Dominica. Venezuela may have observed for the first time in more than a decade that its predicament has no more allies than Bolivia and two tiny islands.
The approved resolution was called by the United States and 14 countries of the Lima Group, a bloc that amounts to 90 percent of the South American and Caribbean population which include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia.
This is the first time a resolution on the Venezuelan crisis was approved during a General Assembly of the OAS. The resolution needed 18 votes to be approved and 19 voted in favor.
This resolution offers the possibility to suspend Venezuela from the regional organization. Suspension is the toughest sanction imposed by the OAS and only two nations have ever been suspended: Honduras in 2009, following the coup d’etat that threw Manuel Zelaya out of office and Cuba, following the victory of Fidel Castro’s resolution in 1959.
However, Venezuela started a process to withdraw from OAS on April 28, 2017, but due to administrative reasons the exit will not be effective until 2019.
The resolution condemns the elections of May 20 when Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was re-elected president as well as a request for the government to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and to restore the full authority of the Venezuelan National Assembly. Venezuela´s regime denies that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country, but the facts speak by themselves: emigration of more than 2 million Venezuelan in the last three years and the lack of food and medicines inside the country make it very clear what is really going on in Venezuela.
Maduro, following the steps of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, has opened the doors of his country to Iran and Hezbollah and has put in danger the whole region letting a terrorist movement to move freely from north to south with Venezuelan passports.
It seems that time has finally come for the countries to the Americas to address the situation created by Maduro´s regime. Venezuelans are refugees in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama, and there is a refugee situation to address in a region that has never faced such a calamity. And it has to be addressed in all areas: diseases, hunger, poverty, education. Besides, the terrorist danger of having Hezbollah members in the region is a major threat.
Today, only Cuba and Bolivia step beside Maduro. The time of populism is gone, and it is time for the Americas to face the situation as it exists.
Unrest in Nicaragua is another outrageous situation to be addressed. Civil unrest due to the corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega is causing tens of students and other civilians to be shot dead in the streets. The OAS has severely urged for a dialogue, and Ortega will have to accept it shortly.
B´nai B´rith attended the OAS GA as it has done since the OAS was born. Representing B’nai B’rith were Sienna Girgenti, assistant director for the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and this writer, Eduardo Kohn, director for Latin America Affairs. We both had meetings and conversations with foreign ministers of Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and with chiefs of mission of Uruguay and Nicaragua. We also met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and congratulated Dr. Ricardo Perez Manrique in his new capacity as member of the Inter American Human Rights Court. Perez Manrique has been president of the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay and was the keynote speaker of Kristallnacht commemorations organized by
B´nai B´rith Uruguay in 2016.
As the time of populism is fading in the Americas, authoritarian governments like Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, are staying isolated from the other more than 30 members of the OAS. Not only the United States has decided to play a very active role in the main issues of OAS agenda but also very important and huge nations are following the same steps: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile.
Still, there is a long way to go in order to end the suffering of the Venezuelan people. But this time, when the OAS is celebrating its 70th anniversary, a step forward has been taken. It is the beginning. And it opens a window of hope for those who are suffering.