The main issues in the 49th Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, which just took place in Medellín, Colombia, have been the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the political crisis in Nicaragua.
The OAS is trying to find wide consensus to reverse the political, social and economic crises in Venezuela and face Maduro’s increasing contempt for human rights. The OAS is again approving strong resolutions and sanctions and calling the world to help oust Maduro's regime.
But Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Uruguay still recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Uruguay decided to abandon the assembly, arguing that the inclusion of the vast majority of the body of Juan Guaidó's representatives in the assembly is illegal. Although Maduro retains power, Guaidó is recognized as the president of Venezuela by many countries around the world, including the United States and most Latin American countries.
This is a division among state members, which is damaging the OAS. Even worse, the division calls into question the definition of democracy and the quality of democracy if countries like Uruguay and Mexico still believe that a dictatorship like Maduro's regime must be "respected.” The crisis in Venezuela, which is a serious issue for the Americas since four million Venezuelans have fled the country for neighboring countries in South and Central America, will remain the core challenge for the region. In this 49th assembly, the vast majority of states showed their determination to apply sanctions to Maduro’s regime and move forward with all possible legal tools. Uruguay, Mexico, Bolivia and Nicaragua were the only four of the 34 countries present that still supported the Venezuelan dictatorship. Five years ago, the division between countries that supported Maduro and those that did not was evenly split. Now, fewer than 10 percent of countries participating in the OAS General Assembly still support Maduro.
The violation of human rights in Nicaragua is also a difficult issue under discussion, because Nicaragua should be warned that it may be suspended under the Democratic Charter, but there are still conversations to try to ease the situation and secure the release of political prisoners. It is a challenge for the OAS, because Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, is not delivering on the commitments he made to release the prisoners and is challenging the OAS and the inter-American system.
B'nai B'rith participated in this OAS General Assembly and in sideline meetings with high officers, foreign ministers and ambassadors of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Panama, the United States, Venezuela, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Secretary General Luis Almagro and his staff, confirmed to B’nai B’rith that July 18th, which marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, will be designated as the Inter-American Day of Combating Terrorism.
The OAS Secretary General has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. B'nai B'rith discussed the issue in every meeting, and foreign ministers have committed to follow the decision taken by Secretary General Almagro. B'nai B'rith also met with the director of the Latin American Bureau of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Modi Ephraim. Ephraim attended the General Assembly as an observer.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
By Rachel Knopp
College students have become emblematic elements of nonviolent resistance throughout the world. Perhaps most famous were the anti-Vietnam protests when college campuses in the United States transformed into hotbeds of political activity. Students would organize “teach-ins” to rally against the escalation of the war. In Europe, Serbian university students organized poster campaigns and satirical concerts against the oppressive Milošević regime. Just two years later, these ‘unruly’ young people had successfully overthrown a dictator.
Today, we see that same trend of student activism visit another country with a democracy on the brink of collapse: Venezuela. In Venezuela, supermarket shelves and pharmacies are virtually empty. Due to the lack of food, medicines and medical equipment, people are dying of easily preventable causes. The Venezuelan economy is heading in a nosedive, evident in a current unemployment rate of 17 percent and an inflation rate that is expected to hit 481 percent by the end of the year, per Ian Bremmer of Time.
The severity of the humanitarian crisis is felt by many, with two million Venezuelans taking refuge in neighboring countries throughout recent years. Yet, the dire situation continues to grow. The Maduro-led government refuses to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community. Refusals indicate a blatant disregard for human life, amid an increasingly tense political climate.
According to Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Organization of American States, President Nicolas Maduro has deliberately dismantled the democratic institutions of his country since his election in 2013. The Venezuelan constitution, which safeguards the most coveted freedoms of democracy, has overtly been disregarded. Maduro and the executive branch now enjoy a strong-hold over all key government institutions. The Supreme Court has stripped powers away from the legislature and the military has become government cronies in quashing opposition.
Maduro has explicitly stated his contempt for dissent. “Prepare for a time of massacre and death if the Bolivarian revolution fails,” he warned. Sadly, Maduro’s warning has come to fruition, with university students bearing the brunt of this burden. Of the 92 dissidents who were killed from April 1 to July 10, 31 of them were aged 21 or younger.
Even with Maduro’s grave forewarning and demonstrated commitment to stamp out opposition, many students have nevertheless left their lecture halls in favor of the streets. "We just couldn't sit calmly in class when down the road fellow youths were being killed in clashes with the security forces," Gabriela Sayago, a 24-year-old dentistry student at the University of Merida. told the BBC News. Students like Sayago have vowed to complete their studies, but only under a free and fair Venezuela.
To achieve that goal, student organizers have partnered with the opposition party to resist the regime and its grim promise to rewrite the constitution. According to David Gonzalez of The New York Times, the recent opposition-led referendum voted 98 percent in favor of rejecting Maduro’s efforts to rewrite the constitution, of nearly 7.8 million votes. These Venezuelans demanded that the current constitution be respected in order to prevent Maduro’s path to dictatorship.
The student activists are being credited with utilizing more sophisticated tools of protests, including psychological sessions and civil disobedience workshops on their university campuses. In conjunction, the opposition is organizing a nationwide 24-hour strike, which is expected to be a “massive, nonviolent protest.: In some areas, the movement has even adopted a database to track the safety of protesters who continue to take to the streets.
Almagro recognizes the grueling, historical struggle that Latin American countries have faced to achieve democracy. Many of the region’s most respected leaders have their own memories of participating in popular protest. Yet the case of Venezuela demonstrates the fragility of even an established democracy.
Still, the Maduro government claims to be a representative voice of its people on the international stage. Particularly, the Venezuelan government has used its position at the United Nations to criticize and condemn Israel. Venezuela uses the same institutions, in which it refuses to accept humanitarian assistance to save its own people, to turn the focus toward the State of Israel.
In May the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations raised in the Security Council whether Israel intended to “wage a final solution sort of solution [against the Palestinians] as was perpetrated against the Jews?” The comparison to Nazi-Germany was quickly condemned by the United Kingdom and the United States and distinguished as anti-Semitism by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon. Anti-Semitism has become a flagrant issue within the country itself. Since Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, took power in 1999 nearly 50 percent of Venezuelan Jews have left the country. During that time, Chávez took steps to deepen relations with the Palestinian leadership and Iranian government. He viewed Israel as a Middle Eastern proxy of the United States and thus adopted anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments in his rhetoric. Chávez’s rhetoric spilled over into government-sponsored media and local governments thus creating an intolerable space for Jews in the country.
The January appointment of Vice President Tareck El Aissami has reiterated concerns over Venezuela’s connections in the Middle East. From a testimony last year at the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Joseph Humire detailed the vice president’s complex financial network, which includes laundering millions of dollars on behalf of organizations like Hezbollah. Hezbollah, an internationally recognized terror organization, has called for the destruction of Israel since its founding. El Aissami’s financial dealings point to the infiltration of Islamic extremism at the highest levels of Venezuelan government.
In June U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for Venezuela to step down from its position at the United Nations Human Rights Council if it could not put an end to its own human rights abuses. Haley continued to express her frustration that not a single resolution had been considered by the council to address the Venezuelan abuses, yet five had been passed against Israel in March alone. This, she said, marked another example of the anti-Israel bias that has long plagued the U.N.
Various human rights violators of the world have used United Nations institutions to divert attention from their own records of abuse and shift the focus toward Israel. Venezuela has been a leader in this diversion tactic, yet the popular protests that ensue within the country suggest that these accusations do not represent the concerns of the people.
Those who follow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement have seen student activism as a tool to delegitimize Israel in the region. In particular Chile, the country with the largest Palestinian population outside of the Middle East has answered the BDS call. Chile’s votes against Israel at the United Nations mirror the Pontifical Catholic University student body vote to reject ties with Israeli academic institutions. Not coincidentally, anti-Semitic incidents and attacks have risen within the country. Schools, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalized and the president of Chile’s Jewish community has been provided police protection.
Observers of the BDS movement may regard university campuses as a battle to be lost, but that fear may not be warranted elsewhere in the region. The young people of Venezuela continue to carry out the fight of their lives, with July 9 marking the 100 consecutive day of protest in Caracas. This past Sunday marked the deadliest day yet, following the fraudulent election to move forward with the Constituent Assembly. The election results ensure that a return to democracy through traditional democratic channels is impossible, now making the protest movement indispensable.
Evidence from other countries in the region suggests that the students who are protesting in the streets today will become the key decision-makers of their countries tomorrow. We must look beyond the votes of diplomats and recognize the strength of the movements that are fighting against this phony representation. The current standoff between the government and its opposition may signify a change in who will speak on behalf of Venezuelans in the future—and how they will exercise that voice on the world stage.
Photo via Flickr
Facing economic collapse and a great shortage in public support, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has chosen as his vice president one of Venezuela's most controversial and feared politicians, government critics say—Tareck El Aissami.
El Aissami has climbed from student leader in rural Venezuela to the country's number two in power in just over a decade.
El Aissami, 42 years old, is one of a number of Venezuelans under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged participation in drug trafficking and money laundering. He played a key role in helping Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist group, gain ground in Latin America. A young star in the so called socialist party, El Aissami is viewed by both supporters and critics as extremely dangerous, far from any political ethics and skills.
Maduro, whom former President Hugo Chavez chose as his own successor, has been under pressure to step aside because of the country's potential default, widespread social unrest and a demanding opposition. He has so far avoided—through his control of the so called legal system—the opposition's attempt to hold a referendum on his removal before his term ends in about two years. Many analysts say if things continue to decline, the main risk to him is from within the military.
El Aissami's selection addresses Maduro’s concerns. Those seeking to oust Maduro probably will be more careful facing El Aissami and might hesitate to pursue their efforts. And the new vice president is a strong man with tight control over internal security forces and little loyalty to the military. He would be less tempted to take part in a military-led coup than to resist it.
In the weeks since El Aissaimi became vice president, Maduro has granted him wide-reaching decree powers and helped him to lead a newly formed “commando unit” against alleged coups and officials suspected of treason. The “Unity” has already arrested “opposition” members without hesitation or embarrassment.
El Aissami first met Chavez when he was a student. According to three witnesses, El Aissami openly celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, and has served as one of Chavez's closest allies ever since. In his last post as governor of Aragua, he regularly denounced government opponents as traitors. A court in Aragua annulled the recall referendum there, charging the opposition with collecting fraudulent signatures.
El Aissami has publicly denied any alleged drug ties, saying they are little more than media lies, but traces of all sort of media investigations end in his family circle and his people in Aragua.
El Aissami won a seat in congress as a representative of Merida in 2005. Chavez named the young congressman as vice minister and later minister of interior. Much of what El Aissami tried as interior minister was resisted by the military. In 2012, El Aissami won the governorship of Aragua and the opposition has since labeled El Aissami "the narco (nark) of Aragua,” alleging that he has used his vast political network to help turn the country into an international hub for drugs and Middle Eastern extremists.
Since at least 2011, Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration have been investigating El Aissami for money laundering to the Middle East, specifically Lebanon.
In this context, CNN has made this week the following announcement:
“Passports In The Shadows,” a two-part joint investigation by CNN and CNN en Espanol airing on February 6 and February 8 within AC360°(8-9pm ET, CNN), uncovers an alleged sale of passports and visas from the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq, as well as how U.S. officials have known about other passport irregularities in Venezuela for more than a decade. The yearlong investigation showcases an account by a whistleblower, the former legal adviser to the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, who provided CNN with comprehensive reports of the alleged activity inside the embassy and the government officials’ dismissal of the allegations.CNN tracks down the former general in charge of the country’s immigration office, now living in Miami under political asylum, who details the corruption he says he witnessed for years, including the issuing of fraudulent passports. CNN and CNN en Espanol conducted interviews in the U.S., Venezuela, Spain and the UK over the past year. Additionally, CNN has obtained a confidential intelligence report from Latin American countries that links the new vice president of Venezuela, Tareck El Aissami, to the issuance of passports to individuals from the Middle East as well as people linked to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
Countries and governments all over the world know what has been going on in Venezuela for the last ten years, and the absolute lack of any freedom in the last five years. Everybody knows the violation of human rights, the absolute absence of judiciary, political prisoners under inhuman conditions and the total disrespect for the law.
Why the silence then? Why isn’t there a vote in the Organization of American States (OAS) or any of the U.N. agencies to try to change the situation? The OAS secretary-general speaks out, but is never endorsed, why?
There are no positive answers to these questions. As there are no answers, Tareck Al Aissami can rule “de facto” as it happens today, and Iran and Hezbollah can celebrate.
The Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should have been the most important event during the 46th General Assembly in Santo Domingo. It is the first instrument in OAS history to promote and protect the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
But the situation in Venezuela was the main issue discussed, both on and off the record.
Next week, Permanent Council will convene to discuss the report on Venezuela, made a month ago by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, invoking the Democratic Charter.
Since then, Venezuela started a face-to-face fight between the secretary general and the Venezuelan Government.
During the General Assembly, Venezuela presented a resolution to diminish the secretary general’s role. Among the proposal’s “resolves” are:
To express its profound concern at the conduct of the Secretary General of the Organization, Luis Leonardo Almagro Lemes, especially his abuse of authority and exceeding of the powers conferred on him under the OAS Charter and the General Standards to Govern the Operations of the General Secretariat, and at his violation and lack of respect for the Code of Ethics of the General Secretariat
To urge the Secretary General to abstain from any activity, regardless of whether or not it is specifically prohibited by the General Standards to Govern the Operations of the General Secretariat, that may result in, or give the impression of resulting in: a) Giving preferential treatment to any organization or person; b) Losing complete independence or impartiality of action; c) Making an administrative decision without observing established procedures; d) Adversely affecting the good name and integrity of the General Secretariat.”
To request the Permanent Council to report to the General Assembly at its forty-seventh regular session on compliance with this resolution.
Venezuela is attempting to diminish the secretary general because he is the only one denouncing, in detail, the ongoing violation of human rights by Maduro´s regime. His 132-page report, which will be discussed next week, has been compelling and emphatic.
There is a very deep division between the ALBA countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela) and a group of 15 countries which want to find a real solution to the the Venezuelan people’s is suffering. Those 15 countries decided to issue a statement before the end of the OAS GA, a sort of a preamble for the meeting of the Permanent Council next week.
Statement by Ministers and Heads of Delegation on the Situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America and Uruguay
We, Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), reaffirm our commitment to the Charter of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which proclaims that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy, and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it”, and our commitment with the respect of the principle of noninterference, universal principles and values of democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech and association;
If the OAS Permanent Council rejects the request of the secretary general to move forward and stops the violation of human rights in Venezuela, Almagro will not be defeated, but OAS will.
In the last decade, Iran has penetrated Latin America, Hezbollah has the freedom to move inside Latin America and it is all happening in Venezuela.
There is no real judiciary system, no freedom speech and far too many politic prisoners.
After so many years, OAS has used its secretary general to speak out. The statement of the 15 countries is cautious, but it is a step forward. How many more steps are they ready to advance? Today, it is uncertain.
In the private meeting between B’nai B’rith International and Secretary General Almagro in Santo Domingo during the OAS GA, Almagro was very clear when he told us that he will not answer to more insults and threats; he follow OAS rules and defend the respect of the Democratic Charter.
Now, the Permanent Council will have to show its commitment to democracy next week.
United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken posed clear goals when he addressed the General Assembly:
“As Secretary General Almagro has emphasized, the OAS must adapt to these modern times and to the contemporary challenges that we face. We must strengthen responsible stewardship and good governance in our own national governments and within the OAS, including its associated and constituent offices. This means shaping a more focused and fortified secretariat that faithfully reflects the Strategic Vision statement, advances an agenda for reform, and refocuses on the OAS’s core thematic pillars. And it means taking a stand against corruption and acts of betrayal by public officials in our own countries that undermine democratic institutions and the sacred trust of our people.
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content,Click Here.
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