Venezuela: Edge of the Precipice


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, Bloomberg reports:

The meeting of the OAS’s Permanent Council comprising its active member states will assess a report by Secretary-General Luis Almagro (right), 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.

“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.

It has been apparent for some time that without some form of international engagement the crisis is unlikely to end peacefully and constitutionally, says a new report from the International Crisis Group.

Venezuela’s political opposition said on Wednesday it had collected the required number of valid signatures to begin a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro, amid the country’s economic crisis, Reuters reports.

Veteran U.S. diplomat Tom Shannon spoke for nearly two hours with Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday to re-start relations between the ideologically opposed governments, The Washington Post adds.

“There is a chance that his conversations will yield some modest progress on democracy and human rights questions, but given the bitterness and rancor between the government and opposition, it is wise to keep expectations in check,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

“The US is pursuing a two-track approach toward Venezuela, working through multilateral channels such as the OAS but also moving on its own and engaging bilaterally to help avert the most dire scenario,” he added Shifter, a former Latin America program director at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Were it not for the dramatic humanitarian crisis and dangerous political polarization in Venezuela today, the United States and key South American governments might be able to remain on the sidelines, analyst Roger Noriega writes for AEI Ideas (HT; FPI). However, if they allow Maduro to defy a peaceful transition or evade OAS involvement, those governments will share the blame for the ensuing meltdown in Venezuela.

It has been apparent for some time that without some form of international engagement the crisis is unlikely to end peacefully and constitutionally. The government is doing all it can to hinder the MUD’s efforts to cut short the Maduro presidency by legal means, the ICG report adds:

To prevent an undemocratic, possibly violent outcome and facilitate an immediate solution to the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis:

The government should

  • declare a humanitarian emergency and permit delivery of external food and medical aid and its distribution by non-governmental agencies;
  • refrain from using the Supreme Court to neutralise the elected legislature and permit a peaceful electoral solution to the political crisis by allowing the National Electoral Council (CNE) to exercise its constitutional role; and
  • free all political prisoners, allow political exiles to return without reprisals and engage in direct, effective, and timely dialogue with the opposition.

The MUD and National Assembly leadership should

  • prioritise national interest over partisan objectives;
  • maintain their declared commitment to peaceful, constitutional resolution of the crisis; and
  • make every effort to pursue an effective dialogue with the government.

The regional community should

  • insist that the government permit emergency food and medical aid and prepare a thorough assessment of principal humanitarian needs and how to meet them;
  • examine the crisis in the framework of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and urgently assist in restoration of constitutional norms and rule of law; and
  • support efforts to pursue a structured, timely dialogue between the two sides and press the CNE to follow the constitutional timetable for a 2016 recall referendum.


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