Civil society is rapidly deteriorating in Venezuela. Once a prosperous oil producer, the nation is slipping into a state of chaos that is beginning to resemble Somalia. And things just keep getting worse, says Hannah Dreier, an Associated Press correspondent in Caracas.
While President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the downturn on an “economic war” he claims is being waged against his government by the political opposition, the private sector and Washington, his critics have slammed the president for sticking to Hugo Chavez’s socialist blueprint instead of embracing free-market reforms, CBC News reports.
“Within 2½ years, Maduro has taken an unsustainable [economic] model and just ridden it right off a cliff,” David Smilde, a senior fellow and Venezuela expert with the Washington Office on Latin America, told CBC News.
On Thursday, diplomats from across the hemisphere are scheduled to convene in Washington at the request of Luis Almagro (right), the secretary general of the Organization of American States, to discuss Venezuela’s descent into chaos, The New York Times notes:
If regional leaders fail to take a strong and united stand against Mr. Maduro, Venezuela’s crisis can only be expected to grow. That would lead to more violent political confrontations and, quite likely, an exodus into neighboring countries. Leaders in those nations should realize that this disaster is now very close to becoming their problem.
If the 35-member organization decides to invoke the Charter for an “alteration to the democratic order,” the Organization would begin diplomatic initiatives to help the country overcome its triple crisis of humanitarian, economic and political elements, said Jennifer McCoy, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, and former director of the Carter Center’s Americas Program. In the last resort, the Organization could move to its only sanction – suspension from the organization and international delegitimation of the government’s democracy credentials, she said.
Among the Maduro government’s alleged rights violations is the detention of political prisoners including opposition leader Leopoldo López (left), who will this week have his first appeal hearing against a 14-year jail sentence, Americas Quarterly adds.
At least on paper, both Europe and the Americas seem equally committed to being democracies-only clubs, willing to defend and preserve the rule of law in member nations, notes Columbia University’s Christopher Sabatini, Executive Director at Global Americans.
In practice, however, it may be unfair to compare the perplexing web of regional Latin American organizations with the European Union. The juxtaposition of the EU’s recent statement of concern over the rule of law in Poland and the long-overdue response by Latin American and Caribbean governments to the decades-long political crisis festering in Venezuela is a striking case in point, adds Sabatini, a former Latin America program director at the National Endowment for Democracy:
Nearly 20 years of Chavismo have left Venezuela on the brink of becoming a failed state, home to one of the worst economies in the world; armed forces deeply involved in narcotics trafficking; federal, state, and local governments effectively gutted; and a deeply polarized population….Ultimately, it will be Venezuela’s neighbors that will have to deal with the inevitable chaotic aftermath of this period. But imagine what could have been if they, like the EU’s actions regarding Poland, had started challenging Venezuela early on over its rule-of-law distress signals.
OAS member governments have also been largely indifferent to the dire financial straits of the organization’s human rights commission, adds Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. The problem is part of the OAS’s severe financial difficulties overall, he writes for Foreign Policy:
The commission, already extremely backlogged with the high demand of cases, accounts for a mere 6 percent of OAS’s annual $85 million budget. The bulk of the commission’s annual budget — less than $5 million — comes not from the core budget derived from annual dues but from a fund supported by donations from member states (principally the United States) and non-member states. Contributions have fallen dramatically, which, according to the OAS, will lead to a staff reduction of some 40 percent.