EspañolLuis Almagro, of Uruguay, is President of the Organization of American States. He’s planning to use Article 20 of the OAS Democratic Charter to suspend Venezuela from the organization, an unprecedented move.
Almagro wants a Permanent Council of member states focusing on Venezuela, whose citizens have been protesting for more than 50 straight days amid hunger and medicine shortages, as well as deteriorating human rights standards.
During the Oslo Freedom Forum, which spreads awareness of freedom advocates challenging authoritarian governments, we caught up with Almagro to ask him about Venezuela.
He spoke at the forum this year, lecturing on the situation in Venezuela, which he said has the worst government in its history.
Mr. Secretary, if you had President Nicolas Maduro in front of you, what would you say?
I would tell him to call elections immediately, to re-democratize the country, to free political prisoners and that Venezuela deserves a legitimate government.
If Maduro refuses to establish democratic order, what other sanctions can the OAS implement?
It is not a matter of sanctions. Consider the suspension a sanction. The procedure is the sanction, the fact that a country is in the Article 20 procedure is a sanction. The fact that the country is part of the Organization’s agenda is a sanction. Sanctions have a very strong dimension politically and ethically as well and these are the values that the organization obviously defends and to which no one can be indifferent.
Following the upcoming meeting of foreign ministers, what are the steps that Venezuela should follow?
In Venezuela there have been changes to the constitutional order, as has been recognized by member countries. The National Assembly has been annulled, the judiciary has been restricted, people have been tortured. The most urgent thing in Venezuela today is to end the repression. The most urgent problem to solve is the terrible amount of repression. The killing of unarmed civilians during peaceful protest is unacceptable.
Then the foreign ministers must solve the main issues of the agenda.
If the OAS is unable to enforce the democratic charter, would that strengthen Maduro and other authoritarian governments in the region?
No, the OAS has already activated the Democratic Charter. The maximum penalty in the Democratic Charter is the suspension of the country. Venezuela has already made a request to withdraw from the organization. But as I said, the process and the fact that the Bolivarian regime will have to deal with the condemnation of the inter-American community during this time, makes it essential that we re-establish democratic order.
If you observe what happened with the dictatorships in southern parts of South America in the 70s and 80s, they fell into international condemnation schemes and the push of the people inside the country, that is the logic by which dictatorships reach their end.
Sanctions can be functional to the fall of a regime, as they were to apartheid in South Africa, or can lead to the stagnation of a regime. Sanctions should be non-generic.
What would you say to opposition protesters?
My advice is always the same, both for the opposition and for the government: listen to the people. Respect the will of the people, respect the voice of the people and respect the decisions that come from the people.
A few days ago, writer Moises Naim published a column called “Maduro does not matter.” Maduro is described as a puppet to a whole structure of corrupt military officers, some of whom you mentioned in your talk.
There are few “personalized” dictatorships. Perhaps the Paraguayan one was. Perhaps dictatorships have several presidents. The important thing in a dictatorship is not the dictator.
But how do you think things should be addressed in Venezuela?
In all dictatorships it comes down to elections. It should also happen in Venezuela. Venezuela lacks them and urgently needs them, a legitimate government that allows its economy to recover productivity, the social fabric of the country.
On another issue, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala has made life harder with maras (gangs) and with a lack of rule of law. What solution does the OAS consider for this issue?
As with all security issues, there is no silver bullet, there is not a single solution or a single formula. You have to tackle the problem from all angles. Obviously, with better democratic conditions, better conditions of equity must be addressed. More economic growth and more work resolve the social issues that may exist in each country.
(We must) try to ensure that people have the greatest likelihood of access to rights and access to justice.
All these elements are part of these countries’ problems, which is why a comprehensive approach to solving the issue in an integral way is necessary, instead of thinking that a particular solution solves everything.
Will the OAS support a truce with gang members, like it did with Insulza at the time?
Because no state, no organization can negotiate with criminals, that completely disavows the purpose of the functioning of the state and the purpose of the operation of international organizations.
If you want the OAS to work on a scheme in the fields I mentioned to you before, fantastic, the OAS will work on those projects in the fields I mentioned. But for the organization to negotiate with criminals is unacceptable.