UNASUR: An Opportunity for Dialogue in Venezuela?
EspañolOn Wednesday, Latin America took its first steps toward addressing the crisis in Venezuela. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) approved a declaration agreeing to send a commission of foreign ministers to Venezuela to provide support and advice in negotiations between the opposition and the government, and to achieve a peaceful solution to violence the country has experienced for more than a month.
On the heels of President Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration, chancellors from the twelve member countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela — met in Santiago, Chile, to discuss the issue and reach a resolution.
This move by UNASUR to approach the issue has been promoted by Venezuela’s own government, compelled by the recent wave of protests against the administration of President Nicolás Maduro. With scores dead, hundreds injured, and over a thousand arrested, the country has been embroiled in chaos that the government has been unable to control.
Foreign Affairs Minister Elías Jaua has previously toured Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil to present information regarding the crisis in Venezuela and to gain their support in taking the case to UNASUR, rather than the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“Venezuela does not agree that this issue be raised at the Organization of American States,” Jaua said, after meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales on his visit to La Paz.
The decision by UNASUR to create a commission to mediate the situation in Venezuela came just days after the failed attempt to create one through the OAS. Previously, the government of Panama had convened a special meeting to discuss the crisis in Venezuela in the Permanent Council of the OAS, but the Venezuelan delegation demanded the meeting be canceled on grounds that it breached the organization’s procedures. President Maduro then immediately announced the severance of diplomatic and trade relations with the government of Panama.
Despite this incident, Panama managed to have the issue discussed within the OAS. However, the resolution was far from what the country expected. With 29 votes, the Permanent Council decided to issue a statement calling for peace and dialogue. The decision was rejected by the governments of Canada, Panama, and the United States, each arguing that the measure did not reflect the organization’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy.
The Panamanian ambassador Arturo Vallarino regretted the decision by the council and said the “OAS would look bad by taking that position, because it is the opinion of the Permanent Council, which must remain neutral. The [statement’s intent] is not to attack the government of Venezuela, while not praising it either.”
Government of Venezuela: Yes to UNASUR, No to OAS
Although Venezuelan ambassador Chaderton described the approval of an OAS mission in Venezuela as “interventionist,” he had a different opinion with regard to UNASUR. Carlos Luna, professor of foreign policy at the Central University of Venezuela explains:
“UNSAR is a creation of Hugo Chávez to try and shift the focus from bodies that mimic the ‘imperialistic’ discourse of the United States, and open a path for other ‘anti-imperialist’ organizations. UNASUR was created as a way to counter the imperialistic force of the United States. Maduro’s government is simply acting in accordance with the rhetoric of Chávez and looking for natural allies within the framework of UNASUR.”
Unlike UNASUR, President Maduro has insisted that the OAS is not welcome in Venezuela. According to Luna, the difference in criteria is due to fact that OAS “has created a whole set of resolutions and institutional criteria that are not convenient for Venezuela, because it functions as a sort of ‘straitjacket.'”
However, beyond what may or may be convenient to the government of Venezuela, the slow reaction by OAS as compared to the quick decision by UNASUR also raises questions regarding the position of member countries with respect to the crisis in Venezuela. As to why a resolution would be approved in one of the organizations, but not the other, Luna explains that “the OAS promotes decisions taken by consensus, and a decision as important as the one for Venezuela had to be approved by consensus or otherwise by two-thirds of the body.”
In addition, Maduro made it clear that he would not allow OAS entry into the country, so even if the OAS agreed to send a commission, it would not have been able to gain entry without the consent of the government. According to Luna, “all OAS missions have a prerequisite that they must be invited and authorized by the receiving country, and in this case, Venezuela was not going to allow it. The government is simply playing by its own rules within an ideological framework.”
As the crisis in Venezuela increasingly sharpens, UNASUR has announced it will send a mission no later than the first week of April. However, Luna does not believe the mission will accomplish its goal.
“The negotiation should promote confidence between both parties, and on equal conditions,” he says. “The dialogue in Venezuela has not been raised from that perspective, and has been practically a command from the national executive to the rest.”
Students and opposition leaders maintain they will not engage in dialogue until certain conditions have been met, such as the release of those arrested during protests, investigations into the torture and killing that occurred during demonstrations, as well as the disarmament of the armed Chavista groups. Luna considers these factors to be “noise” within the negotiations, and will prevent a peaceful resolution.
“Until the government ceases to create these conditions, this dialogue will be more of a monologue more than anything else,” says the professor.