The Organization of American States’ (OAS) permanent council held an extraordinary session today in which it discussed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. The order of the day was approved over Venezuela’s objection by a vote of 20 in favour, 11 opposed, three abstentions and one absence. The abstentions were Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Bermuda, while Grenada was absent for the vote.
At the start of the day, it appeared uncertain whether the meeting would take place at all. The Nicaraguan delegation expressed its disapproval of the debate early in the session in a motion that was seconded by Bolivia. That motion was followed by an intervention from the Venezuelan delegation, which expressed in strong terms its absolute disapproval of any debate on its internal affairs.
Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan representative at the OAS, said:
This is becoming an act of grotesque pressure on this organization by foreign forces like the U.S. Congress, which wants the power to pressure [OAS] members in violation of the spirit of the [Inter-American Democratic] Charter and above all the sacred principle of state sovereignty.
The countries that voted in favour of opening the debate were: Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the U.S., Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia and Uruguay.
The countries that voted against opening the debate were: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Mexico was the first country to voice its opinion during the debate. Its representative, Luis Alfonso Alba, called on the immediate release of all political prisoners in the country, and for the Maduro regime to immediately make available “a clear electoral schedule”. Alba also said that “the principle of non-intervention” could not be used an as an excuse for inaction in the face of systemic human rights violations.
The Canadian delegation called on the Maduro regime to turn away from authoritarianism, and said that the OAS had to “put in place every mechanism to resolve this conflict”.
The delegation from Costa Rica, headed by Rogelio Sotela Muñoz, said:
We wish to see a Venezuela with social, political and economic stability (…) a roadmap is needed to solve the institutional crisis and to achieve respect for the separation of powers.
The representative from the United States delegation, Michael Fitzpatrick, called on the Maduro regime to accept the help that the OAS is trying to give Venezuela, saying:
In solidarity with Venezuela, member states continue to examine the situation in Venezuela since last year (…) the Venezuelan government should take the hand that the OAS has extended, but instead it has signaled that it does not want to do this. Through its Foreign Affairs Minister [Delcy Rodriguez], it has rejected the role of the OAS and the Vatican’s mediation [efforts] in last year’s dialogue process.
Fitzpatrick also said:
Member states cannot forget their democratic promises, because when they do, they cause significant damage to themselves, their country and our organization.
The meeting ended without any concrete action taken against Venezuela.
Almagro: We Want “the Opposite” of a Coup
During the debate, Secretary General Luis Almagro answered allegations by the Maduro regime that the OAS and he personally were attempting to somehow overthrow Maduro through the staging of a coup. On that, Almagro said that what the OAS demands – free and fair elections in Venezuela – “is the opposite of a coup”.
Almagro also called for a return to a system of government in Venezuela where there is a separation of powers, and for the Maduro regime to take concrete measures “to solve the food and humanitarian crisis in the country”.
On the state of the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela, Almagro said:
Fundamental freedoms, human rights and democracy should reign not only when they are convenient, but at all times (…) protecting democracy is not an intervention, just as promoting human rights is not an intervention.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua Firm in Opposition
The delegations from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua voiced opposition in unison to the debate on the Venezuelan crisis.
Diego Pary, from the Bolivian delegation, called into question the entire raison d’etre of the OAS, and accused the organization of acting against its principles. Pary said:
The OAS is an organization that claims to respect process, [but] it is not democratic because it isn’t even capable of listening. For this reason, we do not agree with this session and we’re not calling for a vote.
Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan representative, used his time at that microphone to attack the governments of Brazil and Mexico over their support of the debate:
I can’t say much about Brazil because it doesn’t have a legitimate government [since] it wasn’t chosen by elections. There are much worse things happening in Mexico than those that are being debated here.
At the end of his intervention, Moncada derided the entire OAS by saying:
Venezuela needs the OAS like Mexico needs the wall.
El Aissami Will Sue Almagro
Vice President Tarek El Aissami announced today that he would sue OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro “internationally”, presumably meaning that he would take up a case against the diplomat before an international body. El Aissami made the announcement by saying:
I’ve been authorized by President Nicolas Maduro and I will do this: I will internationally sue Luis Almagro.
It is not clear exactly what El Aissami plans to sue Almagro for, or before which legal body.
El Aissami also spoke on the OAS’ continued work on the Venezuelan crisis, saying:
They [the OAS] think that they are threatening us. They think that by invoking something that they call a democratic charter they will stop the people or make them surrender. They are wrong. They don’t know our history. They don’t know where we come from. They don’t know us. They’re underestimating us.
Cabello: Support For Inter-American Charter is “Treason”
National Assembly deputy and PSUV vice president Diosado Cabello spoke today on the possibility of Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS via an application of Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Cabello argued that the Venezuelan Constitution is the only document that Venezuelans should concern themselves with, and that no other document should play a role in their lives. Cabello said:
We have a super-sovereign Constitution. Is there anything above it (…) Article 7 of this Constitution. This is something that Chavez taught us: [quoting from the Constitution]: “The Constitution is the supreme law and the foundation of legal order”. “Supreme law” means that there’s nothing above it. Absolutely nothing. Everyone and everything that holds power are subjects beneath it.
Cabello’s interpretation of the Constitution is either deliberately deception or simply incomplete. While Article 7 does establish teh Constitution as the “supreme law” in Venezuela, Article 19 of the same document establishes that Venezuela is also subject to international human rights treaties like the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Article 19 reads (emphasis mine):
Article 19: The State shall guarantee to every individual, in accordance with the progressive principle and without discrimination of any kind, no renounceable, indivisible and interdependent enjoyment and exercise of human rights. Respect for and the guaranteeing of these rights is obligatory for the organs of Public Power, in accordance with the Constitution, the human rights treaties signed and ratified by the Republic and any laws developing the same.
On those who oppose his interpretation of the Constitution, Cabello said:
They won’t force us to surrender… they’re not acting alone. There’s a fifth column in Venezuela working against the homeland. There are some people here who call themselves Venezuelan and they’re traitors against the homeland. We’re letting them know today really clearly: anyone who betrays the homeland is an enemy of the homeland and will be treated [accordingly].
TSJ Cracks Down on Parliamentary Immunity, Gives Maduro Oversight Powers
The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), the country’s top court, issued a ruling today in which it set clear limits on parliamentary immunity in a move that is being decried by regime critics as the latest in a series of blows to the country’s legislative branch. The same ruling gives the TSJ and Maduro the task of revising Venezuela’s foreign policy, strong-arming the faculty away from the National Assembly.
The ruling was precipitated by the National Assembly’s work to bring attention to the Venezuelan crisis to the international stage. Last week, the legislature approved a motion calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners in the country, and for the Organization of American States (OAS) to increase diplomatic pressure on the Maduro regime over its continued human rights and legal violations. Today’s decision also annulled that motion.
In the ruling, the TSJ claims that these efforts by the National Assembly have the possibility to create “a state of commotion” in Venezuela because they are “an attack against independence and national sovereignty”.
The ruling takes aim at parliamentary immunity, which is the legal principle that protects National Assembly deputies from prosecution during the conduct of their official duties. Parliamentary immunity is granted to deputies in Article 200 of the constitution, which reads:
Article 200: National Assembly deputies will enjoy immunity in the exercise of their duties from their swearing-in until the conclusion of their term or resignation. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice will have exclusive authority to hear any alleged crimes committed by the members of the National Assembly as the only authority that can order, given previous authorization from the National Assembly, their detention and whether to continue with a trial. In the case of the commission of a flagrant crime by a legislator, the competent authority will place them under house arrest and immediately make the fact known to the Supreme Tribunal of Justicia.
Any public official who violates the immunity of the members of the National Assembly will be held criminally responsible and punished in accordance with the law.
With today’s ruling, the TSJ stresses that the National Assembly has been in contempt of the court since August of last year, and that deputies’ actions are therefore not covered under parliamentary immunity. In its summary of the ruling, the TSJ states:
[The Court] stresses that parliamentary immunity only has an effect, as per Article 200 of the Constitution, on acts carried out by deputies in the exercise of their constitutional duties (which is incompatible with the National Assembly’s current situation, which is one of contempt), and under no circumstance [provides immunity for] constitutional crimes and flagrant offences.
The decision essentially strips National Assembly deputies of parliamentary immunity, essentially leaving them vulnerable to arrest at the pleasure of Maduro and the TSJ.
In the same ruling, the TSJ also gave Maduro the power to “review of a variety of laws” that the National Assembly has passed, a move which further erodes an already-anemic separation of powers in the country. The TSJ’s summary reads:
… [the TSJ] likewise orders the review of a variety of laws [that have the effect of] invoking the severe risks that threaten democratic stability and governance in the country.
Opposition Deputies Reject TSJ Ruling
Opposition National Assembly deputies reacted to today’s ruling by calling the measure a clear sign that Maduro is a dictator who rules Venezuela with the full backing of the nation’s top court. The comments were collected in an article by El Nacional from legislators’ official Twitter feeds.
Deputy Gaby Arellano from Tachira’s Circuit 2 wrote:
Asi o mas dictadura? [Is this enough, or would you like more dictatorship?]
Deputy Miguel Pizarro from Miranda’s Circuit 3 wrote:
The TSJ has given Maduro extraordinary powers when it comes to penal, military, civil [matters] among others in order to “guarantee governance”. Translation: dictatorship.
Deputy (supply) Juan Guaido from Vargas wrote:
Parliamentary immunity is not open to interpretation, specially not from a Supreme Tribunal of “Justice” that serves the interests of the regime.
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