Selling or Saving the Soul of the OAS | Sir Ronald Sanders

By Sir Ronald Sanders

United States, Friday April 12, 2019
Organization of American States (OAS), already a broken institution, was
shattered even more on April 9 at a meeting of its Permanent Council. It
is now an organization whose membership is deeply divided and amongst whom
mistrust, and bitterness now predominates.

How this huge problem will be
fixed – if it can be fixed at all – is the paramount challenge that now
confronts its 33 and-a-half members. I will return to the half-member
later in this commentary.

Nothing that I say in this commentary is a secret. The
Permanent Council meeting of April 9 was played out in a live webcast on the
OAS’ website. 

The meeting was held, after weeks of efforts by the United States
and most of the members of the so-called Lima Group, to secure the adoption of
a resolution that would unseat the representative of the Nicolas Maduro
government and replace him with the nominee of Juan Guaido. Guaido is the
self-proclaimed “Interim President” of Venezuela, so recognized by roughly 50
of the more than 200 governments in the world.

The manoeuvrings behind the scenes had a single purpose and that
was to procure 18 votes, constituting a simple majority of the 34 member states,
to impose Guaido’s nominee as Venezuela’s representative.  

It took some time for the core 14 countries to woo the support of
4 others, not least because the manner of pushing the resolution through the
Permanent Council defied international law and the Charter and rules of the
OAS. Governments had to dig deep to balance disregard for the integrity of
the OAS as an institution and a desire to help those countries that were
determined to seat Guaido’s representative.

The meeting was summoned for high noon on April 9 and all
delegations were cautioned to be on time for a prompt start. As it turned
out, delegates were forced to wait until after 1 pm to start the meeting
because, at the last minute, Jamaica – one of the faithful 18 – insisted on new
language, causing commotion among the group and threatening to derail its
entire effort.  

Even when the resolution was
presented to the Permanent Council Meeting and was being debated, it was
unclear what text was being considered. What was before the meeting was
the original text, omitting the Jamaica language. A request from me, as
the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, for clarification, resulted in a
break in the meeting’s proceedings to produce the final text of the resolution. Its
main purpose remained to accept the appointment of “the National Assembly’s
designated Permanent Representative”.

There was much solemn and serious debate about the entire
proceedings, but in the end, 18 countries, using their razor-thin majority,
forced the vote through.  

Some self-interested governments have characterized the April 9 meeting
as a clash of support for or against the contending forces in Venezuela. Sections
of the media have followed that line.

But, far from being about Maduro/Guaido and Venezuela, the meeting
was about selling or saving the soul of the OAS; it was about disregarding
international norms and ignoring the institutional framework of the organization
for the short-term political purposes of a few; and it was about arguing for
the retention of the OAS’ integrity. 

At the end of the vote, passed by a simple majority, the
Ambassador of Mexico, Jorge Lomónaco Tonda, summed-up the meeting well. He
said: “There were no winners or losers; only losers”. And the biggest
loser was the OAS itself.

Nowhere in the Charter of the OAS, or in its rules, does the
Permanent Council have the authority to decide on the recognition of a
government. Further, as was stated repeatedly at the meeting, the
recognition of a government is the sovereign right of states and cannot be
determined or imposed by a multilateral organization. At the very least,
the matter, given its high political importance, should have been considered by
a special session of the general assembly, the highest organ of the OAS.

What the hasty, ill-considered process succeeded in doing is
damaging the OAS as an institution, tainting its structure and governance,
harming relations between its member states and rendering it unfit for anything
but achieving the purposes of a wilful majority of 18 countries.

The vote on recognition of the National Assembly’s representative
was really about the de-recognition of the Maduro government’s
representative. While that may have been achieved within the OAS, it has
changed nothing in the international community.  Countries that
recognise Maduro or Guaido as President of Venezuela continue to do so. 

Nothing has changed in Venezuela either. This vote has
achieved no new negotiations and no solution to the humanitarian situation. If
anything, it has served only to harden the opposing sides in the political
conflict, closing the door to solutions.

To return now to the 33 and-a-half members of the OAS. The
national assembly’s representative may be seated in front of the Venezuelan
flag, but he cannot speak for the government that is in charge of Venezuela. A
vital test of recognition of a government, in international law and practice,
is whether it exercises effective control of the affairs of the country. The
National Assembly does not have effective control of Venezuela, and its
representative cannot speak, in the OAS, for the de facto government.

There is a further question regarding the authenticity of the
representative’s credentials which appear to have been overlooked, deliberately
or otherwise by the OAS Secretariat. 

The National Assembly nominated a “special” representative to the
OAS, but there is no such category of representation. Further, as pointed
out in the meeting by the Ambassador of Guyana, Riyad Insanally, the letter to
the Secretary-General from Mr Guaido, signed as “Interim President of
Venezuela”, designating the “Permanent” representative, was dated January
22, 2019. But his proclamation as “Interim President” took place on
January 23, 2019. In other circumstances, these discrepancies would not
have been accepted.

The OAS is now in many ways a sadly compromised organization. The
fight on April 9, 2019 to sell or save its soul defines it now and can limit
its effectiveness in the future.

Why should we care? Because it is the only hemispheric organization in which all countries (except Cuba) sit, and which had the mandate and the opportunity to keep the region peaceful and to pursue cooperation that could make a difference to the lives of all its people. All that is now corrupted.

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