Bello |ı| How Venezuela tests Latin America’s commitment to democracy – Venezuela es el test del compromiso de América Latina con la democracia

Mar 1st 2018Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 2.57.41 PM

Regional solidarity should not   trump   the defence of pluralism

La solidaridad regional no debe prevalecer sobre la defensa del pluralismo

WHEN Bill Clinton called the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994 he wanted to celebrate the shared commitment of all 34 countries in the hemisphere to democracy and free trade—all, that is, except Cuba, the 35th, which was not invited. At the seventh summit in Panama in 2015, regional solidarity prevailed. At Latin America’s insistence, Cuba was invited and Raúl Castro sat down with Barack Obama, setting the seal on their diplomatic détente.

CUANDO Bill Clinton convocó la primera Cumbre de las Américas en Miami en 1994, quería celebrar el compromiso compartido de los 34 países del hemisferio con la democracia y el libre comercio, es decir, excepto Cuba, la 35ª, a la cual no fue invitada. En la séptima cumbre en Panamá en 2015, prevaleció la solidaridad regional. Ante la insistencia de América Latina, Cuba fue invitada y Raúl Castro se sentó con Barack Obama, sellando su distensión diplomática.

So it was a big diplomatic step when last month Peru’s government, the host of the eighth summit, scheduled for April 13th-14th, announced that it was withdrawing Venezuela’s invitation and that Nicolás Maduro, its president, would be denied entry. Peru acted for the 14-nation ad hoc “Lima group”, which includes most Latin American countries. They rejected Mr Maduro’s decision to hold a sham presidential election on April 22nd. Latin America is once again giving priority to the defence of democracy. Can it do so consistently and effectively?

Fue un gran paso diplomático cuando el mes pasado el gobierno de Perú, anfitrión de la octava cumbre, programada para el 13 y 14 de abril, anunció que retiraría la invitación de Venezuela y que se negaría la entrada a Nicolás Maduro, su presidente. Perú actuó por el Grupo de Lima de 14 naciones, que incluye a la mayoría de los países latinoamericanos. Rechazaron la decisión de Maduro de celebrar una espúrea elección presidencial el 22 de abril. América Latina una vez más está dando prioridad a la defensa de la democracia. ¿Puede hacerlo de manera consistente y efectiva?

If democracy is to be the criterion for participation (as agreed at the meeting in Quebec in 2001), why not exclude others? Neither Cuba nor Nicaragua should qualify. Nor, arguably, does Honduras. Having ended term limits in dubious fashion, Juan Orlando Hernández, a pro-American conservative, won a second term as president in November in an election that the opposition and outside observers claim was rigged. His party’s legislators have given themselves carte blanche to steal public money, eviscerating an anti-corruption mission under the aegis of the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Si la democracia debe ser el criterio de participación (como se acordó en la reunión en Quebec en 2001), ¿por qué no excluir a los demás? Ni Cuba ni Nicaragua deberían calificar. Ni, posiblemente, lo hace Honduras. Habiendo terminado los límites del mandato de manera dudosa, Juan Orlando Hernández, un conservador pro estadounidense, ganó un segundo mandato como presidente en noviembre en una elección que según la oposición y los observadores externos fue amañada. Los legisladores de su partido se han dado carta blanca para robar dinero público, destripando una misión anticorrupción bajo los auspicios de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA).

But the electoral fraud in Honduras was not clear-cut. Mr Hernández should be warned but not excluded. Venezuela remains the most dramatic case of democratic regress in Latin America. Its descent into economic chaos, human misery and dictatorship is of unprecedented gravity.

Mr Maduro’s regime has stopped publishing many statistics. A survey by three universities published last month found widespread malnutrition; 87% of respondents were poor and 61% were extremely so. That is far above the Latin American averages of 31% and 10% respectively, and should shame all those who hailed Hugo Chávez, Mr Maduro’s late mentor, as an anti-capitalist paragon. The survey estimates that 815,000 Venezuelans have emigrated since 2012, most in the past two years. Their arrival in other South American countries is pushing the region to act.

Having weakened the opposition through the imprisonment or banning of its leaders and the intimidation (including torture) of its activists, Mr Maduro is trying to seal his dictatorship by bringing forward the presidential election due later this year. Since the government refuses the conditions for a free and fair contest, the opposition coalition says that it will boycott the poll next month. In those circumstances, “a lot of Latin American countries will not recognise the result as legitimate,” says Juan Carlos Varela, Panama’s president.

On February 23rd the OAS, which brings together all countries except Cuba, approved a resolution similar to the Lima group’s. But it did so only by a bare majority. Venezuela’s regime still has a few allies (and clients among Caribbean island-states that receive cheap oil). Some may boycott the Lima summit in solidarity.

What chance is there that action by Venezuela’s neighbours can achieve results? “This is the moment for mediation [in Venezuela], but it has to be by everyone, by Latin America, the United States and Europe,” says César Gaviria, a former secretary-general of the OAS. The priority must be a free and fair election. Failing that, the region will have to ramp up the pressure.

Ostracism is a start. That it hurts the regime’s pride was clear in 2016 when the foreign minister tried to gatecrash a meeting of the Mercosur trade group, from which her country has been suspended. Latin American countries should follow the United States and the EU in barring the regime’s leaders from visiting, and in seizing their looted assets. It should also demand that the faction-ridden opposition unite behind a single leadership.

Latin America has plenty of disagreements with Donald Trump, but anti-imperialism should not, as Venezuela argues, override the defence of democracy and human rights. Neither should the tradition of non-intervention, nor an insistence on unattainable regional unanimity. That means the OAS might not be the right diplomatic vehicle. Rather, the Group of Lima should turn itself into an open-ended coalition of the willing to take whatever political action is necessary to return Venezuela to democracy and stave off a humanitarian disaster.