Criticism of another country is largely allowed. Criticism of the constitution of a country by any individual may also be acceptable if constructive. Any government may question the legislation of another country, within diplomatic standards and protocols. But making pretentious and misleading official statements, and using false arguments to justify economic sanctions against another country, must be openly criticized.
That behaviour becomes unethical when a dozen countries in the American hemisphere, known as the Lima Group, accuse Venezuela of “serious deterioration of democratic institutions” and “violation of the constitutional order” without a shred of evidence.
Those same countries, with intelligent heads of state and well-informed foreign ministers, experienced legislative institutions, supreme courts versed in legal matters, and the best legal brains at the UN and OAS, have not singled out one article of the Venezuelan constitution or other legislation that has been violated. Their announcements are just unproven statements, to invest themselves with an air of authority.
Case in point, last October 5 the group raised an unfounded alert, warning to “consider that the regional elections to be held on October 15 in Venezuela to elect governors must be held in a manner fully respectful of the Constitution and the Organic Law of Electoral Processes of that country.” There is no mention of which article of the law would not be respected. The elections were fully legitimate, uneventful and transparent. Four candidates of the opposition were elected to state governorships.
In a more recent February 13 statement, the group says that Venezuela is not welcome at the 8th Summit of the Americas to take place in April in Lima, Peru, and they “Urge the Government of Venezuela to reconsider the call for presidential elections.” This matter is usually considered an internal decision, and in this case the Venezuelan opposition had agreed to the election, before refusing to go along with it under international pressure.
In that same statement there seems to be an attempt to at least refer to international legislation to justify its decision. Point 6 states “Given the continued and serious deterioration of democratic institutions in Venezuela, and based on the Quebec Declaration adopted at the III Summit of the Americas in 2001, which states that ‘…any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the Hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state’s government in the Summit of the Americas process’, the Government of Peru has decided to reconsider the participation of the Government of Venezuela in the VIII Summit of the Americas, in Lima.”
The Quebec Declaration quote refers to Chapter 4, Article 19 of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which actually begins: “Based on the principles of the Charter of the OAS and subject to its norms…”
Consequently, the Quebec Declaration does not supersede the OAS Charter. The coincidentally equally numbered, Chapter 4, Article 19 of the OAS Charter stands fully. The article says: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.” This is the crucial article that the “Lima Group” chooses to break.
The OAS lacks the required votes to condemn Venezuela for “unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order.” The “Lima Group” is the minority group of countries that voted against Venezuela within the OAS, and took their “show” on the road, contravening the OAS Charter statute of no intervention or “any other form of interference” “for any reason whatever.”
The decision to reconsider Venezuela’s participation at the Summit, therefore, collapses, and becomes a contradiction precisely of the same democratic institutional principle they try to represent and enforce. The final decision was not based on any legal principle. It is a surrender to the minority Venezuelan opposition which admitted to lobbying Peru to ban Maduro from the upcoming Summit. A clear case of interference.
On the issue of deterioration of democratic institutions and violation of the constitutional order, the recent histories of some “Lima Group” countries – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru – come immediately to mind. Similarly can be said on the issue of violations of human rights, of which Venezuela is also unfairly accused.
The Summit host country is closing the door to prevent Venezuela from making its case with a group of peer countries in the region. In contrast, Venezuela has established two modalities to participate in its electoral process as a non-voter. One is acompañante (companion), which is reserved to international witnesses who get to know the specifics of the Venezuelan system, watch at polling stations, and even contribute to improvements, within the framework of respect and sovereignty of the country. Acompañante can be an electoral official of another country, a rep of an organization or an individual properly accredited by the National Electoral Council. The second modality is national observer, which is reserved to Venezuelan individuals or organizations. Venezuela has already received international acompañantes in previous elections.
Interestingly, countries of the “Lima Group” that do not allow international observers at polls are Argentina, Brazil, Canada and Chile.
The self-appointed “Lima Group” has an unconvincing single country focus, to address “the critical situation in Venezuela and explore ways to contribute to the restoration of democracy in that country through a peaceful and negotiated solution; … with full respect for the norms of international law and the principle of non-intervention.” The existence of such a group is problematic. It has the immediate appearance of twelve countries ganging up on another, and so it is in reality. If for a moment we accept the intention of the group as stated, we observe a major gap between the intention and the practice.
Its declaration does not analyse the possible causes of the “critical situation,” except that there is a “breakdown of the democratic order.” That conclusion should follow an investigation, but no legal or factual basis is provided to make that deduction. All the standard democratic processes are in place in Venezuela: free speech, freedom of the press, multi-party system, free and secret ballots.
The statements issued by the group are punitive rather than helping negotiated solutions. Consider the series of accusatory declarations and votes called at the OAS to castigate Venezuela, or Canada’s vocal criticism of Venezuela on behalf of the “Lima Group”, or the more recent unsupported exclusion of Venezuela to the Summit in Lima.
The “Lima Group” has never responded to the repeated calls by the Maduro government to the dialogue with the opposition while this was under way in the Dominican Republic. On the contrary, the group has squarely sided with the often violent Venezuelan opposition. This aggressive attitude is meant to force a sovereign country to their will.
Respect for the norms of international law is virtually non-existent, but the “Lima Group” shows a breakdown of the principle of non-intervention as established by the OAS Charter. This is indicative of a more hidden, serious and dangerous agenda against Venezuela.