What a sham! While the Venezuelan military announces it will not accept an opposition victory in the 2012 elections, thousands of people are dying in Mexico's drug wars and Haiti is suffering from a deadly cholera epidemic, the Organization of American States -- supposedly in charge of addressing the region's biggest problems -- is nowhere to be seen.
Well, actually, let me correct that: An official Nov. 9 OAS statement informs us that the Washington-based 34-country organization's Permanent Council is fully immersed in a special session aimed at resolving a ``disagreement'' between Nicaragua and Costa Rica exacerbated by a demarcation error in a Google map of the border between the two countries.
The Google error, which has since been recognized and corrected by the Internet search giant, apparently prompted Nicaragua to dredge a portion of a border river claimed by Costa Rica. An act of ``aggression,'' charged Costa Rica, and sent armed police, but, as far as we know, not a single shot has been fired in the dispute.
Meantime, arguably much more dramatic events are taking place all over the region.
Earlier this week, Maj. Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, head of the Venezuelan armed forces Operational Strategic Command, was quoted by the Caracas daily Ultimas Noticias as saying that ``a hypothetical opposition government in 2012 would amount to selling away the country, and that's not going to be accepted by the National Armed Force.''
Days earlier, President Hugo Chávez, who got fewer votes than the opposition in Venezuela's recent legislative elections, had warned that if an opposition candidate wins in 2012, there will be a ``violent revolution'' in Venezuela. Opposition leaders denounced Chávez's and Rangel Silva's statements as unconstitutional, and as pre-announcements of a self-coup.
In Mexico, more than 30,000 people have died in the war on drugs over the past four years. Many public figures, including former presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo, are calling for reassessment of regional anti-drug strategies.
In earthquake-battered Haiti, nearly 600 people have died and 9,123 have been hospitalized in recent weeks as a cholera epidemic sweeps the nation. The death toll is expected to keep rising.
``I have been watching the OAS for half a century, and there have been moments of great significance and moments of absolute silliness. This is certainly one of the latter,'' says Henry Raymont, a former New York Times correspondent and author of Troubled Neighbors, a book on U.S.-Latin American relations.
Where is the OAS? I asked OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. To his credit, while stating that the OAS is very active in Haiti and has a duty to try to solve the Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute, he didn't stay silent on the Venezuelan military's threat.
Referring to Rangel Silva's statements, he told me that ``the fact that an army commander threatens with an a priori insubordination is unacceptable. Venezuela's ruling civilian authority should correct that.''
Insulza added that ``I have recently denounced an intended coup in Ecuador because an armed [police] corps rose against the democratically-elected civilian authority. It would be inconsistent to remain silent when another armed corps threatens with an insubordination against a hypothetical future civilian authority.''
Asked what he is going to do about Venezuela's military threat, Insulza said that for the OAS to move on the issue, it would have to be raised by a member country. ``I hope that a member country will bring it up at the Permanent Council,'' he said.
My opinion: Insulza is right on this one. He can't do much unless member countries officially raise issues at the OAS. That hasn't happened yet: El Salvador, which chairs the Permanent Council, and the region's biggest countries are ignoring their OAS commitments to collectively defend democracy in the region.
And, to be fair, the OAS is not the only regional group to be looking the other way at the region's major problems. The Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, is even more nonexistent than the OAS. Its frequent summits are most often nothing but political tourism.
If OAS member countries don't denounce Venezuela's Chávez-backed military threat to ignore the results of the 2012 election, their claims to defend multilateralism and regional diplomacy will continue sounding like a joke.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at firstname.lastname@example.org. Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.