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Venezuelan takes helm at OAS, still opposed to election monitors

Bernardo Álvarez, Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, made his first speech as the chairman of the OAS’s permanent council on Monday and defended Venezuela’s rejection of OAS monitoring of the upcoming elections. He’ll hold the chair for three months.
Bernardo Álvarez, Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States, made his first speech as the chairman of the OAS’s permanent council on Monday and defended Venezuela’s rejection of OAS monitoring of the upcoming elections. He’ll hold the chair for three months. Organization of American States

Venezuelan diplomat Bernardo Álvarez, who was expelled from the United States in 2010 when he was his country’s ambassador to Washington, made his first speech Monday as the new chairman of the permanent council of the Organization of American States, where he is his country’s new ambassador.

His fellow diplomats largely avoided the current controversy surrounding his leadership – namely that he takes the gavel at a time when his government is rejecting OAS monitoring of Venezuela’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Only the ambassador of Mexico offered an indirect critique, picking at Álvarez’s own words about new democracies and saying that an integral part of democracy is “an election process that is credible, a process that is clean.”

“In talking about new and different democratic ways of organizing a country, we must bear in the mind the essence of democracy, which is – as the great Abraham Lincoln said – the government of the people, for the people, with the people,” Mexican Ambassador Emilio Rabasa said in an interview after the meeting.

In talking about new and different democratic ways of organizing a country, we must bear in the mind the essence of democracy.

Mexican Ambassador Emilio Rabasa

Rabasa echoed sentiments of members from Guyana and Nicaragua, among others, who welcomed Álvarez to the group. They spoke of Álvarez’s long career as a diplomat and negotiator. Rabasa said he was confident that Álvarez would provide positive contributions to the group. Canadian Ambassador Jennifer May Loten spoke of their shared goals and principals.

But Rabasa was also speaking on behalf of the member states of the Latin American Integration Association, or ALADI, which include all of the South American countries and Mexico. Rabasa said he supports OAS efforts to monitor Venezuela’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 6. But he said he supports them for all elections, including those in Mexico.

Álvarez’s visa was revoked by the U.S. government in 2010 during a diplomatic spat between the U.S. government and Venezuela’s then-president, Hugo Chavez, who said he would not allow U.S. diplomat Larry Palmer to be the ambassador in Caracas.

There is a new energy, a new reality, that is bubbling up from the people who have had it with the sway that elites and a narrow group of powerful have held over their countries for too long.

Bernardo Álvarez, Venezuelan ambassador to OAS

But the U.S. could not veto Álvarez’s return to Washington as his country’s ambassador to the OAS.

Describing himself as believing in dialogue, Álvarez spoke of new models of political representation, which he described as a “new constitutionalism” in Latin America that he said was transferring power to the citizens.

“There is a new energy, a new reality, that is bubbling up from the people who have had it with the sway that elites and a narrow group of powerful have held over their countries for too long,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Álvarez acknowledged the concerns about Venezuela’s rejection of OAS monitoring. But he said problems seen in other countries do not exist in Venezuela, where a system is in place to insure credible and transparent elections. He compared it to the United States.

“There is no OAS electoral mission in the U.S.,” Álvarez said. “It’s not needed.”

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