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Venezuelan allies push back at OAS on recall vote

A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro wears a sign that reads in Spanish "Venezuela is Latin American pride" and shouts slogans in support of Maduro at a rally Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Caracas, Venezuela.
A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro wears a sign that reads in Spanish "Venezuela is Latin American pride" and shouts slogans in support of Maduro at a rally Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Caracas, Venezuela. AP

Latin American and Caribbean diplomats revealed their reluctance to take punitive measures against one of their own and declined Wednesday to support the head of the Organization of American States in his faceoff with the Venezuelan government.

Allies of beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blocked any motion that came remotely close to matching OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s call for Maduro to schedule a recall referendum that could result in his departure from power.

It was a dizzying display of the region’s lingering hesitance to confront the oil-rich nation.

This text is not perfect, but in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect we join the consensus.

Michael Fitzpatrick, the interim U.S. ambassador to the OAS

After a full day of discussion, the representatives of Western Hemisphere nations reached consensus on a much softer proposal that called for increased dialogue between the Maduro administration and his opposition. That was a far cry from Almagro’s call earlier this week for “immediate changes” in the face of a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.

Diplomats said they recognized the struggles of the Venezuelan people but also the government’s sovereignty. More than 2 million Venezuelans have signed petitions calling for a recall referendum.

“What we’re seeking is to compliment efforts that are already being made on a number of different levels,” said Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora of Mexico. “Mexico is a traditional country that has squarely been on the side of sovereignty and nonintervention.”

The Venezuelan government and its allies, including Bolivia and Nicaragua, sought to prevent any kind of a vote. They argued, among other things, that Venezuela had not been involved in the informal talks to come up with the declaration.

“If you want to support Venezuela, the first thing that has to be done is to support its authorities – its legitimate and constitutional government – because in Venezuela there is a legitimate and constitutional government,” said Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador.

Some nations, including Canada and the United States, indicated that they would prefer a stronger declaration that focused on human rights, but in the spirit of compromise they said they would support a weaker statement.

“We continue to call on the Venezuelan government to release those who have been imprisoned and persecuted for their political beliefs, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, the interim U.S. ambassador to the OAS.

The declaration finally approved by a voice vote offered support for talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition being mediated by former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and former Presidents Leonel Fernández of Dominican Republic and Martin Torrijos of Panama.

If you want to support Venezuela, the first thing that has to be done is to support its authorities – its legitimate and constitutional government – because in Venezuela there is a legitimate and constitutional government.

Bernardo Alvarez, the Venezuelan ambassador

Almagro had sought much stronger intervention. In a 132-page report he released Tuesday, he made the case that Maduro needed to allow a referendum by the end of the year that could result in the Venezuelan president’s removal from office. The permanent council is expected to take up Almagro’s specific reccomendations later this month.

The declaration approved Wednesday makes no specific mention of the referendum.

Even a passage that called for initiatives that “may lead to, in accordance with the full respect of human rights, the timely and effective resolution of differences and the consolidation of representative democracy” proved controversial. It was edited to include the phrase “in adherence with the constitution.”

“There is something called state rights as well, in addition to human and civil rights,” said Ronald Michael Sanders, the ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, who wanted the line struck from the declaration. “And state rights must also be respected.”

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