Spain’s former prime minister sought more time from U.S. and Latin American leaders Tuesday to work out a resolution to Venezuela’s political impasse between its government and the opposition-led National Assembly.
José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s plea to members of the Organization of American States could undercut the more aggressive effort by OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, supported by the United States, to consider suspending Venezuela from the organization if the OAS finds the country has violated the group’s Democratic Charter. That move is to be debated Thursday.
“I have to ask of you quite humbly that we be given an opportunity for national dialogue in Venezuela,” Zapatero said.
The Venezuelan government and its opposition have long been at odds, but the battle for power has escalated since an opposition coalition took control of the National Assembly during December elections.
Dialogue is important, but it cannot be an excuse to stall.
Michael Fitzpatrick, U.S. interim permanent representative
The country’s economic crisis has deepened in the wake of the plummeting price of oil, Venezuela’s most important commodity, and the opposition has been pressing a campaign to recall the president, Nicolás Maduro, whose government has so far declined to schedule the referendum. This month, riots broke out across the country as desperate Venezuelans ransacked grocery stores in search of food.
Almagro has been pressing for the 34-member OAS to consider taking action against Venezuela – charging it has failed to adhere to the organization’s requirements for democratic government – ever since he released a blistering 135-page report demanding immediate change in the country’s governance and a recall referendum before the end of the year.
With that debate set for Thursday, Venezuelan diplomats had called for Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting to make their case that talks are going well and the OAS should delay any action.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez called Almagro’s report “fraudulent” and accused the OAS of “coup-mongering.” She said Almagro was acting as judge and jury on sovereign matters in which he had no business meddling.
“Venezuela is no more or less than any member state represented here,” she said. “We’re not subject to any kind of monitoring, and you have no right to speak about what should be done.”
Backing her call for delay was Zapatero, who along with former Presidents Martin Torrijos of Panama and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic has been serving as a go-between in talks between Maduro and the National Assembly.
Michael Fitzpatrick, interim permanent representative for the United States, said the Obama administration supported the efforts of the three former government heads if the talks resulted in a timely solution. But prolonged talks are not acceptable, he said.
“Dialogue is important. And it cannot be an excuse to stall,” Fitzpatrick said. “The Venezuelan people cannot afford delays to solutions to the problems they face.”
Almagro expressed similar thoughts and pressed Venezuela to demonstrate its “good faith” by releasing its political prisoners.
“Dialogue is not just to speak, but to show commitment to democracy, respect for human rights and against arbitrary detentions,” Almagro said.
Several countries spoke against OAS action that might be seen as international intervention in Venezuelan domestic politics.
“Dialogue is the only way and proper way to work out differences,” said Diego Pary, the Bolivian ambassador. “Other means will only lead to confrontation.”
Zapatero defended the talks, saying his group had held 20 meetings with government officials and opposition leaders since May 19.
“We have not wasted time,” he said. “We have made a consistent effort, for which I hope in a reasonable period of time we’ll have validation for a way forward.”
But he also acknowledged the process could take “months” to resolve, which is likely not fast enough for Almagro and others who are demanding a recall referendum by the end of the year.
If the referendum is this year and Maduro loses, new elections would be held. If the referendum isn’t until next year and Maduro loses, then his vice president would take over.
You have no right to speak about what should be done.
Delcy Rodriguez, Venezuelan foreign minister
Expectations are high for Thursday’s meeting, which a group of 30 former Latin American presidents described last week as a moment of truth for Latin American countries and their commitment to democracy.