The session may lead to the suspension of Venezuela’s Maduro's regime from the OAS for violating the organization’s rules making democratic governance a requirement for participation. The decision by Almagro comes eight years after HRF published its first legal analysis and open letter — addressed to the previous head of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza — urging the enforcement of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter’s (IADC) democracy clause in several countries in the Americas ruled by competitive-authoritarian regimes.
“Eight years have passed since HRF first asked the OAS to activate the democracy clause not only in countries where a coup d’état had occurred, as in Micheletti’s Honduras, but in those where executive branches had torpedoed democratic institutions from within, as in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, Evo Morales’s Bolivia, Rafael Correa’s Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “We are thankful that the new Secretary General has listened to HRF and to millions of Latin Americans who are tired of the international community turning a blind eye to the abuses of power by authoritarian regimes in the continent,” said Halvorssen.
Last week, Almagro sent a 132-page report to the OAS Permanent Council, documenting the gradual, sustained, and systematic erosion of the essential elements of democracy in Venezuela. Based on Article 20 of the IADC, Almagro requested “the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation” and send a high-level diplomatic mission to the country. Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro responded by asking Almagro to “take your democratic charter . . . put it in a skinny little tube and shove it wherever fits you best.”
“By standing for democracy despite the degrading insults and bullying, Mr. Almagro is reviving the OAS main mission and securing his place among courageous democrats like Rómulo Betancourt in the hemisphere’s history books,” Halvorssen concluded.
In 2008, HRF began a campaign of five open letters addressed to José Miguel Insulza, then Secretary General of the OAS, calling on the organization to apply the democracy clause to Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. In 2010, HRF launched the website Insulza.no to prevent the reelection of Insulza for failing to invoke the democratic charter in situations of democracy erosion. A sixth letter from 2013 denounced Daniel Ortega's constitutional reform seeking to allow his indefinite re-election as president of Nicaragua.
In 2009, HRF was the first organization to call for the suspension of Roberto Micheletti’s government under the IADC, and HRF's work was instrumental in establishing the official Inter-American definition of the term “coup d’état.” HRF’s 300-page report, titled “The Facts and the Law Behind the Democratic Crisis of Honduras 2009-2010,” was quoted numerous times in the 800-page final report published by the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR-H) in June 2011. The CVR-H’s report concluded: “The commissioners . . . agree with the analysis made by the Human Rights Foundation, in defining what happened in Honduras as a coup d’état.”
“Over nearly a decade, HRF asked Insulza to fulfill his responsibility and invoke the democracy clause against regimes that had eroded democracy like Venezuela’s. Insulza dishonestly and erroneously responded that the IADC did not give him any power to act, despite express provisions in Article 20 of the IADC and resolutions 2154/2005 and 2251/2006 of the General Assembly of the OAS,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “Almagro is now setting the OAS record straight and he needs to be commended for this,” he said.
If the OAS Permanent Council, which is expected to convene between June 10 and June 20, finds that a serious alteration or interruption of the constitutional order in Venezuela has occurred, a subsequent vote of 23 of the 34 OAS member states — two-thirds — may suspend Venezuela’s executive from participation in the different organs of the OAS until democratic normalcy returns.
Next week, HRF will be present at the 46th General Assembly of the OAS and participate in academic discussions on the application of the democracy clause of the IADC to Venezuela.