(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own)
Events at the Organization of American States (OAS) continue to reveal that, notwithstanding the efforts by some of its 33 member states, the Organization is the handmaiden of powerful governments which control it through various methods, including coercion.
Nothing symbolises this more glaringly than a presumptuous assault on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago by the agent of one small political party, purported to be the Government of Venezuela. The sordid event occurred in the OAS Permanent Council on December 16.
Some background is necessary. For various reasons, linked to the ambitions of political and business elites in certain countries, Juan Guaidó was selected as “Interim President” of Venezuela. The people of Venezuela had no say in Guaidó’s selection or in his adornment with the title of “Interim President”. Guaidó and his party cannot deliver any basic function of a government. They do not have the capacity to sell a one cent stamp to a Venezuelan, or to respond to governments that need to engage with the authorities in Venezuela.
Factually, Venezuela is not a member of the OAS. On 27 April 2017, the Venezuelan govern-ment properly notified the OAS Secretary-General of its withdrawal from the Organization in accordance with its rules. Consequently, the Charter ceased to be in force with respect to Venezuela whose membership of the Organization ended on 27 April 2019.
However, determined to exercise power over Venezuela, in April 2019, 18 governments – some willingly, others out of fear or by coercion – imposed Guaidó’ s agent as the representative of Venezuela at the Organization, by a bare majority vote. In effect, a small political party was given equal standing with sovereign governments – an unprecedented and alarming event. The other 15 governments rejected this imposition, making clear that they would be bound by no declaration or resolution which is adopted by a majority that included the Guaidó agent. Further, they made it pellucid that no attention would be paid to anything he said in the Organization.
The OAS is a house divided against itself. It is also financially bankrupt, in large part because, despite being regarded by a few member states and the Secretary-General as the ‘government’ of Venezuela, Guaidó’ s group has not paid a cent of the $3.3 million in membership fees for 2019 and 2020. The recording of these monies as due from a country that is not a member of the Organization is another of the fallacies of the OAS.
Against this background, when Guaidó’s representative requested – on his own and with none of his patron governments – the placement on the agenda of the Permanent Council of a presentation by himself on “Venezuelan Migration and Its Recent Tragic Consequences”, the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda objected. The presumptuousness of the request to place any item on the agenda of the Permanent Council by an agent of one political party in a country, and the precedent it would set, had to be resisted.
The agent’s intention was to escalate an attack on Trinidad and Tobago, launched by Guaidó on November 24, regarding the recent deaths of 16 Venezuelans who had left Venezuela illegally in a boat that appeared to have capsized. In a public statement Guaidó stated: “The cruel treatment to which they (Trinidad and Tobago) subject Venezuelans who have been forced to migrate as a result of the dictatorship is painful and inhuman”, and then he threatened, “Parliament will initiate an investigation and the world is watching the events in Trinidad and Toba-go”.
Consequently, Antigua and Barbuda told the Permanent Council that, apart from the fact that Venezuela is not a member of the OAS, “the purported representative of Venezuela is merely the spokesperson for only one of many political parties in Venezuela. Allowing the views and positions of only one political party to be expressed in any forum of the OAS is contrary to natural justice and democratic principles since it denies a similar opportunity to other political parties in Venezuela”. Despite the efforts of the Chair to ignore a call for a vote on the matter, one was forced under the evident rules of the Organization.
The Guaidó supporters barely secured a majority of 18, including the vote of Guaidó’s agent. Had Guaidó’s agent not been allowed to vote (as he should not have) on a matter in which he had a vested interest, the bare majority of 18 would not have been attained. Unfortunately, the representatives of three CARICOM countries – Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica – were part of the 17 states that supported this abuse. Nonetheless, what was established is that support for the Guaidó farce is weakening as more countries opted to divorce themselves from the obvious abuse.
In his presentation, Guaidó’s agent made baseless accusations against Trinidad and Tobago, claiming that “there have been abuses and mistreatment of Venezuelans in Trinidad” and de-manding that “Trinidad and Tobago allow access to its territory and provide protection to people coming from Venezuela, observing due process and the principle of non-refoulement”.
The Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony Philips-Spencer, made a dignified and robust response that did not recognize Guaidó’s agent, but rejected all his remarks. The Ambassador was clear that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had stated that the incident in which 16 Venezuelans had lost their lives had occurred “within Venezuela’s jurisdiction”. He pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago – a small island State – has compassionately taken the un-precedented step of officially registering and facilitating over 16,000 migrants from Venezuela to live and work in Trinidad and Tobago. This hospitality continues even as our economy faces significant challenges that have affected all of our own people.”
There should have been many shamed faces at the end of the Ambassador’s response to the remarks by an agent with not one shred of authority to speak for the people and authorities of Venezuela.
This event reflects a perverse OAS no one should want, and which ill-serves the people of the Americas.
Responses and previous commentaries: