Luis Almagro / Thomas Shannon: Views on Venezuela
May 31, 2017: Under Secretary Thomas Shannon delivers remarks at the Organization of American States'
Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Ministers meeting, in Washington, DC. - watch enlarge video
Remarks from U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs on Venezuela
Under Secretary Shannon: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. To you, sir, to the Secretary General and to all my colleagues, I extend my respect and gratitude for your presence here today as we discuss the increasingly dire situation in Venezuela. Over the last 18 months, we have seen a dramatic erosion of constitutional rule in Venezuela. This extends from disputes over the National Assembly's makeup and powers; the thwarting of the recall referendum late last year; the Supreme Court's assumption of basic legislative functions in recent months; the ongoing imprisonment of opposition leaders and other restrictions on individual freedoms, including the use of military tribunals to try civilians; the violent repression of peaceful protests; and, most recently, the effort to seat a constitutional assembly to usurp the role of the National Assembly. All of these signal a rupture in Venezuela's democratic and constitutional order.
At the same time, we have all been moved by the humanitarian hardships faced by 31 million Venezuelans. Economic stagnation has given way to hyperinflation and increasing economic instability. Venezuelan citizens struggle to maintain even basic access to food and medicine. The United States has condemned the government's violent crackdown against the parties of the parliamentary majority and civil society. In just the past two months of political protests, as has been noted, more than 60 people have been killed, more than 1,000 injured, and nearly 3,000 detained, including 331 civilians charged criminally by military courts. I know many other states have been similarly disturbed by the course of events in Venezuela and ever more determined to do what we can to address it.
Mr. Chairman, beyond this region, the European Union and the Vatican have also expressed grave concerns regarding events unfolding in Venezuela. We also have seen a growing willingness among Venezuela's neighbors to assist in finding a peaceful, democratic, and comprehensive solution to the problems facing the Venezuelan people. Let me underscore my nation's continuing call for nonviolence in the streets of Venezuela. The rights of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest ought to be protected and not repressed.
The unfortunate decision by the Government of Venezuela to initiate the nation's withdrawal from this organization will do nothing to resolve the country's woes. Withdrawal will only deprive Venezuelans of the tools and institutions they need just when they need them most.
Mr. Chairman, instead of abandoning our hemispheric community of democratic nations and further isolating itself from the international community, we urge the Venezuelan Government to fulfill the commitments it freely made last fall during its participation in the Vatican-backed dialogue process – namely, to promote free elections, respect the independence of the National Assembly, respect the freedoms of all of Venezuela's political prisoners, and meet the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people.
The Organization of American States can partner with other actors in the international community on a renewed effort to identify an agreed path out of the polarization and violence we see to Venezuela toward a better future.
The United States supports the proposal contained in the draft declarations calling for the establishment of a contact group to guide the next stage of our diplomatic efforts. We believe there is an international role in the rebuilding of trust among the main political actors in Venezuela, as well as the reduction of tensions among citizens and their institutions.
Any new effort must begin with concrete confidence-building steps of the kind laid out in our declarations today. Many of these are no more than fulfillment of existing constitutional obligations the government has bypassed or ignored. Our goal is to return to the full respect for the rule of law, the full respect for freedoms of political expression and participation.
Mr. Chairman, the collective commitment to promote and consolidate democracy that we, the nations of the Americas, have enshrined in core OAS instruments remains a model for other regions in the world. Today is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that this commitment remains alive and well and relevant to the current plight of our Venezuelan neighbors. Let us continue to show the world that inter-American solidarity can help find a path back to peace and prosperity for an essential member of our American family, always mindful that our solidarity is based on the respect and legitimacy that extends from the self-determination of peoples and not the self-perpetuation of governments. Thank you very much.
May 31, 2017
Message from OAS Secretary General on Venezuela
The collapse of institutional function in Venezuela is the direct responsibility of its authorities.
Over the last months, the regime in Venezuela has buried democracy, the separation of powers, justice, civil guarantees, political, economic, and social rights as well as all the principles that constitute a legitimate government.
All the members of the current illegitimate government are responsible, and the role of the President of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, has been crucial in the institutional collapse.
An independent, impartial, healthy electoral body with adequate technical capabilities is fundamental to guarantee the political rights of citizens. Its responsibility is nothing less that the protection of the strict respect for the right to political expression of the people, the only sovereign in all nations, through the exercise of universal suffrage in free and fair elections.
As a consequence, it is unthinkable in any democratic government that the person who directs the National Electoral Council allows it to become the instrument of the end of democracy.
Her direct action was decisive in depriving the Venezuelan people of its constitutional right to a recall referendum in 2016.
From the CNE, she deployed an arbitrary strategy, delaying indefinitely the collection of signatures, forcing calendars, imposing unprecedented recounts, redesigning districts and regions at her convenience to definitively avoid the convening of the referendum, and the expression of the popular will.
In addition, on May 25 Ms. Lucena -the same person who also has denied the constitutional rights of the people to elect its governors- announced her support for the illegitimate, unconstitutional, and fraudulent National Constituent Assembly promoted by the regime.
Tibisay Lucena has thus become the President of an Electoral Council that is violating the principle of universal vote, disregarding the provisions in articles 62 and 63 of the Bolivarian Constitution, in which it is recognized that "suffrage is a right. It will be exercised through free, universal, direct and secret votes. The law will guarantee the principle of the personalization of suffrage and proportional representation."
Based on a regressive and forced interpretation imposed by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, which substitutes the right to universal suffrage for indirect mechanisms of election in the election of parish councils, the CNE has pieced together an unstable scaffolding upon which it convenes a fraudulent Constituent Assembly.
All this to protect a presidential initiative that clearly lacks any kind of legitimacy of origin.
By announcing that the CNE increased the number of constituents to 545, and that they will be chosen on sectoral and territorial bases, Ms. Lucena endorses the abolition of the universal vote for the exercise of popular sovereignty.
The formula announced by Tibisay Lucena is as technically absurd as it is unconstitutional and undemocratic. The convocation of the Constituent Assembly is taking place outside of that stipulated in article 347 of the Constitution, which states that the Venezuelan people are the only ones who possess the original constituent power. In this way, it definitively puts an end to the right of the Venezuelan people to democracy.
The only ones who will be able to exercise their right to vote are unionized students, unionized business leaders, unionized farmers, unionized persons with disabilities, unionized workers, unionized pensioners, and community councils. The ascendancy of these ideas lies in the corporatist and totalitarian political lines of fascism.
It is hard to believe that there exists a country in the Americas that, in the 21st century, has made such an arbitrary and anachronistic decision. Not only does it deprive the sovereign of its right to elect by universal suffrage, imposing an unjustifiable restricted vote, but it also robs the sovereign of any decision-making capacity in the future by forcing the convening of an illegitimate Constituent Assembly, which seeks to definitively denaturalize the Magna Carta.
It is difficult to conceive a more forced, discriminatory and arbitrary legal aberration.
Ms. Lucena is the author and co-responsible for the worst attack on the institutional functioning in Venezuela. And that is not resolved by calling a referendum to approve the Constitution once it has been written. That does not resolve the legal and constitutional defects of origin in the process, that is de-legitimized because it ignored the people as the true constituent power.
As Secretary General of the Organization of American States I must condemn this attack against the essential foundation of democracy: universal suffrage.
And as a citizen of the Americas I will always be among those who are aware that dictatorships are not only forged on the basis of tyrants who repress, imprison, torture, cut off freedoms, sow hunger, poverty and disease. In order to exist, dictatorships also need people like Tibisay Lucena, who -abusing their functions and diverting their institutional responsibilities- are able to abandon principles and values to preserve their position and their rights, regardless of what is being sacrificed in return, nothing less than the will of the people.
People like Tibisay Lucena, that continue stripping democracy of its content, work to serve the consolidation of the interests of a dictatorship imposed through the suffering of its people, sustained by the killing of its people, by the political imprisonment of opposition leaders, and by torture.
The sterility of the manipulated sentences of the Supreme Court is clear proof of that.
It is not even possible to determine what exercise of legal fiction she had to undertake in order to reach the conclusion that the direct expression of the popular will through universal suffrage in a referendum is not only not necessary to convene a Constituent Assembly, but it is dispensable and may be replaced by another expression of the Public Power.
The only possible conclusion is that the Supreme Court of Venezuela violates with impunity all the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, by conflating the sovereignty of the nation with the expression of the will of the President of the Republic.
This undoubtedly represents a further advance of the authoritarian model and the imposition of a definitive gag on the voice of the people.
Fortunately, the Attorney General raised her voice once again. We completely support and echo the statements of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, who rejected the admission of the initiative of President Maduro to exercise the convening of the Constituent Assembly, violating all forms of popular participation, the principles and progressive nature of human rights.
We support her request for clarification regarding whether the Supreme Court understands that the validity of participatory and proactive democracy in the country has been lost, its position regarding the sovereignty of the nation, whether it believes that the Public Power is above the people, and what the real terms of the initiative are.
June 02, 2017
Luis Almagro is a Uruguayan lawyer, diplomat, and politician, currently serving as the 10th Secretary General of the Organization of American States. Thomas Shannon Jr. is an American diplomat, who is currently serving as the Under Secretary of State of the United States for Political Affairs. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
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