OAS: Washington loses — again

Washington’s increasing isolation in the Americas — its own backyard — was dramatically illustrated at the 35th general assembly of the Organization of American States, held June 5-7 at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

After failing earlier this year, for the first time in OAS history, to get its candidate elected as general secretary, Washington’s push for a “more interventionist” OAS — one capable of defending pro-Washington elite governments against popular movements — was decisively rejected at the meeting.

Worst of all, the push against Washington was led by the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez. This showdown was a microcosm of a bigger battle for the hearts, minds and resources of Latin America: between the US imperial business empire, which wants to maintain its profits from the region; and the massive social movements of the continent, who are fighting to use Latin America’s resources to reduce inequality and poverty. Chavez, along with Cuban leaders, has become a key leader for the latter, and is consequently hated by Washington.

The OAS, which brings together all the nations of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba, which was barred in 1962, has often acted to further US interests in the region, despite its stated aims of furthering cooperation and democracy in the region.

For the April 11 election of the OAS general secretary, the US had initially supported the extremely right-wing Francisco Flores, a former president of El Salvador. When it became obvious Flores would not win, Washington threw its weight behind Mexican neoliberal Luis Ernesto Derbez. In opposition, Venezuela spearheaded a campaign for Chilean foreign minister Jos‚ Miguel Insulza, a moderate seen as more independent from the US.

When the vote was deadlocked, the US backed down rather than risk an embarrassing outright defeat. However, US support for Insulza was conditional on his making a face-saving veiled attack on Venezuela, stating “those elected governments who do not govern democratically should answer to the OAS”, an echo of Washington’s call for OAS nations to oppose Chavez for alleged violations of the OAS charter.

Then, on May 31, US President George Bush held a provocative meeting with Mar¡a Corina Machado, who is wanted for treason in Venezuela. Machado, a leader of the anti-Chavez organisation Sumate, signed documents dissolving all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions during an unsuccessful 2002 coup against Chavez. Bush has never met with Chavez.

The US push for a more “interventionist” OAS was clearly a a move against Venezuela, and other left-wing governments and movements. In a clear reference to Chavez, whose government has now won nine elections in six years, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice insisted “governments that are elected democratically, must govern democratically”.

The US proposed the meeting adopt a “Declaration of Florida” that would “reform” the OAS’s Democratic Charter to encourage OAS members to intervene into the internal affairs of other OAS nations that are deemed to have violated that charter. The “reforms” would have involved the OAS “monitoring” democracies and installing an “early warning system” that would be a pretext for intervention.

The measures were rejected by 28 nations as “too interventionist”. According to Venezuela Analysis , Chavez argued: “If any member-government of the OAS should be monitored, it’s the government of the United States. A government that supports terrorists, invades countries, that tramples its own people, that is trying to impose a global dictatorship is the government that should be monitored for human rights violations.”

In the end, the Declaration of Florida passed by OAS members on the evening of June 7 had been amended into a different document. According to a June 8 Venezuela Analysis article, it supported the principles of “non-intervention and self-determination”.

This defeat, combined with the June 6 resignation of Bolivian President Carlos Mesa in the face of a mass anti-neoliberal uprising, appeared to push Washington’s OAS ambassador, Roger Noriega, over the edge. On the evening of June 7, Noriega gave an ill-tempered outburst blaming Chavez for the Bolivian uprising. Chavez responded by arguing that it was the neoliberal policies forced upon Latin America by the US that caused such things. Even Mesa refuted Noriega’s claim, telling MercoPress that he had no intelligence indicating Caracas has intervened in the conflict.

Venezuela Analysis reported on June 9 that the Venezuelan minister for information, Andres Izarra, hailed the outcome of the OAS as a “resounding success”. Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vincent Rangel claimed: “it was a defeat for Bush and Rice, who could not impose the point of view that they brought. Latin America has its own identity it has recuperated its dignity, not to confront the United States, but to confront imperialist politics.”

From Green Left Weekly, June 22, 2005. Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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