Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015), co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He writes a column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency. His opinion pieces have appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and most major U.S. newspapers, as well as in Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. He appears regularly on national and local television and radio programs. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Violent protests are entering their second month in Venezuela. Opposition protestors appeared to be encouraged as they gained plenty of international attention for their calls to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected for a six-year term in 2013. A few weeks ago, the protests and street fights between police and the opposition protestors gave a new fuel to the efforts of the OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, to suspend Venezuela from the OAS for having violated the group’s democratic charter. Venezuela responded last week by announcing it would leave the OAS completely. Venezuela’s foreign minister said the exit procedures have begun and it would take 24 months to complete, in accordance with the OAS rules.
But what does this move mean for Venezuela? We’re going to explore that with our guest, Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the author of the book Failed: What Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. He’s also recently written a article in the Huffington Post titled Venezuela and the OAS: The Logic of Withdrawal. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Sharmini. Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, many international analysts are portraying Venezuela’s decision to leave the OAS as an effort to escape punishment for violating OAS’ democratic charter. In your article for the Huffington Post, though, you argue that Venezuela’s decision to leave the OAS is not unjustified. What makes you say this?
MARK WEISBROT: I think any government could leave the OAS and it wouldn’t be a bad thing because they’re not, under the current leadership especially, but really for a long time, they’re not really a neutral party or a real multi-lateral organization in the sense that the United States has overwhelming control, and especially under this secretary general, Luis Almagro, and especially with regard to Venezuela, though there’s been other cases.
For example, in Haiti in 2004, the OAS made a major contribution to the coup in that country, where the US and Canada and France had cut off all international aid for four years prior and used it, as Paul Farmer testified … He was Clinton’s deputy special envoy for the UN for Haiti. He testified to Congress that the US was trying to get rid of that government and that’s why they cut off all the aid to that country. They couldn’t have done it without the OAS because the OAS observed the 2000 elections in Haiti and then they originally said they were fine, and then when the US decided to get rid of the government, then they said that they were no good. That was used to de-legitimize the government and get rid of it.
Then the OAS also contributed in 2011 in Haiti. There was a special commission, a verification mission of the OAS that’s supposedly technical, that went down there and actually overturned the results of the first round of the Haitian election so that the candidate who would go into the second round was the one that the United States and its allies wanted. They did that without a recount or without even a statistical analysis.
They’ve done so many things in Honduras as well. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State during the 2009 military coup in Honduras, and she was able to manipulate the OAS and block them from taking the position that the majority wanted, which was that you couldn’t recognize the November, 2009 elections there under the dictatorship unless the elected president, the democratic elected president was allowed to return. She actually admitted this in her book, her 2014 book, Hard Choices. Those are just a few examples of how the OAS is not really a pro-democracy organization as you see in the headlines in the New York Times, but it actually can intervene on the opposite side to actually destroy democracy and to help overthrow governments that the United States wants to get rid of.
Now, in Venezuela in 2015, there were parliamentary elections, or national assembly election, and the current head of the OAS, Luis Almagro, had a really huge international campaign to de-legitimize those elections, to say that unless the OAS was there to observe them, they wouldn’t be any good. He turned out to be completely wrong. The opposition won the elections with 56% of the vote and got a two-thirds majority in the assembly from that election, and the election went off without any flaws at all. This is who … And he’s been campaigning to get rid of this government ever since.
All that is not to say that there are no problems with the rule of law or other problems in Venezuela. The OAS has nothing to do, no constructive role to play at this moment. In fact, it’s going to make things a lot worse if it’s allowed to intervene in this way because it’s being used by the United States and its allies, once again, to de-legitimize an elected government and to get rid of it. This comes at a time when the country really needs dialogue. They need to resolve this through negotiations, otherwise it’s going to get more violent.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, now Venezuela has alternatives. There is the Community of Latin American and Caribbean State, CLACS that was created in the aftermath of 2009 coup against the Honduran president at the time. CLACS is an alternative body to OAS in terms of a community of Latin American countries. Tell us more about that.
MARK WEISBROT: The Latin American governments created the CLACS, the Community for Latin American and Caribbean nations, which includes everybody that’s in the OAS except the US and Canada. It was after the Hillary Clinton manipulated the OAS in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup in Honduras. That’s when they decided they needed another organization. With all that background, you can see it’s not really that strange for Venezuela to leave the OAS. In fact in hindsight, you could probably say that it would’ve been better if all the left governments, when they created the CLACS, had just left the OAS a few years ago, and then you wouldn’t have this particular problem.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, what about the timing of all of this, Mark? As you just outlined, there were plenty of opportunities that Venezuela has had and good reason to leave the OAS in the past, but at this moment, they don’t really have the political support from member organizations at the OAS. It would’ve been great if they could’ve organized an exodus with other members to make a political point, but that is not the case. International opinion and in the OAS, as you have just indicated, the support isn’t there for Venezuela in the same way it had had in the past. So what about the timing of all of this?
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah. It’s hard to say whether their withdrawal will help or not. It probably will hurt them because all the media will spin it as them leaving in order to avoid the democratic judgment of their peers as the media’s in kind of full-regime-change mode right now, and they don’t even try to give another side to the story. On a daily basis it’s just all about, “This government is horrible and we should get rid of it.” I don’t think it’ll really help them most likely, but at this point, it won’t make that much difference. Also they give notice and they’re still subject to the OAS’ investigations or procedures for another two years, so the OAS will continue to do what it’s going to do anyway.
SHARMINI PERIES: Turning to US policy towards Venezuela, the US Senate is considering a new bill sponsored by both republicans and the democrats to impose a new set of sanctions of Venezuela and to provide more funding to opposition groups. What effect do you think this will have in the situation in Venezuela?
MARK WEISBROT: All of these things are designed to try and help topple the government. The sanctions that President Obama put twice on Venezuela, they weren’t particularly that important economically but they did send a signal. I mean, he declared Venezuela twice to be an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States.
Now, everybody knows what happens to countries who get that designation. There was Nicaragua in the ’80s. There was Iraq. They generally get … They’re a target of the United States, so that puts a big damper on anybody who wants to lend to Venezuela. Now, you could say, “Well, people wouldn’t lend because the economy’s a wreck,” but that isn’t really true. Foreign investors have been loaning money to Venezuela throughout this recession and before, and the ones who did made a lot of money because Venezuela has not defaulted on any of its bonds, for any of its foreign dollar denominated bonds for the whole time that the Chavezes have been in power. What they’re trying to do is just try and hurt the economy more, which of course will make people there suffer more, but they don’t really care about that. The idea is to hasten the overthrow of a government from their point of view.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Mark, as you acknowledged, Venezuela is tackling a number of problems at this point in their political existence, in the sense of economic crisis, dropping oil prices, shortages of food, and now violence on the street. What ways could the OAS be helping if it wasn’t so politically motivated for regime change?
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, that’s a very good question. They could do what the Vatican did last year. The Vatican offered and did in fact mediate, and the OAS could play a constructive role if it weren’t so dominated by Washington, which provides the majority of its budget, by the way. That’s one of the ways in which it influences when it’s more borderline issues. Yeah, they could actually play a role as to mediate between the opposition and the government.
Again, I want to emphasize how important that is, because the US, like they did in Syria, for example, they thought that everybody’s going to just get together against the government and this guy will be out of here and we’ll have somebody we like. That’s how they look at it and that’s how they see Venezuela, but it isn’t really the whole people against the government. In fact, you had other people on the show who are on the ground, and they can tell you that the vast majority, as in 2013 and ’14, of people on the streets are not the people who are being hurt the most by the economic crisis, they’re actually from the middle to upper classes. There’s some exceptions at this time, but it’s very little.
It isn’t really … The whole picture you’re getting from the media is really distorted. There’s still a base. The last poll from Data Analysis, which is the most reliable anti-government poster, showed Madura with 24%. Now, you might think, “Well, that’s pretty bad.” That’s his approval rating. There’s probably more people than that who think he’s doing a bad job but still don’t want the opposition. That’s much more of the base.
I mean, Brazil, the latest poll shows the president with 4% approval, and you have numbers in the teens in Mexico and Columbia. There is a base there, and it includes the military, but a sizeable part of the population that as bad as things are there, they still see the opposition as a bigger threat, in the sense that if the opposition comes to power through a coup, that they feel that they could suffer more than they would going forward under this government and perhaps a government that comes next. That’s why it’s so important to have a negotiated solution, but again, the so-called international community is pushing for regime change.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, and yet the support for the government was indicative in the May Day demonstration, so celebrations that was held on International Workers Day, which was the largest I saw anywhere around the world.
MARK WEISBROT: Yes. It is interesting. I think if most of the journalists who were covering this were interested in trying to explain events, that would be one of the things they’d want to explain, how do you have that kind of support when there’s 400% inflation and the economy GPD fell by 17% last year and there’s shortages of food and medicine. I think again, it’s because they don’t see the opposition as representing them and necessarily going to make things better.
Also, they had 10 years, a whole decade, where living standards for the majority really did improve enormously. You didn’t hear much about it here, but it was really true in terms of any indicators you want to look at, poverty, income growth, access to healthcare and education. Obviously these people are thinking, “Well, if circumstances change things might get better.” That’s not going to go on forever, of course, but that’s where it stands now. It is still a polarized country politically.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. I thank you so much for joining us today.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.