Latin America has 240 million people living in poverty, 100 million of them in extreme poverty, said Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque in an address to the 35th General Assembly of the OAS (Organisation of American States).
Rodriguez spoke, along with several Foreign Ministers of other countries in the assembly’s first meeting of the General Committee. ‘In these conditions quality of life simply doesn’t exist,’ said the Venezuelan minister, ‘And in consequence, the quality of democracy is clearly precarious.’
‘If member states of the OAS don’t confront the poverty crisis immediately it will continue to become the most important factor affecting the region’s politics.
‘The countries mired in misery must confront threats to democracy. To make this an authentic effort, not only political rights must be guaranteed, but also social and economic rights,’ said Rodriguez.
‘Democracy and poverty are simply incompatible. . . Where the calamities of hunger and poverty exist, democracy is in doubt and human rights are a fiction.’
In response to this state of affairs, Venezuela submitted a proposal for a Social Charter of the Americas to the OAS, which was approved in June 2004 at the regional body’s meeting in Quito, Ecuador.
The Social Charter is designed to compliment the existing Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS, by focusing on social and economic aspects.
A working group has been established, led by Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, Jorge Valero, which Rodriguez hoped would be able to overcome the obstacles that this initiative had been forced to confront until now.
‘We salute the importance that the approval of this working group represents,’ noted Rodriguez, affirming that the Social Charter is ‘linked directly to the founding principles of the OAS, the violation of which puts the very existence of the organisation in question.’
In particular, the Venezuelan Chancellor identified articles 1, 2 and 3 of the founding charter of the OAS, which are ‘extremely clear with respect to non-intervention in the internal affairs of member-states, the right to elect government without external interference. . . With all due respect to my fellow Foreign Ministers, I invite you to carefully revisit these articles.’
Rodriguez suggested that in deciding that the OAS charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter are insufficient, those calling for reform are proposing the creation of procedures and mechanisms ‘that are not considered by a single statute of this organisation’.
‘What is more,’ continued the Foreign Minister, ‘to give a role to external sectors in purely internal affairs, to those who – without clearly defining the term – call themselves “civil society”. To give currency to these ideas, we are talking about a different kind of organisation, but never an organisation of states.’
The US proposal at the OAS, titled ‘Delivering the Benefits of Democracy,’ calls for tougher measures in applying the OAS Democratic Charter.
‘We must replace excessive talk with action,’ said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Assembly’s opening ceremony on Sunday night.
Early in the day, Rice told reporters on the airplane to Florida that ‘the OAS has intervened in the past’.
In an apparent reference to Venezuela, she added ‘this is not a matter of intervening to punish; it is a matter of intervening to try and sustain the development of democratic institutions across the region.
‘The OAS should be an organisation promoting democracy,’ said Rodriguez in his statement Monday morning, in an indirect response to Rice’s statements, ‘not an organ for intervention in the internal affairs of our countries.’
An American proposal to reform the OAS’ democratic charter was subsequently rejected by a majority of Latin American countries.
The draft of the US proposal, called the ‘Declaration of Florida: Delivering the Benefits of Democracy,’ was considered to be too interventionist by at least 28 countries who refused to sign it.
Chile tabled a counter-proposal that alters some of the offending articles. Chile’s counter-proposal was signed by 10 other countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago.
Chile proposed that to support and encourage democracy in the region the OAS should ‘give assistance to those countries who solicit it,’ – a clear reference to the wording of the Democratic Charter which depends on the OAS to be invited to a country in order for the hemispheric body to investigate democratic shortcomings.
Yet the Chile counter-proposal still recommended the application of the Democratic Charter when it will advance the development of democracy in the region.
The Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom) tabled their own counter-proposal, bringing the number of countries against the US proposal to 25.
The Caricom version stays truest to the Democratic Charter. According to Valero, it is the Caricom version that Venezuela feels most comfortable with. ‘We’re very happy with the general idea of the Caricom version,’ he said earlier today.
Mexico and Argentina, though not signatories on either proposal, said they were reviewing both and were in agreement with the general gist.
The US proposal advocates for the creation of a mechanism for the ‘application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in defending, protecting and promoting democracy’.
But exactly what the ‘application’ of the Charter implies was unclear.
Many delegates feared it would be a carte blanche for the OAS to intervene politically in a country that has been declared undemocratic.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told the OAS General Committee on Monday morning that ‘cooperation and dialogue, rather than interventionist mechanisms, should be the key concepts,’ governing any application of the Democratic Charter.
In a statement made in Mexico City, Presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar told reporters ‘In principle, we are not in agreement with any tutelage from anybody,’ when it comes to democracy.
Mexico has long held a fiercely non-interventionist position.
According to Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS Jorge Valero, Venezuela held bilateral relations with representatives of most of South America, the Caribbean, several countries of Central America, and two-thirds of North America
One notable exception was the United States.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Rodriguez noted in a press conference earlier Monday morning that Venezuela’s ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez has been requesting a meeting with Rice for the past two months with no luck.
Nonetheless, on Monday afternoon the US Secretary of State made the time to meet with Maria Corina Machado, director of opposition NGO Súmate (‘Join Up’).
Machado was also received last week by President Bush, a recognition that Venezuelan President Chavez has yet to receive.