Will Latin America finally rebuke Venezuela?

Christopher Sabatini writes: At least on paper, both Europe and the Americas seem equally committed to being democracies-only clubs, willing to defend and preserve the rule of law in member nations. In practice, however, it may be unfair to compare the perplexing web of regional Latin American organizations with the European Union. The juxtaposition of the EU’s recent statement of concern over the rule of law in Poland and the long-overdue response by Latin American and Caribbean governments to the decades-long political crisis festering in Venezuela is a striking case in point.

On June 1, after more than five months of discussion with the Polish government elected in October 2015, the European Commission issued an opinion expressing its concerns over the new conservative government’s packing of the country’s constitutional tribunal and changes to the public broadcasting law.

Compared to Venezuela, which has suffered from a steady two-decade-long erosion of its democratic checks and balances, Poland’s peccadilloes are pretty small stuff. Since his assumption of the presidency in 1999, former president Hugo Chávez and then his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro (elected with a slim 1.5 percent margin in 2013 after Chávez died from cancer), have diminished democratic institutions, politicized the state, harassed and imprisoned political opponents, and closed down independent media.

There appeared a slight ray of hope in December 2015 when the unified opposition bloc — defying a biased electoral system — won what appeared to be a super majority of two-thirds of the National Assembly.

The hope, though, was short-lived. Before the new legislature could be seated, the pro-government electoral commission refused to accept the victories of the deputies from Amazonas province (three of whom were opposition and one Chavista), alleging pre-electoral violations, thus denying the opposition its super majority.

The only constitutional means of resolving the country’s deep polarization and the unpopularity of the government is a recall referendum triggered by 20 percent of voters. Earlier this year, citizens collected several million signatures requesting such a referendum. The effort, though, has been mocked by the president and vice president and the decision of whether to allow citizens to continue to collect more signatures is in the hands of the solidly pro-government electoral commission (the Comisión National Electoral — CNE).

Venezuela’s slide into authoritarianism has elicited hardly a collective peep from the region’s many multilateral organizations, almost all of them purporting to defend democracy and human rights. In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean may have the distinction of being the most heavily networked, multi-lateralized, summit-oriented region in the world. There’s the 70-year-old Organization of American States (OAS) and its inter-American system of human rights, the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), and the more recent creations of the Union of South American Republics (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) — all of which count Venezuela as a member, and are supposedly committed to defending and protecting democracy and human rights. [Continue reading…]

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