Today has been a tough day for the Organization of American States (OAS).
I have always stated my belief that an organization must practice the message it wishes to send if it is to have any credibility with its audience. The OAS has a Democratic Charter (passed on 11 September 2001) and claims to speak for openness and democracy, and the rights of all to express themselves and their opinions openly.
Yet today, the Permanent Council of the OAS decided in a majority vote to close the session on Venezuela so that the points of view raised by member states would not be known to the general public who elected those governments in the first place or the media – also barred from the room. A secret meeting on the democratic openness of member states is not conducive to the organization’s message of freedom of expression and accountability.
The Ambassadors of a number of countries – Panama, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and others – put up a valiant fight. However, the states of the Caribbean, themselves democracies who have benefited from many years of openness and respect for human rights, voted for a closed session – no doubt due to their obsequious dependency on Venezuelan largesse.
While one can understand, one must also hold states as well as organizations accountable for their commitments and messages (or lack of). In this case, the Caribbean states have been found wanting. The emperor indeed has no clothes!
The OAS seems to have been taken hostage by Venezuela and its allies, debunking any notion of support for open debate when it doesn’t suit their purposes. While the vote was democratic, many of the states participating in the vote limit democratic rights in their own countries.
An organization’s longevity depends on two fundamental pillars – relevance and funding. One may question if the organization’s relevance is taking a major hit with its handling of the situation in Venezuela, and if its funding – the bulk of which comes from the United States and Canada – will survive at current levels given the organization’s behavior.
While the voting at the Council was indeed democratic, the OAS appears to be off-message at this point in its existence with respect to commitments to freedom of expression. Indeed, one might be justified in asking if a democratic vote to engage in an undemocratic process is in fact democratic?
Eduardo del Buey
Crosshairs Communications Ltd.