19 Jun Venezuela’s Crisis Tests the OAS’ Legal Commitment to Defending Democracy
Foreign Policy has a great report from Michael Shifter on the ongoing diplomatic battle within the members of the Organization of American States over how to respond to Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crisis. According to Shifter, the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro is pushing hard to get the OAS membership to invoke Article 20 of the OAS Democratic Charter at the upcoming June 23 special session. Under Article 20, the Secretary General may ask the Permanent Council of the OAS to “collectively assess” as situation where there has been an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.” The Permanent Council can then undertake “necessary diplomatic initiatives, including good offices, to foster the restoration of democracy.”
The OAS Secretary-General has already issued a long 114 page report explaining why he believes (starting on p. 35) that there has been an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order” of Venezuela. I haven’t been following the Venezuela situation closely, but this report certainly lays out a strong case. Even more importantly in my view, it offers a good explanation of why members of the OAS have (via the Democratic Charter) a strong international legal obligation to democratic governance.
The penalties for breaching this obligation aren’t all that onerous. Under Article 21, the OAS, via a special session, can suspend Venezuela from the OAS. I am not sure how likely this is to happen, given that Article 21 has a 2/3 majority requirement.
Still, I find this whole episode a fascinating example of how an international organization can become the key vehicle for influencing the domestic governance of one of its member states. Key states are concerned about the crisis in Venezuela, and it looks like the OAS will be the chosen vehicle of (very soft diplomatic) intervention.