Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


June 23, 2016 - Washington, DC

Before starting, Mr. Chairman, I would like to pay tribute to all actors who have made peace viable in Colombia, in particular President Santos, the leaders of the FARC, but also all the guarantor countries involved in this process.

This is a transcendental step for Colombia and our hemisphere. It is a demonstration that when dialogue is oriented toward tangible results, it can bring dividends for all.

Our greatest virtue today will be to be fair; that is the work of the OAS; that is the principle that governs the Organization. Justice is the major and first virtue of social organizations, as has already been said since Plato.

The OAS has to know today if its Democratic Charter is a strong instrument to defend the principles of democracy, or if it is for the archives of the Organization. You, definitely, must say.

We must be fair because the fundamental rules of our coexistence depend on them. We must proceed from the decision that will be made today to be responsible in terms of what we understand of what we must do as members of political communities, because the social dimension of justice as a virtue is the best manner to build harmony and coexistence.

Coexistence among us because we share the values and principles of democracy, human rights, development, security. We can never remove the content of these principles. We can never abandon these moral principles.

Indifference is a good way of doing this, or covering just our interest is another way of removing contents. We must be fair because we owe it to Venezuela, and we owe it to the history of our hemisphere, which has been marked by acts of injustice, indolence, and impunity.

Acts for which we are still paying, wounds that are still open and from which we are very slowly healing through memory, truth and justice, and by not repeating them.

Recently, we had to backtrack because of an act of injustice carried out by the OAS General Assembly in April 1965, with the validation of the invasion of the Dominican Republic.

Today, we can work so that this justice can come naturally from us. We have an important work ahead; we must also concentrate and focus on the underlying problem facing Venezuela and Venezuelans on a daily basis.

Each of the problems presented here seek to provide a framework for this issue but in the best sense, in the most instructive sense.

We stated—on page 125 of our report—we spoke against any possible coup in Venezuela against a legitimate government, or armed intervention, such as the ones the Foreign Minister indicated. We have been very clear in this regard. And we reaffirm these principles strongly and emphatically.

You will decide today; we will have to choose the path on the situation of political prisoners in Venezuela, to decide if the people of Venezuela can receive humanitarian assistance through an international channel, if we give the opportunity to the people of Venezuela to choose its destiny or if we deny it, and whether we allow planned administrative obstacles to prevail over the will of the people. All of this is our responsibility.

Under Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and in full compliance with international law and the provisions of this Organization, and in my capacity as Secretary General, I “request the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation” in Venezuela “and to take such decisions as it deems appropriate.”

In this regard, allow me to present the reasons why I consider that there is an alteration of the constitutional order in that country. Much of the information that I will present to you today was included in my letter to the President of the Permanent Council of May 30.

Today, I will present an updated report, given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

The defense of democracy is at the core of the OAS mandates, and fundamental to the foundation of international relations in the Americas.

These principles are clearly articulated in:

The Charter of the Organization of American States,

The American Convention of Human Rights,

General Assembly Resolution 1080 on Representative Democracy, and

The Inter-American Democratic Charter, which is the true Constitution of the Americas.

These are not documents imposed on us.

As member states, we chose to sign them, and to join the consensus on the principles that define who we are, what we believe, and how we interact with one another.

Fundamental freedoms, human rights, and democracy do not only exist when it is convenient.

Commitment to these principles and the practice of democracy in the Hemisphere also require being willing to take action.

We have an obligation to point out issues wherever they exist. Especially when there is also a difficult situation.

The issues we will discuss today are clearly laid out in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

It is against these standards that we consider that the democratic order in Venezuela has been altered.

Article 3 of the Charter outlines the key elements of democracy:

The “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage […]; the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”

Article 4 outlines the essential components in the exercise of democracy:

“Transparency in government activities, probity, responsible public administration, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press.”

My report of May 30 clearly lays out the arguments in this regard and how this situation affects the constitutional order in Venezuela.

Today, I ask you to consider the lives, the health and the security of the Venezuelan people, according to these commitments.

The Permanent Council should also take the necessary steps to address the unprecedented and unnecessary humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

The Council should express itself clearly on the political prisoners and the persistent reports of torture.

The Council should support the will of the Venezuelan people in their call for a recall referendum.

It’s in accordance with these principles that we must or not act.

As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Democracy is the government of the people.

Those who are elected to represent the people are there as an instrument to channel the voice of the citizens into the decision-making process of the State.

The legitimacy of a government is bestowed by its citizens.

It is a public exercise; a vocation for serving the common good.

It is not a business, it is not where individuals seek profit, or power.

Political ethics is being consistent with our words and our actions.

To honor leadership, without abusing that power that comes along with it.

When governments fail to meet these standards, citizens grow frustrated with their political leaders.

Losing confidence in their elected representatives, citizens will make their voices heard.

This is what we are witnessing in Venezuela, the loss of the moral and ethical purpose of politics.

Any government must defend the greater good, the collective good. That applies to Venezuela.

Venezuela holds some of the largest oil reserves on the planet, with vast fertile land and large mineral resources.

What should be one of the wealthiest countries in the region is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, a critical humanitarian crisis and one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.

The confrontation between the branches of government has caused the failure of the political system and its collapse, which in turn has worsened economic, social and humanitarian conditions in the country.
Inflation has reached 720%.

The GDP is predicted to drop, according to economic indicators, another 8% this year.

External debt has reached $130 billion, or the equivalent of an estimated 6-years worth of oil exports.

Venezuela has the 9th highest unemployment rate in the world.

73% of households and 76% of Venezuelans lived in poverty in 2015.

After the 12th increase since the government was elected in 2013, the minimum wage is approximately, according to official statistics, $24 per month; that is less than a dollar per day.

The systematic failure of the controlled exchange rate system has caused the currency to lose 99% of its value since 2013.

International businesses have shut their doors because no one is able to pay.

There are unprecedented food and medical shortages across the country.

This crisis is reaching a breaking point.

These challenges cannot be blamed on external forces.

The situation facing Venezuela today is the result of the actions of those currently in power.

Venezuela could and should be one of the most prosperous and influential countries in the region.

Instead, it is a state mired in corruption, poverty and violence

It is the population who suffers the consequences.

There is more profit in selling subsidized dollars on the black market than in stocking store shelves. The people pay for this.

Food and supply shortages reached 82.8% in January of this year.

Since 2003, more than 150 food products have been given a fixed price, unilaterally set by the Executive.

Initially, price increases were kept in line with inflation.

However, since 2007 the gap between production costs and set prices has grown drastically forcing many businesses to close their doors.

In an effort to respond to these self-inflicted food shortages, the state has increasingly intervened in the food production, including through the expropriation or nationalization of:

Coffee producers,

Sugar mills,

Rice and pasta producers,

Agriozlena, the main seed distribution company,

Lacteos Los Andes, the main dairy producer,

More than 10,000 hectares of cattle and milk productions farms,

At least five corn flour producers,

Oil manufacturers, and

Polar, a major Venezuelan supermarket chain.

The shortages have also created the growing black market economy with regulated products resold on the black market for profit. This is definitely a direct consequence.

The poorest communities, outside of the capital, are hardest hit.

Eighty seven per cent of Venezuelans state that they do not have enough money to buy the food they need;

It costs the equivalent of 16 minimum-wage salaries to properly feed a family.

A quarter of the population lives off less than two meals a day.

Malnutrition affects the most vulnerable groups. And infant mortality is rising, along with growth problems in children.

Water and electricity shortages have become commonplace.

The country’s only hydroelectric dam reached critical levels, only five feet of water away from when turbines will simply stop turning.

Without power, public institutions are only open three days a week.

The lack of basic supplies and chemicals, such as chlorine for water treatment, has lead to an increase in water-borne illness, facilitating the spread of bacteria and virus.

The health system in Venezuela is facing serious problems with regard to equipment, doctors, and medicines.

Medical services are weakened by the deterioration of infrastructure, the failure to maintain and update technical resources and equipment, worsening shortages of medicines and supplies.

Patients requiring treatment must bring their supplies, from toilet paper to syringes, to medicine to blankets;

When the supplies run out, treatment stops.

The instability has led to the mass emigration of health professionals. Even the majority of Cuban staffed hospitals have shut down.

As of January 2016, the Pharmaceutical Industry Chamber acknowledged a $6 billion debt to international suppliers.

Pharmacies are only able to provide seven out of every 100 drugs requested.

On January 27, 2016, Venezuela’s National Assembly declared a national emergency in healthcare.

On April 5, 2016, the National Assembly introduced Special Legislation to “address the humanitarian health crisis.”

This law would allow much needed international humanitarian assistance into the country. On June 9, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional.

The situation is desperate. Violence has been escalating in recent weeks, as shortages have become intolerable.

More than 250 looting incidents have been reported across the country this year. Eighty one percent were targeting food or drink deliveries on their distributions routes. The remaining 19%, shopping centers and warehouses.

Food shipments are now accompanied by armed guards, loyal to the Executive; selectively delivered to hungry citizens.

Last Tuesday, while we gathered during the General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, in Cumana, over 100 shops were looted and destroyed, with at least 3 deaths reported.

In the state of Trujillo, demonstrations have become a daily fixture with people protesting the lack of basic government services.

A 4-year old girl was tragically shot to death outside a market in Guatire; these are the irreparable collateral damages from escalating violence and increased shortages.

Without confidence in the security forces, people are seeking out their own resolutions to threats and instability.

The public prosecutor has opened investigations into 74 suspected vigilante killings in the first four months of the year.

Violent crime rates have reached historical highs.

Official government statistics, which are only released periodically, show 2015 rates at 58.1 homicides for 100,000 persons.

Civil society has counted 90 homicides per 100,000 persons.

In 2015, the number of violent deaths in Venezuela is higher than in Afghanistan; according to international statistics, it is the second most violent country in the world.

66.7% of the population reports feeling very or somewhat unsafe.

The victimization scale has also increased dramatically. In 2013, 54.2% of the population indicated that neither they nor their relatives had been victims of a crime. By 2015, that number had dropped to 10.6%.

People are increasingly concerned with the criminalization of the state.

Three out of four Venezuelans said in a national survey that they did not believe the police could protect them. Three out of four.

The police, the National Guard, judges, prosecutors and prison staff are ether complicit in or actively involved in organized crime, including kidnapping, murder, robbery or drug trafficking.

Paramilitary forces have been accused of summary executions.

There is no official data on persons killed by security forces.

1,320 members of the police and military forces that have been reportedly killed in the last four years; 75% were not on duty at the time of their deaths.

This year, there have already been more than 109 deaths of police and security forces reported. It is a perpetual state of civil conflict and violence.

The collapse of accountable and effective governance is only exacerbated by the endemic corruption that plagues the government.

A recent study by the Permanent Committee of Audits of the National Assembly raised concerns about $69 billion in government spending due to alleged corruption.

Two former members of cabinet of the late President Hugo Chávez—with all my respect—have launched complaints of missing oil revenues upwards of $300 billion.

Transparency International ranks Venezuela 158 out of 168 countries evaluated for corruption. This is the lowest in the Hemisphere.

The countries that fall below it—Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iraq— are illegitimate regimes or countries devastated by long-term wars.

The government has lost the confidence of the people, with 75% of Venezuelans considering corruption widespread.

Civil and political rights are meant to protect individual freedoms.

They guarantee the participation of individuals in the decision-making processes that affect them, without discrimination and without repression.

The Venezuelan government has created a systematic scheme of political persecution against the voices of dissent.

A free press is one that demonstrates robust coverage of political news, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, and the press is protected from undue legal or economic pressures.

The media in Venezuela regularly face criminal and administrative proceedings, travel bans, indirect censorship and harassment.

Targeted for publishing news or articles with a critical view of the government.

Loosely defined laws cite ‘hate speech’, ‘intolerance’, or ‘calls to violence’ to initiate administrative proceedings against media who question or challenge government propaganda, creating an environment of self-censorship.

Broadcast licenses are controlled through an opaque, discretionary process, and are frequently suspended, or not renewed.

Access to newsprint is controlled.

Business owners tied to the governing party are accused of buying media outlets, shifting the coverage to a pro-government tone.

In 2013, when President Nicolas Maduro took office, the Venezuelan Penal Forum registered 11 political prisoners.

Between January 2014 and May 31, 2016, the Forum has registered 4,253 detainees, arrests or imprisonments,

Each linked to various protests or criticisms against the Government.

There are currently 1986 people facing restrictive measures.

Another 94 are in jail.

These are Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezema, and others.

They are also targeted for propaganda.

That’s the case of Manny, a 54-year old father of two. He was also the Director General of the Dia Dia super market chain.

This past Sunday, Francisco Marquez Lara and Gabriel San Miguel were arbitrarily detained by the National Guard while travelling to the state of Portuguesa to support the recall referendum process.

They have been extensively interrogated by the police and the Intelligence Service, without lawyers present.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has identified more than 300 cases of arbitrary detention in Venezuela.

Since 2014, 145 cases of cruel and inhumane punishment, including torture, have been reported to the Venezuelan Penal Forum.

Its very structure has failed.

The separation of powers is one of the most basic elements of a democracy.

The Legislative, Executive and Judiciary each have their own set of responsibilities and authorities to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

In Venezuela, there is a consistent effort by the Executive and the Judiciary to impede and even nullify the normal workings of the National Assembly.

The Executive has repeatedly used unconstitutional interventions against the Legislative, with the collusion of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Court.

After the December 6 elections, and before the new legislature was called into session, 13 out of 32 magistrates, and 21 alternates of the Supreme Court were sworn in through partisan appointments.

From December 6 to date, 13 members and 21 alternates.

The subsequent Supreme Court decisions consistently block each new law adopted by the National Assembly.

A series of decisions barred three Congressmen from taking theirs seats, reducing the opposition’s supermajority to a simple majority.

Overruling the Legislature, the Supreme Court approved two Executive decrees declaring a State of Emergency, and a State of Economic Emergency, concentrating power in the hands of the Executive and placing arbitrary limits the legislature’s authority over public contracts, government officials and the budget.

Both Executive decrees have been extended twice.

Most recently on June 14, the Supreme Court ruled to further restrict the powers of the National Assemblies citing efforts to usurp the power to the Executive.

Supreme Court activism has skyrocketed with the number of rulings between February and March 2016, jumping from two to 252.

Between January 5 and May 24, there were 9 recorded appeals. All decisions ruled in favor of the Executive branch.

These examples clearly demonstrate the lack of independence of the Judiciary.

The tripartite system of democracy has failed, with the judicial branch now co-opted by the Executive.

More than 60% of lower-court judges may be removed from their posts, without due process, by a Commission of the Supreme Court.

Provisional and temporary appointments of judges and prosecutors undermine the judicial independence and potential for impartiality.

In turn, it is this very lack of credibility with the judiciary that discourages qualified candidates for seeking positions on the bench.

The lack of independence of the judiciary undermines citizen’s access to justice.

A recent survey indicated that only 31% of respondents said that they have trust in their national justice system.

A government’s legitimacy requires the confidence of its people.

In 1999, then President Hugo Chávez enshrined the recall referendum in Venezuela’s Constitution as a vehicle to ensure “participatory and protagonist democracy.”

The process is outlined in the Constitution.

In Venezuela, every office and magistrate popularly elected can be recalled.

Article 72 indicates that a recall referendum can be initiated “once half of the term in office to which an official has been elected has elapsed.”

If the referendum results in a Presidential ‘recall’ during the first four years, then a “new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 days.”

If the plebiscite takes place after this date, then the Executive Vice-President shall assume the presidency for the remainder of the term of office.

With the lack of clarity in the process, these dates can’t be confirmed.

The process must be triggered by the signatures of 1% of voters calling for a referendum, with demonstrated support of at least 20% of the voting public.

If the National Electoral Board verifies the results, the National Election Commission calls for a Presidential referendum.

In order to revoke the President term, voter turnout must be above 25%.

No one is above the Constitution.

Numerous complaints have been made of deliberate attempts to actively delay the process, including the verification of signatures, aside from what is mentioned in the report:

Delays in the delivery of the required canvassing sheets to collect the 1% signatures,

Delays in the verification and validation of the 1% of signatures,

The creation of four new requirements for digitization, verification, transcription, and auditing, and

Threats to publicly disseminate names of those signing in favor of the referendum.

The opposition coalition has submitted more than 10 times the number of required signatures. The validation process just began this week.

In addition, four out of five members of the National Electoral Commission are tied to the ruling party.

There are clear provisions, which have not been complied with, including the number of machines that must be available to citizens for signatures. This provision has definitely been violated, and there are five times fewer machines than there should be.

We are not here to punish or sanction Venezuela.

We are here to support a member state and help it back on the path to democracy—in this effort, I support the creation of a Group of Friends of the OAS.

So, today, I ask the Permanent Council to consider the recommendations that I have presented:
That the recall referendum be held before the end of 2016, in compliance with the deadline after the collecting of signatures of 90 days, would still provide time so it could be held this year,

That all political prisoners be released immediately,

That the executive and legislative branches of the Venezuelan government put aside their differences and immediately start working together to respond to the humanitarian crisis,

That all branches of government work together to bring stability and security back to the country,

That the Executive branch immediately cease efforts to undermine the democratically elected National Assembly and all laws that have been approved by the National Assembly be implemented and enforced,

That a new Supreme Court of Justice be appointed through a transparent process jointly agreed upon by the Executive and the Legislative branches of government,

That an independent body to combat corruption, composed of international experts, be created and empowered to address the financial situation in Venezuela,

And finally, that technical support be offered to the Truth Commission, and that a representation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights be ensured.

Yes, democracy requires dialogue, but in order to make this dialogue effective, it must be accompanied by action.

Democracy has no borders. Democracy is more than an election; it is about freedom.

Freedom of expression, association, assembly. It is an empowered citizenry. An independent judiciary.

A security apparatus that is trusted by and accountable to the people. It is the legitimate exercise of power, within the rule of law.

Democratic governments have a responsibility to their citizens.

We strongly welcome the offer to create a Group of Friends, and we consider it an extraordinary first step toward bringing the OAS closer to the solutions that the international community is demanding.

I especially thank all of you for the attention you have given me today.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have made this presentation as briefly and as thoroughly as possible while responding to your request. Undoubtedly, much more information remains to be made available to countries.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.