Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


May 24, 2017 - Oslo, Norway

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The Western Hemisphere is unique. In the Americas, democracy is the foundation of a common vision of who we are and what we believe in.

The Organization of American States is our foremost political forum; the space where diplomacy, democracy and human rights come together.

Our values and principles are clearly articulated in our founding documents – in the OAS Charter, the American Charter of Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a true “Constitution of the Americas”.

Our commitment to democracy is something we have chosen. Every Member State negotiated and voluntarily signed onto these agreements “in the name of their peoples”.

That’s why my motto at the OAS is “more rights for more people.” These ethical and moral values that we subscribe to mean nothing if we do not make them a daily reality for the people of the Americas

Democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms; these ideas are not simply words on paper, or exist only when it’s convenient, or reinforce what we want. They must exist always. Democracy can never be negotiated or manipulated to achieve narrow domestic interests.

The countries of our hemisphere have a diverse set of democratic systems, each at different stages of political maturity and consolidation, offering better social protections and more integrated economies.

However, we cannot be complacent and take this for granted. Democracy is a process, not an end, and there are real and present risks around the world.

Corruption, weak rule of law, growing insecurity, inequality and social exclusion; political polarization, the erosion of political and human rights, weak political parties, and the closure of civic space all undermine democratic consolidation.

Democratic governance is under severe strain in a handful of countries in the Americas. In one, democracy has completely failed.

Venezuela stands out today, as the only former democracy in the region to deteriorate into unrestrained dictatorship.

In June 2016, I executed my responsibility as Secretary General to invoke article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to respond to the alteration of the democratic and constitutional order in Venezuela.

Through two comprehensive reports I detailed the humanitarian, social, economic, and political deterioration in the country.

Today, it suffers under the worst government in its history. It has destroyed the country’s institutions, destroyed the economy and taken away the rights of the people.

A humanitarian tragedy is taking place before our very eyes. There is no food in the stores and the government watches as its citizens starve.

The country’s public health care system has collapsed. There are no medicines and patients have to bring whatever supplies they might need with them for treatment - if they can even find them or afford them on the black market.

The GDP is in a free fall. Inflation is predicted to reach 1600% next year. The currency is basically worthless and more than three quarters of Venezuelans are living in poverty.

Violent crime has sky-rocketed, as Venezuela now has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Its leaders are engaged in international drug trafficking and steal billions of dollars from state accounts instead of buying food to feed the starving population.

The public has no recourse. Anyone who is critical or who opposes the government is a target. They are exiled, banned from public office or end up in jail, beaten, tortured, or dead.

The security apparatus answers to no one and the government rejected the last constitutional solution to the crisis, suspending elections indefinitely.

The judiciary is controlled by the Executive and the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of all its immunities and powers. All semblance of democracy has been eliminated.

The self-inflicted coup perpetrated by the Supreme Court last March was simply the Court’s latest move in its longstanding practice of neutering the National Assembly.
The unlawful call for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution that former President Chavez tailor made for his vision of Venezuela, can only be to further strengthen the dictatorial powers of the current regime.

Even the country’s Attorney General has denounced the constituent assembly as not necessary, pertinent or convenient and said it would accelerate the crisis in the country.

Having lost public support, the regime in Venezuela responds with force. Since they can no longer rule by popular will, they have demonstrated that they will use any means necessary to consolidate their power and privilege.

As we’re talking in comfort and safety, people are dying. Venezuelans- men, women, children, even infants- they are starving, they are dying without medical care-- they are being killed in the streets by the security forces.

In 50 days of protests almost 70 people have been killed. These Venezuelans are dying for the rights and protections that should have been guaranteed to them, for the rights that many of you listening, take for granted.

Thousands have been injured in the protests. More than 2730 have been arrested and 1150 are still in detention. Targeted political prisoners have reached 271.

The Government has blood on its hands. Not only is it’s corruption and incompetence responsible for the deaths of countless citizens, but it is handing out military grade weapons to armed gangs, known as Colectivos, urging these paramilitaries to confront the street protests.

The Government has become the very thing that threatens the lives of its citizens. It is a murderous clique sitting at the top of the chain of command.

The brutal repression shows the National Guard as the violator of the rights to life, freedom and guarantees of due process. Behind every detainee, every political prisoner, behind every person tortured and killed, there is someone institutionally responsible.

The Minister of the Interior, Nestor Reverol, and Major General Benavides Torres, who heads the National Guard, lead the two institutions charged with the use of force.
They are both responsible for every aggression, every shot and every death.

They gave the orders which led to the deaths of the protesters who dreamed of a different country - one free of tyranny.

They gave the orders to illegally detain the political prisoners. They gave the orders to torture people.
They think that the government’s impunity to murder will last forever. They obviously don’t know the fate of those who have murdered and tortured before in the Continent.

The Minister of Defense, General Vladimir Padrino López, is fully responsible for applying military justice to civilians who demonstrate peacefully, all under a misplaced loyalty to a regime that has broken the country's institutions and murders to stay in power. He is the cornerstone of the use of force to sustain the self-inflicted coup d’état.

No civilian, not even ordinary criminals can be subjected to the decisions of a military court. The judgements of these courts are illegitimate, fabricated to keep opposition supporters silenced and out of public life.

The armed forces cannot continue killing and torturing the people with impunity. Killing and torture for political motives, for thinking differently, is an international crime – it is a crime against humanity.
On April 3rd, the Permanent Council of the OAS approved a Resolution declaring there was an alteration of the constitutional order in Venezuela. While a necessary first step, much more needs to be done.

The urgency is here and now. The international community must come together and support the people of Venezuela.
The world must forcefully condemn the actions of this regime and return the power to the people of Venezuela.
We must use all of the tools available to us to mount pressure, end the impunity and hold this dictatorship accountable.

You all know that I come from the political Left.
The very concept of the Left is only viable in a democratic system.

This is because the defense of fundamental freedoms is essential to achieve a just, equal and inclusive society - which is what the Left should always fight for.
The handful of governments in the region who still support the dictatorship in Caracas should say, what specifically, they like about the regime.

Would they like to hold absolute power over all branches of government?

Would they like to murder through violent repression in their countries?

Would they like to have political prisoners? Would they like to use torture?

Unfortunately, the courage to defend democracy is not sufficiently common in the continent. It is easier to attack your adversaries based on ideological differences rather than defend democracy on the basis of the principles of the Democratic Charter. Silence, in many cases, has meant complicity with the regime.

The other day I was accused of belligerence because I denounced the human rights violations and condemned the deaths in Venezuela.
That’s all I’ve have done. So what does this accusation imply?

For some it implies that they don’t want voices to break the silence that provides impunity to the regime.
The absurdity in all this is that the belligerence is not tied to the murder of protesters or to the torture of political prisoners. The belligerence stems, apparently and ironically, from denouncing these crimes.

This is a trap that the international community frequently falls into.

We must live up to the democratic principles that our community of states has committed to uphold and promote.
This regime has the power to quickly bring a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis.

This government can offer Venezuela, their own country, their own people, the return of democracy and restore the constitutional order. Yet they choose not to.

There is only one democratic solution for Venezuela- the solution the people are demanding; and end to the violent repression, the release of all political prisoners; a channel for humanitarian assistance; and immediate, full free and fair general elections.

Thank you.