This meeting of the Permanent Council is taking place an unusually long time after it was called for by a member state making legitimate use of its right of convocation. This delay has prompted unnecessary tension among us, and I say unnecessary because this Council has, over the years, addressed numerous debates involving major differences of opinion, in which readiness to engage in constructive dialogue has invariably prevailed. I truly trust that today will be no exception.
The expectations aroused have, nevertheless, their positive side: they demonstrate, once again, that this Organization remains the principal forum for debate in the Americas. It’s an indispensable forum, as well, because this is where all parties meet to argue and disagree openly, as befits a democracy.
The fact that anyone could suggest that a mere OAS meeting, conducted according to rules of procedure that our own member states adopted unanimously, constitutes "undue interference" or a form of intervention, demonstrates the significant role that this Organization plays to this day. The same message is sent by others who think that here they can find solutions to a crisis that must only be resolved in their own country and who demand that this Council or this Secretary General impose sanctions on their opponents, in addition to their own laws and the powers vested in them.
In this regard, Mr. Chair, here we see a swapping of roles: Those who just a few years ago brandished the Inter-American Democratic Charter to demand severe sanctions against the de facto government in Honduras are now saying that even mentioning a crisis that has already led to the deaths of a large number of people constitutes interference; while those who denounced (and still denounce) the steps we took when faced with an obvious coup d’état as an attack on a nation's sovereignty –I’m referring again to Honduras-, now demand that we help them overthrow a government recently chosen in a democratic election.
Crises tend to polarize and this Organization, which is quintessentially political, is always at the center of the storm. What is said here is heard all over the world. Yet, being at that center and attempting to bring some rationality into the debate will always trigger, for those holding extreme positions on either side, suspicion, contempt, and even insults.
For that reason, I want to reiterate today that the OAS is not here to interfere in the internal affairs of its member states, but rather, wherever possible, to help overcome such crises through common accord. The OAS is here to hear all opinions and to ensure that nobody is disqualified or maltreated for submitting their complaints or demands to the Organization. Here, those on the left, right, or center of the political spectrum have equal rights. The OAS is governed openly and as everybody knows, with respect for democracy and the rule of law, by its member states, gathered together in this Council and in the General Assembly.
For decades already, no single member has been able to dominate the will of the others. Any attempt to divide the OAS conceptually from its member states is a disrespectful fiction of the imagination.
All of us have followed, closely and with deep concern, the events of the past few weeks in our sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Whenever a member state is beset by deep unrest and internal strife to a point at which is democracy is in peril, it is natural that all the others should be concerned.
Today, it is undeniable that there is a profound political crisis, characterized above all by a split and confrontation between most political and social actors into irreconcilable bands. When the opposition mobilizes, it does so on a massive scale, and poses strong demands; when the Government's supporters take to the streets, their numbers and the fervor of their demands are also huge. Speeches are inflamed and radical, with few calling for understanding and reconciliation. When someone talks of dialogue, he or she does not appear to be extending a hand to shake, but a fist.
Two factors are exacerbating the situation: the first is that the political crisis is preventing sufficient attention being paid to the grave economic and security plight that Venezuela has been facing for some time. Without wishing to delve further, it is clear that unless in-depth -- and possibly difficult or unpopular -- measures are taken, that crisis will also get worse. Yet no concrete step can be taken in a country that is divided and split. Everyone is frightened of putting forward in-depth solutions or supporting those that their opponents advocate, for fear of weakening their own stance.
The second factor is violence in both the protest and/or the response to it. The clashes of the past few weeks have led to numerous people being killed, wounded, or detained. The numbers are rising, along with the number of multiple and documents cases of human rights violations.
Much of this is recognized by both the Government and the opposition; nobody denies it, everyone says something must be done about it. Nevertheless, all insist on blaming their opponents and think, one-sidedly, that they can win the battle.
This perception is deeply flawed: the road to reconciliation so badly needed in Venezuela today does not lie in the overthrow of a government elected less than one year ago, nor in the disregard and constant harassment of an opposition that also made a strong showing at the polls.
Both sides are an indispensable part of a country that needs all its people as it forges its future. Seeking to "win" this battle is a sure path to a decades-long national split between the vanquished and the conquerors. History is replete with examples of when division and confrontation destroyed democracy and ushered in long bouts of dictatorship. That is what happened in my country and thousands died.
Unless, of course, all win and we, for our part, refuse to believe that such a solution is not possible. It is possible, but only through a genuine national dialogue, in which all relevant actors participate, and in which the agenda addresses the root causes of the crisis. This was the proposal of Rubén Blades, who was quoted by Ambassador Chaderton, despite having been criticized by President Maduro. In this respect, he was luckier than me.
Nevertheless, I insist in any case, that the final agenda must be set by the Venezuelans themselves by common agreement. All we hope for is that they get together, with a different attitude, to negotiate these or other issues.
Accordingly, I appreciate the Government's initiative of calling for a national dialogue, and the inclusion in it of representatives of the business sector and some opposition politicians and parliamentarians. But it is also essential that the principal party leaders and opposition leaders with the most backing are also parties to the dialogue. That requires major effort and presupposes a commitment by all sides to eschew aggression, preconditions, and condemnation, because that will make it possible to forge the trust that today is non-existent. Indeed, the political crisis is also a crisis of mistrust, which only positive gestures can overcome.
I believe that ideally the Dialogue for Reconciliation in Venezuela should be conducted by Venezuelan citizens trusted by all, endowed with the public recognition and the moral authority needed to follow up on agreements reached. That is what best suits a crisis that is internal and that should continue to be treated as such.
Now, if no such internal trust is in place, there remains the option of resorting to external mediation. Here, I want to be crystal clear: whoever the mediator is, be it an international organization, a government, or a Head of State of another country, the Church, or a group of people, that should not be cause for disagreement among us.
I, for one, will never put institutional aspirations above the needs of the member states, nor will I claim for the OAS a role that is not requested of it by all the parties involved. There are numerous examples of what I mean: in the dispute between Colombia and Ecuador (in which Venezuela was also involved) in 2007, the peaceful outcome was achieved at a meeting of the Rio Group (today's CELAC); the issue of Honduras' reincorporation into the OAS was not achieved here but thanks to the mediation of the Presidents of Colombia and Venezuela; during the Haitian crisis, over a decade ago, we gladly accepted U.N. leadership in that country and still maintain our association with it, in support of democracy and political stability in Haiti. As far as I know, none of those processes, which the OAS validated in its General Assembly, were labeled "interference."
Naturally, the OAS will also stand ready to help. I am sure that this Council will support dialogue, agreement, and national reconciliation in Venezuela, whatever institutional instrument the parties choose for that dialogue. We want peace in Venezuela and that that beloved nation continue to contribute to development and friendship among all the peoples of the Americas.
Thank you very much.