Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights goes into effect today—a year after the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez officially notified the Organization of American States (OAS) that his country would withdraw from the human rights body. Chávez accused the Court, an autonomous branch of the OAS, of serving U.S. interests.
Venezuela is the second country to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights and withdraw from the Inter-American Court, following Trinidad and Tobago’s pullout in 1998. Two other countries in the hemisphere—the U.S. and Canada—have not ratified the American Convention. Once the withdrawal becomes official, the Court will no longer be able to recognize and denounce human right violations in Venezuela, but the Commission will continue to evaluate and issue reports about the state of human rights in the country. This means that Venezuela will still form part of the inter-American human rights system since the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can still monitor the country.
According to Venezuelan constitutional lawyer Arturo Peraza, denouncing the American Convention and withdrawing from the Court breaches the Venezuelan Constitution and the spirit of the 1999 Constituent Assembly. The American Convention, or Pact of San José, is mentioned in Article 339 on the Venezuelan Constitution, establishing that state of emergency decrees must meet the requirements set forth in the Convention. Article 23 also awards the Convention a constitutional status; Article 31 recognizes that citizens can file human rights claims and requests with international human rights bodies.
José Miguel Vivanco , Americas director for Human Rights Watch, called on members of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) to persuade Venezuela to reconsider its decision, which Vivanco said could have severe implications on the Inter-American human rights system. Venezuela is a Mercosur member along with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua replied last weekend that “the inter-American system is the one that has to reconsider.”
Venezuela, along with Ecuador and other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) bloc, supports an ongoing process to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This includes restricting its discretionary funding and the role of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, which reports on freedom of expression violations throughout the Americas.
The leaders of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—ALBA) are meeting today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to discuss ways to further integrate the regional bloc and widen the scope of its work on social and economic issues.
This is the first ALBA summit since the March 5 death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—who launched the regional alliance with Fidel Castro in 2004. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are attending the meeting. The heads of state are joined by official delegations from the bloc’s member countries, including Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Lucia. Representatives from Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and Haiti are participating as special guests.
Today’s agenda includes a discussion on the bloc’s institutional strength, the implementation of a regional currency known as the Sistema Único de Compensación Regional (Unified System for Regional Compensation—SUCRE), the Common Reserve Fund, and strategies to expand social programs. According to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the focus will be on achieving regional integration centered on values such as the respect for human dignity and economic development, the right to self-determination, and the defense of each member’s sovereignty.
The ALBA Social Movements Council Summit—a two-day meeting of social organizations—is also taking place this week and will conclude in Guayaquil today. In preparation for the Presidential Summit, more than 200 delegates from member countries participated in the meeting where the focus centered on social issues such as the role of women, natural resource extraction and the agrarian revolution, among other topics.
The spectacle of certain Latin American countries lining up to offer asylum to National Security Administration (NSA) contractor and leaker Edward Snowden has become a sad reminder of the lack of diplomatic maturity of those countries and a red herring to the whole issue that they want to highlight.
Whatever you may think of the man’s motives (and believe his future should be), Snowden’s revelations that the U.S. NSA was surreptitiously collecting data on U.S. and foreign phone calls and Internet communications should give us all pause and are a legitimate point for domestic and diplomatic debate.
But that’s not what we’re getting when the presidents of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua line up to offer the 29-year-old asylum and the president of Argentina calls a poorly-attended summit to denounce the unfortunate detention of Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria after he glibly offered Snowden asylum when he was in Russia. Those reactions have been a sharp reminder of the divisions in the hemisphere, between the rhetorically/ideologically oriented countries of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America—ALBA) and the rest.
Leaving aside the issue of how Snowden—without a passport—could leave the Moscow transit lounge, set foot on an airplane whose company will surely be banned from landing in U.S. airports in the future, and cross the airspace of countries opposed to seeing him leave, there is the question of “Why make the offer?” What is the practical benefit of giving the guy safe haven?
“Pese a casi dos años de reflexión y discusión, los países de la región llegaron sin un acuerdo a la Asamblea General de la OEA convocada para definir el futuro de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH)”. Así encabezaron distintos medios de comunicación su cubrimiento de la maratónica reunión de cancilleres realizada el 22 de marzo en Washington DC.
Esta presentación, sin embargo, no captura del todo su compleja realidad. En primer lugar, si bien es cierto que no existía acuerdo total en todos los países, es innegable que existía una inmensa mayoría que consideraba que la CIDH había respondido satisfactoriamente sus dudas y que, por tanto, querían dar por terminado este largo proceso.
Por el contrario, en una posición aislada y minoritaria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Venezuela (los llamados bloque Alba), pese a que sus propuestas habían sido derrotadas, insistían en mantener abierto un debate sobre las funciones y límites del órgano de derechos humanos. No existía entonces un riesgo de división hemisférica. Se trataba de un grupo radical y minoritario frente a un amplio consenso regional.
En segundo lugar, la entrada no da cuenta de que a esta posición se llegó tras un gran esfuerzo. No hay que olvidar que en la Asamblea General de Cochabamba las tímidas voces de defensa de la CIDH de Estados Unidos, Canadá y Costa Rica fueron literalmente acalladas por la euforia colectiva de un grupo de países que pedía a gritos una reforma. Fue gracias a que la prensa independiente y la sociedad civil de las Américas, que se dieron a la tarea de defender al sistema de protección del juego político de conveniencia de los gobiernos, que se llegó a esta posición mayoritaria del viernes. Los progresistas y protagónicos discursos de los cancilleres en la Asamblea General guardan muy poca relación con los ataques de hace no muchos meses.
Top stories this week are likely to include: student protests in Chile; Ecuador and the UK continue Assange standoff; newspaper kiosks close in Buenos Aires; Brazilian candidates start regular media appearances ahead of municipal elections.
Student Protests Persists in Chile: More than 130 activists were arrested last Thursday and Friday during protests at the University of Chile and other educational institutions. Gabriel Boric, president of the University of Chile’s student federation, responded via his Twitter account, “Secondary school students and university students are in the same fight and we are not going to take a step back on this.” The students demand free higher education for all. At the same time, a recent Harvard study found that Chile raised student learning more than three times the average in a 49-country survey; still, its PISA scores are in the bottom third of all countries. Expect more protests this week and a continued hardening stance from the government. Today, police used tear gas to clear student occupiers from the Instituto Nacional.
Ecuador and UK Continue Assange Standoff: Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) expressed their solidarity with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa for granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the weekend. They rebuked Britain for "threatening" to storm the country's embassy in London. A seven-point declaration notes that Britain's threat to force its way into the embassy is counter to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations as well as the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Correa’s decision was also backed by member nations of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which issued a joint statement expressing "emphatic support.” AQ Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Sabatini, observes that “given all the other issues in the region—including challenges to freedom of expression in Venezuela and Ecuador themselves—it’s hard to believe that expressing support for Ecuador’s offering asylum to Julian Assange for unsubstantiated allegations of a U.S. witch hunt should rise to the level of a foreign ministers’ statement.”
Buenos Aires Newspaper Kiosks Threaten to Close Again: Kiosk vendors refused to sell newspapers in Buenos Aires and the surrounding urban zones this past weekend in protest over a decrease in fees collected from each newspaper sale. Distributors and publishers unilaterally reduced the take for vendors to 32 percent of the newspaper price; the vendors want it to be raised to 40 percent. Omar Plaini, secretary general of Sindicato de Vendedores de Diarios y Revistas (SIVENDIA), noted, “we will join our colleagues at a meeting next Friday and, if they do not comply with our claim for the return of what they seized unilaterally and arbitrarily, which is 20 percent of our income, we will have a battle plan that will extend what we are doing today.” He declared that the closures could take place again this weekend if no agreement is reached.
Brazilian Candidates to Begin Free Radio and Television Appearances: This week, candidates for mayor, vice-mayor and city councilor will begin appearing on radio and TV as part of the obligatory free programing mandated as part of the Horário Gratuito de Propaganda Eleitoral (HGPE). Elections will take place on October 7 and October 28, 2012, in the 5,566 municipalities across Brazil. The one hour of daily programming is divided into two half hour blocks: 7:00-7:30 am and 12:00- 12:30 pm for radio; and 1:00-1:30 pm and 8:30-9:00 pm for television. Beyond the TV and radio coverage, “look for a continued shifting of political alliances as national alliances don’t necessarily translate into local ones. Still, the results will have important national implications,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
No nos digamos mentiras: los únicos resultados concretos de la Cumbre de las Américas se hicieron a la medida de Estados Unidos. Unas pocas horas antes de que el presidente Barack Obama aterrizara en Cartagena, dos leyes sustanciales para la aprobación del Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) fueron aprobadas a pupitrazo por el Congreso de Colombia.
Por su propio veto (el de Estados Unidos), temas cruciales que marcaron la agenda mediática y política las últimas semanas, no se discutieron en la Cumbre: la inclusión de Cuba en próximos encuentros continentales y la defensa argentina de la soberanía de las Islas Malvinas. Ese disenso motivó que no hubiera declaración final conjunta. Una cumbre sin declaración, es como una reunión sin acta: ni idea quién estuvo ni qué se dijo, ni en qué orden, ni quién apoyo qué. Claro, aquí se sabe más que eso, pero varias de las reuniones fueron privadas, y las públicas fueron sin duda políticamente correctas.
Por tanto más hubiera valido hacer una cumbre bilateral y no un encuentro con 31 invitados que costó al menos 25 millones de dólares (según la propia cancillería) en los que algunos se fueron molestos (Argentina y Bolivia), otros cortaron su estancia inexplicablemente (Brasil) y otros se tomaron fotos con los indígenas Wayuu y hablaron de responsabilidad social (Chile) pero a la hora de la verdad tampoco aportaron al debate grueso que prometía marcar la diferencia en esta cumbre: la discusión sobre la política antidrogas.
Pese a que el mismo José Miguel Insulza, secretario general de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) dijo que ya era hora de una estrategia antidrogas propia para el continente, desde pronto Barack Obama, entrevistado en medios latinoamericanos, tanto como Juan Manuel Santos en medios norteamericanos, lanzó frases políticamente correctas como que aceptaba la responsabilidad de su país en el consumo, pero siempre fue claro en que no estaba de acuerdo con la despenalización.
Hugo Chávez is urging fellow left-leaning leaders to attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas, despite their displeasure at Cuba’s exclusion from it. The Venezuelan president confirmed Tuesday that he plans to attend the summit in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14-15, and urged other members of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) to follow suit, though they had previously threatened to boycott the meeting if Cuba were not invited. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced earlier this month that Cuba would not be attending the summit, following a failure to reach consensus during bilateral talks.
In a phone call broadcast on state television Monday night, Chávez said, “This will be the last so-called Summit of the Americas without Cuba,” as “a good number of us” would advocate Cuba’s inclusion in future such gatherings at the Summit. He said he had discussed the issue with leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Nonetheless, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said ALBA member countries still had yet to decide whether to participate. That position was reiterated by Deputy Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Alurralde yesterday, who said in a statement to Prensa Latina that “Cuba has to be present, [and] must be part of the family living in this continent.” He did not say, though, which method of promoting Cuba’s inclusion was preferable—skipping the regional meeting by way of protest, or demanding Cuba’s inclusion from within it. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, said last week he would not attend in protest.
The Venezuelan and Bolivian statements came just after President Barack Obama confirmed his participation at the summit. Other high-profile attendees will include Microsoft founder Bill Gates, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick. One issue expected to be a hot topic is drug decriminalization, which Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina has firmly advocated of late, and which Santos and Mexican president Felipe Calderón are open to discussion. The U.S. has said it is “willing to listen” to the debate at the upcoming meeting but remains firmly opposed to legalization.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that Cuba will not be invited to attend the Summit of the Americas, which he will host in Cartagena, Colombia, on April 14 and 15. The announcement came at the conclusion of a trip to Cuba where the Colombian president had met with Raúl Castro. Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, said that this verdict was not a new revelation, dryly calling it a “chronicle of an exclusion foretold.” He nonetheless also said that Cuba’s exclusion from these summits is unacceptable and unjustifiable. Meanwhile, he asserted that the U.S. was behind the agenda, and is following a policy of economic and political blockade that “violates the human rights of the citizens of Cuba.”
On Wednesday Raúl Castro thanked Santos for his efforts to include Cuba in the Cartagena Aummit. Since the first Summit in 1994 the communist-led country has been excluded from participating in the hemispheric gathering. Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela have pushed in recent years for Cuba to be included in the meeting. Santos had previously said that Cuba’s participation in the Summit would require consensus; on Thursday he said he was “not able to find” that consensus. Some members of the leftist Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas) had said they would boycott the Summit if Cuba was not invited. The status of their participation remains to be determined.
At the conclusion of the Fifth Summit of the Americas in 2009, President Obama called for hemispheric partnership in place of “stale debates and old ideologies.” Three years later, the stalest of all debates is once again dividing the region. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa leads a threat to protest the absence of Cuba at the Sixth Summit by boycotting the entire event. While the political storm clouds will likely dissipate before April, the episode reveals the magnified symbolic importance of the lone outlier in the inter-American system.
Correa’s proposal immediately met with the avid support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the other members of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) bloc gathered in Caracas last weekend. In response, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department appropriately pointed out that Cuba has not reached the threshold for participation—the essential elements of a representative democracy—as recognized at the Third Summit in Québec in 2001. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, hastened to add that the Cuban government has not requested “the process of dialogue” necessary to participate in the OAS, as stipulated by the 2009 resolution that revoked its nearly five-decade-old suspension. Meanwhile, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín has reiterated that an invitation does not depend on her government, which will host the Summit in Cartagena, but rather must result from a consensus decision among the member countries.
The notable lack of consensus is striking for what it says about the incentives and challenges faced by each of the actors involved. Policy toward Cuba has always generated controversy, less for the island itself than for larger principles; Cuba can represent either a litmus test for a government’s commitment to human rights and democracy or, as is so common in Latin America, a measure of a government’s independence from Washington. While this week’s debate does indeed spark a sense of déjà vu, it also demonstrates shifting dynamics in inter-American relations.
For Ecuador’s agent provocateur, Cuba fits neatly into a strategy of discrediting the OAS in favor of hemispheric organizations that exclude the United States, principally the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Correa is locked in a fight with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous branch of the OAS that has documented his abuse of press freedoms. Fellow firebrand Hugo Chávez is facing his own domestic problems, with rising inflation and crime endangering his electoral prospects in the October presidential contest while also contributing to a loss of regional influence for the ALBA bloc. In this context, Caracas and Quito have little to lose in promoting Havana’s participation in the Cartagena Summit, even knowing that the proposal will be a non-starter in Washington.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Cops and Soldiers Clash in Brazilian Police Strike
Soldiers clashed with police in the Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia, where police are protesting in favor of a 30 percent wage increase. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at police occupying the state’s legislature. The BBC reports that crime has soared in Salvador since the start of the protests last week, with the murder rate more than doubling. Jornal do Brasil reported on February 8 that police strikes could inspire strikes in six other states this week, including Rio de Janeiro. The protests come two weeks before the country’s carnival celebrations, leading some to accuse the police of holding the government hostage.
In Peru and Argentina, Top U.S. Envoy Promotes Educational Exchange
Mercopress reports on U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson’s travels to Peru and Argentina this week. Jacobson will introduce Obama’s "100,000 Strong in the Americas" plan to increase international study between the United States and Latin America, as well as tackle a number of economic and civil society issues with the Peruvian and Argentine leadership.
U.S. Leaves Diplomatic Posts Vacant in Latin America
An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the lag in appointing U.S. ambassadors to a number of Latin American diplomatic posts. The article observes that no other region in the world has as many U.S. ambassadorial vacancies. A meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on February 7 decided to delay the decision on any pending nominations.
A DREAM Deferred? Looking at the ARMS Act
Feet in 2 Worlds blog questions the wisdom of the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) act, introduced by Representative David Rivera (R-FL) on January 26. The ARMS Act is a revised version of the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to youths brought to the United States illegally as children if they completed college or served time in the military. The ARMS Act removes the education component. The blog asks if this might lead some to “sign up out of desperation” rather than an honest commitment to military service, and if it is wise to “deport trained professionals or students who have benefited from the public education system funded by the taxpayers.”
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.