Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling through Latin America this week. Hopefully she will be discussing the systematic human rights abuses and extraterritorial aggression of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. Just today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Spanish National Court magistrate Eloy Velasco has accused the Venezuelan government of “collaborating with rebel groups to assassinate Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and other top political figures.” More specifically, Judge Velasco has accused the Chávez regime of working with two brutal terrorist organizations—the Colombian FARC and the Spanish ETA—to carry out these wicked acts. If the allegations are true, it means that the threat posed by Chávez is even more dangerous than we had thought.
Secretary Clinton should take note of Judge Velasco’s charges. She should also use her meetings with Latin American officials to talk about a new report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which is part of the broader Organization of American States (OAS). The IACHR report documents extensive and violent political persecution in Venezuela, along with persistent attacks on the independence of its democratic institutions and the freedom of its journalists.
In a joint statement issued on Monday, Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) of the Foreign Relations Committee expressed their hope that U.S. officials will urge the OAS Permanent Council to discuss the report. “By permitting the timely submission of this report to the political bodies, the OAS would expose broadly the clear erosion of democracy in Venezuela, as well as give credibility to its role in protecting essential elements of representative democracy,” said Lugar and Dodd. “Venezuela is a critical testing ground of OAS support for democracy and human rights, where basic civil liberties are under threat.”
As a January 2010 report commissioned by Senator Lugar pointed out, the OAS has been “faltering” in its mission to defend democracy across the hemisphere. OAS secretary general José Miguel Insulza, who is favored to win reelection as OAS boss on March 24, now has a choice: He can either embrace the IACHR report and confront the abuses in Venezuela, or he can disregard the report and make his institution even more irrelevant. Given Insulza’s track record of appeasing Chávez and ignoring the anti-democratic policies of other leftist governments in Latin America, I fear he will make the wrong decision.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.