Last week in Washington, the Organization of American States (OAS) held an election for secretary general. As expected, incumbent José Miguel Insulza won reelection to a second five-year term.
In past years, OAS elections have been full of pomp and circumstance, with presidents and foreign ministers from across the region in attendance. This year, however, not a single president made the trip. There were only two foreign ministers present, one of whom, Alfredo Moreno of Chile, was obliged to be there because Insulza is a Chilean.
The utter lack of enthusiasm for the OAS election highlights the institution’s growing irrelevance. While certain OAS bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, are functioning effectively and doing important work, the Permanent Council has failed to address systematic violations of human rights in countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.
After Insulza was reelected, Moreno declared that the OAS boss has a responsibility to ensure that the institution is a robust defender of democracy throughout the hemisphere. But in his own remarks, Insulza did not inspire much confidence. He emphasized that the OAS “is not a police organization,” and that “democratic reforms must come from the consent of the member states.” In other words, don’t expect Insulza to mount an aggressive campaign on behalf of Venezuelan freedom.
Speaking of which, the human rights situation in Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Republic continues to get worse. Just last week, the president of Globovisión, the only opposition TV network still broadcasting, was temporarily detained and then prohibited from leaving Venezuela until the government finishes investigating him for criticizing Chávez at a recent Inter-American Press Association conference. The Venezuelan attorney general explained that Guillermo Zuloaga could potentially be charged with making “offensive or slanderous remarks” and “spreading false information.”
Meanwhile, opposition politician (and onetime Chávez supporter) Wilmer Azuaje has been arrested on what appear to be trumped-up allegations. His real “crime,” from the government’s perspective, was asserting that members of the Chávez family are guilty of corruption. Standing outside a Venezuelan courthouse this past weekend, Azuaje told reporters that Chávez is “jailing political leaders to try to distract people’s attention” from problems such as high inflation and energy shortages.
Indeed, as the OAS drifts further toward irrelevance, Venezuela drifts further toward full-scale Cubanization.
Jaime Daremblum is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.