Assault on the OAS

MEXICO CITY – These last few weeks have been unfortunate for Latin America. In addition to the massive earthquakes that struck Haiti and Chile, the region has also been shaken by a hunger-strike death in Cuba and a growing crackdown on human rights and opposition in Venezuela.

Making matters worse, the region also witnessed a superficially silly but actually dangerous attempt by the ALBA countries – Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay – to create, with the acquiescence of Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, a regional organization excluding the United States and Canada. The hope is that this new grouping will eventually supplant the Organization of American States.

The OAS will have to decide on March 24 whether to re-elect Chilean diplomat and politician José Miguel Insulza as its Secretary General. It should, because Insulza is probably the only figure who can both learn from and correct the OAS’s mistakes of the past five years, and thus save it from oblivion.

The crackdown on freedom of the press, the rule of law, and electoral processes in Venezuela – as reported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and, most recently, in a damning, 300-page report by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission – has been steadily worsening. The OAS can involve itself in domestic electoral, political, or human rights issues only if a majority of its members mandates it to do so, and countries like Mexico and Brazil are fearful of picking fights with Venezuela. Nevertheless, Hugo Chávez is right to be nervous.