The 2015 Summit of the Americas: What Wasn’t Said

Cumbre de las Americas
Cumbre de las Americas

Most reports about the Summit of the Americas, held two weeks ago in Panama, coincided regarding one issue: it was historic. The reconciliation of the United States and Cuba signaled the return of the latter to this hemispheric forum. Aside from that, there wasn’t enough time or consensus to talk about other pressing issues in the region; one of which being the deterioration of human rights in Venezuela. This was not approached by any of the member countries of the OAS. So what does this mean for Venezuela? And what is the position of the region regarding human rights? These are some of the questions addressed in this article.

Venezuela left diminished but unscathed

In addition to dire economic crisis, Venezuela is also facing accusations of human rights violations; indeed, the 2014 massive protests[1] led to a wave of repressions and detentions of students and political figures of the opposition. Around 3,000 people were detained that year, including Leopoldo López, leading figure of the opposition. Though the government has released most detainees, Foro Penal Venezolano[2], a Venezuelan NGO, calculates that 89 citizens remain behind bars. 2015 has seen new additions to the list of political prisoners with the detention of Caracas Major, Antonio Ledezma, in February.

Nevertheless, none of this was discussed at the Summit. Still, most analysts agreed that Venezuela was one of the great “losers” of the event. The fact that Maduro was unable to reach a consensus against Obama’s executive order[3] and his growing isolation in the region seems to be the main components that contributed to Venezuela’s failure at the Summit. To a certain degree, this was expected. The drop in oil prices has eroded Venezuelan foreign policy and, thus, its power to maintain its regional clientele. Therefore, the influence of the country in the region has diminished but, besides the US, no other country has vocally confronted the Maduro administration in relation to human rights violations.

In that regard, Venezuela went away unscathed because it avoided confronting accusations of political persecution, arbitrary imprisonment and even torture.  What’s more, Obama’s executive order has bolstered Maduro’s popularity and could give him more justification to continue infringing human rights in the country. Additionally, Maduro still enjoys the support of influential allies like Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Andrés Oppenheimer[4] talked about an ideological fatigue[5] after the Summit, giving way to more pragmatic relations between countries. From the human rights perspective, this could be worrisome. It could mean downplaying issues like human rights and democracy in the hemisphere in favor of preserving and bolstering economic and commercial interests.

Therefore, despite Venezuela’s loss of influence in the region, it still enjoys the support of some important countries and faces no real regional pressure to alter its policy towards human rights violations. The reconciliation of the US with Cuba is an example of pragmatism where issues like democracy and human rights violations are downplayed.

Latin American countries abstain from talking

During the Summit of the Americas, Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff addressed the North American sanctions towards Venezuela rejecting what she called “unilateral isolation measures”[6]. The president also pointed commercial integration as key to development and fighting inequality. Her affirmations, however, disregarded the human right violations that president Nicolás Maduro has been accused of employing against the political opposition.  When considering this matter, Dilma’s call for “support for the dialogue in Venezuela” may sound more like an abstention to acknowledge the problem of its long-term regional ally.

She is not the only one, though. From all the presidents that attended the summit, none spoke about the matter- neither in support nor condemning the human rights abuse. Furthermore, the sanctions imposed by President Obama- like revoking visas of Venezuelan officials and freezing US assets in the country did not seem to be a relevant topic in the summit’s agenda; aside from the failed attempt of Venezuela to condemn it.

There is, however, an explanation that goes beyond the ideological ties that left-wing Latin American presidents hold with Nicolás Maduro; that is the national interests of each country surpassing the matter of a choice to condemn Venezuela. Argentina and the countries from the Petrocaribe alliances have strong trade relations with the Bolivarian Republic. Chilean president Michele Bachelet faces the inflamed reactions to the money deviations involving her son[7], while president Dilma faces the turmoil awakened by the Petrobras corruption scandals in Brazil. Finally, Mexico is still coping with the fall in oil prices and its own case of human rights abuse (2014 Iguala mass kidnapping).

With instability in their own countries, it is understandable that presidents chose not to intervene in such a delicate issue. But international affairs are not only made in times of domestic stability, especially when it comes to regional leadership.  It is in such times that true leaders arise, and if Latin American countries want to stand as an autonomous region that can take care of its own problems, someone is going to have to stand up and get involved by promoting regional measures to refrain Venezuelan government from perpetrating undemocratic political actions and disrespecting human rights. It might be time for Brazil to use it’s (still limited) influence in the region and stand up as the democracy it claims to be.[8] This could be the move it needs to consolidate its growing political power and to encourage the other countries to do the same to help stop the human rights violations in Venezuela. After all, regional integration is not limited to trade and investment, and should go beyond to promote democracy and good governance for the good of its people.

[1] Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social (2014). Conflictividad social en Venezuela en el primer semestre de 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.observatoriodeconflictos.org.ve/tendencias-de-la-conflictividad/conflictividad-social-en-venezuela-en-el-primer-semestre-de-2014

[2]El país (2015). ONG cifra en 89 los presos políticos en cárceles de Venezuela. Retrieved from: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2015/04/17/actualidad/1429226761_870069.html

[3]The White House (2015) Fact Sheet: Venezuela Executive Order. Retrieved from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/09/fact-sheet-venezuela-executive-order

[4] Argentine political analyst and journalist at the Miami Herald.

[5]El Nuevo Herald  (2015). La cumbre de la fatiga ideológica. Retrieved from: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/opinion-es/opin-col-blogs/andres-oppenheimer-es/article18308447.html

[6] The Associated Press. (2015). Latin American silent on Venezuela as US airs rights concerns. Retrieved from: http://www.diariodepernambuco.com.br/app/noticia/politica/2015/04/11/interna_politica,570971/veja-na-integra-o-discurso-de-dilma-rousseff-na-cupula-das-americas.shtml

[7] El Mundo. (2015) Un escándalo financiero familiar salpica a Bachelet. Retrieved from: http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2015/02/10/54da0ffb22601d63198b4589.html

[8] Télam (2015). Rousseff, tras las protestas: “En democracia se respetan las urnas y la voz de la calle”. Retrieved from : http://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201503/98257-dilma-rousseff-brasil-protestas-democracia-voto.html

Marianna Buchalla Pacca is a Brazilian, currently pursuing her masters degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown. Her main fields of study include government and public sector development.

Marcus Golding is a first year from Venezuela in the MALAS program at Georgetown with a concentration in history. 

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