Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on the Situation in Venezuela

Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Interim Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS), addresses the Permanent Council, May 5, 2016. (OAS Photo)
Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Interim Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS), addresses the Permanent Council, May 5, 2016. (OAS Photo)

Remarks by Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Interim Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS), May 5, 2016.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, good afternoon to one and all, esteemed ministers, Secretary General, permanent representatives and delegates: Muy buenas tardes a todas y a todos.

First, let me extend a special welcome to the foreign ministers who have joined us today.

Sra. Ministra, Delcy Rodriguez, bienvenidos como siempre; que gusto verlo de nuevo en el Salón Simón Bolívar de la OEA, aquí en la Casa de las Américas.  Ministra Malcorra, bienvenidos a Ud. también. Que sea solamente su primera visita como Ministra a este salón, donde todos los países democráticos de las Américas se hablan — y buscan soluciones constructivas para los retos que nos enfrentan.

Mr. Chairman, we have had the opportunity to hear first-hand from Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rodriguez about the current situation – and a little about history – in Venezuela.

Today, we also have before us the opportunity to continue considering how we – as a hemispheric community of democratic nations – can best support our sister member state in its efforts to create a constructive and respectful environment to work through its national challenges.

We congratulated the Venezuelan people for making their voices heard in a peaceful and democratic way on December 6, when voters expressed their overwhelming desire for a change in the direction of their country through legislative elections.  Since then, however, we have grown increasingly concerned with increasingly limited democratic space.

Mr. Chairman, we are specifically concerned by decisions of the Venezuelan Supreme Court that have restricted the National Assembly’s ability to carry out its role.  For example, the Court issued a ruling that the National Assembly did not have the authority to review the process through which Supreme Court Justices were nominated and confirmed in December by the outgoing legislature.  This decision effectively stopped an open debate on the findings of a National Assembly committee’s investigation into the December nomination and confirmation process, about which many Venezuelan citizens have questions.

Soon after the legislative elections, Mr. Chairman, the executive branch approved changes to the law governing Venezuela’s Central Bank.  These changes eliminated the National Assembly’s role in nominating and removing Central Bank directors, among other things.  The National Assembly then passed a Central Bank Reform Law on March.  A few weeks later the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional on the grounds the disputed legal authorities belong exclusively to the executive branch and to rule otherwise would destabilize the economy.

We continue to call for respect for the will of the Venezuelan people, due process, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the democratic process, and fundamental freedoms – including of assembly, association, and free expression – and we urge the immediate release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.  Mr. Chairman, such actions are fully in line with the collective commitments each of us has freely undertaken as OAS member states.

At the same time, we are very concerned about the worsening economic situation in Venezuela.  If, as the Minister suggested today, the economic situation is not as difficult as the international media so suggests, then I respectfully request that Venezuela fulfill its treaty obligations and pay its quota dues and arrears, now amounting to 3.9 times Venezuela’s annual dues to the OAS.

Now, we stand with the international community in expressing our concern about the difficult conditions the Venezuelan people are experiencing, including worsening shortages of food, medicine, electricity, and basic consumer goods.

We are concerned by credible and independent reports that approximately 60 percent of medicines on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines are not available at pharmacies and hospitals, while many other essential medicines are scarce or hard to find, such as antibiotics, aspirin, anti-seizure, and chemotherapy drugs.  The Venezuelan people, including vulnerable populations such as children, the disabled, and the elderly, are not able to access the basic medicine and medical services they need.

With this in mind, Mr. Chairman, we echo the public calls of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, the European Union and others, supporting a meaningful, inclusive dialogue in Venezuela to identify lasting solutions to complex challenges that face the Venezuelan people.

Colleagues, friends – I call upon each of you to approach our discussion today free from the false specter of foreign intervention, but with the respect for the individual rights of citizens of this hemisphere which animates the mission of the OAS.

Venezuelans talking to Venezuelans, peacefully addressing the multiple and inter-related economic, political, and social challenges that exist today in their country – this, Mr. Chairman, should be the desired end state of our region’s approach to supporting the Venezuelan people.

For this reason, the United States will continue to support regional efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation within Venezuela, as called for by Pope Francis during his Easter Homily on March 27.

Como nos dijo el Santo Padre, el Papa Francisco, en su homilía el día de Pascua, él se preocupa (Y CITO:) “cada vez más sobre el pueblo venezolano, en las difíciles condiciones en las que vive, así como sobre los que tienen en sus manos el destino del país, para que se trabaje en pos del bien común, buscando formas de diálogo y colaboración entre todos. Y que se promueva en todo lugar la cultura del encuentro, la justicia y el respeto recíproco, lo único que puede asegurar el bienestar espiritual y material de los ciudadanos” (FIN DE CITA).  Nosotros hemos escuchado su llamada.

And so, we will continue to speak out publicly regarding the need to respect the separation of powers, due process, fundamental freedoms, and human rights in Venezuela.  We will continue to join with others in urging genuine dialogue in Venezuela.

Mr. Chairman, we have listened with respectful attention to the views of those who disagree with us for speaking out.  While we respect these opinions, we must also ask:  If the OAS, as our region’s preeminent institution founded on democratic principles, does not speak out now, when will it?

The imprisonment of individuals – even one individual – based on their political beliefs should be a matter of great concern to any member of our inter-American democratic community.

Simply put, we must continue defending the principles enshrined in, and the fundamental rights articulated in, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Mr. Chairman, my government wishes very sincerely to see Venezuela thrive and return to the path of full democracy and economic prosperity.

With regards to the Minister’s allegation of denial of visas to attend international meetings: Let me reiterate what the Department of State spokesman said yesterday, “ I will not uphold the accuracy of those comments.”  Allow me also to remind all Member States of what I informed the Permanent Council, just last month, on April 6th: The United States takes very seriously its obligation to promptly facilitate visas for official OAS business of all member states.  We have an exemplary record in that regard.  But as I also noted, quote:  “Nonetheless, in some cases, very late requests make it virtually impossible for the United States to process visas, especially requests for a turnaround in three days or less.  This is simply unworkable.” And it is all the more unworkable, I must note, when my own government has been waiting as much as six months – not three days, not three weeks, not six weeks, mind you – but six months, for diplomatic visas so that we can adequately staff our mission with the Vice Consuls that issue visa in our consulate in Caracas.  Visa processing can be even further delayed when individuals do not completely fill out the forms, regardless of when they were first filed.  And of course, Members of this Permanent Council were only informed less than 48 hours ago of the Venezuelan request for this meeting.  We will continue to make every effort to ensure visas are granted, and granted quickly. And, as the Minister’s own presence here today demonstrates, my nation holds firm to our commitments.

With regards to complaints about the continuation of legal authority for the U.S. Government to deny visas under the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, let me be clear: This issue is, as we say in English, a red herring. (I think I will pause and give the interpreters some time to translate that little bit of Agatha Christie, but Alguien quieredespistarnos o distraernos.)  Indeed, this issue was discussed at length last year, on March 19, 2015, the last time the Minister joined us here.  The measures in Executive Order 13692 do not target the Venezuelan people or the economy, nor do they target the Government of Venezuela as a whole.  But those Venezuelans who violate or abuse human rights, or undermine democracy, are not welcome in the United States, nor do we want their money in our banks.  This law has no extraterritoriality to it.  None.  But it focuses precisely on bad actors undermining Venezuela’s democracy, violating and abusing the human rights of its citizens, and diverting much-needed economic resources for personal gain.  Nada más.  Y  nada menos.

We again take this opportunity to call for democratic dialogue in Venezuela, recognize the efforts of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to promote that dialogue, and support a role for the OAS.

The role of a respectful international community, mindful of the principles of sovereignty and self-determination, can be to facilitate dialogue among all Venezuelans.

In closing, my government takes this opportunity to reiterate its profound regard, respect, and admiration for the people of Venezuela – and to underscore the value we place on enhancing relations between our two countries.

Reiteramos nuestra profunda relación, el respeto y la admiración que tenemos para el pueblo venezolano.  Y subrayamos el valor que damos a la mejora de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países.  Los Estado Unidos no quiere ver una Venezuela inestable políticamente ni empobrecido económicamente.  Al contrario. Quisiéramos ver Venezuela prosperar y regresar al camino de la democracia plena y genuina y de la prosperidad.

We have bilateral diplomatic channels with Venezuela and we have always been willing to utilize them.  We stand ready to do so now.

Mr. Chairman, we fully support the efforts of other countries and regional organizations to promote political reconciliation in Venezuela.  To this end, we would request that this Council remain seized with the situation in Venezuela for future discussion.

Thank you very much.