2014 News and Events
Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council Regarding the Situation in Venezuela
Remarks by Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), March 6, 2014
As Prepared for Delivery
Mr. Chair, my delegation welcomes this discussion today at the Permanent Council. This is an issue that touches all of us in the hemisphere and around the world. We are at a moment of crisis where the collective input of this hemispheric organization is not only appropriate but necessary.
The United States notes with concern that the situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate since the Permanent Council last met on February 19. The death toll was 13 then, it is now at least 19 and we are gravely disturbed by what appears to be a pattern of security personnel using excessive force.
We are also concerned with increasingly stringent tactics being employed by the government in an effort to restrict the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful protest.
And we are severely disturbed by restriction on freedom of expression and freedom of press, as manifested through governmental controls over information and media, both domestic and international.
While we debate at the OAS, other voices from throughout the hemisphere and from around the world have uniformly called for an end to violence, respect for peaceful dissent, and most importantly for a meaningful dialogue between the opposition and government. A genuine dialogue is the only way to calm the situation.
In addition to Secretary General Insulza and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, we have heard from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, UNASUR, CELAC, the Inter-American Press Association, the UN Human Rights Commission, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Policy, the Friends of the Democratic Charter, Amnesty International, Transparency International, Freedom House and hundreds of smaller organizations and individuals in our member states.
We have also heard from Pope Francis, who specifically called for discussions that address “concrete issues for the common good.”
Yesterday four former Latin American Presidents spoke out publicly. Oscar Arias, Fernando Cardoso, Ricardo Lagos, and Alejandro Toledo made a strong joint statement calling on the Venezuelan government to immediately open a dialogue without preconditions and to cease its repression of students and opposition leaders.
Given this chorus of voices asking for action, it is essential for this Council and this Organization to stand up for principles that have guided this hemisphere for many decades, which have been enshrined in the Charter of the OAS and in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. These are principles of democratic governance, of support for human rights, of respect for peaceful dissent, and steadfast support for freedom of press and expression.
Mr. Chairman, we are here today because the Panamanian delegation has formally asked the Council to decide whether to convoke a Meeting of Consultation. My delegation believes a Meeting of Consultation would constitute an appropriate next step, and we support this call. It would allow our Foreign Ministers to explore a broad range of options in which the OAS, or others, could facilitate dialogue and other solutions we all seek for Venezuela.
In addition to this meeting, other important tools of the OAS can be brought to bear to help Venezuela in this period of crisis. On many past occasions, we have called upon the Secretary General and his good offices to help find a peaceful solution to problems in our hemisphere. We have also had situations where a clear statement from this Council, and a continuous monitoring of the situation, has contributed to a lessening of tensions and a satisfactory resolution.
What is not acceptable is for this hemisphere to stand silent; to not speak through its most important multilateral institution. We believe that many elements of the way forward have already been agreed upon by virtually all of our delegations: a call for an immediate end to violence, respect for peaceful dissent and initiation of a meaningful dialogue. This dialogue should be assisted by a third-party mediator, acceptable to both parties.
We would also call on the Venezuelan government to immediately release all who have been detained during the exercise of their right to protest, including Mr. Leopoldo Lopez. These individuals have committed no wrong other than to raise their voices in protesting actions of their government, a right that we must protect.
Finally Mr. Chair, due to severe restrictions on media and even internet use, the Council is lacking quality information about the actual situation on the ground. As we have done on past occasions, we propose that the Council invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other OAS entities to address this body and provide factual data to help guide our deliberations.
We owe it to the people of Venezuela to consider every possible way forward. We must begin conversation immediately. Thank you Chair.