The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS), experienced a period of intense political turmoil from 2011 to 2013. Criticism of the Commission by members of the OAS—most notably Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela—was echoed by Colombia, Peru and others in their vocal disapproval of concrete IACHR decisions.
The increasingly antagonistic diplomatic environment came to a head in April 2011, when the IACHR requested that Brazil halt its construction of the $17 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff responded by withholding its dues payment, withdrawing Ruy Casaes, the Brazilian ambassador to the OAS, and temporarily withdrawing Paulo Vannuchi, Brazil’s candidate for a position on the Commission (although he was later elected to the Commission).
Two months after Rousseff’s sharp reaction to the Belo Monte matter, the OAS Permanent Council created a Working Group charged with preparing a set of recommendations on how to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS). On December 13, 2011, the Working Group approved a report containing 53 recommendations to the IACHR. The recommendations largely referred to operations, rules of procedure and institutional practices, but some attempted to limit the capacity of the Commission and weaken its mechanisms. In short, this process was a collective catharsis for critics of IACHR decisions, combined with a chance to air broader disdain for the OAS and any institution deemed to be spoiled by U.S. influence.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza will arrive in Ecuador tomorrow to begin discussions with President Rafael Correa over his government’s decision not to participate in last month’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Insulza will likely also address recent calls by the Ecuadorian government to modify the OAS constitution to reduce U.S. influence within the organization.
Ecuador’s decision to boycott April’s summit in protest over Cuba’s exclusion the meeting comes alongside other recent Ecuadorian complaints, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) request to suspend the defamation sentence against El Universo newspaper. A columnist and three directors of the newspaper have since been pardoned.
Correa has recently said publicly that the only legitimate multilateral organization in Latin America is the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC)—created in Venezuela last year—which excludes the United States and Canada. Additional details of Thursday’s planned meetings have been scarce, with Ecuador’s foreign ministry saying only, “The goal is to maintain a political dialogue on the Organization of American States.”
September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the United States received a dramatic call to lead the world in defeating terrorism. It is also the day the U.S., along with 33 nations of the Americas, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter (IADC) committing to the collective promotion and protection of democracy. Through ten years of costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has failed to lead the implementation of the IADC and has stood in the sidelines as democracy has eroded in the Americas. It is time to take action—a peaceful one.
Just minutes after New York City and Washington DC were hit, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave this moving speech in Lima, Peru, at the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly:
"A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation, but it has also befallen all of the nations of this region, all the nations of the world, and all those who believe in democracy. [Terrorists] can destroy buildings and kill people—and we will be saddened by this tragedy—but they will never be allowed to kill the spirit of democracy. They cannot destroy our society, nor our belief in the democratic way.
It is important that I remain here for a bit longer in order to be part of the consensus on this new Inter-American Democratic Charter. That is the most important thing I can do before returning to Washington DC.
I hope we can move forward in the order of business to the adoption of the Charter, because I very much want to be here to express the commitment of the United States to democracy in this hemisphere."
Powell’s word on the importance of the IADC and the U.S. commitment to democracy in the face of a massive terrorist attack is not an overstatement. Terrorist organizations are exclusively harbored and sponsored by non-democratic states that deny basic human rights to their citizens. As with the Third Reich’s Germany or the Taliban’s Afghanistan, it is no coincidence that the U.S. has never had to wage war on a democratic nation. In a world where territories and populations are governed by states, the struggle for peace is first and foremost a struggle for a democratic world comprised of a community of democratic nations.
Here’s where the IADC has a purpose. The IADC is the most ambitious pro-democracy document yet to be approved at an international level. It is the cornerstone of an emerging international law on democracy and represents a groundbreaking step toward the consolidation of democracy and human rights around the world.
View how Microsoft has partnered with the Organization of American States to enhance social development in the Americas through the "Unlimited Potential Partnerships" program.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today begins a weeklong tour through South and Central America with a focus on boosting trade ties. He will visit four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras.
Harper’s arrival in Brazil last night marks his first official visit to the country in more than five years as prime minister. His bilateral meeting with President Dilma Rousseff today and speech to the São Paulo business, political and academic communities tomorrow underscore his goal to aggressively improve Canadian-Brazilian commercial relations. The rise of Brazil is a focus of the Spring 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly and of the AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in São Paulo tomorrow.
Canadian-Brazilian ties have become rocky in past years, especially amid disputes over government subsidies for Brazil’s Embraer aerospace conglomerate and Canada’s Bombardier, Inc. aircraft manufacturer. Brazil is Canada’s 10th-largest export destination and Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said that “of any major emerging economies, Brazil presents Canada with the most opportunity for export.”
Harper will continue Wednesday to Bogotá to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos. The two countries enjoy close ties and the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) enters into force next week. President Santos—in an exclusive interview with AQ on Friday—emphasized the importance of a similar FTA with the United States. Harper finishes his trip in Central America, visiting Costa Rica and Honduras on Thursday and Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa notes that Harper will be the first foreign leader to visit Honduras after its readmission into the Organization of American States in June.
Strange things seem to happen in Washington DC when the temperature climbs. As the thermometer approached triple digits today, the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs (HFAC) actually referenced the American classic film “Animal House.” The HFAC proposed cutting off funding for the Organization of American States (OAS), which the U.S. helped create and has supported from its founding in 1948.
As I describe in the forthcoming article “Is the OAS Irrelevant?” in the Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15, it has been a rough couple of years for the OAS. Most notable was the fiasco over the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras; recently a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has affirmed that the ouster of ex-President José Manuel Zelaya was, in fact, a coup. Then there was the controversial vote to end Cuba’s 50-year-old suspension, the continued blind eye that the organization seemed to turn toward Hugo Chávez’ antics in Venezuela, and a general sense that no adults were left to run the place.
The theoretical strength of the OAS is its inclusive nature. Yet that is also its weakness. All 34 countries in the Americas (except Cuba) are members and even the tiniest Caribbean nation can be heard during discussions. But because it is bound by consensus, that broad mandate works only so well as there is a consensus of approach among the members. As Latin America and the Caribbean have become increasingly diverse in their political and philosophical outlook, consensus of any kind had become harder to come by. As a consequence, the OAS itself has become mired in its own indecision.
Attacks on the OAS from Washington have been going on for years, but they have intensified during the tenure of current Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, a veteran Chilean politician known in his home country as “El Panzer.” With his socialist ties, Insulza was not the U.S.’ first choice nor its second. And criticism of his administration has become a wider chorus. Since he was elected to his first five-year term in 2005—he has since been re-elected last year—Insulza and the OAS have been the targets of bipartisan complaints and threats.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”
The date is November 17, 1969. In San José, Costa Rica, the states of the Americas are about to decide what degree of protection to grant citizens’ political rights under the American Convention on Human Rights. After three days of discussion, the text of Article 23.2 reads as follows, “The law may regulate the exercise of the [political rights to vote and stand for election] only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, according to the case.” Suddenly, Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, the Brazilian delegate to the negotiating conference proposes all states to adhere to his country’s 1967 constitutional standard—to “erase ‘according to the case’, and add ‘or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings’.” The amendment is then approved by unanimity, and incorporated to the Convention.
On March 1-2, 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international tribunal established also in 1969 and based in Costa Rica, sat to hear the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The case goes as follows—in 2008, through two administrative resolutions alleging corruption, the Comptroller General of Venezuela disqualified the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, in Caracas, Leopoldo López, to run for office for six years. At the time of his disqualification, López was an almost certain winner of the race for mayor of metropolitan Caracas, the country’s largest electoral district.
Acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has argued that the administrative resolutions that disqualified him fall far below the “criminal sentence” standard set in the Convention, and requested the Court “to conclude and declare that the (Venezuelan) State violated the political rights (...) of Mr. Leopoldo López,” and, “to order the Venezuelan State” to reinstate them. On the other end, the Venezuelan State, represented by several attorneys and expert witnesses in Costa Rica, claimed that Leopoldo López’ disqualification is not only legitimate under Venezuelan domestic law, but that it is well within the margin of appreciation the Convention gives states in the regulation of human rights.
All arguments have been made and a final decision by the Court is expected in the next few months. Venezuela, which has participated fully in the proceedings, is bound to comply with it. Yet, this is no everyday case. On the one hand, López is now a potential candidate for the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, and his participation on the primaries that will define the opposition’s candidate, depends largely on this ruling. More widely, however, this particular decision could lead to the restitution of the political rights of thousands of people in the Americas who are at this time banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) heard Costa Rica’s formal complaint against Nicaragua yesterday—initially filed in November 2010—regarding the ongoing border dispute along the San Juan River. Nicaragua will present its arguments today.
Costa Rica’s delegation headed by Jorge Urbina, the permanent representative to the United Nations, presented historical maps from Costa Rica-Nicaragua bilateral agreements with accompanying satellite photographs of the disputed region. Foreign minister René Castro was “satisfied” with his government’s testimony before the panel of 16 judges at the ICJ. Castro added: “Costa Rica does not accept the thesis [of Nicaragua] that the end justifies the means.”
The border argument took form in October 2010 when Costa Rica alleged that Nicaraguan forces were operating on Calero, an island in the San Juan River, and performing dredging operations—which Costa Rica claimed damaged the environment. After a successful appeal to the Organization of American States (OAS), and the subsequent recommendation of Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for Nicaragua to remove troops from Calero, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega threatened to withdraw unilaterally from the OAS.
A new session of Venezuela’s National Assembly began official business yesterday in Caracas with a host of new faces. As a result of the 2010 parliamentary elections in September, President Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socalista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) party saw its count of Assembly seats reduced from 139 to 98 while members of the opposition—which had overwhelmingly boycotted the 2005 election—occupied the remaining 67 seats. The agenda was mostly ceremonial as Fernando Soto Rojas, a PSUV representative, was elected the new Assembly president. The first and second vice presidents of the Assembly elected yesterday were also from PSUV. Rojas comes from the state of Falcón and President Chávez nominated him for the post.
But the tone of the session was hardly amicable. After the swearing-in of all new representatives, President Chávez said that his majority party would “crush” the voices from the opposition, adding “I hope that the opposition members respect the Constitution, the laws, and the institutions.” PSUV representative Iris Varela dismissed any possibility of negotiating with the opposition. Competing demonstrations were held in the streets outside the Palacio Federal Legislativo between chavistas and pro-opposition supporters.
The new body takes office in the wake of last month’s Ley Habilitante (Enabling Law), passed by the outgoing Assembly and which awarded Chávez amplified decree powers. It was criticized yesterday by opposition spokesman Alfredo Marquina as a power grab, given the opposition having won over half the popular vote but 40 percent of the seats due to redistricting. This morning U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela referred to the Enabling Law as “antidemocratic” and a violation of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Democratic Charter.