Saturday, July 25, 2009

Why defend the rule of law in Honduras but not in Venezuela

The Washington Post, Editorial -
Friday, July 24, 2009

Why defend the rule of law in Honduras but not in Venezuela?

LATIN AMERICAN diplomats remain preoccupied with the political crisisin Honduras, which has been teetering between a negotiated solutionthat would conditionally restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya tooffice and an escalation of conflict that would play into the hands ofanti-democratic forces around the region. While the drama drags on,those forces continue to advance in other countries, unremarked on bysome of the same governments that rushed to condemn Mr. Zelaya'souster. So it's worth reporting on a meeting that took place Tuesday at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington between OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and three elected Venezuelanleaders who, like Mr. Zelaya, have been deprived of their powers and threatened with criminal prosecution.

The three are Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and the governors of twostates, Pablo Pérez of Zulia and César Pérez Vivas of Tachira. All three won election in November, along with several other opposition leaders. But since then, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has used decrees, a rubber-stamp parliament and a politically compromised legal system to strip the officials of control over key services and infrastructure.

Mr. Insulza, a Chilean socialist who has been flamboyant in his defense of Mr. Zelaya, listened to the Venezuelans' account. But the OAS leader insisted that there was nothing he could do about Mr.Chávez's actions, even under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which was adopted by all 34 active OAS members in 2001. This month, Mr.Insulza helped spur the OAS to suspend Honduras on the grounds that it had violated the charter. But in the case of Mr. Chávez's stripping power from the governors and mayors, Mr. Insulza said, "I can't say whether it is bad or good." His authority, he said, is limited to"trying to establish bridges between the parties."

That is not how Mr. Insulza handled the case of Honduras, of course. Far from promoting dialogue, the secretary general refused to negotiate r even speak with the president elected by the Honduran National Congress to replace Mr. Zelaya. Instead he joined in a Venezuelan-orchestrated attempt to force Mr. Zelaya's return that, predictably, led to violence. Now, with an attempted mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias stalled, Mr. Zelaya is again threatening to enter the country without an agreement. Don't expect the OAS chief to dissuade him.

Still, Mr. Insulza has a point. The weakness of the Democratic Charter is that it protects presidents from undemocratic assault but does not readily allow OAS intervention in cases where the executive himself is responsible for violating the constitutional order -- as Mr.Zelaya did before his ouster. The Honduras crisis provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to seek changes in those rules. If the administration is to depend on organizations such as the OAS to advance its policies in Latin America, it must push it to counter attacks on democracy whenever and wherever they occur.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Allies of Terrorism

Allies of Terrorism
Editorial Washington Post
The presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador are revealed as backers of the criminals who fight Colombia's democracy.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

LAST SATURDAY, Colombia's armed forces struck a bold blow against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group specializing in drug trafficking, abductions and massacres of civilians that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. Raúl Reyes, a top commander, and some 20 followers were killed in a bombing of their jungle camp in Ecuador, a mile or two from the Colombian border. The attack was comparable to those the United States has recently carried out against al-Qaeda in lawless areas of Pakistan, and it showed how Colombia's democratic government may be finally gaining the upper hand over the murderous gangs that have tormented the country for decades.

Now this remarkable success has been overshadowed by the extraordinary reaction of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has been revealed as an explicit supporter and possible financier of the FARC. Mr. Chávez openly mourned the death of Mr. Reyes and made a show of ordering Venezuelan troops to the border with Colombia while loudly warning that war was possible. He goaded his client, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa -- whose initial response to the raid was subdued -- into mimicking his reaction. He then partially closed the border with Colombia, a step that will merely worsen the food shortages that have emptied Venezuelan supermarket shelves.

It turns out that both Mr. Chávez and Mr. Correa may have had something to hide. Senior Colombian officials say a laptop recovered at the FARC camp contained evidence that Mr. Chávez had recently given the group $300 million and had financial links with the terrorists dating to his own failed coup against a previous Venezuelan government in 1992. Colombia said Mr. Correa's government had been negotiating with Mr. Reyes about replacing Ecuadorean military officers who might object to his use of the country as a base. In other words, both Mr. Correa and Mr. Chávez were backing an armed movement with an established record of terrorism and drug trafficking against the democratically elected government of their neighbor. No wonder Colombian President álvaro Uribe felt compelled to order the cross-border raid; he knows that his neighbors are providing a haven for the terrorists.

There's little chance that this will lead to conventional war, despite the bluster of Mr. Chávez. The more interesting question is how average citizens in Venezuela and Ecuador will react. The FARC is despised across the region for its criminality and brutality; many Venezuelans have been shocked to learn of Mr. Chávez's alliance with the group. According to Mr. Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, the Venezuelan military is troubled by the saber-rattling at Colombia. In his zeal to divert attention from a rapidly worsening domestic economic situation and his defeat in a recent referendum, Mr. Chávez is growing increasingly reckless. The principal danger, however, may be to his own country and government.

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