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Americas

OAS pressure on Venezuela 'a pretext to remove Maduro?'

A suspension of Venezuela's membership in the Organization of American States will not end the country's crisis overnight, says expert, but it might unsettle Maduro's presidency - in one way or another.

DW: Mr. Feldmann, Luis Almagro is the first secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) to invoke the Democratic Charter to suspend a country's membership. What is that good for?

Andreas E. Feldmann: The fact that it is the first time a gecretary-general invokes the charter makes it an unexpected move. That shines a light on the deep concern that Luis Almagro seems to have about the situation in Venezuela. So what he has done is call on the member states to take up a stance on the issue.

The situation is Venezuela is not new. Why didn't he take the step before?

One factor is that many left-wing parties in Latin America, which were likely to support the socialist regime, have lost their last elections. Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri, has been one of the most active critics of Nicolas Maduro. The most recent case was Brazil's impeached president, Dilma Rousseff. The second factor is that Almagro might have felt that the Venezuelan regime has crossed a given line repressing the opposition with the Supreme Court blocking parliamentary decisions that favor the government.

'Almagro tries to precipitate thing in Venezuela'

Nicolás Maduro's all but surprising reaction ("shove the charter where it might fit in.") was to accuse Almagro of illicit foreign intervention. Would an OAS resolution be proper to harm his government?

Luis Almagro and Nicolas Maduro

Luis Almagro (l.) and Nicolas Maduro were on better terms in this 2013 photo

Venezuela, right now, is very dependent on external help. Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other countries are already sending basic items, like flour, milk and medicines, to Venezuela. An OAS suspension would up the pressure on the government. So, I think, Almagro is trying to precipitate something in Venezuela.

But an OAS resolution is not tied to any sanctions, is it?

Not directly. And it surely wouldn't affect humanitarian aid. But it would encourage member states to implement unilateral sanctions on regime members, such as asset freezes, travel bans and diplomatic isolation.

The US has already implemented some of these sanctions. Why would other countries need an OAS resolution?

These sanctions can be easily tagged as a hostile act, as Maduro has done in the past. But a resolution needs the approval of two thirds of the OAS members. With such big support those measures would gain a lot of legitimacy.

'A lot of tensions within the ruling elite'

Anyway, Maduro doesn't seem to bother much about foreign opinions on the Bolivarian Revolution.

Indeed, Maduro seems to be living in a parallel universe, quite unaware of what is really going on. Anyway, I don't believe he isn't bothered. Rhetorically, he just brushes things of, but Maduro is ruling with quite a small entourage, which already is completely isolated. There is a lot of tension within the ruling elite and many disputes about how Maduro is handling things - not only the crisis, but in general. So, one should not underestimate the symbolic impact a diplomatic move may have. It even might serve as a pretext for some of his allies to remove Maduro.

But first, two-thirds of the member states have to approve the resolution. And in the OAS every country has only one vote, be it a Caribbean island or a good chunk of the continent, like the US or Brazil. Is the resolution likely to be approved?

Indeed, there are many smaller states, like Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, that may vote against it, just like the Petrocaribe states who were subsidized by Venezuela for a long period of time and are still attached to the regime. So the outcome is very uncertain.

Andreas E. Feldmann is an associate professor in the Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC).

This interview was conducted by Jan D. Walter.

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