Venezuela is withdrawing from the Organization of American States, a move to help President Nicolas Maduro avoid the shame of being suspended by the body. But a lot could still happen before its exit.
The foreign ministry in Caracas is abuzz with intense activity. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez opened arbitration proceedings intended to reverse the country's exclusion from the South American trade organization, Mercosur. At the same time, the minister is trying to move forward with an urgent meeting with CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, to discuss the "threat to the democratic order" in Venezuela and "the interventionist actions against the independence, sovereignty and right to self-determination" of the country.
The minister was referring to the - at that point unconfirmed - meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. When it was announced on Wednesday, April 26, that the foreign ministers had agreed to meet, Rodriguez explained that she had received direct orders to withdraw Venezuela from the OAS, and confirmed the special CELAC meeting she'd requested for May 2 in the capital of El Salvador, one of the few countries that continues to show solidarity with Venezuela.
No democracy clause
The date is significant because all the countries sending delegates to the OAS meeting - with the exception of Canada, Cuba and the United States - are also members of CELAC. What, then, is the difference between a debate on Venezuela in the OAS and in CELAC? "It's in the fact that CELAC has neither a democracy clause, nor a mechanism for monitoring the upholding of human rights," said Victor Mijares, professor for International Relations at the Catholic University in Bogota. But Mijares is careful not to overly praise the OAS. He doubts whether the pan-American foreign ministers summit will do anything to change the status quo in Venezuela.
But what has Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro achieved with his decision to leave the OAS? "Maduro is grabbing the bull by the horns," said Detlef Nolte, director of the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies in Hamburg.
Peter Birle, research director at the Ibero-American Institute (IAI) in Berlin, agrees: "By taking this step, the Venezuelan government is sidestepping the shame of the suspension that was discussed by other OAS member states a few weeks ago."
Maduro turns a deaf ear
Neither expert believes that Venezuela's exit from OAS will prevent the other member states from casting judgment on Maduro's autocratic tendencies. It will take two years for the withdrawal to take effect. But at the same time, both experts agree that the OAS has only ever had a limited ability to affect happenings in Venezuela.
"OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has sharply criticized President Maduro ever since he took office, and the Venezuelan leader has simply ignored him," Birle said. In Nolte's view, it's up to Venezuela's neighbors to coordinate bilaterally to impose sanctions on Caracas, since the OAS doesn't really have an effective punishment mechanism.
"And even if it did come to this, we have to be aware that not even Mexico and Brazil, the strongest economies in the region, have strong enough trade relations with Venezuela to do any real financial damage to the country," said Nolte. Both are convinced that Washington will continue to be restrained, even though the US has such strong ties with Venezuela because of the oil industry that it could very well put pressure on Caracas. "Any initiative on this front will have to come from Venezuela's neighbors," said Birle.