Ronald Sanders | Correcting a foolish wrong
It is time that several nations, led in the Western Hemisphere by the US and Canada, correct a foolish wrong. Among those countries are two member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), namely, Haiti and Jamaica.
That wrong was not only their anointment of Juan Guaidó as the ‘interim president’ of Venezuela on January 23, 2019, but also the subsequent imposition of this fallacy on organisations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The wrong was foolish because it was conceived and imposed to suit narrow national political objectives. It was not grounded in international law or practice, nor was there any wide agreement on it. Therefore, it was never sustainable.
Seven of the 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere, which originally joined the US and Canada in aggressively supporting that notion that Guaidó was in charge of Venezuela, have now abandoned that position and reverted to dealing with the de facto Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro. The seven countries that have ditched support for Guaidó are: Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Chile, and Honduras in Latin America, as well as The Bahamas and St Lucia in the Caribbean.
Significantly, an eighth and very important country is seeking to normalise relations with the Maduro government. This country is Venezuela’s neighbour, Colombia, whose newly elected president, Gustavo Petro, revealed on his Twitter account that he has “reached out to the Venezuelan government to open the borders and restore the full exercise of human rights on the border”. The conversation was confirmed by Maduro. Petro will assume office on August 7.
Many adverse consequences arose from the wrong that was perpetrated in January 2019. Among them were violations of the rules of the OAS to compel accreditation of Guaidó’s nominee as Venezuela’s ambassador on April 22, 2019. There was a similar dubious procedure, one month before, on March 15, 2019, to appoint Guaidó’s representative as a governor of the IDB. Those wrongful actions continue to divide the member states of both organisations, and to adversely affect their operations both financially and functionally.
For instance, since Guaidó has no control over the finances of Venezuela, including its treasury, his so-called interim government has not paid one cent in contributions to the OAS or the IDB, nor has it serviced the outstanding loans to Venezuela. In the IDB’s case, at the end of 2021, the total amount of Venezuela’s sovereign-guaranteed payment arrears amounted to $1,088 million, including interest. Further, since 2018, all loans to Venezuela, amounting to $2,011 million, were placed in non-accrual status. Interest income not recognised amounted to $51 million during the year ended December 31, 2021, and the related individually assessed allowance for credit losses was $77 million.
How any bank can operate in this way is alarming. It demonstrates a woeful politicisation of a financial institution with little regard for fiduciary responsibilities. Left unchecked, it will cripple the bank, severely restricting its capacity to cater for the needs of its borrowing members and threatening repayments to its lending members.
The OAS is equally affected financially. As of June 30, Venezuela owes the organisation $17.4 million in unpaid dues. Every year, $1.9 million is added to that sum. The cumulative effect is to deprive the OAS of money it desperately needs to recruit competent staff and to retain the ones it has. Projects are also affected by the lack of finance, forcing the organisation to become increasingly dependent on ‘special funds’ solicited mostly from the US and Canada, giving these two countries even greater influence on the organisation than they already have.
When, on April 22, 2019, the US and Canada imposed Guaidó’s representative on the OAS, they did so by the slenderest majority of 18 votes, and only with the support of six of the Latin American and Caribbean countries, which have publicly changed their stance. Today, it is most unlikely that 18 countries would support retaining Guaidó’s nominee as the legitimate representative of Venezuela. But the anachronistic rules of the OAS are such that while only 18 votes were required to impose a representative, a two-thirds majority or 22 votes is needed to reverse the imposition, and thus to correct this wrong.
It may very well be that, given that 15 of the 33 voting member states of the OAS did not support the April 2019 decision, and eight countries have now publicly changed their position, there are 23 countries that could overturn it.
All of this sets the stage for a completely different conversation concerning Venezuela; importantly one that will not include the myth that Guaidó is the interim president of the country. That is not to say that he would not remain a participant in any negotiations among the parties in Venezuela to find a solution to the political impasse in that country, but he would not be doing so on the unrealistic premise that has so far been promoted.
Both the OAS and the IDB, in their functional and financial interests, need to remedy the situation regarding Venezuela. On a wider hemispheric level, credible and practical discussions should be initiated with the government that is in charge of Venezuela, in order to reintegrate the country and its resources into the global trading and financial system.
In that way, desired reforms in Venezuela could be achieved with benefits to its people, and to the role it could play in the peaceful development and prosperity of the hemisphere.
Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US and the OAS, and a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own. For responses and previous commentaries, visit www.sirronaldsanders.com.