OAS push to monitor Venezuela elections undercut by PetroCaribe influence
WASHINGTON, USA -- Just ten days after the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) in a harshly-worded letter severely criticized the head of Venezuela's electoral board over its conduct of parliamentary elections in December, Caribbean and Central American diplomats at an OAS Permanent Council meeting last week praised Venezuela for its PetroCaribe subsidised oil programme.
On November 10, OAS secretary general, Luis Almagro, wrote a 19-page letter to Tibisay Lucena, head of Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE), blasting Venezuelan authorities for failing to ensure fair elections in December.
"There are reasons to believe that the conditions in which people will vote ... aren't right now as transparent and just as the (electoral council) ought to guarantee," Almagro wrote.
Almagro said that President Nicolas Maduro's governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela has unfair electoral advantages in its use of public resources in the campaign, access to the press, confusion in voting cards and the disqualification of some opposition political figures.
"It's worrying that ... the difficulties only impact the opposition parties," Almagro wrote. "You (Lucena) are in charge of electoral justice. You are the guarantor."
The OAS has said it would be happy to observe Venezuela's elections, though the CNE has rejected the offer.
Only the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is to send a mission – widely regarded as ineffective – to Venezuela to observe the vote.
Almagro alleged that this denial of international observers is "political positioning."
Polls indicate that Maduro’s party could lose control of Parliament.
On Thursday, the president of the OAS Permanent Council, who happens to be the Venezuelan ambassador, invited a colleague to speak about the PetroCaribe energy programme that several OAS member countries in the Caribbean depend on.
One by one, the effusive remarks demonstrated the influence of the PetroCaribe programme in the region and the challenge the OAS faces as it seeks to pressure Venezuela into opening up its elections next month to international monitors.
Venezuela has distributed as much as $50 billion in subsidized oil over the past decade to help win allies across the Caribbean and Central America.
Eulogio del Pino, president of the Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the state-owned energy company, said he appreciated the opportunity to tout the benefits of the programme that provides billions in oil subsidies. He said he wanted to defend it against “attacks” and “lies” that it was simply a vehicle of political influence.
A dozen ambassadors from across the Caribbean and Central America spoke out in support following the talk. Several described former president Hugo Chavez as visionary for developing the programme and thanked current president Maduro for continuing it.
The representative of St Kitts and Nevis said the programme has helped reduce public debt and Guyana’s representative said PetroCaribe is worth replicating.
Thursday’s praise by many OAS members demonstrates the influence Venezuela has created and continues to hold. In 2014, after a wave of government protests in Venezuela turned violent, the OAS considered intervention. However, 29 member-states instead voted for continued dialogue, which some saw as a validation of Maduro’s response to the protest. Only the United States, Canada and Panama voted against a joint statement.
On Thursday, Michael Fitzpatrick, the US interim permanent representative, said the United States recognized the challenges that Caribbean nations face due to their high energy costs, but that it was important to phase out fossil fuel subsidies that “hamper the growth of nascent renewable energy industries.”
“We recognize that energy transformation will depend on the particular needs of each country,” he said. “And as we all know, public finance alone cannot drive this effort.”
Photo: Eulogio del Pino, Minister of Oil and Mining of Venezuela and President of Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), addresses the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council on the benefits of the PetroCaribe subsidised oil programme on November 19, 2015, in Washington, DC. Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS