I just returned attended a fascinating event held at the CATO Institute, in downtown Washington, on the subject of the Organization of American States, OAS. The event featured two experts on this organization: Former Panamanian Ambassador Guillermo Cochez, recently dismissed from his post after denouncing the secretary general’s passivity in dealing with the threats against democracy in the Latin American region and lawyer William Berenson, recently pensioned after 25 years in the organization, where he reached the position of General Counsel.
The event essentially consisted of two presentations, one by Mr Cochez and the other by Mr. Berenson, with some brief comments by CATO’s moderator Juan Carlos Hidalgo. I summarize them below, helped by notes taken during the presentations and by memory, although I do not claim them to represent a precisetranscript but simply my understanding of what transpired.
Guillermo Cochez’s presentation.
Ambassador Cochez defined the current OAS as an organization in crisis, essentially hijacked by Hugo Chavez. Chavez controls the ALBA countries, the Caribbean block of countries and has the sympathy of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. The democratic countries within the OAS keep mostly silent: the U.S., Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, even Paraguay (?).
Cochez described the sequence of Latin American crises that have taken place during recent times and the posture taken by Insulza in each one, in order to show that he has been a systematic supporter of the side behaving in undemocratic fashion.
In Honduras Insulza was not even neutral, as he acted in favor of Zelaya’s attempt at creating a referendum that would pave the way for his re-election by sending OAS personnel to the country to help this process, while the Supreme Court and Congress were already denouncing the attempt as unconstitutional. Once Zelaya was ousted he placed the organization on the side of the deposed president, although Honduran institutions had acted in line with the constitution. The intervention of Nicolas Maduro, foreign minister of Chavez, was notorious, as he accompanied Zelaya to the border of Honduras, and with a megaphone in his hands tried to call Zelaya’s followers to action.
The political crisis created by Nicaragua’s invasion of Costa Rica ‘s territory was generated to promote a change in Nicaragua’s constitution, to make it possible for Ortega to run for president once more. In this crisis Insulza kept mum.
Colombia presented proof in the OAS, including maps and photos, that showed FARC camps in Venezuela, where the guerrilla rested and conducted training. Insulza never called for an investigation by the OAS, although Panama, through Cochez, did.
The ousting by Fernando Lugo from the presidency, done under the constitution, was also criticized by Insulza and Paraguay was the object of OAS visits and criticism by Insulza.
Insulza insistently asked for the return of Cuba to the OAS without conditions, in spite of the fact that Cuba still has a dictatorial regime.
During the several crises that Venezuela has had during Insulza’s tenure he has always been sympathetic to the authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez. In the latest crisis, still developing, Insulza approved thearbitrary decision of the regime to alter (I add, to break) the constitutional order by letting Chavez take his time about his inauguration and placing the wrong man as provisional president. Insulza rapidly discarded the Canadian proposal to send an investigative OAS commission to Venezuela.
In other areas Insulza has shown to be in disregard of the principles of the Democratic Charter. During his tenure Chavez insulted Human Rights OAS leader Sebastian Garzon (called him human excrement), Chavez’s ambassador Chaderton insulted Cochez (first time ever this happens in presence of a Secretary General), even called Insulza himself an a** h*** without any reaction from Insulza.
In a more general way Cochez defined ALBA as a great obstacle within the OAS against all attempts to enforce the charter, calling them interventionists. He said the Caribbean block of 14 nations is under Chavez’s control (by means, I add, of the oil given to them in a subsidized manner). Countries like Brazil and Argentina are silent accomplices of the Chavez regime (I add, for commercial reasons, some of them corrupt). The U.S., Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia are mostly silent. Canada is the only country still active in the defense of democracy, also Costa Rica to some extent. In this respect, Cochez lauded the visit to Venezuela of the Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, where he would meet with both the government and with members of the opposition.
Cochez said that the OAS is essentially bankrupt and most of the bill is footed by the U.S. To pay employees they recently had to borrow money from the Scholarship Fund, since Brazil and Venezuela, for example, had a debt of about $10 million (with that fund?).
Cochez acknowledged that the OAS plays a worthwhile role in many areas of Latin American development but is failing badly in the political area. He feels that the OAS can still be rescued although he did not specify how to go about it.
William Berenson’s presentation.
Mr. Berenson, a long time employee of the OAS, retired in December 2012 as General Legal Counsel, presented a different perspective on the organization and on Insulza. He touched upon five main points:
OAS has not been hijacked, there is a realignment of forces
Expectations on what the Secretary General can legally do are unreasonably high
Insulza had high and low points during his long tenure. He faced the most difficult situations in
There is institutional schizophrenia within the OAS
The Democratic Charter is somewhat conflicting , difficult to apply
Berenson says that some time ago the U.S. called all the shots in the organization. As the Latin American countries became economically stronger they also developed an increasing sense of independence, which largely explains current political alignments within the organization. He said that the Secretary General does not have enough legal authority to act as many would like to see him act. He praised Mr. Insulza for his defense of Human Rights in the region. Mr. Berenson said that the schizophrenia within the OAS centers on the conflict between representative democracy and the principle of non-intervention. He also said that the Charter had some obscurity regarding its application. I seem to remember that, as ane example of obscurity, he mentioned the problem of defining alteration of the constitutional order.
I, the Jury:
The two presentations seemed to me like the proceedings of a trial, one in which Mr. Cochez was the prosecutor and Mr. Berenson the defense, although this was not what was intended. As a member of the audience ( jury), I would not hesitate in saying Insulza is guilty on all counts, on the basis of what I heard yesterday. Mr. Cochez spoke mostly about principles while Mr. Berenson spoke mainly about legal and bureaucratic constraints. I believe that to do or, at least, to say the right thing does not require legal authority or a great deal of money. Mr. Insulza had plenty of opportunity to say the right things, to adopt the right attitudes towards the defense of democracy in the region. He chose to keep mum or, worse, to place himself, in practically every case, on the side of the authoritarian or dictatorial government. In Honduras, Paraguay, Cuba, Venezuela, the FARC and Nicaragua-Costa Rica, he was invariably on the side of the bad guys or silent (which amounts to complicity). In his comments Mr. Berenson went as far as claiming that the defense of democracy by the OAS is only one of its activities, suggesting perhaps that it was not all-important. I would like to think that this is not what he meant to say because that view is very dangerous.
In politics as in life attitudes and gestures are all important. Without having the legal authority to act he could have said that he felt the political situation in Venezuela was far from clear but he chose to say that he accepted the decision made by a Supreme Tribunal of Justice that is little more than a choir of castrati (in fact, they do sing about keeping Chavez in power, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQYVK4RlEUc. Similarly he could have spoken in defense of democracy in Cuba, in Honduras, in Paraguay or regarding the presence of FARC in Venezuela, but always chose the authoritarian side.
He must have had his reasons.
To me, he was clearly shown to be guilty, yesterday at CATO.
To me, he was clearly shown to be guilty, yesterday at CATO.