On September 11, 2013, the same day the Americas commemorated the 13th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Hugo Chávez’s decision from one year ago to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) was finally materialized by Nicolás Maduro’s Administration. This mistake makes Venezuela the only Latin-American country, except for Cuba, that does not recognize the Inter-American Human Rights Court’s competence, the legal instrument the Organization of American States (OAS) wields to strengthen democracy and human rights.
The Human Rights Commission will continue to be aware of violations in Venezuela, because we are still part of the OAS. However, the denunciation of the Convention and the country’s subsequent departure from the Court is detrimental to the right of Venezuelan citizens to be widely and timely protected in this area. From now on, Venezuelans, and particularly the most vulnerable and poor of us, must resort to a more complex and less direct process than the UN courts.
Maduro’s Administration has ignored every local and international recommendation and petition not to make effective the denunciation of the ACHR. They have insisted on their “revolutionary” motivations and on the idea that the Court is a vehicle for destabilizing “progressive” governments in the continent, and that it has made human rights a political issue. Meanwhile, they have dismissed real political costs, and the nation will pay for leaving this prestigious continental court. The first comes as another blow to legitimacy, given the fact that the departure itself is an unconstitutional act.
Indeed, according to the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela — voted on in 1999 by a majority of the Chavista representatives — which gives constitutional hierarchy to all treaties on human rights, the ACHR cannot be denounced. Chávez’s administration and now Maduro’s should have amended the Constitution before doing so.
In my assessment, the refusal to go back, which is detrimental to Venezuelans and the Chavista government, stems from both an aversion to contradict the late Hugo Chávez’s wishes and acts and from the need to maintain the established guidelines of the Bolivarian project. It also comes precisely as the recently launched electoral campaign for the municipal election on December 8 relies on loyalty to the mentor’s image.
In order to better understand this last point, one should note that during the almost 15 years of Chavismo, the administration has always attacked or threatened to ignore all regulations and institutions of the Inter-American system. As early as 1999, Chávez’s first minister of foreign affairs, journalist José Vicente Rangel, embarked on what the president once referred to as “a hemisphere-wide offensive” against the OAS and all multilateral organizations and regional integration blocks. Rangel accused them of being bourgeois and imperialist — that is to say, of believing in a representative, liberal democracy, rather than the Bolivarian, participatory democracy that characterizes their revolutionary project (called “21st Century Socialist democracy” from 2006).
The assault is therefore against the entire democratic, institutional structure of the region, particularly that of the bodies that monitor and question this behavior, which violates the Venezuelan Constitution and international law.
Among other Chavista moves, this explains the administration’s decision to leave the ACN and the ICSID; the creation of the ALBA; and the attempt to transform the MERCOSUR, the UNASUR, and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) based on revolutionary criteria. It also clarifies its myriad of announcements regarding the departure from the OAS and its related entities.
Were it not for the pragmatism that is dominant today in Latin America, specifically among the South American administrations most favored in terms of business and trade with the Chavista government, this nonsense of leaving the Inter-American Human Rights protection system would be rejected out of hand. It would have brought about loud protests, particularly from the MERCOSUR, given that the denunciation of the ACHR contradicts several human rights treaties, protocols, and commitments signed by the sub-regional block.
Regardless — even though most government officials are turning a blind eye to this new outburst from the Bolivarian Administration, the decision will do even more damage to its image, position, and power in the arena of the hemisphere’s politics, which are becoming more and more unfavorable to it every day.
Translated by Mariano Filippini.