Ignoring human rights abuses in Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil.
It was one of the more clever protests against Venezuela's repressive socialist regime – and specifically, against the region's leftists governments who are supporting it. But this time, there were no street barricades or massive marches protesting what Venezuela-style socialism has wrought: out-of-control crime, food shortages, and a dysfunctional economy. No tear gas or rubber bullets were fired by Venezuela's security forces or Cuban agents and goons. No Chavista thugs showed up on motorcycles.
This was a remarkably peaceful student protest -- one utilizing headline-grabbing political theater to expose the moral corruption of Venezuela's regional allies. Earlier this week, scores of students gathered outside four embassies: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Like 18 other left-leaning nations in the Caribbean and Latin America, they are either ideological soulmates of oil-rich Venezuela or enjoy its oil largesse. Not surprisingly, they have remained silent over Venezuela's brutal crackdown against massive anti-government protests that have raged for nearly two months -- leaving at least 35 people dead and hundreds injured. Most were students. Hugo Chávez, a firebrand socialist, used sweetheart oil deals to make friends and build anti-American alliances soon after becoming president in 1999.
Besides the obligatory protest signs, the students brought something else: oil barrels. They lined several of them up outside each embassy, and then tossed fake dollars bills around them. At issue for the students was last Friday's shameful meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., where Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado got a cold shoulder from most OAS members. They had no interest in hearing her discuss Venezuela's rights abuses.
The OAS's mission includes promoting peace and democracy; yet its members argued for hours about whether Machado, a 46-year-old engineer, could or couldn't speak. Coming to her defense, Panama made her a temporary part of its delegation -- a procedural maneuver it hoped would allowed her to discuss Venezuela's right abuses in a formal and public session. But Venezuela's left-leaning allies ultimately prevailed, voting only to hear her during a private session reserved for ad hoc matters. The vote was 22 to 11.
Keeping the session private was unusual for an organization claiming to support transparency; whose charter allows for sanctioning rights abusers within its ranks. Yet Venezuela's OAS member Carmen Luisa Velasquez defended the closed session and, according to The Wall Street Journal, provoked loud laughter when commending that it would be preformed "[w]ith total transparency: in privacy."
It was an Orwellian remark, the sort of language you might expect in a communist state like Cuba, where language is turned on its head to serve the state. Machado said as much, blaming the behavior of the OAS on the influence of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and Cuba. Under Maduro, Cuba has gained an even bigger role in Venezuela than it had during Hugo Chávez's days, according to many observers. Chávez died of cancer a year ago.
"They are afraid of the truth," Machado told reporters after the OAS meeting. "They don't want the truth to come out about the massive repression taking place in Venezuela. They don't want it to be known in the world and in our America."
Machado is hardly alone in speaking out against Cuba. In recent months, its growing influence in Venezuela has provoked anti-Cuban protest marches; anti-Cuban graffiti ("Cuba Out!); and Cuba has been a frequent topic on social media. Venezuela's twitter users -- when not blocked by Venezuela's Internet censors -- have buzzed with accounts of Cuban goons and military equipment playing a part in the brutal crack-down of the student-led protest movement. Cuba receives 100,000 barrels of Venezuela oil a day in exchange for various types of technical assistance. It has long regarded Venezuela as a prize, having sponsored guerrilla insurgencies there in the 1960s. Recently, El Nuevo Herald, sister paper of The Miami Herald, documented the extensive role that Cuba's security forces are playing in Venezuela, based on interviews with ex-intelligence agents in Venezuela.
The Cubanization of Venezuela is not only reflected in the repression which the OAS doesn't want to hear about, but in the Maduro administration's harassment and marginalization of opposition leaders -- a strategy right out of the Castro brothers' playbooks. After addressing the OAS, for instance, Machado was called a traitor by some Venezuelans lawmakers. The leader of Venezuela's congress, Diosdado Cabello, even said her OAS appearance had violated the constitution; and so she had lost her seat in the legislature and was no longer immune from being prosecuted for allegedly provoking violent protests.
And earlier this week, security agents arrested one opposition mayor, and another was sentenced to ten months in prison. Both were accused of inciting rebellion by having failed to dismantle street barricades set up by anti-government protesters. This follows last month's arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López, a former mayor, for allegedly inciting protesters; or what President Maduro claimed was a call to murder, arson, and terrorism -- charges Amnesty International called a "politically motivated attempt to silence dissent. "To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented," López wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
Machado, for her part, is no stranger to Chavista thuggishness. Last April, Chavista lawmakers attacked her in congress and broke her nose.
OAS members who supported Panama's effort to give Machado a public hearing were: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, United States, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Paraguay, and Perú. Among those opposing Panama's effort: Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and the Caribbean countries minus Barbados, which abstained.
The Obama administration has spoken out against Venezuela's human rights violations, but it has yet to take action. While the OAS meeting was discouraging for U.S. interests and supporters of democracy, it did have an upside, as pointed out by Venezuela analyst Francisco Toro at Caracas Chronicles. "Nearly twice as many people live in the eleven countries that voted against the Maduro regime than in countries that voted with it. Out of the 17 Spanish speaking countries in OAS, 9 voted against the Maduro regime, just 8 for it."
Machado reportedly took this video with her to explain what has been happening in Venezuela:
The video depicts a grim reality for Venezuela. Unfortunately, the country continues to roil, with reconciliation still a distant possibility.
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