Countries Meet in Lima, Twelve Reject Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly

Yesterday a group of 17 foreign ministers and top-level representatives of governments around the region met in Lima, Peru to discuss regional responses to Venezuela’s crisis, resulting in a broad, hard-hitting statement signed by 12 of those in attendance.

In the Lima Declaration, as the document has been dubbed, the signees—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru—collectively reject Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly. In the 16-point document, the countries said they would not recognize the body, nor any of its decisions, due to its “illegitimate character.” This joint statement came on the same day that the Constituent Assembly passed a decree declaring itself superior to all other branches of government.

The 12 countries also expressed a joint commitment to refuse to recognize any decision or agreement that, according to Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution, requires the consent of the opposition-controlled legislature and does not receive it. While the extent of the announcement is not yet clear, this may include economic agreements, such as joint oil ventures, which legally must be ratified by the National Assembly.

In addition to expressing solidarity with the legislative branch, the 12 express their support for the recently dismissed Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, and criticize Venezuela’s unwillingness to comply with international human rights norms. The statement highlights the Maduro government’s rejection of preventative measures to protect Ortega Diaz requested last week by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and accuses Venezuela of failing to comply with the requirements or obligations of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Additionally, the signees cite provisions in the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty as justification to reject the sales of arms to Venezuela, and call on both the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to halt plans to hold a joint EU-CELAC summit planned for October 2017. The 12 nations have also agreed that they will not support any Venezuelan candidates as representatives to regional or international organizations.

On the humanitarian crisis in the country, the declaration includes a “condemnation of the [Venezuelan] government for not allowing the entry of food and medicine to support the Venezuelan people.” When pressed further regarding the economic crisis in a subsequent press conference, Colombian Foreign Minister took to the podium to point to the economic crisis’ toll on migration to her country and to Brazil, and noted that Colombia’s government had extended protections to Venezuelans forced to migrate to her country.

Moving forward, the signees have called for the group of countries that attended the Lima summit to meet again “at the latest” during the next United Nations General Assembly, which will open its general debate beginning September 19.

Interestingly, representatives of five of the 17 countries in attendance did not add their names to the Lima Declaration. The governments of Uruguay, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, and St. Lucia all refrained from signing the document.

In Uruguay’s case, this may be chalked up to the government’s unwillingness to comment on the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, as well as its larger attempts to carve out a more independent position on Venezuela’s crisis amid domestic criticism of the Vazquez administration’s approach among the governing Frente Amplio coalition.

As for the Caribbean countries, their reticence to sign the document may have more to do with a preference among their regional bloc, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to make decisions by consensus whenever possible. In yesterday’s press conference, Peru’s foreign minister asserted that certain CARICOM heads of states were holding a separate coinciding meeting on Venezuela (see 9:48 here). While the agenda of such a CARICOM meeting is unclear, it is very likely that these countries were discussing their potential to facilitate negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.

The Caribben bloc has made this offer multiple times, and just yesterday Maduro claimed that he was “ready to accept dialogue commissions approved by CARICOM.”

It bears mention that this offer represents a significant shift for the Maduro government, which two months ago had publicly floated a list of five other countries (among which only two were CARICOM members) as potential facilitators of talks: Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Dominican Republic.