Democracy in Venezuela is crumbling. President Nicolas Maduro has eroded checks on his authority, sidelined the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and violently suppressed courageous Venezuelans protesting his administration’s failed policies. Months of protest and the establishment of the Constituent Assembly—an unconstitutional body designed to supplant the National Assembly and solidify Maduro’s hold on power—have left the opposition drained and disheartened.
The Venezuelan people need our help. The disjointed policies of the United States and its regional partners have thus far failed to contain the western hemisphere’s most serious threat to democratic governance and stability. Working with the Organization of the American States, the United States and its partners must pursue a coordinated strategy to condemn Maduro’s actions, demand the restoration of democratic governance, and isolate the regime.
First, the Organization of American States must condemn Maduro’s authoritarianism and human rights abuses. The organization’s failure to reach the two-thirds vote threshold required to publicly condemn the regime this summer is unacceptable, especially when the United States and the other 19 nations that signed onto this formal declaration have the economic and diplomatic clout to obtain the three additional votes needed to secure this two-thirds majority.
Second, the Organization of American States must demand the Maduro regime restore democratic governance. It must suspend the unconstitutional Constituent Assembly and hold a referendum on his presidency. Furthermore, Venezuela must admit Organization of American States and United Nations human rights monitors to document abuses and election observers to monitor future elections.
Third, the Organization of American States must isolate the Maduro regime should it fail to comply with these demands. Regionally, member nations should cut diplomatic ties and implement coordinated targeted sanctions against top regime officials, similar to the unilateral sanctions already in place. Internationally, China and Russia are well known supporters of Maduro; member nations should pressure them to end their financial assistance to Venezuela and inform Russia that future shipments of military equipment will be seized.
The Organization of American States provides the United States with a credible mechanism for coordinating with regional partners. This mechanism allows the United States to overcome the highly unpopular nature of unilateral United States action in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although Maduro announced Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organization of American States, it is still obligated to uphold the democratic principles enumerated in the organization’s charter and subsequent agreements.
This approach establishes clear demands that are consistent with the Venezuelan constitution and the desires of the Venezuelan people. Should these demands go unheeded, economic and diplomatic consequences are also clearly defined. To maximize effectiveness, these consequences must be implemented multilaterally.
Every demand is designed to combat authoritarian practices and chart Venezuela on a path back to democratic governance. Suspending the Constituent Assembly restores the power of the legitimate legislative authority. Holding a referendum satisfies a key opposition demand and puts Venezuelans in charge of their future. Allowing human rights monitors and election observers to enter the country pressures the regime to respect domestic laws and international norms.
The Organization of American States is the western hemisphere’s most credible institution for multilateral action. The United States can address concerns of undue influence by supporting its regional partners as they lead the response to the Venezuelan crisis. Additionally, all proposed actions should be consistent with the demands of the Venezuelan people—to ensure that regional action supports Venezuela’s sovereignty. Furthermore, the United States and its partners should emphasize to China and Russia the diplomatic and financial risks associated with their investments in Venezuela, as well as the harm this support does to the country’s stability and democratic governance.
There is still time to save Venezuela. The country has an active, engaged, and courageous population united in opposition to the repressive Maduro regime. Working through the Organization of American States, the United States and its regional partners can help the Venezuelan people restore peace to their country and eradicate the threat of authoritarianism from the hemisphere.
* * *
Matthew Ibarra is a graduate student at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is studying Security Policy Studies with a concentration in Conflict Resolution and Security & Development.