By Sir Ronald Sanders
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto)
At the height of Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States (U.S.) when, on January 23, 2019, he anointed Juan Guaidó as the “Interim President” of Venezuela, as much as 50 countries joined him in a folly that persisted until October 6, 2022.
Juan Guaidó was never the “Interim President” of Venezuela. He never had the power or authority to change anything within Venezuela, and he certainly was not in control of a government in Venezuela that could negotiate with any government in the world. Guaidó’s “Interim Presidency” was a fiction from its beginning, largely concocted by President Trump’s re-election campaign team whose eyes were tightly focussed on votes of the Cuban-Venezuelan exiled community in Florida.
Emphasis was placed on the Organization of American States (OAS) where, traditionally, the U.S. Government has exerted considerable influence over the 35-nation membership. Note that the OAS Secretariat continues to count Cuba as one of its members, even though Cuba was effectively suspended in January 1962, and it rejected a June 2009 OAS resolution, which ended Cuba’s exclusion from the Organization and invited the Cuban government to request participation after a “process of dialogue”.
The background is as follows: On April 27, 2017, the Government of Venezuela denounced the OAS Charter and announced its withdrawal from membership of the Organization with effect two years later on April 27, 2019, as required by the Charter. In August 2017, a Constituent National Assembly was elected in Venezuela to draft a new constitution. The election was disputed within and outside of Venezuela. However, The Democratic Unity Roundtable – the opposition – boycotted the election, claiming that the Constituent Assembly was “a trick to keep the incumbent ruling party in power”. Since the opposition did not participate in the election, the incumbent Great Patriotic Pole, dominated by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, won almost all the seats in the Assembly by default.
On August 8, 2017, eleven member states of the OAS formed “The Lima Group” whose stated purpose was “to address the critical situation in Venezuela and explore ways to contribute to the restoration of democracy in that country through a peaceful and negotiated solution”. They also made their partisanship very clear, by stating, “Their decision not to recognize the National Constituent Assembly, nor the acts emanating from it, due to its illegitimate nature’ and “Their full support and solidarity with the National Assembly, democratically elected”.
The eleven countries were: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Their first meeting was also attended by representatives of Guyana and Jamaica. The then governments of Guyana, Haiti and St. Lucia subsequently joined the group. The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and El Salvador were also described as “regional observers” to the Group. Today, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and St. Lucia have all discarded the “Lima Group”, and its agenda for regime change in Venezuela.
It was the “Lima Group”, together with the U.S. that were active in the OAS throughout the period, August 2017 to January 2019, in initiating various resolutions and declarations on Venezuela.
On January 23, 2019, Juan Guaidó, as head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself “interim president” of the country and was immediately recognised by the then-U.S. President, Donald Trump. Subsequently, the following 16 member states of the OAS similarly declared recognition of Guaidó: Argentina, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. It is this group of states whose representatives in 2019 were active in the OAS, along with Jamaica and St. Lucia, in support of Juan Guaidó as the “interim president” of Venezuela .
Amid protests and objections of 15 member states, on April 19, 2019, by the slimmest majority of 18 votes at a meeting of the Permanent Council, which was convoked contrary to its rules, a Resolution, accepting the Venezuelan National Assembly’s nominee as the designated Permanent Representative, was adopted. Many objections were formally communicated to the Secretariat of the OAS, the United Nations Secretary-General, and all member states of the OAS, in addition to being footnoted to the Resolution.
Subsequently, on June 28, 2019, the OAS General Assembly, again by the slim majority of 18 votes, plus the vote of the disputed Venezuelan representative making it 19, accepted the Permanent Representative to the OAS designated by the “National Assembly” of Venezuela. This resolution was inconsistent with the provisions of the OAS Charter, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations, and the methodology in the UN system. It was blatantly wrong.
Several delegations formally protested the decision and recorded that they would not accept any decisions, declarations or resolutions, which that included the vote of Guaidó’s representative to form a required majority. Among the countries that formally registered their disapproval were: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia, Dominica, Grenada, Mexico, Nicaragua, St Kitts-Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
Throughout the period of the participation of Guaidó’s representative in the Councils of the OAS, he used meetings as a bully pulpit for expounding his political party’s viewpoint. At a meeting of the Permanent Council on December 16, 2020, he falsely and maliciously excoriated the government of Trinidad and Tobago over the circumstances in which a boat sunk between Venezuela and Trinidad, calling for “an investigation into the treatment of Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad and Tobago”. The boat, with no safety equipment on board, was built to carry eight persons but had 41 migrants on board. He was not challenged by the Chair of the Permanent Council – sadly a Representative of a CARICOM nation – for this offensive and false allegation. It was left to the Trinidad and Tobago representative to reject robustly the attack of an outlier in the OAS Council.
The only other body in the entire international system in which Guaido’s representative illegally sits is the OAS ancillary body the Inter-American Development Bank – a situation that also requires review.
In the event, on October 6, 2022, at the 52nd Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly, Antigua and Barbuda, with the co-sponsorship of 10 other countries, proposed a Resolution to overturn the illegal 2018 decision to seat Guaidó’s person as the representative of Venezuela. However, to get the item on the agenda of the meeting, according to the anachronistic and inappropriate rules, a majority of two-thirds of the membership was required.
The U.S. and Canada had vigorously and widely lobbied every government not to support the effort to get the topic on the agenda. Despite their efforts, a majority of member states – 19 of them – voted to do so; only four countries voted against. The latter four countries were the U.S., Canada, Guatemala, and Paraguay. The two big countries managed to stop the transparent dialogue, which they demand should be standard conditions in nations, but they failed to garner support for the continuing illegal presence of Juan Guaidó’s person in the councils of the OAS.
It is significant that the U.S. itself is now bargaining directly with the de facto and de jure government in Venezuela over oil and the swapping of prisoners, recognizing that Guaidó is in charge of nothing and that the fallacy of his “Interim Presidency” is fully exposed, as is the injury done to the OAS.
At the OAS General Assembly, Antigua and Barbuda, in presenting the item to remedy the folly of seating Guaidó’s person, stated: “This is an effort to maintain the credibility, authority and integrity of the OAS”.
It should be recorded that 11 of the 14 CARICOM countries voted in unity. Three governments abstained – Haiti because of its reliance on the U.S. in its current precarious situation; Guyana because of the sensitivity over its present border contention against Venezuela at the International Court of Justice; and Jamaica which has continuously voted favourably to install and maintain Guaidó’s representative.
However, the reality is that support for Guaidó has dwindled in the OAS to four declared member states, and while it was imposed, it was never credible and is now not sustainable.
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