WASHINGTON — Venezuela is in the vise-grip of a deep crisis; this much was undeniable even prior to the release of a 400-page report by a dubious “independent panel of experts” at the Organization of American States (OAS).
For the past several years, the South American country has been mired in crippling inflation, major shortages of food and goods, and widespread political turmoil. Tens of thousands of desperate people have spilled across the border, multiplying the presence of unauthorized Venezuelan migrants across the Andes. Cities have witnessed violent clashes between the anti-Chavista U.S.-backed opposition and the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, with opposition forces firebombing public transportation systems and children’s hospitals, and even burning alleged Chavistas alive in broad daylight.
Meanwhile, the streets themselves — deprived of economic security – have become the stage for a virtual war between criminal elements, both organized and unorganized, and state security forces.
Yet, lost amid the laser-sharp focus on the “violence” of the Bolivarian Republic, the structural violence of U.S. imperialist hegemony remains undiscussed, almost taboo, and thus escapes culpability for the ruinous plight of the people of Venezuela.
The OAS: Washington’s “Ministry of Colonies”
Chief among the tools used by Washington in its withering economic siege on Venezuela is the OAS. Formed at the dawn of the Cold War in 1948, the OAS was conceived for the purpose of providing the nations of the Western Hemisphere with the ability to settle disputes through mediation, arbitration, dialogue and good-faith peace-building measures.
Since then, however, the Washington-based OAS has come to be regarded as a vulgar tool of U.S. imperialism – earning the title of the “U.S. Ministry of Colonies” from Havana following post-revolutionary Cuba’s expulsion from the body in 1961. As such, it is now being wielded for the express purpose of effecting “regime change” in Caracas, a move that would not only remove a major regional obstacle to U.S. domination of the region but would also open the door to the exploitation of Venezuela’s massive crude oil deposits – as well as its people – by Western multinational corporations.
On May 29, the OAS panel of “independent experts” convened in Washington to build the case for toppling the Bolivarian government and prosecuting Maduro at the International Criminal Court (ICC). As journalist Max Blumenthal said:
The panel comprised a collection of aggressive advocates of regime change in Venezuela. I attended the event to question the self-proclaimed experts on their ulterior agenda and the absurd contradictions behind their claims to support universal human rights.”
Let’s look at one example of such absurdity, as embodied by former Canadian Justice Minister, human rights celebrity, and “independent expert” Irwin Cotler.
An advocate for “universal” human rights … with exceptions
Cotler — an international human-rights lawyer and former Conservative, who recently joined Canada’s ruling Liberal Party — has long stood at the forefront of the West’s inquisitions against the governments of the Global South. While he has made questionable claims that he represented anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela in court, he has also championed right-wing Venezuelan coup leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Speaking to The Canadian Jewish News upon his appointment to the OAS panel last October, Cotler said:
The international experts panel is as timely as it is necessary. As Venezuela slides into dictatorship … and the human suffering of the Venezuelan people intensifies, the restoration of democracy and human rights while combating the culture of impunity is an overriding priority.”
Yet while Cotler has spoken passionately about the plight of human rights victims in some parts of the world – earning the title of “Counsel for the Oppressed” from flagship Canadian magazine Maclean’s – the award-winning rights champion has simultaneously shown scant concern for the plight of the Palestinian people suffering genocide at the hands of an Israeli state that acts with complete impunity.
Surely the plight of Gaza – which has been subjected to 11 years of a suffocating siege by land, air, and sea – would elicit a twinge of sympathy from any supporter of “universal human rights”? Sadly, not only has this not been the case but Cotler’s antipathy toward extending “universal” rights to Palestinians was made shockingly clear in his unflinching accusation that resistance-movement Hamas was to blame for the shocking massacre of 62 unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip last month.
If Cotler deserves distinction, it is for his fanatical devotion to the Zionist project, and his knee-jerk rallying to the defense of its actions on the basis of defending the right of the Jewish “original aboriginal people” to an ethno-religious colony built atop the freshly-bulldozed or bombed homes of Palestinians.
Israeli apartheid institutions deny the people of Palestine their own universal right to self-determination by imposing suffocating restrictions on their movement, travel, and trade. Israeli security forces have been criticized by rights organizations for resorting to the very kinds of excessive and wanton force for which Cotler has castigated Venezuela — including the extrajudicial killing and torture of unarmed Palestinians, including children. While Cotler has called on Western countries to intervene in cases of genocide, he is firmly against any criticism of Israeli apartheid or the construction of huge settlements within the occupied West Bank, which remains illegal under international law despite the apathy of Ottawa and Washington.
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In the eyes of Cotler, the State of Israel and the Jewish People are one in the same. For this partisan of the universal application of human rights law, any criticism of Tel Aviv – whether its leadership is Labor or Likud, liberal-colonial or fascist-colonial – is a manifestation of the “new anti-Semitism” and the denial of Israel’s right to live as equals in the “Family of Nations,” as the tired old Zionist cliché goes.
It’s as if Cotler — whose ruling Liberal Party prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has apologized for Canada’s settler-colonial crimes against First Nations peoples — sees the “Family of Nations” as those countries — such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia — that completely did away with their indigenous populations. So now the European Jews who claim “Israel” as their home deserve a crack at it. Understood.
But what boundless cynicism does it require to claim with a straight face that the human-rights situation in Venezuela is even worse than that in the Gaza Strip – where Israeli bombings are routine, a blockade prevents medical goods and foodstuffs from entering the enclave, and the Israelis experiment with cruelly novel forms of repression and over a decade of collective punishment against a people guilty of resisting, and voting for what he calls “terror group Hamas”?
Of course, Cotler has also explicitly called for the “Responsibility to Protect” the people of Syria from “mass atrocity crimes” committed by the “regime” of President Bashar al-Assad. What else could one expect from such a typically hypocritical Western human-rights imperialist?
As Blumenthal noted in a recent interview with The Real News:
Whenever Israel committed some kind of atrocity, the Mavi Marmara massacre or one war after another in Gaza, Cotler would rush out, just like Dershowitz, as Israel’s public advocate … So, he’s just a suspicious, sort of morally dubious, figure. And for him to be on this panel, I think they just deserved to be questioned about that.”
The OAS panel: a mouthpiece of imperialism
Cotler is far from alone among the morally dubious figures arrogating moral authority to themselves; OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro has also praised the Israelis, favorably comparing the scandal-ridden Netanyahu government to that of Maduro, despite the latter head of state not having launched aggressive wars on his own population or neighboring states. In the meantime, Almagro has been relatively silent in respect to the Western Hemisphere’s most pressing human-rights crises — such as the Mexican government’s crackdowns on social movements resisting neoliberal structural reforms, assassinations of social movement leaders and paramilitary attacks on rural and Indigenous communities throughout Latin America, and the parliamentary coup against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
The OAS panel on crimes against humanity in Venezuela is overseen by Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo, another friend of the Israelis. The former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor has advised the Israelis on how to evade criminal charges for their perpetual expansion of illegal settlements — maintaining that the settler-colonial state could wage a successful defense by manipulating international perceptions through legal arguments justifying the displacement of Palestinians and expropriation of their land, “once [legal permission is] ratified by the [Israeli] top court,” which Ocampo called “highly respected internationally.”
Ocampo hasn’t met a regime-change operation he hasn’t liked: while heading the ICC prosecutor’s office, he has called for warrants to arrest Sudanese President Omar Bashir, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his officials, and Syria’s president. His seeming obsession with toppling leaders in the postcolonial world led Gambia Information Minister Sheriff Bojang to note in October 2016 that the ICC is, “in fact, an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color.”
As one can clearly see, the figures comprising the OAS panel are hardly “independent” and instead represent the White House and right-wing Latin America’s agenda to wage a violent coup against what remains of Venezuelan democracy.
Rather than serving the cause of humanitarianism and human rights, Cotler and his accomplices are selling their legal “expertise” to the cause of creating further suffering for the Venezuelan people through a stepped-up sanctions blockade – the preliminary step toward overthrowing the Bolivarian Republic and reducing a proudly independent nation to a state of neocolonial bondage.
Top Photo | Demonstrators gather in Bolivar Square to show their support of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela and Palestinian medics evacuate a colleague wounded by Israeli troops along Gaza’s border with Israel (AP/Adel Hana).
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.