If there is the equivalent of a “neighborhood watch” on a global level, it is the various groupings of countries by region – the European Union being the most well known. These geographic neighbors not only watch out for each other, they also watch each other. A good example is what happened this week at a special meeting of the Organization of American States.
A majority of the OAS’s 34 active members, including heavyweights Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina, called for talks to end a political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. That country’s drift toward dictatorship under President Nicolás Maduro has become a blight on Latin America’s self-image as a model for democratic values, which were restored in the region only a generation ago. “We cannot remain indifferent,” said Costa Rica’s representative, Rogelio Sotela.
In 2001, the OAS committed to a “democratic charter” that allows for pressure on a member state when its basic liberties or electoral mechanisms have been eroded. In 2009, the charter allowed the OAS to help stop a coup in Honduras. Now, in Venezuela, Mr. Maduro has steadily suppressed the political opposition, which holds a majority in the legislature. And he has blocked a proposed recall referendum on his rule.
In addition, his mismanagement of the economy has created high inflation and an acute hardship in basic goods – despite the fact that Venezuela holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves. According to the 2017 World Happiness Report, Venezuelans’ level of contentment has fallen faster in the rankings than any of the 126 countries studied.
Last year, an attempt by the Vatican to mediate between Maduro and his opponents failed. This latest statement by an OAS majority should help notch up the pressure. The next step could be to suspend Venezuela as a member, which would mean the further loss of international financing and investments. Such a vote would require two-thirds of the OAS, which includes the United States. In December, a subregional trading bloc called Mercosur suspended Venezuela for failing to meet basic standards on human rights.
Worldwide, neighborly pressure on wayward nations has a good track record of late.
In Africa, a regional grouping ousted a president in Gambia after he lost an election but refused to leave. And an Africa-wide court recently convicted a former dictator of Chad. In Myanmar (Burma), a democratic turnaround has been orchestrated in part by other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And the EU has recently nudged both Poland and Hungary about their backsliding on democratic values. In contrast, the Middle East and Central Asia remain two parts of the world with little regional pressure for reform.
The much-maligned global order is not always global. Regional proximity has proved to be a glue that binds nations to common values as well as shared interests. Perhaps Venezuela’s regime will be unable to resist the call of its neighbors to shape up.