CARICOM Holds the Balance of Power on Venezuela at the OAS General AssemblyJun 19 2017 Voces
Headlines out of next week’s Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly (GA) (June 19th through 21st) will inevitably focus on Venezuela—the first item foreign ministers will take up when they gather in Cancún, Mexico. The recent ad hoc meeting of OAS foreign ministers in Washington—convened on May 31st to discuss the situation in Venezuela—ended without a clear resolution, leaving the debate to spill over into the GA. Just like in May, all eyes will be on role of the nations of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the fine line they continue to walk between Venezuela’s government allies and critics.
This is but the latest in a series of OAS meetings on Venezuela, and this time the stakes are very clear. The May 31 foreign ministers meeting was left deadlocked between two different resolutions—one introduced by CARICOM nations and the other by a Peru-led bloc—with both opposed by Venezuela and its staunchest allies (Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador). Venezuela walked away claiming victory, and it will hope that this three-way standoff will continue.
As diplomats from across the Americas prepare to depart for Cancún, little seems to have changed in the underlying dynamics. Reports suggest that, as things stand, no resolution will be able to garner the votes of the necessary two-thirds majority of member states. The gap between the Peruvian resolution and the CARICOM resolution is significant, making compromise difficult. And rather than a tepid, watered down resolution, countries supportive of a tough resolution may prefer no outcome to a weak outcome. Suspending the consultation meeting without resolution, to be continued at a future date, keeps the issue of Venezuela alive and allows foreign ministers a mechanism to continue voicing their concerns.
The structure of the OAS voting system gives the Caribbean countries significant power. Thanks to one-country-one-vote, the OAS is one of the few venues where these small countries—especially in the Eastern Caribbean—can play a decisive role on the world stage. The Caribbean smartly recognizes that their power is strongest if they act as a unit, which will make it hard to peel off individual countries.
If a resolution is going to come out of the GA, it will require a change of heart from some or all nations in the Caribbean. An energy-starved region, the Caribbean countries have a history of benefiting from subsidized Venezuelan oil through Petrocaribe. While Petrocaribe has declined in relevance due to the Venezuelan crisis and low oil prices, Caribbean Petrocaribe countries may continue expressing gratitude for past largesse or hedging their bets for the future.