The Specter of Interventionism is Haunting Latin America

At a special meeting held on April 9, 2019, chaired by the U.S. delegation, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted its resolution CP/RES. 1124 (2217/19) rev. 2 resolving “to accept the appointment of Mr. Gustavo Tarre” – a representative of self-proclaimed interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaidó – “as the National Assembly’s designated Permanent Representative, pending new elections and the appointment of a democratically elected government.” The resolution passed with the minimum number of votes required (18 in favor, nine against, six abstentions and one State not present). It also instructed the OAS Secretary General to transmit the resolution to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The session was very controversial, to say the least, from a procedural and substantive perspective. It was clear that there was a political motivation behind this decision, which went beyond the rules of procedure of the OAS, with the intention to have an impact beyond the realm of the Organization itself. Moreover, this move seemed intended to pave the way for other possible actions in Venezuela.

Point in case, the UN Security Council held its 8,506th meeting the very next day with only one item in its agenda: the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. U.S. Vice President Michael Pence participated in the meeting. Among other things, he said the following:

The United States of America will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela, but all options are on the table.

Up to this point, while other international bodies have acted, the United Nations and the Security Council have refused to act. But now that nations across this hemisphere have spoken, the time has come for the United Nations to recognize interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela and seat his representative in this body. This body should revoke the credentials of Venezuela’s representative to the United Nations, recognize interim President Juan Guaidó and seat the representative of the free Venezuelan Government in this body without delay.

With all due respect, Ambassador Moncada should not be at this meeting. He should return to Venezuela and tell Nicolás Maduro that his time is up. It is time for him to go. (emphasis added)

Vice President Pence was referring to the decision adopted by the OAS the day before when saying that “nations across this hemisphere” had spoken, although that is quite a stretch considering that the resolution was one vote away from not being adopted. Also, taking into account that there are 33 Latin American and Caribbean States, 17 votes (excluding the United States) barely makes it to half of the membership of the region. Furthermore, it is worth noting that 12 States recorded their explanation of vote in the resolution, none of them in favor, arguing, inter alia, that the Permanent Council acted ultra vires; that the OAS does not have the competence to address questions of recognition of governments; that the resolution was illegal; that, in any case, the issue should have been addressed by other competent bodies of the Organization, and; that this resolution sets a dangerous precedent regarding how such matters will be dealt with by the OAS hereafter.

However, none of this was of relevance for Vice President Pence on April 10. His message was not about numbers or nuances. The point was to build a narrative that could legitimize unilateral future action in Venezuela, since the UN and the Security Council “have refused to act.” What type of action? Any kind: all options are on the table.

The reiteration at a formal meeting of the Security Council, the principal political organ of the UN with the mandate to address situations that pose a threat to international peace and security, that “all options are on the table” and that it is time for President Maduro to go, indeed seemed to be an ultimatum. Expressed at the second highest political level (by Vice President Pence), it appeared nothing short of a threat of the use of force.

It is worth noting that in response to this statement, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation said:

Today we are witnessing yet another episode in a tragedy in many acts in an attempt to effect regime change in Venezuela. The situation in Venezuela does not pose a threat to international peace and security. However, the outside players involved are a direct threat to the peace and security of Venezuela itself, and we have just heard that today.

(…)

The United States has persisted in destabilizing the situation in Venezuela by creating an artificial crisis around the country in order to replace its legitimately elected leader with its own pawn. There are endless examples of the United States’ blatant interference in the affairs of Latin American countries and its use of military force to overthrow leaders it does not like. I would like to once again ask Venezuela’s neighbours if they have really learned nothing from history. Do they really not understand that Venezuela is merely a bargaining chip in the geopolitical and geostrategic struggle for influence in the region and the world, in the spirit of a revitalized Monroe Doctrine? By the way, the attitude of Latin American countries to what is happening in Venezuela is not as unequivocal and uniform as the Vice-President of the United States told us today. We have heard that in previous Council meetings. (emphasis added)

Russian position aside, it is interesting that reference was made to the Monroe Doctrine, given the developments that took place in the following months.

The spirit of a revitalized Monroe Doctrine?

The Monroe Doctrine has been the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America since it was first mentioned by President James Monroe in December 1823. Throughout its long development, it has been associated with a foreign policy of influence, control and interventionism by the United States based on claimed prerogatives in the Western Hemisphere.

In an attempt to distance U.S. policy from this legacy, former Secretary of State John Kerry, during a speech delivered at the OAS in November 2013, declared that “The era of the Monroe Doctrine is over…. The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American States.”

However, the Monroe Doctrine era is far from over. In his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly on 25 September 2018, President Trump reiterated that this Doctrine constitutes the “formal policy” of his country and made particular reference to the situation in Venezuela in that context. This was also expressly mentioned by then-National Security Adviser John Bolton in an interview earlier this year regarding Venezuela, in which he declared that: “In this administration, we’re not afraid to use the phrase ‘Monroe Doctrine’. [Venezuela] is a country in our hemisphere; it’s been the objective of presidents going back to Ronald Reagan to have a completely democratic hemisphere.”

As expected, the claims of a “revitalized Monroe Doctrine” also made their way into Security Council debates. Several direct references can be found in the official records of it 8452nd meeting from last January. Needless to say, the agenda item during which it was raised was once again the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The Monroe Doctrine and the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) – Why is it Relevant?

The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR for its Spanish acronym) was adopted on September 2, 1947 under the auspices of the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security, convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, only two years after the adoption of the UN Charter. Its adoption had been recommended in Resolution VIII of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, held in Mexico City in 1945.

The Treaty, whose objective is to prevent and repel threats and acts of aggression against any of the countries of the Americas, is deeply rooted in the sentiment behind the Monroe Doctrine, especially in the wake of the Cold War.

The last paragraph of the TIAR’s preamble indicates that the Treaty was concluded “in order to assure peace, through adequate means, to provide for effective reciprocal assistance to meet armed attacks against any American State, and in order to deal with threats of aggression against any of them.”

Since its entry into force on December 3, 1948, the TIAR has been tainted with controversy. For example, while it was invoked in 1962 in the context of the naval blockade of Cuba during the Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union, the United States took a different approach when the Treaty was invoked by Argentina during the Malvinas War in 1982, favoring the United Kingdom, in a demonstration of double standards regarding the Treaty’s objectives. Additionally, the Caribbean countries that became independent after 1947 did not become parties (except for Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas), Canada has not adhered to it, Peru denounced the Treaty in 1990 but withdraw its denunciation in 1991, and many States have definitively withdrawn from the Treaty (see the status of participation here).

Mexico is one of the States that has withdrawn from the TIAR. In a statement delivered at the OAS on September 7, 2001, former President Vicente Fox claimed not only that the TIAR was “greatly obsolete and that it was useless,” but that, “contrary to its purpose, it had impeded the creation of a notion of security that was adequate for the scope and needs of the hemisphere.”

Similarly, the countries of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA) that were parties to the TIAR – namely Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua – during the 42nd ordinary assembly of the OAS, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2012, announced that they had jointly decided to withdraw from the Treaty. The same arguments of uselessness were mentioned and, as was the case with Mexico, the Malvinas War was cited as an example of how ineffective and politicized the Treaty is.

Despite all of these downfalls and political blows, the TIAR has recently reappeared on the regional scene.

The Revival of the TIAR and its Possible Implications

For many, the events and declarations described above regarding the ongoing Venezuelan crisis – OAS decisions, UN debates and declarations to the press, among others – could be perceived as separate (sometimes even unrelated) tracks or as independent diplomatic battlefronts. However, when properly analyzed and considered together, they show a clear and well thought out articulation of a narrative leading to interventionism – a narrative we know very well in our region. Much has been written about this, none as brilliantly (in the author’s opinion) as Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America, which incidentally the late Hugo Chavez gave former President Barack Obama as a gift back in 2009.

The next key step in the transition from narrative to effective action took place on September 11 when, by initiative of Colombia with the support of Brazil and the United States, the Permanent Council of the OAS, with 12 votes in favor, five abstentions and two States not present in a vote in which only TIAR parties participate, adopted resolution CP/RES. 1137 (2245/19) rev. 2 corr. 1, considering that the crisis in Venezuela “has a destabilizing impact, posing a clear threat to peace and security in the Hemisphere” (emphasis added). The resolution decided:

  1. To provisionally form the Organ of Consultation provided for under Article 12 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) and to convene the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs referred to in Article 11 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) for the second half of September 2019.
  2. To inform the United Nations Security Council about the text of this resolution and about all activities related to this matter.

It is important to mention that after the self-proclamation of Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela, the National Assembly decided to rejoin the TIAR last July 23, an action that has been accepted by the depositary (namely the OAS).

A follow-up meeting of the States Parties to the TIAR was held on September 13 to discuss a possible way forward. A decision was made to close the meeting to observer States. This was followed by a first ministerial meeting held in New York on September 23, where resolution RC.30/RES. 1/19 was adopted, resolving inter alia to identify persons and entities linked to the “Maduro’s regime” involved in money laundering, drug trafficking and terrorism, and to evaluate measures to be taken under Article 8 of the TIAR. A second ministerial meeting was held in Bogotá, Colombia, last December 3. As indicated in the Declaration of the Presidency of the Organ of Consultation, a second resolution was adopted to give effect to paragraphs 1 and 2 of resolution RC.30/RES.1/19. According to the Declaration, the next ministerial meeting will take place in the first trimester of 2020.

The activation of the TIAR in this context also prompted negative reactions. On that same day, Mexico issued an official statement expressing its deep concern regarding this measure and categorically rejecting the invocation of the TIAR. It stated that:

invoking a treaty that intrinsically supposes the possibility of the use of force, in the absence of an armed attack, is contrary to the rules of international law referring to the use of force. It would even be more grave to pretend that an eventual use of force would fall within the concept of self-defense, which in no way can be invoked as preventive action.

Similarly, on September 27, Uruguay sent a note to the Secretary General of the OAS forwarding a notification of withdrawal of the Treaty signed by its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The language used in Uruguay’s notification is quite strong in diplomatic terms. It indicates that the implementation with “spurious ends that was done regarding the TIAR not only distorts the specific purposes of the treaty but sets a dangerous precedent that reinforces how obsolete this instrument is.” It goes on to say that:

with measures such as the reactivation of the TIAR mechanism in this particular situation, in which no elements of law or fact justify it, a new blow is given to the architecture of the multilateral hemispheric governance that the region has adopted to articulate cooperation and to contribute to the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights as fundamental principles in our continent.

The reason why the reactivation of the TIAR prompted such reactions is precisely because it puts the option of military action back on the table. Article 3 of the TIAR establishes the following:

ARTICLE 3

  1. The High Contracting Parties agree that an armed attack by any State against an American State shall be considered as an attack against all the American States and, consequently, each one of the said Contracting Parties undertakes to assist in meeting the attack in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.
  2. On the request of the State or States directly attacked and until the decision of the Organ of Consultation of the Inter-American System, each one of the Contracting Parties may determine the immediate measures which it may individually take in fulfillment of the obligation contained in the preceding paragraph and in accordance with the principle of continental solidarity. The Organ of Consultation shall meet without delay for the purpose of examining those measures and agreeing upon the measures of a collective character that should be taken.
  3. The provisions of this Article shall be applied in case of any armed attack which takes place within the region described in Article 4 or within the territory of an American State. When the attack takes place outside of the said areas, the provisions of Article 6 shall be applied.
  4. Measures of self-defense provided for under this Article may be taken until the Security Council of the United Nations has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. (emphasis added)

The Treaty not only provides for the obligation of States to assist others in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in the event of an armed attack; it also allows for States to individually take immediate measures, upon request.

Also relevant is Article 6, which establishes the following:

ARTICLE 6

If the inviolability or the integrity of the territory or the sovereignty or political independence of any American State should be affected by an aggression which is not an armed attack or by an extra-continental or intra-continental conflict, or by any other fact or situation might endanger the peace of America, the Organ of Consultation shall meet immediately in order to agree on the measures which must be taken in case of aggression to assist the victim of the aggression or, in any case, the measures which should be taken for the common defense and for the maintenance of the peace and security of the Continent. (emphasis added)

Regarding the measures that can be taken in accordance with the provisions of the TIAR, consideration has to be given to Article 8:

ARTICLE 8

For the purposes of this Treaty, the measures on which the Organ of Consultation may agree will comprise one or more of the following: recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; partial or complete interruption of economic relations or of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and radiotelephonic or radiotelegraphic communications; and use of armed force. (emphasis added)

(The relationship of the TIAR and self-defense has been succinctly addressed in a piece by Adil Ahmad Haque, published recently in Just Security, and use of force under the TIAR – with particular focus on articles 3, 6, and 8 – is analyzed in this Just Security article by Federica Paddeu.)

Building the Case for Intervention

This is how the argument would go: the sovereignty and political independence of Venezuela (victim State represented by Guaidó) is being affected by the aggression of an illegitimate power (represented by Maduro) creating a situation that poses a clear threat to peace and security in the hemisphere (premise of the Monroe Doctrine). Therefore, upon the request of the “legitimate government” (self-defense), given the inaction of the UN and, in particular, the Security Council, States Parties to the TIAR have the obligation to take measures (all options are on the table) for the common defense and for the maintenance of peace and security in Venezuela (with full regional legitimacy). A careful revision of the statement delivered by Vice President Pence in the Security Council in light of these developments at the OAS shows that all the elements leading to this argument are clearly spelled out.

Hence, the situation now is very complex but also extremely dangerous. We have more than enough precedents in Latin America that show a perfect storm is being created for yet another case of intervention. And while the use of force would be the worst possible scenario, many other forms of foreign intervention that have a tremendous potential of being harmful to the people of Venezuela are possible – the people always being collateral damage to international geopolitics.

We are yet to see how this course of action plays out. Clearly the final word has not been said. So far, the Lima Group (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and “Venezuela”), in a joint declaration on September 23, 2019, has “expressed their readiness to adopt new sanctions or other economic and political measures against Maduro’s regime, directed at favoring the reestablishment, without the use of force, of the rule of law and the constitutional and democratic order in Venezuela” (emphasis added).

The express renunciation to the use of force is certainly important. Nevertheless, the reality is that all actions taken so far, including the reactivation of the TIAR mechanism, show that for the United States indeed all options are still on the table, including the use of force. Moreover, legitimacy is being built around the notion of interventionism – including through unilateral military action. The danger of this alleged “legitimacy” cannot be underscored enough.

Interventionism is knocking again on many doors in the region – not only in Venezuela but more recently in what many have called a de facto coup d’Etat in Bolivia and even in Mexico with the recent decision of President Trump to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorists (the official statement of the Mexican Government in response is available here and an article on the issue written jointly by the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN and the author of this piece can also be found here, both in Spanish).

Hopefully, Latin America will be able to rise to the challenge of this crisis and find the political will to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue and diplomacy for the sake of the people of Venezuela, first and foremost, and for all the peoples of our region. The time has come to write a new chapter of Latin American history – one that rejects interventionism once and for all.

* Legal Adviser of the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN. I wish to express my gratitude to Ms. Laura Clark for her research assistance in preparing this piece. All views expressed are solely in my personal capacity.

 

IMAGE: US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a Security Council meeting about the situation in Venezuela at the United Nations in New York on April 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Pablo Arrocha Olabuenaga

Legal Adviser of Mexico to the United Nations.