Ambassador Lomellin Remarks to the OAS Permanent Council on the Situation in Venezuela

U.S. Mission to the OAS - Washington, D.C.

Mr. Chair, my delegation welcomes and supports the opportunity to hear directly from a democratically elected member of the Venezuelan opposition, Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado.

This organization has a proud history of openness and transparency. We have welcomed the views and perspectives of countless diverse actors in our hemisphere. The OAS should have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from engaging in open discussion about one of the most important crises currently facing our region.

It is particularly important for us to hear from representative voices with first-hand experience of the situation in Venezuela. Congresswoman Machado is one of those voices. During our last meeting, several Permanent Representatives correctly called for more information and facts. Due to governmental controls over information and media – which run counter to our hemispheric commitment to freedom of expression and press – this body has limited access to on-the-ground, factual reports. We are privileged to have a speaker before us who can provide that important information.

My delegation believes that this should be the first of many first-hand reports on Venezuela, that this Organization was founded to serve as the forum where such issues should be publicly debated and discussed.

It is worth noting that there is ample precedence within our organization for turning a delegation’s chair over to hear from an individual at odds with his or her government. In fact during the Honduran crisis on December 4, 2009, the representative from Venezuela — Mr. Chadderton — ceded his seat to an ex-representative of the Honduran government, Ms. Patti Rodas to address this Council as a temporary member of the Venezuelan delegation. There are several other similar examples that the Secretariat and many of us sitting in this room recall. We should follow these precedents today and let the Congresswoman speak.

In that spirit, we would also propose that Council invite UNASUR to provide us with its views and recommendations immediately after the delegation of Foreign Ministers conducts a fact-finding visit as requested by the Venezuelan government.

Mr. Chair, since this Council last met and called for an end to violence, respect for human rights, for freedoms of expression and assembly, and initiation of a genuine dialogue acceptable to all parties, the situation has deteriorated. Another 7 people have been killed, scores wounded, and several hundred more arrested as continued violence swirled around those exercising their right to peacefully protest.

We have seen increased anti-democratic actions, detentions and significantly augmented military involvement. There have been arrests of democratically elected mayors and officials. The government has moved to strip Ms. Machado of her congressional immunity for nothing more than exercising her constitutional rights. Rather than address the legitimate concerns of its people, the Government of Venezuela seems intent on criminalizing all forms of dissent.

As we have repeatedly stated, Venezuela needs authentically inclusive dialogue mediated by a trusted third-party. We welcome the engagement of all pertinent international bodies – the OAS, UN and UNASUR, among others – to seek a peaceful solution to this growing crisis.

It is, and will always be, essential for this Council and this Organization to stand up for principles that have guided this hemisphere for many decades, which have been enshrined in the Charter of the OAS and in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. These are principles of democratic governance, of support for human rights, of respect for peaceful dissent, and steadfast support for freedom of press and expression.

To fulfill this responsibility, we should welcome the words of all relevant voices in the search for solutions in Venezuela. This process should start with the report today from Congresswoman Machado. Thank you.

- Source: U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS)

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