OAS says Venezuela is the region's top priority
Policemen patrol outside the Plaza Mayor convention center where the OAS’s 49th General Assembly will take place in Medellin, Colombia [Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP]
Medellin, Colombia – Leaders of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Wednesday cast doubt on any swift change ahead for the political crisis in Venezuela and appealed urgently for more global resources to attend to the more than four million migrants and refugees who have fled that country’s collapse.
The opening day of the OAS General Assembly comes nearly three months after the body accepted representatives of Venezuela‘s political opposition, expelling the delegation of Nicolas Maduro – a move the Venezuelan president decried. But since then, no significant power shift has transpired in Venezuela.
“To remove the dictatorship of the 21st century there is no magic formula,” said OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, dismissing any possibility of military intervention in Venezuela.
“We hope that political pressure continues to accumulate,” he added.
Almagro said the political, economic and humanitarian crises in Venezuela should be the region’s top priority
With no end in sight for the crisis, South American nations find themselves struggling to support an ever-growing population of Venezuelan migrants. Colombia, the venue for this year’s OAS assembly, hosts the most Venezuelans, with nearly 1.5 million currently there.
“We have to say with clarity and emphasis that more international contribution is necessary,” said Carlos Holmes Trujillo, foreign minister of Colombia. “The volume of the crisis grows day-to-day, the demand of resources is every day more significant.”
The needs of the Venezuelan exodus, now topping four million people, strain a country and a region already saddled with social and developmental problems that leave slim space for a robust response to an oncoming crisis.
Civil organisations made such issues known Wednesday during an hours-long session of testimony meant to guide priorities for policy making during the sessions ahead. Dozens of group outlined problems from restricted abortion access to unequal representation in government for women and minorities, to community violence.
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“We have to remove the obstacles that impede safe motherhood, free of coercion and violence, with access to free, safe and legal abortion,” said Sandra Mazo of the Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, describing situations where teenaged and forced pregnancies preclude opportunities for young women, inhibiting development in communities.
Religious groups also spoke out against the practice of abortion and legal recognition of same-sex couples.
“The destruction of the natural family generates social decomposition,” said Milagros Aguayo of the Coalition of Life and Family, drawing both boos and a standing ovation from the audience. “This puts in danger the development of our communities.”
Indigenous groups called for respect for self-determination in their communities, which predate the hemisphere’s nations, and asked for governments to advocate their interests over business and industrial land claims.
Afro-descendant groups denounced the killings of community leaders in land disputes with business interests, particularly in Colombia and Brazil. They highlighted a low representation of ethnic minorities in national governance and doubted the organization’s ability to effect change.
“It seems that this forum could be held for the sake of holding it but without much consequence,” said Luis Olave of the Coalition of Afro-descendants of the Americas.
Judith Botero, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Peace and Democracy, denounced violence against LGBT people and state failings in the legal recognition of same-sex unions.
“It’s not just about the marriage,” she said. “It’s about the rights of any couple, in healthcare, legal and financial. If they don’t apply to all people then they aren’t human rights.”
Before the long list of social challenges, a coalition of displaced Venezuelans also appealed for measures to attend to the needs of the massive migrant population, from immediate healthcare and nutrition to long term programmes orienting them in their new lives abroad and making space for the new arrivals in already stressed communities.
Juan Carlos Viloria, spokesman for the group, said the top priority should be to extend legal refugee status to all fleeing Venezuelans, entitling them to receptive services in the countries where they arrive.
“Just like everyone else, we want this migration to end,” he said. “But in the meantime, we need policies of economic integration for Venezuelans, that way we can begin to contribute to the development of our host countries.”