View Full Version : U.S., Venezuela Clash As OAS Ministers Gather

06-06-2005, 08:48 AM
U.S., Venezuela clash as OAS ministers gather


By Arshad Mohammed
Sun Jun 5, 2005 05:34 PM ET

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - The United States called for new ways to support "fragile" democracies in the Western Hemisphere on Sunday but was immediately accused by Venezuela of seeking to impose a "global dictatorship."

En route to an Organization of American States meeting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested private groups should be able to raise concerns with the OAS to help monitor democracy.

The region's top diplomatic body has been criticized for its inability to resolve crises in Bolivia, which is beset by crippling Indian protests, and Haiti, where political and gang violence have killed at least 710 people since September.

"When you look at some of the fragile democracies that there are, it's very clear that the institution needs to be better capable of dealing with them," Rice told reporters.

"We have to have a discussion of how the organization can be effective if it does not have mechanisms that help at times of crisis," she said.

Among the ideas Rice suggested were giving ordinary citizens, rights groups and other non-governmental organizations ways to bring concerns to the OAS.

U.S. officials also have talked of empowering ad hoc groups and elder statesmen to step in during crises.

Rice sought to play down expectations that the OAS meeting would result in agreement on any mechanisms to protect democracies and said as its host, she wanted to listen to others.

The OAS historically has been hamstrung by its tradition of operating by consensus, which gives any country an effective veto over collective action in a region where Washington's motives are suspect because of its history of interference.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the United States of trying to impose a "global dictatorship" and said that it, not Venezuela, should face OAS scrutiny.

"So, they're going to try to monitor the Venezuelan government through the OAS, they must be joking!" Chavez said, speaking on his weekly "Hello President" TV and radio show.

"If there is any government that should be monitored by the OAS, then it should be the U.S. government, a government which backs terrorists, invades nations, tramples over its own people, seeks to install a global dictatorship," he said.

His latest anti-U.S. outburst reflected the current tense state of relations between Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, and the United States, its biggest oil client.

U.S. officials have said they are worried that Chavez's dominance of his country's courts, military and other state institutions, combined with his government's persecution of political opponents, puts Venezuela's democracy at risk.

U.S. officials also fear Venezuela may be aiding or arming Colombian paramilitaries, a charge Rice alluded to in advising Bogota to stay out of its neighbors' affairs even as she sought to keep the OAS meeting from becoming a U.S.-Venezuela spat. (Additional reporting by Pascal Fletcher in Caracas)