AS VENEZUELA has plunged into economic chaos and a humanitarian crisis, its hemispheric neighbors, including the United States, have mostly looked the other way. Fecklessly, they propose “dialogue” between the regime of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, ignoring the government’s blatant violations of constitutional and democratic order and its longstanding refusal to negotiate seriously.
The remarkable exception to this dismal diplomatic record has been Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States. Since taking office a year ago, the former Uruguayan foreign minister has revived the once-moribund regional organization by becoming an eloquent advocate for democracy and human rights. This week Mr. Almagro stunned his timid fellow statesmen by proposing that the OAS formally review Venezuela’s adherance to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a 2001 treaty that binds OAS members to democratic norms and provides for collective action when they are violated.
In a 132-page letter to the OAS permanent council, Mr. Almagro documented the Maduro government’s sweeping breaches of the rule of law and the mounting humanitarian crisis caused by food, medicine and power shortages. He called for the immediate release of political prisoners and steps to repair institutions and combat corruption. Most important, he stressed that a recall referendum on Mr. Maduro, sought by the opposition and provided for in the constitution, should be held this year. “On that depends democracy in Venezuela,” the report concluded.
The good news is that Mr. Almagro’s bold action prompted the OAS permanent council to convene its first meeting on Venezuela in two years — despite the buffoonish posturing of Mr. Maduro, who called a rally in Caracas to tell Mr. Almagro to “stuff” his report. The bad news is that cowardice and crass political calculations by council members prompted it to to issue another anodyne appeal for “dialogue.”
The non-response was orchestrated by Argentina, even though its new president, Mauricio Macri, said after his election last November that he would support collective action on Venezuela’s violation of democratic norms. That was then: Mr. Macri’s foreign minister now is hoping to be elected the next U.N. secretary general, and so is anxious to appease Venezuela and its dwindling band of allies.
At least Buenos Aires has an excuse. The Obama administration has inexplicably joined in the empty “dialogue” chorus while failing to take a position on Mr. Almagro’s letter. Secretary of State John F. Kerry took time from his fruitless pursuit of negotiations in Syria last weekend to place a supportive call to former Spanish prime minster José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who heads the trio of left-leaning statesmen who have tried to broker Venezuelan talks. They have achieved nothing, for the same reason Mr. Kerry has failed in Syria: They lack leverage over a criminal and uncompromising regime.
In fact, as Mr. Almagro tartly noted in his letter, political dialogue is useless without “a commitment a priori to democracy and the rule of law.” The solution in Venezuela, he rightly argued, is not talks but votes. “When the political system of a country is extremely polarized, the only solution can come from the decision of the sovereign,” says his report.
On Thursday, Mr. Almagro reiterated his call for a review of Venezuela under the Democratic Charter. He’s calculating that greater diplomatic pressure could force the Maduro regime to schedule a referendum. Mr. Almagro ought to have the support of the United States.