THE RELATIVE good news from Venezuela, which is enduring the worst political, economic and humanitarian crisis the Western hemisphere has seen in this century, is that Latin American nations are finally showing a willingness to call out President Nicolás Maduro for his abuses of power. Even better, notwithstanding its rants about Yanqui imperialism and the crude insults flung at its nearer neighbors, the regime is demonstrating a healthy fear of becoming a regional pariah.
Just a few days after 14 members of the Organization of American States released a letter to the Maduro government calling for it to restore powers to the elected National Assembly, the regime-controlled Supreme Court issued a decision last week stripping the legislature of all remaining authority. The international reaction was immediate: The Maduro government was denounced by countries across the hemisphere, and Colombia, Chile and Peru withdrew their ambassadors from Caracas. Twenty OAS members called for an emergency meeting on Monday of the organization’s permanent council, which approved a resolution calling for “measures that allow a return to democratic order” in Venezuela.
The pressure had a clear effect. Fissures opened in the regime: The attorney general held a news conference to call the ruling “a rupture of the constitutional order.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Maduro came under pressure from the head of the armed forces. The president eventually was obliged to hold a midnight meeting of the national security council, after which he asked the court to revise its ruling. On Saturday, it complied, at the cost of demonstrating more clearly than ever that it is not part of an independent judiciary, but merely an instrument of the authoritarian regime founded by Hugo Chávez.
In reality, even the original ruling did not change much. The court already has overruled every decision taken by the National Assembly since the opposition won two-thirds of its seats in late 2015. Mr. Maduro has been governing by decree. The principal thrust of the latest decision, from a domestic standpoint, was not the coup de grace to the National Assembly, but a related decision empowering the president to sign oil deals with foreign investors without review. Mr. Maduro is desperately seeking a bailout before a big debt payment due this month, and that portion of the court ruling was not reversed.
It is nevertheless encouraging that Venezuela’s neighbors are creeping toward a stand in defense of its dying democracy. OAS members, including Venezuela, are signatories to a 2001 treaty committing them to constitutional government, free speech and regular elections; the Inter-American Democratic Charter calls for collective action when those norms are violated. Yet while Mr. Almagro has pushed for action against the Maduro government for more than a year, most governments — including the United States — have preferred to hide behind feckless calls for “dialogue” between the regime and its opposition.
The State Department reiterated that call for dialogue last week and ruled out action in the near term to threaten the suspension of Venezuela’s OAS membership, as advocated by Mr. Almagro. Later that same day came Caracas’s coup against the National Assembly. What followed ought to be a lesson for the Trump administration: Only concerted external pressure, not more empty talk, can rescue Venezuela.
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