Speech by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Dr. Ali Rodríguez Araque at a special session of the Organization of American States, defending Venezuela's proposal for the "Social Charter of the Americas", and denouncing the frequent negative statements by U.S. officials against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
February 23, 2005
President of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Paraguay, Ambassador Manuel Maria Cáceres,
Acting Secretary General, Ambassador Luigi Einuadi,
Permanent and Alternative Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I address this regional democratic forum, with the aim of sharing some reflections regarding the present situation of our America, of Venezuela, and the foreign policy of our government.
We are witnessing dizzying and deep changes in the global society, changes that demand a critical examination of the functioning of international institutions, and particularly, those of our continent.
These realities call on us to face the greatest challenges posed by our desire to develop societies characterized by democracy, solidarity, and equality. As the Charter of the OAS notes, we strive to achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote solidarity, to strengthen collaboration, and to defend sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. As such, the Charter establishes wise providences to safeguard the sovereignty of those nations that integrate into the Inter-American System. Our organization, according to Article 1 of this text, “has no powers other than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.”
In this light, to begin, questions arise such as the necessary examination of to what extent these ideals are in fact materializing, and if they are not, how to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of their materialization.
Each nation is the result of the synthesis of the most diverse historic, political, economic, social, cultural, and even geographic factors, all of which contribute to the nation very concrete specificities. The world’s most stable political systems are those that best express these diverse realities. The singularities of each country impress upon each political system unique characteristics, even when they function under the application of determined universal principles such as liberty, equality, electoral processes, and the division of powers, among others. Take, for example, the very notable differences between political systems of countries that have grown from a common foundation, such as the United States of North America and Great Britain, or neighboring countries that share certain common characteristics, like Canada and the United States.
We find ourselves now at an elemental first conclusion: it would be an error of very grave consequences, the pretense of imposing a singular ideology, and, with that system of thought, the political model and practices of a country with its own history and circumstances upon other countries. When speaking of democracy, the conclusion is simple: there cannot exist a singular model of democracy, even when we apply principles of universal validity. Different forms of democracy building correspond to distinct realities. And so, to subscribe to the eternal definition of Abraham Lincoln regarding democracy as government of the people, for the people, and by the people, we would add one thing only: government with the people. The people are not a simple abstraction. On the contrary, they are something very concrete.
Decades of neglect of the most basic economic, social, cultural, and even political rights in Venezuela left as a result a hurtful and inexcusable level of poverty, reaching up to 80 percent of the population. As such, esteemed ambassadors, our people are, by majority, a poor people.
From this emerges a second elemental conclusion: the realization that democracy in a country like Venezuela, whose concrete reality is one of poverty, depends on giving the large majority of the country the opportunity to participate, that is, the overcoming of poverty becomes the government’s first reason for being. How could one consider oneself a democracy that respects human rights when 80 percent of the population is subjected to the daily outrage of poverty and its terrible consequences? What type of democracy can be built upon illiteracy and the ignorance it breeds, malnutrition, unemployment, and the various other plagues that often accompany the drama of poverty? In the case of Venezuela, and in many other cases, I suspect, the principle of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can only become a reality by giving power to the poor when they represent, as in our case, the large majority of the population. It for that reason that the first principle of our Constitution is the participation of this overwhelming majority of people that some soulless individuals, many born on our own soil, refer to as “rabble” and “savage hordes.” That is the type of exclusion of which is spoken so often, and which found in Venezuela a small elite clustered together in exclusive political and economic oligarchies and abusing of the benefits of power. It was they, precisely, the beneficiaries of representative democracy, that on a daily basis excluded and ignored that immense group of individuals forced into poverty by that very concentration of riches and privileges.
As such, the Venezuelan people have developed, because they have lived it, a clear conscience of the political, social, economic, and cultural exclusion that they suffered through the years of representative democracy. For that reason they decided that it wasn’t enough to simply elect representatives that could substitute them in making fundamental decisions. Of course, they still elect members of the National Assembly, of regional assemblies, and of municipal councils. Similarly, they still elect the President, governors, and mayors. But that is not enough. The point of the exercise of political power in a democracy, if that democracy is true, is not simply limited to periodic electoral participation or the separation of powers; rather, it ensures the citizen enjoys certain fundamental guarantees such as the ability to consult on matters of public interest and the ability to revoke the mandate of elected leaders. This is what has happened in Venezuela. It first happened when the people were consulted as to whether they wanted a new Constitution, it happened when the text of the new Bolivarian Constitution was submitted to public approval, and it happened last year when the people were given the option to revoke the mandate of President Hugo Chávez Frías. The results are universally known.
In keeping with these reflections, let me make one more point. Democracy, and along with it participation, cannot be limited purely to the political realm. It has to be included in the economic, the social, and the cultural. As such, in the economic realm, it is assumed that the people must participate as much in the productive process as they do in the distribution of resources and wealth.
It is for that reason that we would like to once again, with all due respect, stress the need of social justice as a fundamental component of democracy.
Today Venezuela is demonstrating to the world that it is possible to overcome the limitations of an elitist democracy, a democracy that is merely electoral, and that it is possible and necessary to build an inclusive democracy with equality, with a human face and in favor of all members of society. This is what is established in our Bolivarian Constitution: “Venezuela is constituted as a democratic and social state of law and justice.” That is what was decided upon by the majority of the Venezuelan people when the approved the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela.
The articles of our Constitution are oriented towards the full realization of the human being as an individual and a member of collective society. It is for that reason, among many, that the document has enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Venezuelan people since the moment it was submitted to a referendum. Popular will has been similarly expressed in support of the new democratic model of our country over the course of eight electoral processes during a mere six years.
It is in this context that we believe that the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Social Charter of the Americas are complimentary and mutually reinforcing. The first alludes to civil and political rights, the second to economic, social, and cultural rights. It is necessary in the OAS to move towards a multidimensional and integral conception of democracy.
The Inter-American system is obligated, ethically, to determinedly take on the fight against poverty, in hopes of achieving, in all the countries of our continent, equality and social inclusion, both of which are fundamental paradigms in reaching societies that are more just and truly democratic. To not take on these tasks will mean that democratic governance will be permanently affected.
It was for this reason that our country proposed to this organization the need to adopt a Social Charter of the Americas. We are worried by the delays in achieving this goal, that which was acquired by the Foreign Ministers in the most recent General Assembly in Quito, Ecuador, which took place in June 2004.
Allow me to reflect on another point. Inseparable from the existence of a true democracy is the issue of sovereignty and self-determination. No country could hope to freely decide upon issues of concern if it is forced to act under pressure, or worse yet, under the threat of aggression or occupation, by external forces. Without self-determination, say what you will, there are simply no hopes for democracy. Self-determination, sovereignty, and democracy are inseparable and mutually reinforcing conditions. They are, furthermore, keystones in peaceful and respectful relations between countries. Moreover, the principles of solidarity and cooperation are conditions not only for the best development of political systems, but also for the practice of international relations. It is not a coincidence that Article 3 of the Charter of the OAS establishes the right of all states to choose “without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it, and has the duty to abstain from intervening in the affairs of another State.” In the same vain and more specifically, Article 1 establishes as a cardinal guiding principle “to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration,” much like is established in our Bolivarian Constitution, which notes, “Venezuela is constituted as a democratic and social state of law and justice.” All that is articulated in our Constitution is oriented towards the full realization of the human being as an individual and a member of a collective society.
On another point, it is necessary to comment briefly on an issue that has been raised by this organization: the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. On this point, we certainly recognize that the political documents of the Inter-American system are not unalterable, much less are they untouchable. They can be complimented to strengthen the mechanisms established to defend democracy. However, we believe that any proposed modifications to expand the reach of the Inter-American Democratic Charter need be consistent with the aforementioned principles established in the Charter of the OAS. This is the foundation to which we all subscribe, without exception.
We are sure that this forum will not entertain those who seek to impose hegemonic and unilateral criticisms upon others, though if that were the case, we would have to ask ourselves whether governments like those led by President Hugo Chávez Frías, those that propose a participatory democracy, those that oppose the neo-liberal economic model, and those that stand against the neo-colonial integration schemes for the continent, have any space in the OAS.
Having reflected on these points, I find it necessary to comment on certain issues that have been persistently placed before public opinion. The most diverse accusations have been obstinately levied against the government of President Hugo Chávez Frías, such as that of his being a negative and destabilizing force in the region. It has been similarly proposed that this Organization pressure and isolate Venezuela, a country that has, like any other country, legitimate rights. Insidious accusations, such as those linking Venezuela to terrorist organizations, those insinuating that Venezuela is violating freedom of expression, and those criticizing Venezuela for seeking to engage in a destabilizing arms race have been repeated and have intensified. Evident was the solitude of a certain spokesperson seeking to stir up the crisis between Colombia and Venezuela while both countries managed to overcome the crisis, maturely, responsibly, and with the solidarity of all the governments of the subcontinent. “Pied Piper” has been another term used, maybe not to insult Chávez, but to imply that those that support the current development of Venezuelan democracy are rats.
The absurdity of the accusations levied against our government would not bother us in the least if a multitude of facts did not exist that prove that when such statements are made, it’s because, sooner or later, the attack will follow. This is what happened to motivate the coup in April 2002 in Venezuela, and similarly occurred with the attack on the oil industry and the economy at large in December of the same year. It is what happened with Allende, it is what happened in the Dominican Republic, it is what happened in Guatemala and countless other cases. For the same reason, we cannot dismiss information from our intelligence services concerning the physical liquidation of our president, the same man who has been legitimated every time he has been subjected to the scrutiny of the Venezuelan people. No one could possibly imagine the consequences of such an action. In the meantime, and noting the precedents, we are obligated to alert public opinion around the world as to the consequences of such an action, not only for Venezuela, not only for Latin America, but beyond our own borders and beyond our own desire for peace.
Finally, in the name of all Venezuelans and our peaceful and democratic government, I would like to convey a message to all the governments represented in this forum: Venezuela, much like most countries, has but one enemy to defeat. That enemy is poverty. Against it we need to concentrate our strength, our every resource, all our capacities, and our will.
To succeed we need nothing but allied. We do not want enemies. We threaten no one. Considering our basic sense of dignity, though, we firmly reject all threats and all attempts to pressure us or interfere in issues that are of total and absolute obligation to all Venezuelans. We want peace and prosperity for our people. It was what we desire for other people. It is what guides us. We do not pretend to export our democratic model, much less impose it upon anyone else. Each and every sovereign country will find for itself the best ways to deal with its problems, without interferences or impositions of any kind. All our hemispheric neighbors know that we speak out of a sincerity that is demonstrated by our actions. It is as such that we extend our hand of friendship, for we know that in peace and based on mutual respect exists the best opportunity to reach the prosperity for our people and the integration of our countries. It is this spirit of friendship and respect, indispensable conditions for peace, which we recognize as offering us the best possibilities to democratically achieve the great objectives here before us, despite the dangers that certain political rhetoric may attempt to inflict upon us. It is contingent upon our knowledge, esteemed ambassadors, that the road before us be one of possibility and not one of death and destruction.
Our people want peace and well-being. Consequently, peace and well-being for our people should be the order of the day.
Thank you very much Mr. President. Thank you very much Ambassadors.