This shameful act needs to be explained. One of the main objectives of the ALBA nations is to leave Latin Americans without international protection so the governments can beat them up with impunity. We have just seen that painful spectacle at the 42nd meeting of the OAS, held in Cochabamba.
The fact is that Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez (represented by his foreign minister), Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega want to confiscate means of communication, imprison peaceful opponents, harass journalists, hound judges and lawmakers, steal elections or seize citizens’ properties without allowing the victims to plead before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Court of Human Rights. (I don’t even mention Raúl Castro, because the Cuban government was expelled from that organization half a century ago.)
While in the civilized world, nations are forging international laws that protect individuals from government’s arbitrariness and abuses, the so-called 21st-century socialism marches in the opposite direction, ignoring that, in the past, the OAS helped the victims of right-wing military dictatorships find at least some moral solidarity.
In 1969, most of the OAS nations signed in Costa Rica a document known as the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. That accord defined and established the rights that needed to be protected and created two autonomous institutions for that purpose: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington, whose function it was to promote respect for the spirit of the treaty and publicly denounce any violations, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, devoted to try the lawsuits that managed to reach that tribunal. According to the Convention, the signatory nations were obligated to obey the court’s rulings at once.
Of the 34 countries that form the OAS, 25 of them voluntarily signed the Convention. Nine abstained — the United States and Canada among them — while one, Trinidad and Tobago, signed but a while later decided to resign from the group, abiding by the rules and deadlines set by the pact to effect the resignation. All Ibero-American countries, except Cuba, are signatories, including the members of ALBA that now attempt to denounce the pact.
Naturally, the ALBA governments can legally abandon the Convention, as Trinidad and Tobago did, but that does not free them from any lawsuits or denunciations filed while they were part of the treaty. Which means that abuses like the shutdown of Radio Caracas Television, the judicial harassment to Ecuadorean journalist Emilio Palacios and the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo, or the stealing of the municipal elections in Nicaragua in 2008 are not voided by the simple fact that those governments now denounce the accords.
Which explains why Correa, Chávez, Morales and Ortega are trying to destroy those institutions of law, perhaps the ones that work best within the OAS, so as not to comply with the international obligations their countries contracted.
It is always useful to remember that the first thing that legitimizes a government in the eyes of its citizens is not the elections but justice and the rule of law. In the Middle Ages, the legitimacy of kings depended on their “jurisdiction,” i.e., the territory within which they “spoke the law” and the manner in which they dispensed justice. The Castilian monarchs did not have a permanent home but carried the legal codes in their carts. That legitimized them. For that reason, and for that purpose, they ruled.
It would be a pity if these authoritarian rulers achieved their purposes. One thing Latin Americans generally lack is justice. Few are the countries where individuals can enjoy a fair trial. In many nations, judges have a price and the powerful always win. Presidents dictate the sentences. The law does not exist. In that sense, the Inter-American Court, with all its imperfections, was always a source of hope. It would be a shame if it disappeared.