December 3, 2019 / 9:31 PM / 9 days ago

OAS must avoid 'extremes,' push for dialogue, leadership candidate says

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The Organization of American States (OAS) should avoid “extreme” positions when confronting regional crises like Venezuela’s social and economic collapse and instead promote dialogue, a challenger for the body’s top job said on Tuesday.

Peruvian OAS candidate Hugo de Zela speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Julia Symmes Cobb

Hugo de Zela, a longtime Peruvian diplomat and his country’s ambassador to the United States, is running to unseat the organization’s secretary-general, Luis Almagro, who is seeking a second five-year term. Almagro’s current term is set to end next

May.

The OAS must push for problems to be solved within its member countries by facilitating dialogue between different factions, de Zela told Reuters on the sidelines of a diplomatic meeting in Bogota.

“If the organization puts itself on one of the extremes, it stops being effective at solving problems, it stops being present in the solution and it becomes part of the problem,” said de Zela. “That cannot happen.”

Venezuela’s economic and political crisis - which has led to widespread shortages of food and medicine and an exodus of people - has dominated recent OAS meetings, with some member states denouncing President Nicolas Maduro as a dictator, while others back him.

Member states have also tussled over the admittance to meetings of a representative sent by Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who argues Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. Guaido this year invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency.

Almagro, a Uruguayan whose re-election bid is backed by the United States, Colombia and Brazil, has sought to ramp up pressure on Maduro, including refusing to rule out the use of force against his government last year.

“It’s evident that in Venezuela, there is an interruption of the democratic process, it’s evident that the Maduro regime lacks legitimacy, that’s not under discussion. But at the same time, to actively promote the use of force to solve the case of Venezuela is unreal and doesn’t help,” said de Zela.

“That is putting ourselves on an extreme. Talking constantly about the use of force to solve the issue of Venezuela is not an effective contribution or a realistic contribution.”

Venezuelans must solve their own problems through dialogue, de Zela added, saying free and fair elections must be held urgently in the oil-producing country.

“The OAS is not having, as it once did, an active role in cooperation to solve these things,” de Zela said. “There is a lack of dialogue between the member countries and the general secretariat.”

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Peter Cooney

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