By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Opposition Metropolitan Mayor Antonio Ledezma said that he would hold Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza “responsible for what might happen in Venezuela”.
It was the first public sign that Insulza’s response to a delegation of Opposition leaders including Ledezma earlier this week had fallen somewhat short of their expectations.
On Tuesday, having listened to them, Insulza was reported to have remarked that it was not up to him to pronounce on changes in municipal, state or national autonomy “because that’s decided by the government or the courts.”
Ledezma, who was elected last November as chief executive of Greater Caracas – and in the process ousting President Hugo Chávez’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) from overall power over the capital – claims he’s been repeatedly harassed by the government since a new law changed the political status of the city from a Metropolitan entity to a Capital District.
This law was rapidly passed by the National Assembly, where the PSUV is in all but total control, and Chávez issued a decree directly appointing Jacqueline Faría, a key figure in the upper echelons of the PSUV, as a new “chief of government” in Caracas.
In effect, Faría was appointed by decree over Ledezma’s elected head. Since then, assets and offices such as buildings, control of the police, the fire brigade, social services and large swathes of central government funding have been transferred from Ledezma’s Metropolitan authority to Faría’s new city governance.
In his first public comment since the meeting with Insulza, Ledezma – who called off a six-day hunger strike last week on the understanding that Insulza had said the OAS would look into the Opposition’s case – said Venezuela was living in a political crisis “because there’s a government that doesn’t respect decentralization.”
Ledezma said that the problems confronting Venezuelan democracy had been raised at the meeting with Insulza, which was also attended by Opposition governors Pablo Pérez and César Pérez Vivas of Zulia and Táchira states, respectively. They had rung “alarm bells” that human rights were being violated in Venezuela, he said.
In expressing what sounded rather like disappointment at Insulza’s initial hands-off reaction, Ledezma issued a plea for the international community to take note of what was going on in Venezuela.
Noting that Insulza had insisted on the two sides of the Venezuelan political spectrum talking with each other, Ledezma conceded the point. But it appeared that he persisted in believing the key lay in the international arena.
“I believe that dialogue is necessary even in countries that are on strike,” he declared. “For this reason, we’re going to continue with this agenda that we’ve been developing inside and outside Venezuela.”
Ledezma and the governors also hoped to meet with United States legislators in Washington, as part of a wider bid to put their case before international opinion. Led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Christopher McMullen, representatives from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States met with Ledezma and Governors Pablo Pérez of Zulia and Cesar Pérez Vivas of Táchira on July 21.
Ledezma also said he would take part in a public assembly to be held by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in October.
However, Ledezma evidently harbored hopes of the commission acting well before then on Venezuela’s case in general and his own in particular. He said he expected the IHRC to issue a “series of measures” in defense of his Metropolitan authority within the next few days.
There was already an “open case” before the IHRC concerning the government’s actions against the Metropolitan authority, he explained. Senior elected Opposition officials would meet on August 11 to nominate a special committee to keep watch on how the IHRC reacted to developments in Venezuela.
This appeared to be something of a warning shot across the bows of the IHRC, apparently to the effect that the Opposition expected more of the commission than it had so far elucidated from the OAS.
After his meeting with the mayor and the governors, Insulza was reported to have remarked that it had yet to be determined whether the laws had really been infringed. This was deemed to be one way of telling the Opposition that he wasn’t going to be rushed, and perhaps not least because his hands were already full of the Honduran crisis.