The front pages of newspapers last weekend were covered with images of President Obama shaking hands with President Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, writes Dita Charanzová.
Dita Charanzová is a Czech MEP in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.
As the relations between the United States and Cuba begin to thaw after 60 years frozen in ice, some 2,000 kilometres south of Havana the cold is only beginning to settle in on Caracas. The Panama Summit, the symbolic climax of the process which began in December of restoring long lost US-Cuba relations, comes just one month after President Obama declared Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the security and foreign policy of the United States. He made the declaration while announcing sanctions linked to the ever increasing authoritarian trends of the Maduro government.
As a mark of this contrast was one remarkable item that took place at the summit but received far less coverage than it should have. It was the signing of the “Declaration of Panama” which condemned the decline in Venezuela and the actions of its government. It was introduced not by the US, but by two brave Venezuelan women and a Spanish-American NGO.
The Declaration managed to get the support of 31 former presidents from 15 countries at the Panama Summit. Ever since their husbands were respectively imprisoned on political grounds, Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma have ignored the intimidation of the government and courageously continued their struggle for a free and democratic Venezuela, bringing their message to the highest levels of government.
The “Declaration of Panama” was not officially introduced by any head of state attending. Few of the current leaders seemed willing to even highlight the issue of human rights abuses in Latin America in general, or Venezuela in particular, which could overshadow the new US-Cuban relationship. Nevertheless the Declaration is an impressive list of signatories including, among others, Álvaro Uribe (Colombia), Sebastian Piñera (Chile), Ernesto Duhalde (Argentina), Jorge Quiroga (Bolivia), and Felipe Calderon (Mexico). Each of the signatures marks an important step in solidarity with these women’s calls to free all political prisoners and restore fundamental freedoms in Venezuela.
Although the handshake between two Presidents of Cold War rivals has unsurprisingly proved to be more eye-catching in the media, the moment where Lilian Tintori and Mitzy Capriles unveiled the Declaration could nonetheless have the same relevance for the future of the region as the historic handshake.
The support of such notable Ibero-American presidents undermines Maduro’s discourse of US Imperialist aggression against Latin America. It shows that alarm is being raised from within Latin America itself. It has reached a point where many Latin American leaders cannot turn a blind eye to the actions of Venezuela and its president against its own citizens. It is far greater than the US State Department alone, as Maduro would like people to believe.
Sadly enough, in these crucial moments for Latin America, Europe is not present. Despite two strong resolutions from the European Parliament in the past five months condemning the violations of human rights in Venezuela, the Vice President/High Representative Mogherini has not taken these calls into a unified message of condemnation or even vocalised any significant words of solidarity with those being punished for exercising their fundamental freedoms in Venezuela.
The EU should take this opportunity during a moment of historic change in the region to first and foremost show that we are committed to standing up to those who undermine human rights and that we are active in finding solutions.