Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee engaged in a marathon mark-up of the State Department budget authorization bill. One of the most stunning votes was a party-line 22-20 victory for an amendment that defunded the Organization for American States (OAS), the multilateral group of Western hemisphere democracies formed under U.S. leadership in 1948.
The funding, which accounts for about half of OAS’ budget, doesn’t amount to much — just $48 million. So why did House Republicans, led by right-wing Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), vote for Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-FL) amendment eliminating it? Because, Mack said, the OAS was supporting U.S. foes. The Associated Press reported on the mark-up:
Mack insisted that the measure did not represent isolationism but rather was targeted at an organization that backs Venezuela and its U.S. foe, President Hugo Chavez.
“Let’s engage our allies and friends, but let’s not continue to support an organization that’s perpetuating some countries’ ability” to destroy democracies, Mack said.
Likewise, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) criticized Cuba’s human rights record as the amendment was being debated.
But the OAS’ close allegiance with Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela are both highly suspect — as in: not actually true.
Cuba is not even a member of the OAS, as Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) pointed out. At Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin adds that in 2009 the OAS lifted its ban on Cuban membership, but the democratic threshold for membership remains in place — and so Cuba, for now, is out.
And the OAS has actually strongly criticized Chavez and Venezuela twice in the past two years. In early 2010, the OAS issued a blistering report about Venezuela’s human rights record and slipping democratic credentials. In January of this year, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza criticized a Venezuelan law passed in December as being “completely contrary” to the Inter-American Democratic Charter passed by the OAS in 2001. Insulza added that the issue would likely come before the OAS.
As Daniel Larison points out at the American Conservative, the OAS might not do a whole lot, but its work is “fairly innocuous or even constructive when it comes to election monitoring and development aid.” At such a small cost — 0.02 percent of what the U.S. will spend in Iraq and Afghanistan this year — it hardly seems worth cutting and running from OAS by the logic of completely flawed and hollow reasoning.