As the Organization of American States (OAS) gathered in Washington for its 45th annual General Assembly (GA) on June 15 and 16th, a number of important issues are coming into question.
First it is important to point out that it is the first GA in the aftermath of the normalization process that began last December. Secondly, the OAS has a new Secretary General (SG).
What so far has characterized the new SG of the OAS, former Uruguayan foreign minister, Luis Almagro, is that he has spoken ceaselessly of bringing change and modernization to the organization. Most importantly, he has spoken about promoting dialogue, democracy, human rights and transparency.
However, all that took place before and during the General Assembly suggest a few clues about the contradiction of the SG and the organization as a whole. A few days before the opening of the GA, Almagro wrote an article published in several newspapers in Spanish. He pointed out that the OAS needs to be the institution in charge of expanding rights in the region for as many people as possible. “We must not compromise when it comes to the issue of human rights and democracy. There will not be double standards in my Administration. We need to be a leading example in terms of transparency, tolerance, dialogue and accountability before we place demands on others”. Likewise, Almagro pointed out that the region needs to be part of the solution of global problems including climate change, religious intolerance and hunger. He also criticized the idea of creating mandates that are never implemented and end up being nothing but “a piece of paper”.
Yet, Almagro, in his speech, was not specific about the problems he mentioned and gave few details. He justified this by claiming he could not be specific because most of the meetings of the OAS are private and not open to the public now.
This was not a great beginning for a man who promises more transparency. It should be the right of the people of the Americas to know what is happening at an organization that allegedly serves their interests.
There is more. During the GA, the OAS elected five new judges to become part of the Inter- American Court for Human Rights. The process of nomination and appointment was carried out in secrecy, outside the public eye. One of the judges already confirmed by the OAS is Eugenio Zaffaroni, strongly supported by the Argentinean president, Cristina Kirchner. Zaffaroni was associated with the last military dictatorship and gave judicial legitimacy to some key decisions taken by the regime. However, the real challenge that Zaffaroni presents is his loyalty to Kirchner, who supports the elected authoritarian regimes of the ALBA countries and has shown strong admiration for the late Hugo Chavez. Zaffaroni was elected by 18 out of a total of 23 countries. Time will tell if Zaffaroni remains loyal to the mandate of the Inter- American Court or to the President that nominated him.
Another judge confirmed by the OAS is the Ecuadorian, Patricio Pazmino Freire. Pazmino is the president of the Constitutional Court in Ecuador. This presents a major conflict of interest since he is loyal to Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, who is an open enemy of the Inter-American Court. Pazmino was elected with the support of 22 countries. The Court criticized Correa for his persecution and oppression of the press and since then Correa has stubbornly tried to remove the power and authority of the Court
Thus, the Inter- American Court changed more than half of its judges in a grossly opaque process that was contrary to the previous processes where candidates openly presented their credentials and proposals. Almagro supported this reversal of transparency. As a result, we now have a judge that worked against human rights becoming part of the most important judicial body and so far the most honorable of the Americas. This raises the suspicion that the intention might have been to weaken the court to protect or at least appease democracy violators such as Nicolas Maduro, Rafael Correa and their supporters such as Cristina Kirchner. This looks far from promising.
More than transparency this sounds like official institutional corruption.
Speaking about human rights, one day before the GA, Almagro received petitions asking him to say something about the critical human rights situation experienced in Venezuela and Cuba.
Almagro responded in a very ambiguous way to these petitions and to representatives of civil society present in the room with him. He claimed that the OAS must say “mea culpa” for 47 years of exclusion of Cuba”. “The OAS cannot exclude countries and certainly not when these countries are trying to find their way through a social pact”. Almagro clearly refer here to the socialist system that Cuba created and affirms that Cuba’s expulsion therefore was a historical injustice that needs to be urgently repaired. But when Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of the Cuban opposition leader Osvaldo Paya, asked Almagro if he supports the rights of the people of Cuba to decide their own fate, Almagro responded that “political exclusion is unacceptable”, then he added that “democracy means that everybody should participate”. “The government belongs to the people” and “there is no worse corruption than to obliterate elections because such step strips the people from their right to decide”
Almagro did not mention Cuba by name but stated his principles. The question is how does he stand today specifically towards Cuba and Venezuela? (The issue of Venezuela and Cuba was not on the OAS agenda)
If Cuba was unfairly excluded in the past for its type of regime but today Cuba itself is unfair to its citizens by being oppressive, something Almagro finds unacceptable, would Almagro use his position to press Cuba to decompress the regime? Or this will be another piece of paper without consequence?
Let us be realistic Almagro cannot be as passionate to press Cuba to change as the millions of Cubans who suffer under the regime. But it certainly can thrive to achieve this goal in a way that he feels comfortable. Would he do it? Would he do it also with Venezuela where citizens are suffering greatly from lack of liberties and now lack of basic products?
In light of what is happening in the OAS, with more countries supporting the Inter-American agenda of the most authoritarian leaders in the region, this seems unlikely. Most probably neither Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, nor Nicaragua will find any incentives to improve their human rights record. Let us not full ourselves, Almagro also served a Uruguayan president who was openly sympathetic to Chavez’ socialist agenda and he himself was sympathetic to Iran, a terrorist and totalitarian state with strong connections to Venezuela and the ALBA alliance. Almagro is unlikely to have any input let alone leadership that could counteract the anti-democracy tendencies in the region.
And what about the United States? Well, the United States funds more than half of the OAS $83 million budget contributing $49 million. Brazil gives $10 million, Canada $8 million and Mexico, 5.6 million dollars. The contribution of the rest of the countries is minimal. Meanwhile, we are witnessing the collapse of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, one of the pillars of stability and American foreign policy in the region, and, most importantly a guarantor of freedom in the region.
Don’t we have anything to say about these developments?
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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