OAS Needs New Secretary General

The new Secretary General of the Organization of American States will be elected in March. The 35-member OAS — formed in 1948 — is supposed to provide a forum for cooperation among western hemisphere nations.  Lately, it’s done a lot more.

So far, there is only one candidate for the top job: Jose Miguel Insulza, the incumbent. His performance should be an embarrassment to the organization.

Insulza has violated most of the principles that should guide the action of this organization. He promoted an invitation to Fidel Castro’s Cuba to return to the institution, only to be rebuked by the dictator. In an April, 2009 OAS press release, Insulza said that any “debate about Cuba’s reintegration to the OAS should be preceded by the abolition of the 1962 resolution [expelling Cuba from the OAS]. It is an obsolete resolution”.  “In my opinion”, he added, “The OAS should eliminate that resolution, which is a Cold War residue.”

Insulza promoted this move in spite of the fact that Cuba had remained a dictatorship.  In Honduras he tried to reinstate former President Zelaya, although Zelaya had violated the constitution, trying to get re-elected. Insulza’s attempts to bring Zelaya back challenged the decisions made by the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court and were rejected by the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms. As BBC reported, “Insulza asked Honduras to reinstate Zelaya but the president of the [Supreme] court [Jorge Rivera] categorically answered that there is an arrest warrant for him”.

Insulza has also cozied up to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and ALBA, the club of undemocratic governments of the hemisphere, including denying before the U.S. Congress that Chavez has links to the Colombian terrorist organization, FARC, although this connection has been amply documented.

According to a report by AFP, Representative Connie Mack (FL) asked him in a congressional hearing about the links between Venezuela and the FARC, an organization that the U.S views as a terrorist group, and Insulza replied: “I don’t think there is a connection. There is no proof of this”.

Sebastian Piñera’s recent presidential victory in Chile made us think that the Insulza era in the OAS would end. While campaigning for the presidency of Chile candidate Piñera had made public his displeasure for Insulza’s dismal performance. However, lame duck Chilean President Bachelet decided at the last moment to support Insulza, ungracefully presenting Piñera with a “fait accompli”. He has been forced to say that the support of Chile for Insulza is a “matter of state”, whatever this means.

 This support disregards ethical considerations since it suggests that it is due to Insulza’s Chilean nationality, more so than to his efficiency and décor. The nationality of the candidate should not prevail over ethical qualifications. This could be expected from third world demagogues but Piñera is supposed to be a modern and democratic political leader.

A Secretary General of the OAS should not have rogues and dictators as friends and should not be afraid of acting on the basis of principles. He should not be a crypto socialist actively promoting leftist authoritarianism at the expense of Latin American democracy.

The OAS appears to be at a decisive crossroads. If Insulza remains at its helm, in spite of what he has done (and failed to do), the organization will probably end up disappearing, as T.S. Eliot said of the end of the world, “not with a bang but a whimper”. Latin American citizens speak of the OAS with disdain. They sense that in comfortable Washington offices the small people that make up the organization concentrate in pushing meaningless papers back and forth and in attending the intense cocktail circuit.  Many of these bureaucrats — there are honorable exceptions — seem happy to live in a beautiful city, enjoying diplomatic immunity and impunity, while skillfully rationalizing their loss of commitment to their peoples.  

The U.S. has yet to say a definite word about this event. The Obama presidency faces a new test in Latin America. Will it go along with Insulza’s re-election, in spite of knowing that he has not defended democracy? Or will it oppose his re-election and side with a better, more principled, candidate?  In July 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. would not support the re-election in 2010 of Chile’s José Miguel Insulza to head the Organization of American States (OAS).

But that was then, and this is now.