Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Editorial | No to rigging OAS vote

Published:Wednesday | May 22, 2019 | 12:20 AM

Ron Sanders, a usually perceptive ­observer of, and commentator on, regional affairs, has been warning of the likelihood of the use of subterfuge, and political clout, by a group of ­hemispheric countries to ramrod Luis Almagro to a second term as secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), at the organisation’s general assembly in Medellin, Colombia, next month.

The Jamaican Government should say what it knows about this plot, if it, indeed, exists; whether it would back an initiative to have an election a year ahead of schedule; and whether, in the circumstance, it would support Mr Almagro’s candidacy. This newspaper believes that, on all counts, it should not. For, Mr Almagro has undermined his own legitimacy and repudiated any moral authority to continue to lead the OAS. Decency should cause him to go quietly.

OAS secretaries general are elected for a five-year term, and can be re-elected for a second. In Mr Almagro’s case, his first term will expire next May. When he was seeking the job, the former Uruguayan foreign minister said he would not seek re-election. But last December, with the backing of the United States and Colombia, Mr Almagro announced he had changed his mind.

But there is compelling case, especially in his handling of the Venezuelan political crisis, why he shouldn’t continue. Rather than behaving as the head of the secretariat of an organisation of 34 sovereign states, Mr Almagro has adopted the posture of a partisan ideologue, pursuing the interests of an aligned group. At times, his actions resemble those of an imperial potentate.

In the Venezuelan crisis, instead – as would be expected of someone in his office – of attempting to be the honest broker, he has openly taken sides against President Nicolás Maduro and his government, which he branded as illegitimate, and whose removal, including, if required, by foreign military intervention, he has advocated. He has gone as far as to seek an indictment against Mr Maduro by the International Criminal Court. Essentially, Mr Almagro has carried the line of the United States and the anti-Maduro Lima Group and those Latin American and Caribbean states, which may not be formally in the camp, but share the objective of regime change in Venezuela.

TOXICITY IN THE CARIBBEAN

His toxicity in the Caribbean boiled over in February when, without a vote by OAS, he unilaterally announced the organisation’s validation of Juan Guaidó’s self-declared interim presidency of Venezuela. The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which includes Jamaica, which has strained relations with Venezuela, publicly rebuked Mr Almagro, saying that he spoke without authority, and certainly not on their behalf. Not long after, he further upset CARICOM by tweeting a claim by a former Dominican diplomat that next year’s general election in that eastern Caribbean island won’t be free and fair.

Even before these developments, Jamaica’s foreign affairs minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, defending her Government against attacks on its Venezuela stance, conceded in the Senate that Mr Almagro’s “utterances have not been helpful in achieving a peaceful resolution to the current situation”.

It is against that backdrop that this newspaper finds “alarming”, to quote Mr Sanders, that “certain governments are busy promoting the idea that, at the OAS General Assembly in Colombia … 18 countries should force through the re-election of the incumbent, Luis Almagro, for a second term”. Mr Sanders is unlikely to be engaged in fantasy. As Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States and permanent representative to the OAS, he would be aware of the back-room manoeuvrings.

Like Mr Sanders, we too call any such practice in elections, where everyone isn’t given a fair shot, or a real opportunity to nominate a candidate, “rigging”. It is the same thing of which Mr Maduro has been accused. CARICOM, including Jamaica, if the attempt is made, should resist it. The election should be held in 2020, including with a candidate endorsed by CARICOM, preferably someone from the region.