Thu | Feb 27, 2020

Editorial | No quid pro quo on Almagro

Published:Wednesday | January 22, 2020 | 12:27 AM

What Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Mike Pompeo, America’s secretary of state, are unlikely to address, or insist there was none, when they speak at today’s press conference, are the political deals or quid pro quos that may have been settled during their meeting, including, perhaps, the candidate Jamaica will back during the March election for a secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS).

We hope the denials, if they are made, will be true and that Jamaica hasn’t committed itself to supporting, and will indeed vote against the incumbent, Luis Almagro, whose toxic leadership of the OAS has undermined respect for it as a multilateral body, as well as its capacity to work consensually towards solutions to hemispheric problems.

A subtext to this, of course, is the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela that has riven not only in the OAS, but the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Jamaica is a member, along, broadly speaking, ideological lines.

Indeed, the Caribbean invitees to the meeting with Mr Pompeo are largely reflective of this alignment. Except for St Kitts and Nevis, the others – Jamaica, Haiti, The Bahamas, St Lucia, and the Dominican Republic – are generally supportive of US-led proposition of the illegitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s government, though not necessarily as hawkishly as held by the United States.

Peaceful solution

Finding a peaceful and sustainable solution to the Venezuelan crisis, on the basis of CARICOM’s declared principle of “non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, prohibition of the threat and use of force, respect for sovereignty (and) adherence to the rule of law”, demands conviction to these precepts, as well as tireless diplomacy and the promotion of dialogue among all parties. Mr Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, has, by his past behaviour, proved himself incapable of leading such a process, and, therefore, should be deemed ineligible for the job as OAS secretary general. Rather than being a servant, acting at the behest of member states, he became a partisan actor.

For instance, last February, when Juan Guaidó, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, controversially declared himself interim president of the country, Mr Almagro, without a vote by OAS members, unilaterally validated the declaration, causing CARICOM, then chaired by St Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Timothy Harris, to remind the secretary general that he worked for an organisation of “sovereign states” and of the “great concern” caused by his departure from “normal practice”.


Before that, pressed on Mr Almagro’s public, and partisan, statements about Venezuela and Mr Maduro, even a sympathetic Jamaica, through its foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, conceded that the OAS secretary general’s “utterances have not been helpful in achieving a peaceful resolution to the current crisis”. Yet, up to now, he appears to have the support of the anti-Maduro hawks at the OAS, some of whom flirted with the idea of a coup of sorts, suggesting that the organisation vote a year early for a secretary general, on the assumption that an election in 2019 would have been a shoo-in for Mr Almagro.

As it now stands, Mr Almagro has two challengers – Hugo de Zela, Peru’s ambassador to the United States, who at this time appears to be the weakest of the candidates; and María Fernandez Espinosa, a former Ecuadorian minister and diplomat, who was nominated by CARICOM members Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

CARICOM has fielded no candidate from the region, although Belize has canvassed for its national, Nestor Mendez, to continue in the position of deputy secretary-general. That decision, based on the convention, eliminated the possibility for another CARICOM national going for the top post without Mr Mendez facing a challenge, rather than being returned unopposed.

Of the candidates in the race for the secretary general’s job, Ms Fernanda Espinosa is, to this newspaper, the best choice. She, we hope, will have the support of Jamaica and the rest of CARICOM.

The OAS’s diplomacy on Venezuela needs a reset. Subtle shifts have begun. We hope our Government has noticed the new political and ideological alignments within the Lima Group, to which Jamaica is close. A new, less rigid and ideologically driven secretary general would be helpful to this process.