Sun | May 24, 2020

Venezuela focus has starved Caribbean at OAS table – Espinosa - Almagro has polarised region, says secretary general candidate

Published:Monday | January 27, 2020 | 12:22 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
OAS candidate Maria Fernanda Espinosa: “The secretary general should not be opinionated and should not be an ideologue, but a facilitator of dialogue.”
OAS candidate Maria Fernanda Espinosa: “The secretary general should not be opinionated and should not be an ideologue, but a facilitator of dialogue.”

The Organization of American States (OAS) has expended too much time and effort on the Venezuelan crisis while paying scant regard to other pressing matters affecting the 34-member bloc, says María Fernanda Espinosa, one of three candidates vying to lead the regional group.

Espinosa, a former Ecuadorean foreign minister, is one of two persons nominated to challenge incumbent Luis Almagro as secretary general of the OAS. The other is former Peruvian Ambassador Hugo de Zela Martinez.

In a Gleaner exclusive, Espinosa said that too much of the organisation’s “energy” had been concentrated on the embattled Maduro regime and the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, vowing that under her leadership, more focus would be paid to the Caribbean.

Matters concerning Haiti would also be among her top agenda items as would be security and development.

“I think we have to acknowledge that one country, and issues pertaining to that single country, have filled the agenda and more than 90 per cent of the energy of the organisation.

“We are not denying it’s a serious matter the OAS has to address, especially when a country in the hemisphere is in trouble. We should work on the issues, but it should not take the oxygen out of the entire agenda, and, unfortunately, it has polarised and divided the hemisphere,” Espinosa, who said that she would be running on a record of inclusiveness, fairness, and equity, told The Gleaner.

In a veiled reference to Washington, she argued that Almagro had been led by others to believe that force was a critical tool in effecting regime change and pressing the reset button on social turmoil in Venezuela.

Almagro, a hawkish critic of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, has faced strong criticism from a few member states, including from within CARICOM, for designating his administration illegitmate and openly supporting Juan Guaidó, the opposition congressman, as the de facto leader.

More than 50 countries have backed the Trump administration’s endorsement of Guaidó.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had talks with Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness and several Caribbean foreign ministers in Kingston last week in a bid to solicit support for Almagro.

Fresh look, strategy

Espinosa, who also served as Ecuadorean minister of defence, said that a thorough assessment of the Venezuela crisis was needed and a fresh strategy undertaken to bring the oil-rich country back from the brink of total economic meltdown.

“It is very important that the secretary general acts and operates as a neutral, independent, and impartial conveyor to address issues that are contentious, such as the case in Venezuela.

“The secretary general should not be opinionated and should not be an ideologue, but a facilitator of dialogue and a consensus builder, and I have done that in the past. Sadly, we are not seeing that from Mr Almagro,” she charged.

Espinosa was nominated as a candidate by Antigua & Barbuda and St Vincent & the Grenadines, among other Caribbean nations. She has not, however, received the endorsement of her own government, which has already signalled its support for Almagro.

Citing her international career, including presiding over the United Nations General Assembly, the Ecuadorean said that she was able to deliver on promises and pledged to do the same if she wins the OAS elections, due on March 20.

“I come with the credentials and the experience, but I also come with drive and passion to give my energy and service to the 34 members of the OAS, particularly the Caribbean countries, who have been generous enough to nominate me,” she said.

“Looking at what I have done in the past, I would say this in a very humble way, but I am a doer. It is well known that when I say that I will do something, it gets done.”

The former diplomat said that her leadership would be one that wouldnot impose a dagger consensus upon any country but instead would seek to build dialogue and respect among the leadership of the OAS and the member states.

Espinosa, who has visited several leaders across the Caribbean and in Latin America to drum up support for her candidacy, told The Gleaner that she hoped to “bring fresh oxygen to the halls of the OAS and a fresh look to the organisation”.