CARICOM Must Unify to Resist Imposition of OAS Boss | Sir Ronald Sanders

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro

By Sir Ronald

States, Monday May 20, 2019
– Readers of this commentary, particularly those in small
countries, might wonder why they should be concerned about who is the Chief
Executive Officer (CEO) of any multilateral or international organization. It
could be claimed that the disposition of the person, holding such an office, is
far removed from the existence of people who are focussed on the necessities of
living and improving their lives.

They would be wrong to dismiss interest in the
holders of these positions.

Caribbean small states are already marginalised
in the world with little account being taken of the significant threats posed
to their well-being. Among those threats are climate change, global warming,
exclusion from access to concessional funds for development, very poor terms of
trade, increasing erosion of their sovereign rights over matters such as the
rate of taxes they charge and the incentives they offer to businesses so as to
remain globally competitive in the industries that provide employment and the
opportunity for ownership.

In this context, it is vitally important to
people in small and vulnerable countries that the CEO’s of inter-governmental
organizations are persons with a commitment to reducing poverty, advancing
economic development, improving access to education and training, and promoting
international arrangements that allow developing countries to compete in the
global community. It is also important that such CEO’s be genuinely interested
in safeguarding human rights, protecting citizens from abuse by governments,
and upholding democracy and freedom of expression.

These are the qualities that heads of
multilateral and international organizations should possess if they are to
serve the interests of the global community, particularly the people of small
and vulnerable nations.

Inevitably, however, governments of larger and
more powerful countries dictate the persons who end-up in these positions. These
governments select candidates, who serve their interests, and using their
greater financial resources and capacity to pressure others, they ensure their

In the cases of the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank, the European Union and the US have long since arrogated the
posts of heads of these organizations to themselves through an understanding
between them that the US will hold the headship of the Bank and the Europeans
the headship of the Fund. Invariably, the holders of these posts are then in
thrall to their patrons and, over the decades of the existence of the two
organizations, few of them have strayed far from the positions of their

There are only a few organizations in which
Caribbean countries have a genuine opportunity to influence who is elected as
their chief executive. The Organization of American States (OAS) is one of

Repeatedly, I have called for the 14 member
states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), that are also members of the OAS,
to nominate one suitably qualified Caribbean candidate for the post of
Secretary-General or to agree on a non-Caribbean person who would be mindful of
the importance of Caribbean interests.

It is alarming that, counter to all electoral
arrangements that have ever been instituted for the election of the OAS
Secretary-General, certain governments are busy promoting the idea that, at the
OAS General Assembly in Colombia in June, 18 countries should force through the
re-election of the incumbent, Luis Almagro, for a second term – one year before
such an election is due, and for which no proper arrangements have been made. This
process is usually called “rigging”.

Such an action would be as unprecedented as it
would be wrong. A forced re-election of Mr Almagro, one year before an election
is due, would be highly improper. But, it could be done. The rules allow for
the nomination of a candidate up to the morning of the day an election is held.
And, if, as has been the recent experience, 18 countries vote to hold such an
election at the General Assembly in June, it can be done.

In this way, any possibility of an unprepared
CARICOM nominating a single Caribbean candidate or coalescing behind an
approved non-Caribbean candidate would be scuttled. The decision of the 18
would prevail, and the interests of the Caribbean and the Caribbean people
would be swept aside.

That is why Caribbean people should be
interested in this matter, and in the position that their governments take.

The behaviour of Mr Almagro as Secretary-General
of the OAS has left much to be desired. He is a very bright and clever man, and
with a different attitude, he might have served well the OAS and all its
member-states. But, instead of ending divisions by building bridges between
states and working to garner consensus within the organization, Mr Almagro has
become a divisive figure.

Further, his disregard for the Permanent
Council, which is comprised of the representatives of governments, and his
readiness to pronounce his own strongly-held views in the name of the OAS, have
compromised the organization, depriving it of a role in resolving conflicts
within member states of the organization and between them. Additionally, the
Caribbean has suffered under his stewardship through the absence of any
advocacy on his part to maintain funding for Caribbean programmes.

Beyond the necessity for a challenge to him,
given his record, his forced re-election by any foisted process would leave the
OAS in tatters. It may even cause some member states to reassess the value of
their continued membership of an organization which is ruled by the will of a
simple majority and the officers they impose.

For previous elections of a Secretary-General,
including Mr Almagro’s own election, the Permanent Council of the OAS put rules
and procedures in place. Amongst those rules were that a date for elections
would be set by the Permanent Council and member states would nominate
candidates who would make public presentations to the Organization on their
proposals and initiatives prior to the elections.

It has never been envisaged, as is being done
now by some governments, that the preparation for elections of the
Secretary-General would not follow established rules and that a fully democratic
process would not be adopted.

CARICOM states will have to assert themselves immediately in the OAS in nothing short of full regional solidarity and unity to insist on a Permanent Council meeting that sets the rules for the elections on a democratic and consensus basis. Anything less than full CARICOM unity will hurt the region’s interests.

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Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.

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