October 23, 2020
This week in Washington, D.C. the Organization of American States (OAS) held their 50th Regular Session of the General Assembly. In these meetings the General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the OAS, is tasked with debating the organization’s course of action for the next year, as well as setting the standards of governance for the General Secretariat — the OAS’s central executive body. This is headed by Luis Almagro, a former Uruguayan diplomat who has been the Secretary General of the OAS since 2015.
The session arrives on the heels of another important political event for the Americas: Bolivia’s general election, which took place almost a year after President Evo Morales was ousted in a military coup d’etat. The justification for the coup was based primarily on allegations of electoral fraud that were promoted by an OAS Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) and Secretary General Almagro. Though the Center for Economic and Policy Research and others published studies showing that there was no evidence to support the OAS fraud allegations, the organization stuck to its claims and Secretary General Almagro threw his support behind Bolivia’s de facto government, even as it engaged in violent repression of protests and persecuted leaders and supporters of Morales’s political party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). In spite of this repression, MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce swept the first round of the October 18 elections with around 55% of the vote.
Given the central role of the OAS in Bolivia’s 2019 coup, and other controversial actions, such as jeopardizing the independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and unilaterally appointing officials to key positions, some diplomats attending this year’s General Assembly have strongly criticized Almagro’s leadership and questioned whether he should continue to head the organization.
The most scathing public indictment of Almagro’s actions has come from Mexico, whose Subsecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean delivered a scathing indictment of the current General Secretary for his unilateral decision-making, support for harmful economic sanctions in the region, and for undermining the principles of non-intervention and self-determination in the case of Bolivia.
In his prepared remarks to the assembly on October 20, Undersecretary Maximiliano Reyes Zúñiga asserted that Secretary Almagro’s use of the 2019 electoral observation mission in Bolivia has de-legitimized the EOM as an institution. He recommended that “Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.”
— OEA (@OEA_oficial) October 21, 2020
These criticisms have been accompanied by calls for Almagro to resign from regional actors such as the Grupo de Puebla.
When asked about these remarks by reporters, General Secretary Almagro evaded a direct response, instead criticizing the media for not focussing on his support from other countries, and doubling down on his defense for the electoral mission’s 2019 audit, which he claimed was “irrefutable.”
Here is an English translation of Undersecretary Reyes’s full speech at the OAS General Assembly on October 21 (emphasis from original document):
It is an honor for me to participate in this 50th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States on behalf of my country, as well as that of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.
We meet in unusual circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has posed a great challenge to the world, and in particular to our hemisphere.
That is why Mexico participates in this event to reaffirm its multilateralist vocation. We believe that cooperation is an essential pillar of peaceful coexistence among nations and of the search for solutions to the common challenges we face.
Mexico is well acquainted with the difficulties of political dialogue in the hemisphere that have halted important progress on many issues.
In the face of these difficulties, the Fourth Transformation of public life in Mexico, led by President López Obrador, will always uphold the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect, protection and promotion of human rights.
We therefore reaffirm Mexico’s historical stance against unilateral economic and financial sanctions implemented as means of pressure. The greatest victims of these are always the most in need, which makes [these sanctions] unacceptable.
Furthermore, Mexico has on several occasions expressed the desire that the peoples of Nicaragua and Venezuela will soon find a peaceful and democratic way out of the situation that these countries are experiencing, preserving at all times their legitimate right to shape their own destiny. Mexico opposes any measure that seeks to exclude a Member State of our Organization from political dialogue.
Mexico is also concerned about the recent trend of reaching beyond the technical nature of Electoral Observation Missions. We emphasize that the actions of the EOMs must be impartial in nature, limited to logistical and institutional accompaniment and that they are conducted under the principles of rationality, transparency, austerity and accountability.
Democracy is also strengthened by eliminating corruption. Mexico renews its commitment to combating this scourge by incorporating an active citizenry that is vigilant of government actions.
In terms of human rights, Mexico maintains its strong support for the rights of indigenous peoples, LGBT people and for gender equality.
Mexico also reaffirms its full support for the Inter-American System of Human Rights and stresses the importance of respecting its autonomy. My country will remain committed to strengthening the work of the Commission and the Court.
In the area of comprehensive development, we must continue to work on strengthening measures for comprehensive disaster risk management to address climate change threats.
However, in terms of cooperation, attention must be drawn to the indifference with which the OAS has behaved in this pandemic.
We note with concern the lack of concrete action by the General Secretariat during this health emergency.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My country reiterates that the OAS General Secretariat must always act within its own institutional framework and move away from making any pronouncement on behalf of membership. It is the Member States, not the General Secretariat, that determines the direction that the Organization takes.
In this regard, we note the configuration of a pattern of worrying behavior by the General Secretariat, which consists in using its administrative powers to make political decisions affecting the direction of the Organization, without prior consideration by Members.
Such decisions lack a legal basis and the necessary information that would allow us to understand their motivation and objectives. This is the case with the appointment of a special adviser on the responsibility to protect. This issue should have been consulted and discussed in a comprehensive manner within the Organization. Mexico views this appointment with great concern.
We note the same pattern in regards to the refusal of the General Secretariat to renew the mandate of the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We strongly reiterate that these actions undermine the autonomy and independence of the Commission.
Similarly, we see the same sort of behavior in Bolivia’s in 2019 elections, where the General Secretariat used an Electoral Observation Mission in a contentious manner to prematurely denounce alleged fraud that has never been proven to have taken place. In the elections of last Sunday in that country we saw the same electoral trend as in 2019.
This contentious use [of the EOM] generated instability, violence and constitutional disorder in Bolivia, and fomented regional confrontation. It is not the General Secretariat’s job to qualify elections or governments. Given the aforementioned issues, Mexico recommends that Mr. Luis Almagro submit to a process of self-criticism based on his actions against the OAS Charter and the harm that he has done to Bolivia’s democracy, to determine if he still has the necessary moral authority to lead this organization.
My country denounces the Secretary General’s desire to intervene in the internal affairs of our States and to cause harm to our democracies. What happened in Bolivia must never be repeated.
Yesterday marked a year since the Bolivian elections in which Evo Morales was the winner. One year later, the MAS party won again and Luis Arce was elected President in a peaceful and democratic election day – an example for the whole world, and very much despite you, Mr. Secretary General, and your electoral observation mission. The Bolivian people have given you a historic lesson, let’s hope that you will learn it.
As long as you continue to lead the Organization, the memory of what happened in Bolivia will always be present. You have de-legitimized the EOMs and led the Organization to clash with the current democratic reality of the region.
Mexico, in accordance with its strong multilateralist tradition and its constitutional foreign policy principles, will continue to promote dialogue and diplomacy as the best way to seek common and consensual solutions. We have done so at the helm of CELAC, and we deeply appreciate the vote of confidence of all Latin American and Caribbean countries to continue to lead it next year.
We reiterate Mexico’s call to prioritize the unity of the peoples of America.
Thank you very much.