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n May 26, 2020, Luis Almagro will begin his second term as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. While Almagro had won his first election unanimously, his March 20 reelection bid was much more contentious and he won in a vote of 23 to 10 against Ecuadorian national Maria Fernanda Espinosa. Following the vote, Argentina’s representative to the OAS stated that the “… OAS had always been an organization of consensus…”, but that it was now “…paralyzed by its polarization.” But what made Almagro such a contentious candidate and does the polarization of the OAS represent failure of organization’s mission?

Elected under the campaign promise of “More Rights for More People,” the legacy of Luis Almagro’s first term in office was marked by his efforts to expand the role of the OAS in defending democratic governance in the Americas. Although the OAS has developed mechanisms for protecting democracy in the Americas since the 1990s, the organization has historically not used these mechanisms expansively. Passed in 2001, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the crown jewel of the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime, had not been used widely to protect democracy in the region prior to Almagro’s time in office. The Charter had only been used in two cases where a clear military coup took place and had failed to be used in cases of democratic backsliding in the region. During Almagro’s first term as Secretary General, the OAS took a stronger stance and more activist position on protecting democracy in the region. Almagro used his position to put pressure on the Maduro Regime in Venezuela and was instrumental in calling out electoral challenges in the recent Bolivian elections.

However, not all OAS member states have had a favorable perception of Almagro’s efforts to expand the mission of the OAS. Sharp divisions have been drawn over what some member states view as a gross overreach of the role of the Secretary General. Upon taking office, Almagro quickly took a stance in support of the Venezuelan opposition. Coming into power in 2015 however, Almagro was faced not only with democratic decline in Venezuela, but the 2016 impeachment of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. However, the OAS did not respond to the impeachment of Rousseff despite the fact that some called it a “coup.” Given Almagro’s stance on these two different cases, his critics have suggested that these positions were driven more by Almagro’s political preferences than defending democracy in the region. Exacerbating this view point, the OAS has recognized Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country and accepted his representative to the institution. With Almagro’s strong stance against the Maduro Regime, the OAS’s casting doubts on the integrity of the 2019 Bolivian election and accepting the ouster of Evo Morales has led to claims that Almagro is a U.S. puppet. Given these challenges, some member states have claimed that Almagro is polarizing the institution and straying from its purpose.

While Almagro’s response to the democratic crises in Bolivia and Venezuela have been criticized and polarized the OAS, Almagro’s desire to use the OAS to defend democracy in the Americas should be heralded as a victory for the institution and expanded upon. There are certainly areas where Almagro has made mistakes and where he has been less than even handed in addressing democratic crises in the Americas, but today the role of the OAS as a defender of democracy is more necessary than ever. Additionally, the polarization within the Americas cannot be laid solely at Almagro’s feet as there has historically been tension within the institution, particularly along pro- vs. anti-U.S. lines.

However, if the Organization of American States is going to overcome its polarization and become a successful defender of democracy, it will need to address some of the challenges inherent to the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime and work to depoliticize its decisions as it relates to democratic crises. In addressing democratic crises, the OAS faces a number of challenges that help address some of the critiques of Almagro’s approach to addressing Democratic Crises. One of the main challenges that the OAS faces is its inability to address democratic backsliding and non-military coups. Another major challenge is gaining the support of member states in addressing democratic crises.

To address these challenges and defend democracy in the Americas, Almagro’s second term as OAS Secretary General will need to address these challenges and develop policies to effectively address democratic challenges. This will require developing mechanisms that denounce democratic crises and democratic backsliding that are not reliant solely on the Secretary General or the General Assembly. Instead, the OAS should seek to create an expert panel that reports on democracy across the region made up of intellectuals and practitioners from across the region. This body could then report to the General Assembly to take action while simultaneously producing reports that do not rely on the national interests of member states nor that can be blamed on the preferences of the Secretary General. This body could also be transparent in its decision-making process and reporting. The OAS already has a similar body that reports on Human Rights in the form of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Deep fissures between countries in the Americas show how polarized the Western Hemisphere has become. However, this does not mean that the Organization of American States must succumb to paralysis. The OAS should seek to develop mechanisms to more holistically address democratic backsliding in the Americas so as to stop firefighting in times of democratic crisis and prevent these crises from occurring. Developing stronger mechanisms would also help depoliticize the responses when the OAS does take action by addressing all types of challenges to liberal democratic rule rather than only in times when the breakdown is so clearly egregious. Although Almagro has polarized the Organization of American States, he has not paralyzed the institution. His tenure has created the possibility to strengthen the OAS’s role as the defender of democracy in the Americas. Now is the time to heal the divides and strengthen the institution.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is a contributing editor with The Diplomatic Courier and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Can OAS Overcome the Polarization Paralysis?

Photo Credit: Hall of Heroes, Washington, DC – Organization of American States (OAS).

May 12, 2020

O

n May 26, 2020, Luis Almagro will begin his second term as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. While Almagro had won his first election unanimously, his March 20 reelection bid was much more contentious and he won in a vote of 23 to 10 against Ecuadorian national Maria Fernanda Espinosa. Following the vote, Argentina’s representative to the OAS stated that the “… OAS had always been an organization of consensus…”, but that it was now “…paralyzed by its polarization.” But what made Almagro such a contentious candidate and does the polarization of the OAS represent failure of organization’s mission?

Elected under the campaign promise of “More Rights for More People,” the legacy of Luis Almagro’s first term in office was marked by his efforts to expand the role of the OAS in defending democratic governance in the Americas. Although the OAS has developed mechanisms for protecting democracy in the Americas since the 1990s, the organization has historically not used these mechanisms expansively. Passed in 2001, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the crown jewel of the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime, had not been used widely to protect democracy in the region prior to Almagro’s time in office. The Charter had only been used in two cases where a clear military coup took place and had failed to be used in cases of democratic backsliding in the region. During Almagro’s first term as Secretary General, the OAS took a stronger stance and more activist position on protecting democracy in the region. Almagro used his position to put pressure on the Maduro Regime in Venezuela and was instrumental in calling out electoral challenges in the recent Bolivian elections.

However, not all OAS member states have had a favorable perception of Almagro’s efforts to expand the mission of the OAS. Sharp divisions have been drawn over what some member states view as a gross overreach of the role of the Secretary General. Upon taking office, Almagro quickly took a stance in support of the Venezuelan opposition. Coming into power in 2015 however, Almagro was faced not only with democratic decline in Venezuela, but the 2016 impeachment of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. However, the OAS did not respond to the impeachment of Rousseff despite the fact that some called it a “coup.” Given Almagro’s stance on these two different cases, his critics have suggested that these positions were driven more by Almagro’s political preferences than defending democracy in the region. Exacerbating this view point, the OAS has recognized Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country and accepted his representative to the institution. With Almagro’s strong stance against the Maduro Regime, the OAS’s casting doubts on the integrity of the 2019 Bolivian election and accepting the ouster of Evo Morales has led to claims that Almagro is a U.S. puppet. Given these challenges, some member states have claimed that Almagro is polarizing the institution and straying from its purpose.

While Almagro’s response to the democratic crises in Bolivia and Venezuela have been criticized and polarized the OAS, Almagro’s desire to use the OAS to defend democracy in the Americas should be heralded as a victory for the institution and expanded upon. There are certainly areas where Almagro has made mistakes and where he has been less than even handed in addressing democratic crises in the Americas, but today the role of the OAS as a defender of democracy is more necessary than ever. Additionally, the polarization within the Americas cannot be laid solely at Almagro’s feet as there has historically been tension within the institution, particularly along pro- vs. anti-U.S. lines.

However, if the Organization of American States is going to overcome its polarization and become a successful defender of democracy, it will need to address some of the challenges inherent to the Inter-American Defense of Democracy Regime and work to depoliticize its decisions as it relates to democratic crises. In addressing democratic crises, the OAS faces a number of challenges that help address some of the critiques of Almagro’s approach to addressing Democratic Crises. One of the main challenges that the OAS faces is its inability to address democratic backsliding and non-military coups. Another major challenge is gaining the support of member states in addressing democratic crises.

To address these challenges and defend democracy in the Americas, Almagro’s second term as OAS Secretary General will need to address these challenges and develop policies to effectively address democratic challenges. This will require developing mechanisms that denounce democratic crises and democratic backsliding that are not reliant solely on the Secretary General or the General Assembly. Instead, the OAS should seek to create an expert panel that reports on democracy across the region made up of intellectuals and practitioners from across the region. This body could then report to the General Assembly to take action while simultaneously producing reports that do not rely on the national interests of member states nor that can be blamed on the preferences of the Secretary General. This body could also be transparent in its decision-making process and reporting. The OAS already has a similar body that reports on Human Rights in the form of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Deep fissures between countries in the Americas show how polarized the Western Hemisphere has become. However, this does not mean that the Organization of American States must succumb to paralysis. The OAS should seek to develop mechanisms to more holistically address democratic backsliding in the Americas so as to stop firefighting in times of democratic crisis and prevent these crises from occurring. Developing stronger mechanisms would also help depoliticize the responses when the OAS does take action by addressing all types of challenges to liberal democratic rule rather than only in times when the breakdown is so clearly egregious. Although Almagro has polarized the Organization of American States, he has not paralyzed the institution. His tenure has created the possibility to strengthen the OAS’s role as the defender of democracy in the Americas. Now is the time to heal the divides and strengthen the institution.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is a contributing editor with The Diplomatic Courier and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.