On March 20, the election for the post of the Secretary General (SG) of the Organization of American States (OAS) will be held. In the past, a CARICOM member has held the post of Assistant Secretary General (ASG) on several occasions, including a Bajan, Ambassador Val McComie. After serving as ASG, he also ran for the SG position and lost to the Brazilian candidate.
CARICOM certainly has candidates that are capable to fill the post of SG and I think it is time that we seek the top post. However, there is an unofficial rule that a member country cannot or should not propose a candidate for both positions from the same region. In other words, we must choose between proposing a candidate for the ASG or the SG.
Since Nestor Mendez is the current ASG and his country, Belize, has proposed him to run again for the same post as ASG, it de facto makes it impossible for another CARICOM candidate to run for the SG spot.
It should also be noted that in the last election in 2015, CARICOM made the silly decision to have two candidates competing for the same position of ASG. Nestor Mendez won when he defeated the Guyanese candidate. This situation was most unfortunate and it should not have occurred. Both candidates were very good but clearly Mr Mendez was the better as he was fluent in Spanish which is absolutely essential for a Senior position at the OAS. Additionally, he was a more dynamic person.
The highly experienced and respected Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador of Antigua & Barbuda to the US and to the OAS, recently stated that “in ordinary circumstances Mr Almagro would be re-elected as SG with little dissension”. However, many CARICOM leaders have been critical of the management style of Mr Almagro because he often does not consult CARICOM leaders or pay attention to their wishes when he makes major decisions. Mr Almagro has, in effect, alienated himself from the expectations of many CARICOM leaders, all of whom voted for him in 2015. On the other hand, Mr Almagro continues to have the support of several major countries such as the US, Canada, Colombia, and BraziI. I personally believe that the CARICOM leaders should leave Mr Almagro to manage the OAS and not worry about his management style and I think that history will show that his decisions were generally good ones—despite not being popular in some circles.
The truth is that CARICOM’S performance at the OAS has been very disappointing. This is especially true when you consider that in a group of 34 nations, CARICOM has 14 votes. CARICOM’s major focus at the OAS must be development which is one of the four pillars of the OAS. The three others are Democracy, Human Rights and Security. While all the pillars are important and intertwined, CARICOM has not succeeded in getting more attention to be paid to development within the grouping.
CARICOM leaders, quite rightly, would like to have one of their countrymen be elected to the SG position. However, I think the best way to succeed is to re-elect both the current ASG and the SG because in 2025, Nestor Mendez (assuming he will be re-elected in March as he is presently unopposed) would be the obvious candidate for the post of SG. If CARICOM cannot wait until 2025, then they should have gotten together and proposed Mr Mendez run against Mr Almagro in March. Mr Mendez is a true professional who speaks English and Spanish fluently and knows the entire region and the OAS. Moreover, he has the benefit of having the support from two groups, namely CARICOM and SICA (this group includes the Central American countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala). Once Mr Mendez has the support of CARICOM and SICA, he is virtually assured of being elected.
Mr Almagro has also upset other countries in the OAS which has led Peru to field a seasoned candidate, Mr Hugo de Zela, who knows the OAS very well. However, CARICOM, in its wisdom, has also proposed a candidate, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who is from Ecuador. Needless to say, it is very unusual for a candidate not to be proposed by her country!
The problem with having three candidates running for the same post is that it creates uncertainty in the outcome. Should Mr de Zela or Ms Espinosa be elected as the next SG, it will make it very difficult for a CARICOM candidate to be elected in 2025 because it is usually difficult to defeat an incumbent.
In the event that Barbados wishes to propose an excellent candidate in 2025 such as Liz Thompson (who is currently the Barbados representative at the UN), it will be necessary for her to start preparing ASAP. She must be absolutely fluent in Spanish (speaking Spanish is not enough, as she will have to understand the culture of the various countries, etc. which takes time). To be successful, she must live for about one year in a Spanish speaking country. In order to have a successful candidate in 2025, it is necessary to start planning now.
However, it should be noted that if Barbados gets the support of CARICOM to propose Liz Thompson, it is possible that the SICA group could still decide to propose Mr Mendez. If this were to happen, we could have a similar situation in 2025 that occurred in 2015 when Mr Mendez defeated the Guyanese candidate.
Since CARICOM has already lost the chance to propose one of its countrymen in 2020, perhaps we should focus on securing the SG position in 2025 by supporting Mr Almagro because it enhances the chances of Mr Mendez to be elected to that post in 2025!
John Beale is a former Barbados Ambassador to the US and Permanent Representative at the OAS from January 2009 to July 2016. He served as Chairman of the OAS Budgetary Affairs Committee and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development and Vice Chair of the Strategic Vision of the OAS and the Young America Business Trust for youth entrepreneurship. He was also a Financial Consultant to the OAS from August 2016 through December 2016.