The State of Affairs in Latin America: A Conversation with Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro
By Geovanny Vicente Romero
A few days ago, I had the honor of joining an event that the Brademas Center and the prestigious New York University (NYU) hosted on its campus in Washington, DC, better known as NYU-DC. The event was titled, “A conversation with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro“. This important discussion was held within the framework of the #DCDialogues, a forum that convenes academia, government, the private sector, and the general community in the political capital of the world, Washington, DC.
I posed several questions to Secretary General Luis Almagro about the diverse challenges the hemisphere faces at present in the areas of democracy, citizen liberties and human rights, especially in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaraguaand Haiti.
This analysis of current developments in these countries is pivotal to the role the OAS plays in fulfilling its mission for, “more rights for more people,” across the Americas.
One of Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous works is No One Writes to the Colonel. In the case of Venezuela, Almagro has become the voice of those Venezuelans who have no one to write to them, no one to listen to them and no one to protect them from their own abusive regime led by Nicolás Maduro. I pointed out that we all have a lot of concern and hope for Venezuela but it was necessary to know what outcome we could expect in the near future and what is needed to supporting the Juan Guaidó movement and help the brave and strong people of Venezuela fulfill their own destiny. The Secretary began by indicating that making a short-term forecast would not be possible, but it was clear that, “Guaidó is the last hope we have for a peaceful solution. The most violent solution that can be applied to the country is the one that is being applied now. My concern with empty slogans like #HandsOffVenezuela is that meanwhile all the violence in the world is being applied to millions of Venezuelans. Millions of people had to abandon the country because they didn’t have any medical care. Millions of people are starving.”
I then transition to the largest island in the Caribbean, noting that after all the efforts to integrate Cuba into the region and bring it closer to the United States of America, we find ourselves back at square one. The only difference is that for the first time in 60 years, the Cuban president is not named Castro. Almagro’s answer could not be more clear, “The Cuban dictatorship is the worst kind of dictatorship you can find in the whole world. They are not tied at all to the needs and the feeling of the people. When this is tied to Venezuela, it makes the failure even more evident. They [Cuba] are the most parasitic country that has existed. He noted, “The Cuban government has been sucking blood from Venezuela. Today, Venezuela is a corpse and they are still sucking the blood from a dead body. It is a severe case of parasitism. They cannot afford to live without Venezuelan oil. It will be worse than during the Special Period. They [the Cuban government] know that any other government will not be able to keep delivering this oil to Cuba.
“The name of the President is not Castro, but the name of power is still Castro,” said Almagro.
It is imperative to know more about the OAS’ involvement in Nicaragua. From the very beginning, the OAS has been working for democratization, stronger political institutions, rule of law, and the independence of the different branches of government in the country. The OAS has strived to be part of the solution to the political crisis in Nicaragua, since it has been a year since the protests began in April 2018. Almagro said the opposition, although they were not well organized, had an opportunity at the first two months of the protests, as they were strong enough to demand early elections and some institutional solutions. However, this period passed and the government prevailed by force. The government then tried to consolidate the peace they achieved by force through human rights violations.
Almagro shared with us that the OAS acted as a witness in the negotiation process that the government and the opposition carried out. The Secretary General urged the government of Daniel Ortega to release political prisoners as soon as possible, stop the repression on demonstrations, guarantee political freedoms and begin electoral reforms.
Almagro called for maturity from both sides, “We need people to stop lying to us. The needs of the people are too great. We need to deliver solutions. We don’t like when people play political games with this situation. It is not acceptable. We [the OAS] concentrate on the duties of the government, because only they can deliver solutions for the people.” I concluded this portion of the discussion adding that the Nicaraguan government is seeking to buy time so that the current situation becomes the new normal.
Our conversation returned to the Caribbean. I started by noting how the international press rarely covers the important current events in Haiti, a country that recently appointed a new prime minister in the wake of protests. The Secretary General expressed his deep respect for the Haitian nation, his concern for the economic and political conditions of the country and his great admiration for all the struggles the country has historically overcome.
“We want the country to stabilize; people to be respected; and the electoral process to be implemented. The country needs a lot of international cooperation for the country to stabilize, and we will provide it. In early May, there will be meetings in Haiti’s Congress to confirm the interim the government. We need to keep clear. We can’t play with fire when we are all in a barrel of fuel. We should help always to stabilize Haiti. We shouldn’t exploit their structural problems. We should be concerned about their needs.”
He commended the country saying, “Haiti was the first Caribbean country to investigate the corruption in PetroCaribe. It’s a commitment against corruption and puts a lot of stress on the political system.”
I did not want to end this conversation without knowing a little more about the steps that the OAS takes to close the inequality gap, taking into account that Latin America is considered the most unequal region in the world. My idea was to address vulnerable populations such as the indigenous peoples, afro-descendents, and the LGBTQ community, among others.
Almagro pointed to the central mission of the OAS, “More rights for more people”. He detailed the social inclusion campaign carried out as an organization and when referring to the LGBTQ community, he said that, “we want each country to resolve the discrimination suffered by the people of this community.” He even indicated that he attended the Vancouver Gay Pride and will attend the Washington Pride. Coincidentally, two days after this discussion, Almagro published a photo in which he is seen receiving the Global Champions Awards 2019from the Human Rights Campaign, for his leadership for LGBTQ rights and for the work of social inclusion that his organization carries out. These four countries in the Americas, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti, require the most focus from the OAS and the international community. There are many bright spots within the Americas, but as a region, we are only as strong as our weakest link. For more details on the dialogue with Secretary Almagro, we leave you with this video from the event.