Wednesday, July 2, 2014

OAS Secretary General Race Kicks Off

In May 2015, Jose Miguel Insulza will step down after ten years and two terms as secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS).  Following the regular session of the General Assembly in Paraguay last month, the last such meeting of Insulza’s term, OAS member states have wasted no time in naming candidates to succeed him.

The first to do so was Uruguay, which released a statement on Friday that it was nominating current Foreign Minister Luis Almagro as the next OAS head. Uruguay’s OAS Ambassador Milton Romani confirmed the news to Spain’s El Pais, saying he had faith that Almagro’s diplomacy skills and Uruguay’s record of promoting hemispheric dialogue with every country in the region could lead to a “new and renovated stage” for the OAS.

Not to be outdone, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina released a statement the following day announcing the nomination of Eduardo Stein, who served as vice president in the 2004-2008 administration of Oscar Berger. According to Perez Molina, Stein’s bid has the “express and enthusiastic support” of the seven Central American countries.

Both of these candidates have established themselves as champions of democratic development and human rights causes. Stein made waves for denouncing Fujimori’s 2000 election as fraudulent as head of an OAS observer mission, and was chair of the post-coup Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As foreign minister, Almagro has called for dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, and has been instrumental in defending his country’s marijuana regulation law from critics abroad.

However, some of Stein’s recent positions could stir controversy among human rights advocates in the region. Last year, for instance, he was one of the signatories of a public letter condemning the genocide charges against former Guatemlana dictator Efrain Rios Montt, which characterized his trial as a “betrayal” of peace and reconciliation in the country. More recently, he has spoken out in defense of police chief Erwin Sperisen, who was convicted in Switzerland of overseeing the execution of seven inmates in a 2006 prison raid ordered by the Berger government.

Still, Almagro’s candidacy is not without problems either.  As El Pais reports, Uruguay’s participation in ALBA’s regional currency system and perceived closeness to left-wing governments in the hemisphere could raise questions about his suitability.

Fortunately, the race is only just starting, and these two will not be the only candidates. As EFE reports, Mexico is believed to be considering nominating either Alicia Barcena, currently head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), or OAS Ambassador Emilio Rabasa. There are also rumors that Inter-American Court of Human Rights Judge Diego Garcia Sayan could be a potential candidate.

News Briefs
  • Joaquim Barbosa, the first and only black justice to serve on Brazil's Supreme Court, attended his last court session yesterday before officially stepping down. O Globo reports that in remarks to journalists, Barbosa said was proud of his tenure, which included playing a key role in investigating the mensalão scandal and championing affirmative action programs. São Paulo-based human rights group Conectas has taken advantage of his departure to question the lack of transparency around the process of nominating supreme court justices, noting a lack of objective requirements and space for the participation of civil society in evaluating nominees.
  • Under pressure from the United States to take steps to limit the flow of migrants north, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has announced that he will close his country’s Department of Migration, an office that La Prensa reports is under investigation for alleged participation in a human trafficking ring. In its place officials say they will create an “Institute of Migration,” but employees in the office said yesterday they had not been informed of any such change, according to La Tribuna.
  • After several days of silence on the subject, La Nacion reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez finally touched on the corruption allegations against Vice President Amadou Boudou. In a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Peron’s death, the president noted that even the Argentine political icon was “accused of rape and of having accounts in Switerzeland,” and lashed out at the judicial branch for being “the only power that doesn’t depend on elections.”
  • Gregorio Santos, the jailed governor of Peru’s Cajamarca region, has told reporters that he intends to continue his campaign for re-election from behind bars, a move that Reuters notes “clouds expectations” that the long-stalled Minas Congas mining operation could resume operations.
  • The New York Times reports on the discovery of a major cybercrime operation in Brazil, in which thieves targeted some $3.75 billion online transactions by Brazilians. According to security analysts quoted by the paper, the incident illustrates Brazil’s vulnerability to cybercrime, which accounts for 95 percent of losses incurred by banks in the country.
  • Immediately after his inauguration as Panama’s new president yesterday, Juan Carlos Varela took steps to address insecurity as well as high prices for basic goods. In two separate decrees, the president announced price controls on certain staples, as well as an amnesty for gang members to turn in their weapons. El Siglo reports that Varela announced that the “more than 200 gangs operating in the country” would have until August 1 to take advantage of his offer.
  • In a separate consequence of Varela’s inauguration, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced that his government is restoring diplomatic relations with the Central American country. Maduro broke ties with Panama in March, after Varela’s predecessor Ricardo Martinelli requested that the OAS address the political crisis in Venezuela. While Varela has not confirmed this, he has promised to restore relations in the past, and the AP reports that he has said he and Maduro share a friendship “dating back to when they were the foreign ministers for their countries.”
  • El Espectador and La Tercera  report on a high-profile summit in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday in which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with some of the most well-known former heads of state who have championed a moderate, “Third Way” approach to politics, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ricardo Lagos. As El Tiempo reports, Santos used the forum to stress his commitment to continuing peace talks with rebels in Havana. News site La Silla Vacia also has an analysis of the summit, noting that it could turn off some figures on the left of Colombia’s spectrum, many of whom played a key role in guaranteeing Santos’ reelection.
  • Colombian authorities have turned over seven taxi cab drivers accused of involvement in the June 2013 murder of a DEA agent in Bogota. The killing is believed to be the result of an “express kidnapping” gone wrong, and was reportedly unrelated to the victim’s work. The L.A. Times has an interesting angle on the case, noting that the quick arrests were the result of extensive use of video surveillance cameras, and that officials say they resulted in a significant drop in similar robberies in the city.
  • The government of Uruguay has announced that it will begin a bidding process this week for companies interested in growing the commercial cannabis that will be sold in pharmacies around the country. Up to six private entities will be considered for the contracts, according to drug czar Julio Calzada, with each one responsible for roughly 1.5 hectares of land.

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