Thursday, August 28, 2014

Surveying the Field in the OAS Secretary General Race

Peru may have just lost its candidate to become the next OAS leader, but Uruguay and Guatemala are sticking with their own candidates (despite their flaws), and a potential nominee has surfaced in Mexico as well.

As part of a deal with lawmakers to approve his latest cabinet shuffle, the administration of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala is backing off from supporting Inter-American Human Rights Court Judge Diego Garcia Sayan’s bid for OAS Secretary General. His candidacy was staunchly opposed by the Fujimorista opposition, which among other things objects to his support for the 2001 creation of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

However, the Peruvian government appears to be playing coy about whether or not it will fully withdraw its support for Garcia Sayan. In an official statement released yesterday, Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez said the administration’s position was still under analysis and would be decided “at the opportune moment.” In the meantime, Gutierrez reiterated that Garcia Sayan is “an excellent candidate.”

The move comes two months after the emergence of the first nominees to take current OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza’s place once he steps down in May 2015. While elections will likely be held early next year, so far Guatemala’s Eduardo Stein and Uruguay’s Luis Almagro are the only candidates to be decisively endorsed by their governments for the position.

In his Saturday column, widely-read commentator Andres Oppenheimer took a swing at Almagro and Garcia Sayan, arguing that Stein represents the “strongest supporter of democracy and human rights” of the three. As proof, Oppenheimer cites human rights advocates’ criticism of some of the Peruvian jurist’s decisions for the Inter-American Human Rights Court, as well as the fact that he held his position on the court while floating his name as a candidate (though the columnist also notes that the court has accepted his petition for a leave of absence in order to campaign).

Oppenheimer also claims unnamed “diplomatic sources” say both Garcia Sayan and Almagro are backed by ALBA bloc countries, most of which have supported the Ecuador-led efforts to defang the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

As a point against Almagro, he cites a February quote from the Uruguayan foreign minister, in which he said that the Venezuelan clashes had involved “deaths on both sides.” But it’s worth noting here that not only is this statement factually accurate, it’s not that far from Jose Miguel Insulza’s own remarks around the same time. On February 17 the OAS leader warned that continued protests could “lead to more acts of violence,” and called on both the Venezuelan government to “avoid the use of force by police or related groups,” as well as on the opposition “to demonstrate peacefully avoiding provocations.”

On top of this, Oppenheimer’s defense of former Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein is more than a little thin. He dismisses the fact that Stein signed a public letter opposing genocide charges against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt on the grounds that Stein says the letter has been “misinterpreted,” because it “essentially called for due process to investigate all human rights crime.” In reality, the letter (see Plaza Publica’s coverage) explicitly calls the Rios Montt trial a “betrayal” of peace and reconciliation, and accuses its supporters of dividing the country. And in another statement that is sure to irk human rights advocates in the region, Stein recently spokeout in defense of ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen, who was convicted in Switzerland of overseeing the execution of seven Guatemalan inmates in a 2006 prison raid ordered by the Berger administration.

Considering these positions, it’s hard to believe Stein is truly the “strongest supporter” of human rights among candidates for OAS chief. If he is, the entire field is hopeless.

Fortunately for critics of the current candidates, there are signs that new names will be presented soon. As El Universal recently reported, Mexican Emilio Rabasa’s name has been floated as a potential nominee. In addition to currently serving as Mexico’s OAS ambassador, Rabasa was the Zedillo administration’s coordinator for peace negotiations with rebels following the Zapatista uprising.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, active duty Chilean sailor Mauricio Ruiz held a press conference in Santiago yesterday to come out publicly as gay. He reportedly did so with the express authorization of his superiors, a fact that La Tercera and the BBC report marks the first time this has happened in Chile’s history, and an important milestone in the socially conservative country.
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal features a glowing profile of Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Marina Silva, noting the recent Ibope and Datafolha surveys which suggest she would beat incumbent Dilma Rousseff in a second round vote in October’s election. The paper also cites Ibope’s Marcia Cavallari, who -- echoing similar comments by Datafolha head Mauro Paulino -- argues that support for Silva lines up with the profile of those who participated in the June 2013 protests.
  • Last night, Silva appeared on news program Jornal Nacional, the latest in the show’s primetime series of interviews with Brazilian presidential candidates. Globo has a full transcript and clip of the 15-minute interview. While she largely held her own, the interview got off to a tough start for Silva when her questioner asked her about the fact that the jet Eduardo Campos was killed in had been paid for by suspicious shell companies. This, as her interviewer noted, seems to contradict her campaign’s promises to break with the backroom, corrupt politics of the past. Silva’s response, in which she denied any irregularities associated with the plane, is being widely in local press today (see Folha de S. Paulo, or Veja)
  • Forbes looks at one of the biggest financial backers of Silva’s campaign, the multimillionaire banking heir Maria Alice Setubal, who is also serving as her campaign coordinator. Her proximity to the candidate, Forbes notes, has attracted other major financial backers.
  • The AP reports on an apparent rash of illnesses that broke out in the Colombian town El Carmen de Bolivar recently. Because locals say it has mostly affected girls who recently received the popular HPV vaccine Gardasil, it has fueled skepticism towards the drug even as some authorities have chalked the “illness” up to a case of mass hysteria.
  • The Chinese firm behind Nicaragua’s proposed rival to the Panama Canal has begun a census in areas along the project’s path, taking stock of properties and households there. But while the government claims the survey will provide accurate estimates of property values, local residents fear they will receive unfair payment and be forced out of their homes.
  • Uruguay’s El Pais claims that the first day for residents there to legally register up to six cannabis plants in their households got off to a “slow” start yesterday. However, the paper’s assertion that “little more than ten” homegrowers have registered is not necessarily reliable, as it is based on an official count released at midday.
  • After Mexican officials released a dramatically increased estimate of the number of people who have been disappeared as a result of the country’s violent drug war last week, relatives of the disappeared are fuming. The AP profiles reactions to the news from relatives and victims’ rights groups in the country, which criticize the government’s figures as confusing and their work as incompetent.
  • Following Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s recent support for debate over a proposal to move the country’s capital to Santiago del Estero, the New York Times’ Simon Romero compares it with other efforts to move or establish new capital cities around the world. However, he also notes that analysts view the statement as largely symbolic, and few expect anything to come of it.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro reports on a decision by the Constitutional Court of El Salvador published a ruling on Tuesday which in effect orders political parties to select their internal leaders according to democratic means, and requires them to make their funding sources public information.