Friday, October 3, 2014

OAS Secretary General Race Update: Peruvian Candidate Withdraws

Peruvian ex-Foreign Minister and current Inter-American Human Rights Court Judge Diego Garcia Sayan’s candidacy for OAS Secretary General didn’t last long. Less than two months after announcing his bid, Garcia Sayan has withdrawn it, according to La Republica.

To be fair, the Peruvian jurist didn’t have much of a shot. Just one week after announcing its support for his campaign, the administration of President Ollanta Humala backed away from Garcia Sayan as part of a deal to secure opposition approval for a cabinet shuffle. Without the clear and open support of his own government, it is been difficult for the Peruvian to lobby regional governments for theirs.

El Comercio reports that Garcia Sayan has called out the Peruvian government for essentially throwing him under the bus. In an interview with a local radio station yesterday, he remarked:

“I don’t doubt that the Foreign Minister may have telephoned other foreign ministers. But that's not the issue. The issue is that, consistently, the message we have received [from other countries] is that so long as they do not receive a clear and public display of support for the candidacy, they are not going to compromise their vote.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez has issued a statement lamenting Garcia Sayan’s withdrawal, and claiming that he personally lobbied 17 of his counterparts in the region on his behalf.

Garcia Sayan’s departure leaves just two candidates to replace outgoing Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza next year, at least for now. So far the only certain contenders are Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro and former Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein. While the former is seen as being closer to Venezuela and the ALBA bloc than some human rights advocates -- and the U.S. -- would like, the latter has flaws of his own, having spoken out against the genocide trial of ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

In recent weeks, the Uruguayan candidate seems to have gained ground. In South America, Almagro has obtained the clear support of the governments of Chile, Brazil,  Paraguay, Ecuador, and has received positive signals from Argentina. In Central America, Belize has endorsed the Uruguayan candidate directly, and there have also been reports that Nicaragua and El Salvador are also breaking from their neighbors to support Almagro. Montevideo-based political commentary magazine Busqueda has reported that diplomatic sources say the Uruguayan is “viewed positively” by Canada and the United States.

Eduardo Stein, for his part, has been backed by Costa Rica and Panama.  But there is no denying that the Guatemalan has stronger -- or at least more visible -- allies in the United States than his South American rival. In addition to enjoying the support of  Guatemala’s Washington lobbyist and Cold Warrior Otto Reich, Stein has been endorsed by influential syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer as the “strongest supporter of democracy and human rights” of the candidates.

Oppenheimer has been following the race closely, and earlier this week  published a five-question interview with Almagro in which the foreign minister defends his support for Cuba’s participation in the next Summit of the Americas, speaks up for the independence of Inter-American human rights mechanisms, and responds to criticisms that he is too close to “Venezuela and its allies.” 

Other candidates to succeed Insulza in May 2015 may still emerge. For the past several months, rumors have been floating that Mexico intends to nominate either its current OAS Ambassador Emilio Rabasa or ECLAC Secretary Alicia Barcena to the position. But with countries throughout the hemisphere committing themselves to candidates already, time is running out for new names to enter the race.

News Briefs
  • Also on the OAS Secretary General race: Almagro appears to have taken his campaign to the United Nations this week. In remarks before the General Assembly, AFP reports that the Uruguayan foreign minister proposed the creation of a joint OAS disaster fund, pointing to the need for climate change-fueled relief efforts in Caribbean countries. According to Radio 180, Almagro also renewed his support for the Inter-American human rights system, endorsed a new “strategic vision”  proposed by the OAS earlier this month and called for the organization to rid itself of a “Cold War logic.”
  • Ahead of Sunday’s first-round presidential vote in Brazil, the race is making all of today’s top headlines. Last night, the candidates sparred in their final debate before the vote. Folha describes it as the “most tense debate of the campaign,” and the AP notes that President Dilma Rousseff came under heavy fire for an emerging Petrobras kickback scandal. But the Rousseff camp is no doubt pleased by the latest Datafolha survey, which shows that the president’s rebound in the polls has widened significantly. As Reuters reports, the new poll shows that Rousseff would beat Marina Silva in a runoff by seven points, and that the environmentalist is now just three points ahead of PSDB candidate Aecio Neves.
  • The Brazil race is also in two major U.S. papers today. The L.A. Times reports on the recent data showing that the country is in an economic recession, describing the news as evidence of a consensus that an economic shake-up is in order, whoever wins the election. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has published the latest of a series of notably pro-Marina Silva articles on the elections, this time profiling her Internet-heavy campaign strategy to compensate for a lack of TV airtime.
  • Also in El Universal, Fundar researcher Oscar Arredondo Pico has an excellent counterpoint to Peña Nieto’s problematic narrative on public security.  Weaving together the missing students with the alleged massacre of 22 suspects, Arredondo argues that the country is facing a serious security crisis, fueled by a lack of accountability for police and soldiers.
  • The AP reports on a new Cifra poll in Uruguay, which shows that the percentage support a deal to receive six Guantanamo detainees from the U.S.  has fallen from 50 percent in July to just 18 percent. The rejection likely has to do with the increased exposure of the plan ahead of the upcoming elections, as opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou has seized on the deal to criticize the Mujica administration.
  • More details have emerged regarding the Wednesday murder of Venezuelan PSUV congressman Robert Serra and his partner, Maria Herrera. Neighbors have told the AP that they were surprised to find that Serra’s bodyguards were not with him on the night of his death, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told reporters in a press conference that the murder was “an intentional homicide, planned and executed with great precision.” Ultimas Noticias and El Nacional report that President Nicolas Maduro has accused unnamed right-wing assassins of committing the murder.