OAS Election Indicates Waning US Influence In Latin America

Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raul Morales, center right, congratulates Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro, center left, following Almagro’s election as the OAS Secretary General, Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Washington, during The Forty-Ninth Special Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson) The Associated Press

Washington, D.C.- Today’s election of Luis Almagro as the new Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) is “another indication of declining U.S. influence in Latin America,” Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrotsaid today. As foreign minister of Uruguay from 2010—2015, Almagro was involved in strengthening regional integration through organizations such as the Union of South American Nations and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Almagro finished the race unopposed, but he previously had been running against the former foreign minister of Guatemala, Eduardo Stein. Stein received the backing of countries such as Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic prior to withdrawing his candidacy, while Almagro received strong support from South American nations, including Colombia.

“Historically, the U.S. has had an outsized role in influencing the major decisions made by the OAS, but that has been shrinking rapidly,” Weisbrot said. “The U.S. would certainly prefer to have a Secretary General who would do what it wanted and apply a double standard on human rights in accordance with U.S. policy – as Stein had signaled he might do. Almagro’s election represents instead a triumph for regional integration and solidarity that opposes U.S. efforts to isolate particular countries.

“Perhaps even more importantly, CELAC and UNASUR are increasingly the venues where major decisions are made, and these are institutions that exclude the United States.”

Since UNASUR was formed, it has been used to respond to crises such as coups or coup attempts in Ecuador (2010) and Paraguay (2012), and separatist opposition efforts that threatened to destabilize the Bolivian government in 2008. The impetus for CELAC, meanwhile, arose out of governments’ frustration after attempts to overturn the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras were blocked at the OAS by the Obama administration. (CELAC includes all countries in the hemisphere except the U.S. and Canada.)

“The Obama administration is increasingly isolated in the Western Hemisphere, even more than the George W. Bush administration was,” Weisbrot remarked. “In the wake of the new sanctions against Venezuela, which have been widely denounced by Latin American governments, and which now threaten U.S. rapprochement with Cuba, U.S.-Latin American relations may be at a new low for the 21st Century.

“Obama’s experience at the Summit of the Americas in Panama next month could end up as disastrous as Bush’s infamously catastrophic trip to the 2005 Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina.”