The shocking story of the most incompetent, unethical and imperial-minded Secretary General in the history of the Organization of American States.
In a result that surprised no one, the US-favored Luis Almagro was re-elected as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). For the next five years, Almagro will lead the oldest multilateral organization in the world, overseeing the affairs of member states comprising the Western hemisphere.
Almagro has been the most unethical and inconsistent OAS Secretary General in recent times. Within the OAS, there is widespread questioning of his administration. But with US government – the main financial backer of the OAS – fully behind him, he has run roughshod over all opposition with his agenda.
The Secretary General passionately invokes the principles of democracy and human rights, quoting the American Convention on Human Rights, the Democratic Charter, the Inter-American Convention against Corruption. But in his actions, he flagrantly contravenes his lofty rhetoric.
Every move Almagro makes appears designed to cultivate a personal image which facilitates his professional ambitions, and advances the role he has been told to play in the international arena by his US puppet masters.
Vanity is a defining characteristic of Almagro, built from the belief that he is now the most influential leader of an international organization with a social media presence. He pioneered the use of Twitter at the OAS, as if international politics could be carried out through social media, while ignoring the real actors who are the democratically elected authorities of the Americas. Through his obsession with virtual politics, ignoring legitimate representatives and the will of the people, he has revealed his contempt for democracy.
Almagro’s eagerness for power vaulted him to the leadership of the OAS. Back in 2015, he thrust himself into a contest that was colored by the first stage of open conflict between the United States and Venezuela, and the international optimism derived from the resumption of diplomatic contacts between Washington and Havana. He marketed himself as the only candidate capable of transcending the political and ideological differences between the various members of the organization he sought to lead.
Almagro enjoyed a positive international reputation at the time. He had served a term as foreign minister in the leftist government of Uruguayan President José Mujica, and had cultivated support from hemispheric leaders, both from the left and the right.
His candidacy offered a portents of what was to come for the organization, as it is clear that it was his campaign team ran a cut-throat operation with the support of the US government to undermine any potential challenger. Following the resignation of Diego García Sayán of Peru, Almagro was the only man left standing. He took over as secretary general without a challenge.
Almagro stated in his inaugural speech on May 26, 2015 that he was not interested in being the administrator of the OAS crisis, but rather the facilitator of its renewal. His predecessor as OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, had prepared the OAS for sweeping reforms that he called “the strategic vision.” However, Almagro placed a halt on the process of reforms almost as soon as he replaced Insulza.
At various times during his campaign, he said that in order to recover the credibility of the OAS, he would resign ahead of the 2020 election campaign. He said that it was healthy to renew the organization every five years with new perspectives and fresh dynamics. Today, however, we see Almagro entering his second term as Secretary General.
Almagro’s management has compounded the organization’s longstanding institutional crisis. The regular budget of the OAS has not increased and, on the contrary, continues to rely on contributions from the government of the United States.
Hoping to guarantee the independence of the OAS, member states proposed quotas of contributions. But Almagro stringently avoided the matter of independence, ensuring that today, it is no longer discussed inside the organization This is largely consequence of his obsession with advancing regime change in Venezuela.
The OAS has a complex normative system from its founding charter to the declarations, conventions, and decisions of presidential summits, as well as systems guaranteeing the protection of rights through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. But under Almagro, these efforts have been superseded by his focus on political affairs.
The integral development agenda, for example, has been forgotten under Almagro’s leadership. The OAS has been absent from major international debates where the hemisphere could have had a strong voice, including on issues that unite the Americas and the Caribbean.
Rather than assuming leadership to advance much-needed reforms of the OAS, Almagro abandoned them to build his personal image and position himself as a global player.
Almagro recruits cronies, the incompetent, and corrupt
A reduction in resources under Almagro’s watch caused a massive brain drain, with capable staff members leaving in droves. As the competent exited the OAS, the secretary general filled the organization with friends and political cronies dating back to his time as Uruguay’s foreign minister.
The circle around Almagro today is almost entirely Uruguayan. It includes the following figures:
- Diego Canepa, former Assistant Secretary of the Uruguayan Presidency.
- Luis Porto, former Undersecretary of Economy and also former Vice-Chancellor of Uruguay.
- Gabriel Bidegain, former itinerant ambassador in Mujica’s administration.
- Sergio Jellinek, publicist and social media specialist. He is the man behind the construction of Almagro’s online image.
- Gonzalo Koncke, former representative of Uruguay to the United Nations.
Other recruits include the former Undersecretary of Health, Leonel Briozzo, and the former Minister of Defense, Luis Rosadilla.
Luis Porto, one of Almagro’s closest confidants, was appointed senior advisor on strategy and organizational development at the OAS. He has a documented history of shady contracts and corruption, which led to his sanctioning and disqualification from public service. Porto’s friend, Washington Abdala, then a deputy for Uruguay’s Colorado Party, seems to have been key in lifting his sanctions. These favors over time appear to have been paid for with OAS contracts.
Juan Washington Abdala Remerciari, an Uruguayan lawyer popularly known as Washington “The Turk” Abdala, was appointed by Almagro as his special representative for the territorial conflict between Guatemala and Belize. This gave Abdala the rank of ambassador, and with a lucrative salary and all-expense-paid travel. He was previously hired with funds from the MACCIH, the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, but without consulting its authorities.
Abdala has since turned into a YouTube comedian known for his impersonations of cartoon characters like Batman. His trajectory provides a clear picture of the seriousness of Almagro’s clique.
The number of Uruguayans that Almagro has packed into the OAS missions is impressive. Among them are Juan Pablo Corlazzoli (El Salvador), Edgardo Ortuño (Costa Rica), Juan Raúl Ferreira (Haiti), Sergio Abreu (Peru), Wilfredo Penco (Nicaragua), among others.
Other Uruguayans, such as lawyers Marta Pachiotti and Beatriz Otero, were placed in influential positions at the MACCIH.
Besides the cronyism they embody, there is also an issue of professional competency.
Almagro personally recruited Marta Pachiotti to the OAS, appointing her as director of the Criminal Justice Observatory at the MACCIH. However, within the mission itself, many people pointed out that Pachiotti did not have the slightest idea of how the area she had been assigned would work. He cluelessness eventually became an obstacle to the basic functions of the observatory.
Pachiotti spent most of her time traveling to other countries for personal interest, paying people in the institution to do her work. Her underlings characterized her as a racist and classist person, as evidenced by the audio published by the Peruvian politician, Julio Arbizu, which later forced Almagro to remove her from the MACCIH. Once again, the human rights discourse of Almagro and his friends was revealed as hollow and opportunistic.
The Uruguayans in Almagro’s inner circle are not the only questionable characters at the OAS. There is also the Mexican Francisco Guerrero, who occupied the key secretariat of Political Affairs that Almagro later renamed, the “Secretariat for the Strengthening of Democracy.”
Guerrero is a militant of Mexico’s PRI. In the last election cycle in his country, he served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of the candidate José Antonio Meade.
His background raises an important question: how is it possible that a high official of the OAS can become an advisor to the campaign of a candidate of a member country, and still serve as the head of the area where the electoral observation missions are set up? Let’s not forget that the OAS observed the elections in Mexico. It is evident that there was a serious conflict of interest here.
Guerrero also happens to be a friend of Jacobo Domínguez Gudini (also from the PRI), who was appointed to work at the MACCIH. Domínguez was expelled by Honduran civil society for campaigning alongside politicians from the country’s governing National Party, thus compromising the independence of the OAS mission. Yet after being kicked out of Honduras, he was hired under direct orders by Luis Almagro to work at the OAS headquarters in Washington to the tune of over $10,000 a month.
We cannot forget that Domínguez also worked in the administration of Mexico’s Veracruz state, Javier Duarte – “the worst governor in history” – who was sentenced to nine years in prison for money laundering, criminal association, and a long parade of atrocities.
A group of experts from from American University in Washington DC published a June 2018 report that directly blamed Almagro for the obstacles and failures of the MACCIH. The report concluded, “In short, the choice of the OAS as the managing entity of MACCIH worked as critics feared. Its political trajectory has reflected a weak and divided OAS run by an impetuous and inconsistent Secretary General.”
Almagro’s Venezuela obsession divides the OAS and violates its charter
The interventions by Almagro in the internal politics of OAS member countries has completely reversed diplomatic advances in the resolution of disputes, deepening the division of the continent.
Under Almagro’s leadership, the hemisphere has become polarized around the issue Venezuela. The unilateral strategies of the organization and the actions of the Secretary General himself have proven to be a colossal failure. Confrontation and polarization have shattered the trust of the parties towards the OAS, broken trust between them, and dissolved important spaces for dialogue.
In a shocking breach of his diplomatic mandate, Almagro threatened a military intervention to overthrow the elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in September 2018.
His position represented an explicit violation of the OAS charter and the organization’s raison d’être, as articulated in Article 21: “The territory of a state is inviolable and may not be subjected, even temporarily, to military occupation or other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever.” Article 3 stipulates that the personality, sovereignty and independence of states must be respected.
Almagro’s haughty behavior has generally undermined an array of organizational commitments to resolve conflicts through diplomacy and peaceful means.
His obsession with Venezuela has eroded his leadership and distracted the organization from addressing shared threats to the region. It is clear that the strategy followed to date and Almagro’s polarizing and hyper-confrontational role have not contributed to solving the political crisis in Venezuela. His re-election is certain to exacerbate the situation in the country, where a sector of the opposition has entered talks with the government against stringent opposition by Washington.
While Almagro focused his energy on regime change in Venezuela, the OAS failed to take a firm position in defense of migrants’ rights despite thousands of deaths and countless human rights violations against them.
A record of disaster sets the stage for a future of conflict
From a diplomatic point of view, a mind-boggling array of mistakes were made, most of them with serious implications for the internal situation of countries in the OAS:
- Almagro generated a very sensitive conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic by not recognizing the sovereign spaces of both countries that share the island.
- He praised the pardon of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, tormenting the victims of violence committed by his regime. Almagro did so despite having spoken out against the pardon days before.
- He called for new elections in Honduras in 2017, then recognized the US-backed government even after the OAS itself found evidence of widespread fraud.
- Almagro cut off the head of the MACCIH in Honduras, Juan Jiménez Mayor, in a surprising move, resulting in a devastating letter from Mayor accusing Almagro of essentially abandoning the mission.
- He secretly negotiated the Honduran government’s support for sanctions against Venezuela at the OAS, in exchange for the weakening of the MACCIH, a mission established by the OAS itself, whose investigations were beginning to embarrass the US-backed Honduran president and his cronies.
- In 2017 he cut a deal with the then-president of Brazil, Michael Temer, to use the money from his country’s massive debt to the OAS to finance the actions of the IACHR against Venezuela. In return, Brazil received the silence of the OAS in the face of the serious social situation and numerous corruption scandals taking place under Temer’s watch.
- Almagro recognized Juan Guaido as interim president of Venezuela without the consent of the majority of the member states
- He issued a report declaring alleged irregularities and violations that occurred in the electoral process in Bolivia that led directly to the coup d’état in the country, generating an internal conflict that ended the lives of 35 Bolivians. The report has been thoroughly discredited by researchers from MIT and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
For the past five years, Almagro has served the United States government and his own ambitions. His opinions and actions have not been the result of consultations with the majority of the member states of the OAS, but of his personal positions or those of his backers in Washington.
Almagro has led the organization to a dead end, shattering the possibilities of Latin American and Caribbean integration. Elected to a second term, he is all but certain plunge the hemispheric body into an unprecedented regional confrontation.