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Sir Ronald Sanders: OAS General Assembly failed the people of the Americas

By Sir Ronald Sanders

Image of Sir Ronald Sanders
By Sir Ronald Sanders

(The writer is the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the U.S. and the Organization of American States. He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto)

ANYONE who followed the 50th regular session of the General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), would be forgiven for believing it was held to discuss Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The assembly was held virtually on October 20 and 21, ostensibly to deal with “Facing the challenges of COVID-19” and seeking a collaborative approach “to address vulnerabilities and build resilience”. That theme got scant attention. Reference to it by some ideologically bent countries was cursory. The representative of one powerful state did not even mention it.

The meeting concluded with no collaborative approach to deal with vulnerabilities and resilience. The key issue now confronting the developing member states of the Organization was shunted aside.

For the richer countries, their principal concern was Venezuela. Their overriding purpose was to secure positions that bolster their efforts to get rid of the Maduro government and force acceptance of Juan Guaidó.

They used all their coercive power to achieve that objective, at the expense of dealing with the most injurious crisis that is devastating nations everywhere.

No wonder Ambassador Anton Edmunds of St Lucia declared that this “almost singular focus on one country within our region, a country with issues we are well aware of, is starving many of us of the support that we need at this critical time – be it security based or otherwise”.

That poignant observation fell on deaf ears. So, too, did a cry from the Ambassador of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Lou-Anne Gilchrist that the organisation “re-focus and become more inclusive in its approach toward development”.

Those who control the OAS appear to have little interest in the issues of survival that confront developing states. Increasingly, the Organisation is becoming a weapon to advance their political interests solely. In that regard, its relevance to developing countries, which has always been questionable, is now becoming increasingly more pertinent.

CARICOM countries did manage to get through a resolution on Climate Change. But it is significant that the excellent draft, proposed by Barbados, was diluted at the insistence of a few richer countries. One of them rejected it to the end, even though it cannot be better known that Climate Change poses a grave threat to all OAS members regardless of their size or economic power.

In my own presentation, I urged that “the OAS should be a unified voice in advocating for strong and decisive action on climate financing, not as a concession, or an act of generosity, but as a moral, political, and environmental responsibility. OAS member states should also be a unified voice for the renegotiating and rescheduling of foreign debt; and for the affordable procurement of vaccines for all when one is found to counter COVID-19”.

For the record, rather than because I expected any positive response, I said: “Integration and collective action in the OAS should not be an option, or a choice; it should be an imperative for all – rich and poor, large, and small”.

But the governance of the OAS is fatally flawed. Only power prevails, not reason. And, the Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, who, in my view is capable of much better, has allowed himself to become part of that flawed governance. Repeatedly, he has caused the OAS to appear to be enflaming conflicts even ones, such as between Azerbaijan and Armenia that are far removed from the Americas.

Consequently, the Assembly had to experience the indignity of allowing representatives of Azerbaijan and Turkey to speak, demanding that Mr. Almagro keep out of their regional affairs. He had issued a statement, without the knowledge of any official body of the Organization, accusing Azerbaijan of “aggression and escalation” of a complex conflict with Armenia.

In the event, the Mexican Government, through the voice of Maximiliano Reyes Zúñiga, Undersecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, minced no words when he called out this “worrying pattern”.

He said: “We note the configuration of a worrying pattern of action of the General Secretariat, consisting of using its administrative powers to make political decisions that impact the direction of the Organization, without previously submitting them to the consideration of the membership.

Such decisions lack legal support and the necessary information that allows knowing their motivation and objectives. Such is the case with the appointment of a special advisor on the responsibility to protect. This matter should have been consulted and discussed exhaustively within the Organization”. (Note: I raised this issue in my last commentary and at the Assembly).

Many double standards exist in the governance and decision-making of the OAS. These double standards, which serve the political interests of a few, were especially obvious in resolutions on Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Let it be clear. Both Venezuela and Nicaragua pose concerns on all sides, regarding free and fair elections, independence of the judiciary and detention of persons. But effectively addressing these concerns is undermined in the OAS by those who employ tactics of bullying and exclusion.

The resolutions were both drafted and settled by an exclusive group. Yet, the resolution called on the government of Nicaragua to support “inclusive and timely negotiations”. The contradiction of applying a standard to Nicaragua that they ignore for themselves is either lost on them, or, self-righteously, they don’t care.

The Venezuela resolution was drafted by an exclusive group which included the representative of Juan Guaidó. Not surprisingly, it required all OAS governments to accept Guaidó’s agent as the representative of Venezuela, thereby pushing them into implicit recognition of Guaidó, as the so-called interim president of Venezuela, regardless of their own respective national interests and policy.

Additionally, it employed language of belligerence likely to widen divides, worsening the situation in Venezuela. This was less about democracy in Venezuela and more about the imposition of one political class and ruler over another, when the choice of a leader of any country is a matter for that country’s people alone.

The 50th General Assembly of the OAS failed to tackle the important theme set by its 33 legitimate member states. Sadly, it also failed the people of the Americas who continue to be plagued by COVID-19 and are looking to governments to find a solution collectively.

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