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Tuesday 23 April 2019
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Commentary

Non-intervention and the OAS’ Almagro

REGINALD DUMAS

ADDRESSING OUR House of Representatives in early February 1967 on TT’s entry into the Organization of American States (OAS), Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams approvingly quoted a particular article of the organisation’s charter. Even after several amendments to the charter since 1967, the text of that article (No. 19) remains unchanged.

It reads: “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.”

Article 20 reads: “No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another State and obtain from it advantages of any kind.”

Article 21 reads: “The territory of a State is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another State, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatever. No territorial acquisitions or special advantages obtained either by force or by other means of coercion shall be recognised.”

If those articles have any validity, why are we hearing – and we know what it means – about “all options (re Venezuela)” being “on the table?” Why are ultimata being given? How is it that someone elected through an allegedly tainted process is deemed illegitimate whereas someone who unconstitutionally swears himself into office is considered legitimate? If intervention in Venezuela is acceptable, what then is wrong with, say, Russian interference in US elections?

At times like this, one expects the head of the relevant regional or international organisation to be in the vanguard of dialogue, diplomacy and healing. On the contrary, the OAS secretary-general (SG), Luis Almagro, has been a poster boy for hostility to the Venezuelan government – he has even publicly Trumpeted, as if article 21 didn’t exist, that “military intervention to overthrow the (Maduro) regime” shouldn’t be ruled out.

Deeply offended, his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front, which forms the country’s government) expelled him last December following a September report by a party organ.

That report said: “The absolute incompatibility of (the) position assumed by Almagro with the principles that the Broad Front supports in matters of international law and defence of the principle of non-intervention as an indispensable pillar of the inter-American regime is unmistakable.” And, as we know, Caricom too has chastised him for his “recognition” of Juan Guaido as “interim president” of Venezuela.

In November last year Sir Ronald Sanders, the Antigua and Barbuda ambassador to the USA and the OAS, said it was time for a Caribbean SG of the OAS. If by “Caribbean” he meant “Caricom,” I agree. Our region has provided four assistant SGs, including the current one from Belize. It’s more than time for us to move up, and I believe the moment is right to do so.

Almagro, a divisive figure (and, of course, the darling of conservatives everywhere), says he wants a second term as SG (his present five-year stint expires in 2020). He should not be allowed it. His continued stay in office will only lead to more acrimony, and greater OAS identification with, and dependence on, far-right combines, whether or not Trump remains the President.

But an SG cannot be perceived as beholden to this politico-ideological camp or that. Indeed, article 118 of the charter warns the SG and secretariat personnel to “refrain from any action that may be incompatible with their position as international affairs officers responsible only to the organisation.”

Almagro has already violated that rule. Another five years in the post will only make things worse, and further weaken the organisation. Uruguay has already declared it will not back him.

Of the 34 active OAS members (Cuba’s 1962 suspension was lifted in 2009, but she has refused to rejoin), 14 are Caricom. A simple majority (18) is needed for election of an SG, so at least four more countries must support us. Here’s a good test of our newly-found unity and co-ordination in foreign affairs. Can we do it? Sí, podemos. Yes, we can.

But, and it’s a big but, a suitable candidate must first be found. Whatever the other characteristics and qualities, it has to be someone who has held a major post, almost certainly political, in his or her country.

Dr Kenny Anthony, a former prime minister of Saint Lucia, comes to mind. He is a constitutional lawyer, has wide regional and international experience, is articulate and balanced. I propose him.

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