CARICOM and Luis Almagro, the secretary-general (SG) of the Organization of American States (OAS), have been at it again. On the previous occasion, the falling-out was over Venezuela. This time it’s Dominica.
On February 7 a former Dominica ambassador, Crispin Gregoire, called on Almagro. After the meeting, Almagro tweeted: “Today I met with…Crispin Gregoire, who expressed his concern that the upcoming elections in #Dominica are not free and fair. He also requested @OAS_official assistance to help ensure a level playing field in the country.”
I assume from the context that Gregoire is an opposition supporter. I assume also that the Dominica government complained to the Caricom chairman about Gregoire’s visit to Almagro and about the latter’s tweet. On February 19 the chairman, not for the first time, publicly rebuked Almagro, expressing Caricom’s concern at “(his) actions and statements…which are outside the bounds of his remit as the head of an international organisation.”
He continued: “His tweet…associating himself with a suggestion that Dominica will not conduct free and fair upcoming elections is the latest manifestation of his inappropriate behaviour. Further, it is disturbing that without first consulting with the government of Dominica, which is a member state of the organisation, he, as secretary-general, should be associating himself with such an inference.”
And he ended by “once again (calling) on the (SG) to refrain from actions and statements which are beyond the competence of (his) office and affect the impartiality of the organisation which he has the privilege to lead.”
Almagro struck back three days later. He was, he said, surprised (at having been) “denounced for being transparent and for not censoring ideas, particularly in an organisation that is obliged to act in accordance with democratic principles such as freedom of speech, openness and tolerance for the diversity of political views.” He had “an open-door policy,” and he welcomed “pluralism of ideas and beliefs.” Then he turned his attention to Dominica.
He wrote: “It is worth noting that, according to a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney, Dominica is the country with the lowest rate of implementation…of the recommendations of OAS electoral observation missions.
“Democracy is a way of life and an ongoing process of continuous improvement, and the recommendations of the organisation aim to guarantee voters the best possible electoral process. When they are not followed and not implemented, this does not help member states to increase the level of trust from the opposition and the international community in their electoral processes.”
A secretary-general has to be very circumspect in what he does and says; he is the servant of many governments. I don’t say Almagro shouldn’t have met Gregoire. I don’t say, as does the Caricom chairman, that he should first have consulted the Dominica government. But it strikes me that he was in fact chastising that government. Why else would he have approvingly cited a study (not an OAS study, mind you) that targets Dominica in such a way? And go on to hint broadly at low levels of trust and electoral democracy? After meeting with someone who appears opposed to the government? Has he ever discussed his concerns with the Dominica government? If so, with what result? If not, why? What message would he then be sending about himself and his approach as SG?
Other questions arise. In my Newsday column of February 11 I quoted from Article 118 of the OAS Charter, which obliges the SG and his staff to “refrain from any action that may be incompatible with their position as international affairs officers responsible only to the organisation.” That suggests to me that an SG, unless authorised by the organisation, should not be criticising any member state in public, directly or indirectly. SGs must not go off on frolics of their own.
Almagro ended his remarks by affirming that he stood by his statements and actions, “which are completely consistent with the competencies of the office of (SG) and the democratic principles that (the OAS) promotes and defends.”
On the contrary, his comments on Dominica are completely inconsistent with those “competencies.” And his stance becomes even more bizarre when you remember that this is the same man who, without a mandate from the OAS, has spoken favourably about military intervention in Venezuela – what more democratic act could there be than deliberately exposing innocent civilians to early death? – and who has been expelled from his own political party in Uruguay for saying so.
On February 11 I said that Almagro should not be allowed a second term as SG. May I rephrase that? He must not be allowed a second term as SG.