Sun | Apr 5, 2020

Editorial | Back Espinosa for OAS top job

Published:Monday | February 24, 2020 | 12:12 AM

It’s a matter of regret that unlike the Commonwealth, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), at its summit last week, apparently couldn’t close the fault lines on a common candidate for the job of secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), for which the election takes place next month. The failure could add to the factors that already make it so difficult to find a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s political crisis.

While CARICOM, as Jamaica’s foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, reminded recently, is a collection of sovereign states with the right to pursue independent foreign policy, the group does attempt to coordinate its approach to global affairs. That makes sense for the organisation of mostly small island developing states, who can better protect their interests by acting together, which is what they propose to do by backing Baroness Patricia Scotland in June for a second four-year term as head of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

A former British Labour politician who was born in Dominica of Dominican and Antiguan parents, Baroness Scotland faces criticisms especially from the Commonwealth’s old dominions, over her financial management of the secretariat. An auditors’ report honed in on consultancy contracts she awarded in 2016 to a company owned by a fellow Labour peer, without, they said, adhering to the procurement regime. Baroness Scotland said she followed the rules that, she had been advised, were in place at the time.

The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have suspended funding to the secretariat, and the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been lobbying the Commonwealth’s 53 other member states, including the dozen that are members of CARICOM, to dump Baroness Scotland. But in its communique after last week’s summit, CARICOM’s support for Baroness Scotland was unambiguous. The heads of government, it said, “expressed their overwhelming support for the renewal of the term of office of the secretary general”.

Who should lead

CARICOM, it appears, could find common ground with respect to who should lead the OAS, of which Luis Almagro, the former Uruguayan politician, who has strong backing from the United States, is seeking re-election, for a second term. This newspaper doesn’t believe he should be. Our preference is for the former Ecuadorean foreign minister and diplomat, María Fernanda Espinosa, who was nominated by Antigua and Barbuda. Failing that, there should some other compromise candidate.

Mr Almagro, in his nearly five years’ incumbency, has made the Venezuelan political crisis not only the defining, but almost sole issue, of the OAS – and not as secretary general, but as a partisan actor in the dispute between the government of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition.