Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mar 24/10 | 10 Reasons Why OAS SG Insulza Does Not Deserve To Be Reelected

PMBComment | It is very likely that Jose Miguel Insulza will be reelected later today to a second 5-year term as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. The fact that he is running unopposed is indicative of serious issues in both the region and the organization. There are few die-hards among his visible backers and the support of Chile - his home country, of Brazil, and certainly the U.S., has little to do with earnest approval of his performance to date. In the case of Brazil, it is clear that a weakened OAS fuels hope for an almost stillborn UNASUR. Chile’s new administration has made it very clear that its views will be represented solely by its Permanent Representative and not by the Chilean they felt obliged to support on pure nationalistic grounds. The U.S. has sought assurances of more principled and able behavior.

Mr. Insulza likes to remind the press that his current critics include some who also opposed his original election in 2005. Let me include myself in both groups. 

In 2005, my worry was triggered by the very enthusiastic support the consummate Chilean bureaucrat received from Hugo Chávez. This was surprising given former Secretary General Cesar Gaviria’s dogged – yet painfully flawed - efforts to pull a well deserved red card on the increasingly abusive former coupster. Chile’s Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker, Insulza’s other cheerleader during the first election, made a point in meeting after meeting around the hemisphere to minimize the risk posed by Hugo Chávez. He ridiculed anyone who pointed at Chávez’s malignity and brazenly insinuated in Washington that he could best be contained by other socialists in the region. 

What did Chávez, or his handlers in Havana, know about Insulza that made them so comfortable about his election? I asked myself that question many times in 2005 and today, when the ALBA countries have yet to show their hand, I continue to search for an answer to this quandary. 

Over the past five years I have had the opportunity of numerous one-on-one interactions with Secretary General Insulza. I have no doubt of three things: 1) He is a very hard worker, 2) He is a tactical and reactive political operator, and 3) He is pragmatic to the point of cynicism, and yet much of what he does is tinged by ideology and a subtle anti-Americanism that, to paraphrase him, stinks of cold war refuse. 

On a more substantive note, I would like to list in rapid succession reasons why I have openly criticized Mr. Insulza’s on-the-job performance and today oppose his almost certain reelection: 

  1. His entire handling of the Honduran crisis, and particularly his serious errors PRIOR to the forced exile of Mr. Zelaya, is illustrative of a style of haphazard meddling that can only be termed ill advised and counterproductive. It certainly matches the image conveyed by his preferred moniker “El Panzer”: brutish and brainless bravado. 
  2. For almost two years he tried to make the reentry of Cuba into the OAS a priority while disregarding many other more pressing issues (or maybe this was part of the bargain that got him Mr. Chávez’s enthusiastic endorsement in 2005). To make matters worse, Insulza sided stubbornly - to the bitter end - with those advocating an unconditional entry of Cuba into an organization that takes particular pride in its Human Rights bodies and its Democratic Charter. He and his ALBA allies failed miserable when a principled and conditional resolution, sponsored among others by the U.S., was passed at the 2009 General Assembly of the OAS in San Pedro Sula. Nobody has talked about Cuba and the OAS since, so how important was it really?
  3. His dedication to pursuing the Presidential candidacy of the Concertación while on the OAS payroll violated all sorts of norms and showed wanton disregard for his duties and responsibilities as Secretary General.
  4. Having lost to former President Eduardo Frei, he went to Chile and participated in political rallies on his behalf, once again violating written norms and prudent custom.
  5. While playing lip service to the OAS’s expertise in electoral observation he has degraded these missions through inept staffing (i.e. Fischer in Venezuela), improper preparation, reckless politization (Paraguay), or recurring to the very dubious practice of “Misiones de Acompañamiento”. This last figure is at the heart of both the Honduran fiasco and a more recent spat involving regional elections in Nicaragua.
  6. Once insulted by President Chávez for properly criticizing the closing of RCTV in Venezuela, Mr. Insulza opted to remain silent, cowered, through many equally troubling abuses. In at least one occasion, the politically inspired measures against Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez, the silence obeyed the Secretary General’s personal political agenda in Chile. On others, including the recent publication of the report from the IACHR on Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela,  Mr. Insulza has tried to shield himself behind feeble arguments so as to preserve his chances of gaining the votes of the Chávez or ALBA bloc of countries.
  7. His timid defense of the IACHR and its Executive Secretary when Mr. Chávez went way out of bounds in a foul-mouthed reaction to the above mentioned report was very disappointing. Seeing Argentina’s representative risk the wrath of its benefactor Venezuela to defend a human rights body to which the country owes so much was a real breath of fresh air. Insulza’s and President Bachelet's silence on the matter was deeply disheartening to say the least.
  8. In order to placate critics, Mr. Insulza disingenuously talks about modifying the Democratic Charter to accommodate other powers beyond the executive branches of the member states. He knows perfectly well that the Charter will never be modified to accommodate such proposal, yet insists on using this “proposal” as deflector for criticism pointed at his failure to exercise the hard fought degrees of authority entrusted to the Secretary General in the DC.
  9. As an administrator Mr. Insulza has failed. The OAS is in a precarious financial position with a large budget deficit and no reserves left to cover contingencies. He insists on blaming others (prior administrations, the excess of mandates) without much to show in the form of true preventive action or budgetary prudence.
  10. Mr. Insulza has continued the practice of building top heavy teams of loyalists littered with advisors that contribute little towards the building of strong institutional mechanisms and memory. The number of envoys and advisors sent to Honduras (we all lost count) clearly highlights this ad hoc style of management which in the end weakens the OAS’s ability to execute its fundamental mandates. 
This list is not meant to be all inclusive, it is only meant to enumerate, in very simple terms, matters which I consider important and that in my opinion have been poorly handled by Mr. Insulza, the hard working cynic.

I have expressed my concerns directly to Mr. Insulza over the years and while not confident that he will make many amends, one would expect that he will operate on a shorter leash as many others have also expressed deep concern about his priorities, skills and style. 

For all its failings the OAS is an indispensable institution that cannot be sidetracked and will not be replaced easily – if ever. But, how can anyone deny or ignore that it is in the midst of a very grave crisis of purpose, means and most importantly, leadership? PMB