WASHINGTON – The current secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, was elected on Friday to a new five-year term.
Almagro, a 56-year-old Uruguayan, received the support of 23 of the OAS’s 34 active members, while 10 countries backed Ecuadorian ex-foreign minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa for the top post and Dominica’s delegation abstained from the session.
The vote took place at an extraordinary OAS General Assembly meeting in Washington despite calls by a group of countries – including Mexico and 13 members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) – for it to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Organization would send a terrible signal of irresponsibility to the world should it proceed to hold the General Assembly on Friday, March 20, 2020,” Caricom said in a letter on Wednesday. “No one would have any way of knowing how many of such persons are infected by COVID-19 even if they show no obvious symptoms of it.”
Espinosa, who was endorsed by Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, two of the Caribbean nations most closely allied with Venezuela’s leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro, secured most of the Caricom votes and also was backed by leftist-led Mexico.
Almagro, who served as foreign minister in Uruguayan ex-President Jose Mujica’s 2010-2015 administration, garnered less support than five years ago, when he was the lone candidate and received the votes of 33 of the 34 countries.
The OAS secretary-general had pledged at that time that he would not stand for re-election, but in December 2018 he said he would seek a new term after receiving the endorsement of the United States and Colombia.
The US pressured the remaining OAS countries to back Almagro, with US Vice President Mike Pence giving a speech in support of his candidacy in January and later meeting in Jamaica with the foreign ministers of six Caribbean countries to urge them to back the Uruguayan.
Almagro, who will now be OAS chief until 2025, has been a staunch supporter of the US’s harsh sanctions against oil-rich Venezuela and its push to oust Maduro, whom Washington accuses of election fraud.
President Donald Trump’s administration and its allies in the region, including rightist-led Colombia and Brazil, recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president.
Venezuela formally withdrew from the OAS last year, but Almagro, with support from the US and its allies, has recognized a Guaido appointee as the official Venezuelan representative to that Washington-based hemispheric body.