New Chief Hopes to Make OAS More Effective

May 6, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The election,finally, of a new leader for theOrganization of American States (OAS) isbeing seen as a first step toward renovatingand reinvigorating the hemisphericbureaucracy criticized lately for perceivedineffectualness.Chilean Interior Minister Jose MiguelInsulza, 61, was elected secretary generalMonday with the votes of 31 of the 34members of the OAS, an outcome he calledindicative of a “genuine consensus.”The OAS had been without a secretarygeneral since Oct. 15, 2004, when formerCosta Rican President Miguel AngelRodríguez resigned after barely a monthon the job to face corruption charges inCosta Rica (TT, Oct. 15, 22, 2004).Mexico and Bolivia abstained in thevoting and Peru cast a blank ballot.In fact, it was the Peruvian delegationthat insisted on a formal vote despite thewithdrawal last week of the only othercandidate in the race, Mexican ForeignSecretary Luis Ernesto Derbez. Lima,which recently began accusing Chile ofhaving sold arms to Ecuador during thatcountry’s 1995 border conflict with Peru,cited what it said was the absence of aconsensus in favor of Insulza.Bolivia, engaged in a century-old disputewith Chile over the Pacific coastlineit lost to Santiago in a 19th-century war,wanted its opposition to Insulza placed onthe record at Monday’s session inWashington, D.C.Foreign ministers from the 34 OASmember countries had gathered here April11 to choose a replacement for Rodríguez,but each of five successive ballots endedin a 17-17 tie, prompting the officials toadjourn for consultations (TT, April 15).Insulza, who spent years as an exileduring the 1973-1990 military regime inChile, became a respected figure in theyears following the restoration of democracyand has been mentioned as a possiblefuture president of the Andean nation.In brief remarks after the vote, Insulzaasked for the active efforts of all OASmembers in surmounting the organization’scurrent “difficult moment” and revitalizingthe forum.The central theme of the new chief’sspeech was making the OAS both moreeffective and more relevant politically.Former Secretary General Rodríguezannounced similar goals of restructuringwhen he took over the post in September2004 (TT, Sept. 17, 2004). The formerCosta Rican president left the post onemonth later amid accusations he receiveda monetary gift from French telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel in connection witha $149 million government contract grantedto the firm. Rodríguez remains underhouse arrest in Costa Rica.

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