CubaBrief: Freedom is up for a vote in the Western Hemisphere, and key democracies falling prey to Havana’s machinations are backing Maduro’s candidate.

The election for the next Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) is tomorrow, March 20, 2020. Conventional opinion expressed in The Washington Diplomat claims that the current OAS secretary general Luis Almagro has the backing of Canada and others are saying that he has already won, but in recent years the traditional view has too often been proven wrong.

In November 2019, Canada shifted its long time support for Israel at the United Nations backing a anti-Israel resolution sponsored by North Korea and Zimbabwe that broke years of a Canadian bipartisan consensus in defense of the one democracy in the Middle East.

Secretary General Luis Almagro has taken strong and principled stands in the defense of human rights and democracy in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and in the rest of the hemisphere. Clare Boothe Luce was right when she observed that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Carlos E. Ponce, former Freedom House Latin American director and currently a Senior Lecturer at Columbia University in a March 6, 2020 article in El Tiempo Latino makes the case that Canada is not backing Luis Almagro, and that it is Havana, behind the scenes, that is organizing this campaign to oust Almagro.

“Despite the ideological scribblings of many pseudo-progressives in the region in their support for the bloody dictatorship of Cuba, Luis Almagro has taken a clear attitude against that dictatorship and has been blunt about the destruction carried out by the Cuban regime in the region. That is why the hand that rocks the cradle behind Canada and others who oppose Almagro also seems to come from Havana.”

Today in the publication, The Hill, Marion Smith the executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in the article “Freedom is up for a vote in the Western Hemisphere” that lists regional democracies not backing Almagro.

Venezuela’s regime is counting on the Caribbean countries it financially supports to vote en masse for Almagro’s ouster. The Maduro regime’s preferred candidate is María Fernanda Espinosa, a socialist former foreign minister from Ecuador. If elected, she surely will drop the organization’s focus on her ideological allies in Caracas and Havana. But Venezuela’s Caribbean allies aren’t the only ones backing Espinosa. She also has the support of Argentina, Nicaragua and Mexico. These two countries likely want to return to the days when the OAS didn’t stand for much, and therefore didn’t ruffle any feathers. But Canada apparently wants the same thing. By refusing to back Almagro, Canada is undermining the cause of freedom — and supporting Venezuela. 

Below is a March 17, 2020 interview conducted by Argentinian journalist Andres Oppenheimer were OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro responds to questions raised by those running against him.  It is followed by today’s article in The Hill. Friends of freedom in the hemisphere need to alert their government representatives that this is an important vote, and Canada should understand that there will be a political cost for empowering Maduro’s candidate to the OAS.

The Hill, March 19, 2020

Freedom is up for a vote in the Western Hemisphere

By Marion Smith, opinion contributor

On March 20, the Organization of American States (OAS) will hold an election for its next secretary general. The incumbent, Uruguayan Luis Almagro, has rejuvenated the once-fading institution and is among the boldest pro-democracy voices in the Americas. Unsurprisingly, Venezuela is quietly mobilizing its regional allies to defeat him. Surprisingly, democratic nations from Canada to Mexico to Argentina may help Venezuela succeed.

Secretary General Almagro has earned this opposition through his principled leadership. Established in 1948 to help the Western Hemisphere become a “land of liberty,” by the 21st century it had a reputation for supporting dictators over democrats. In 2009, the OAS voted to readmit Cuba after a 47-year suspension, despite that country’s widespread human rights abuses. It also turned a blind eye to Hugo Chávez’s and Nicolás Maduro’s despotism in Venezuela, Evo Morales’s autocratic socialism in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian turn in Nicaragua, and Cuba’s long-term communist autocracy. 

Like the United Nations, the OAS often has struggled to advance its mission because it gives free nations an equal vote with authoritarian regimes.

Almagro has worked around these structural limitations since his election in 2015. Whereas previous secretaries general stayed silent, he has used his platform to force debate and focus the region’s attention on violations of human rights. Nowhere have his efforts been more evident than with Venezuela.

From the start, Almagro criticized Caracas for oppressing its citizens and rigging elections. As Maduro’s vice-grip on the country tightened, Almagro invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter to convene the OAS for a debate on the Venezuelan crisis. He has called for the International Criminal Court to investigate Maduro’s crimes and, in 2019, he backed Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. 

The secretary general also has been a strong voice for the return of democracy in Nicaragua. As with Venezuela, in 2019 he took steps to force debate on the country’s crisis and potentially suspend it. 

And Almagro is a public enemy of Cuba. In 2018, he oversaw an OAS conference on Cuba’s human rights record, in which he pledged to speak “openly, without fear, about the crimes against humanity in Cuba.” By contrast, his predecessors could hardly muster an unkind word about Havana’s oppression.

Given his record, the United States under President Trump has been one of the secretary general’s strongest supporters. Vice President Pence explicitly praised him in a speech at the OAS in 2018. Yet, while the U.S. has backed Almagro, Venezuela and Cuba are desperate to see him gone. 

Venezuela’s regime is counting on the Caribbean countries it financially supports to vote en masse for Almagro’s ouster. The Maduro regime’s preferred candidate is María Fernanda Espinosa, a socialist former foreign minister from Ecuador. If elected, she surely will drop the organization’s focus on her ideological allies in Caracas and Havana.

But Venezuela’s Caribbean allies aren’t the only ones backing Espinosa. She also has the support of Argentina, Nicaragua and Mexico. These two countries likely want to return to the days when the OAS didn’t stand for much, and therefore didn’t ruffle any feathers. 

But Canada apparently wants the same thing. By refusing to back Almagro, Canada is undermining the cause of freedom — and supporting Venezuela. 

So are outside groups such as Amnesty International, which has attacked Almagro for a supposed lack of action on human rights. Yet he has done more on this issue than any OAS leader in decades. If he is defeated, the OAS is all but certain to do less — not more — to advance human rights and democracy in the Western Hemisphere.

Currently, Almagro is hovering near the necessary majority for re-election, with several countries still uncommitted. Mexico and Canada are working behind the scenes to delay the election, giving them more time to defeat him. The United States should vigorously work to convince our allies and partners to back the secretary general. Whether he wins or not, the U.S. also should push for reforms that would make it easier to punish oppressive nations such as Venezuela and reward those countries fighting to preserve democracy in Latin America. 

The Organization of American States is far from perfect, but any reforms will be harder if the OAS slides back toward weakness and moral ambiguity. Freedom without champions is an empty concept. We must back those who take the political risk to defend it. Now is the time to double down, not back down, on defending freedom and democracy across the Western Hemisphere.                                 

Only Secretary General Luis Almagro will do so, and he deserves a second term.

Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/488058-freedom-is-up-for-a-vote-in-the-western-hemisphere