By Maria Carrasquillo*
Photo Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera (OAS)/Flickr/Creative Commons
Secretary General Luis Almagro’s quest to revitalize the Organization of American States (OAS) seems premised on being an “activist” Secretary General in what could be a make-or-break gambit to assert the organization’s hemispheric leadership. Only 13 months in office, Almagro has taken an approach that is a clear departure from the low-key, consensus-building ways of former Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. In his 2015 inaugural address, Almagro laid out his plans for the rejuvenation of the OAS, including internal changes to “adapt it to the realities of the 21st century” and “insert [it] into a world different from the one in which it was developed and has grown and operated.” Almagro underscored the need for the OAS to promote transparent and inclusive elections throughout Latin America and, in regard to democratic governance, “lend a hand to countries that are going through moments of tension and conflict.”
Almagro has taken a number of positions that confirm his desire to redefine the OAS’s role in the region.
- In 2015, Almagro took the lead in developing a plan to fight corruption in Honduras, resulting in the formation of the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH) – a watered-down version of the successful UN-backed CICIG in Guatemala. The jury is still out on whether MACCIH will have a serious impact, but Almagro has staked his reputation on its credibility.
- He has claimed that the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff lacked sufficient justification and that accusations against her were politically driven. Almagro also called for anticorruption investigations under Operação Lava Jato to continue as essential for the rule of law.
- Prior to the Peruvian elections, Almagro warned that the disqualification of two candidates reflected unequal application of the law and raised concerns that the contests would be “semi-democratic.” Following a meeting with disqualified frontrunner Julio Gómez, Almagro called for the reinstatement of both candidates’ right to participate in the elections.
- Perhaps Almagro’s most controversial action has been his attempt to invoke the OAS Democratic Charter against the government of Venezuela, without a finding by the Permanent Council, as required under Article 20 of the Charter, that the situation there amounts to “an unconstitutional alteration of a constitutional regime.” The Permanent Council implicitly rejected his appeal by urging more dialogue between the OAS and Venezuela. Almagro then sent a strongly worded letter to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accusing him of lying and “betraying his people,” and calling for the release of political prisoners, restoration of legitimate powers to the National Assembly, and a referendum to recall Maduro in 2016. (The Permanent Council is set to discuss the situation in Venezuela again on June 21.)
Almagro has taken on some very difficult issues, and explanations for his motivations are varied but not mutually exclusive. Some observers perceive a personal embrace of OAS principles, others detect a desire to avoid the sort of U.S. criticism that plagued Insulza and constrained U.S. support and funding, and still others speculate about his future political ambitions as a reformist on the non-radical left of Latin America. The democratic principles he is defending are clearly enshrined in OAS documents, but his activism has so far not reversed adverse situations: Rousseff was impeached, the Peruvian candidates were forced to sit out the election, and Maduro has yet to soften. Being an “activist” Secretary General in the case of Venezuela entails great risks; his predecessors were criticized both for getting too directly involved in the country’s internal affairs and for remaining passive in the face of growing authoritarianism in Caracas. It seems, moreover, as though Almagro has often acted alone, and the tone of his letter to Maduro was uniquely strident. A great deal is on the line for the OAS. If Almagro’s activism works, it will enhance the organization’s leadership on a range of issues confronting the hemisphere, but it may also put the OAS in the middle of future conflicts in which failure would bring a loss of institutional credibility.
June 16, 2016
* Maria Carrasquillo is a recent graduate of the M.A. Program in American University’s School of International Service and a research assistant at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.
Posted by clalsstaff on June 16, 2016
By Fulton Armstrong
Photo credit: Public domain
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who last month passed the half-way point in his four-year term, has scored some important political gains, with uncertain implications for his country.
- The Obama Administration has embraced him as a partner in the “Alliance for Prosperity,” to which it has committed $750 million year to “build a safer and more prosperous future for [Northern Triangle] citizens.” It represents a doubling of U.S. assistance.
- In a decision Hernández said he “would respect,” last April the Honduran Constitutional Court – key members of which the Congress elected under circumstances of questionable legality when he was Congress President – allowed him and other former presidents to run for reelection. The Chairman of the Congressional budget committee last week said there “should be no doubt” that the party is committed to Hernández serving a second term.
- He successfully parried efforts to create a copy in Honduras of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the UN-sponsored body with extensive powers in that country. The final terms of reference of the OAS-sponsored “Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” (MACCIH) aren’t as loose as he had proposed, but many of its key definitions, personnel, and funding remain highly uncertain. OAS Secretary General Almagro’s public blessing of it was a public relations coup.
- The Honduran Congress’s approval last week of a new 15-member Supreme Court took numerous rounds of voting – presidents traditionally get the slate approved in one vote – but his party did well enough. Allegations of bribery arose immediately. Praising the new court, he said last Friday that he would soon launch a national dialogue on additional Constitutional reforms and on “revising the social contract of Honduras” and building “a new Honduras.”
Hernández is not without critics in Tegucigalpa and Washington – even if their attacks have not thwarted him. Opponents claim that his desire to overturn Constitutional prohibitions on a second term was more blatant than that of former President Mel Zelaya, whose removal by the military in 2009 Hernández supported claiming that Zelaya violated the prohibition. Hernández has admitted that his party received funds embezzled from the national Social Security agency. The Indignados, a grassroots opposition, doesn’t have the lobbying resources that the government has, but they have mobilized massive peaceful demonstrations, and veteran Honduras watchers praise their idealism, discipline, and maturity beyond their youthfulness.
Hondurans and foreign governments often favor leaders whose appearance of power promises stability, rather than favor processes and values – such as transparency and inclusiveness – that promise more effective democratic institutions. Hernández was elected with barely 35 percent of the vote, but his growing power, coinciding with the weakening of legislative and judicial institutions, has concentrated power on the executive. The country arguably faces one of the most complex situations in its history, on the cusp of either difficult change, such as reducing shocking levels of impunity, or a deepening of the current crisis. The economic and political elites who control the nation have driven it into a rut from which “more of the same” does not appear a viable way out. Hernández won praise from the international financial community by pushing through fiscal adjustments, yet these measures increased inequality in a country where half the population lives on less than $4 a day. Preliminary data show that austerity has brought about an increase in unemployment and underemployment, which already affected roughly half of the labor force. A U.S. and Mexican crackdown on Central American migration has reduced one of the only options that young Hondurans fleeing poverty, violence, and impunity thought they had. While many Hondurans may wind up accepting a President’s reelection to a non-consecutive term, Hernández’s big push for a consecutive one and his talk of a “new social contract” understandably fuels skepticism if not angst.
February 16, 2016
Posted by clalsstaff on February 16, 2016
Photo Credit: OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
CLALS and the Inter-American Dialogue this week hosted a conversation on the crisis in Honduras with experts Hugo Noé Pino, of the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, and Carlos Ponce, of Freedom House, and about a dozen of some 80 participants spoke up. The following are key analytical points that were broadly accepted during the 90-minute session.
Honduras is experiencing a multi-faceted crisis – economic, political, judicial, and security– that has grown steadily worse since the 2009 coup and shows no sign of abating.
- Economic growth (1.5 percent per capita) is too low to alleviate the country’s severe employment problem (affecting half of the working-age population) and poverty (62 percent). Recent polls indicate that some 63 percent of all Hondurans would leave the country if they could.
Violence, corruption scandals, and the steady weakening of institutions dim prospects for a turnaround.
- The over-concentration of power in the Executive, the remilitarization of law-enforcement and other security services, and the politicization of the judiciary have undermined what democratic foundation Honduras had built since the last military government stepped down in 1980. The economic and political elites, as well as the media they control, have further stifled political discourse.
- The Sala Constitucional of the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Tribunal have been stacked to tightly control preparations for elections scheduled for November 2017, apparently with the intention of ensuring the reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernández.
The Honduran political class lacks the will to root out corruption, and is united in resisting developing the capacity and programs to do so.
- The embezzlement of more than $300 million from the Social Security Institute – funneling part of these funds to the ruling National Party and a variety of fronts – led to the flight of the investigating fiscal (who left the country because of death threats to himself and his family) but little else. Indeed, the most significant law-enforcement actions, such as the indictment of members of the Rosenthal family on money-laundering charges, have come from the United States. Some 80 percent of crimes in Honduras go uninvestigated and unpunished; some reports put the figure as high as 96-98 percent.
- A Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Honduras (CICIH), adapted from the successful CICIG model in Guatemala, would be a healthy way of addressing ongoing impunity while building investigative and prosecutorial institutions. The economic and political elites solidly oppose it. Even if Honduras accepted a CICIH, alone it probably would not be a silver bullet.
- The OAS’s planned “Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” (MACCIH) – announced in late September jointly with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez – shows little promise of success. Its mandate will be to diagnose problems and write reports, not take action or facilitate a serious, inclusive national dialogue.
Opposition to the current Honduran government is strong and growing, but it has not yet institutionalized.
- Peaceful marches organized by the Indignados and other organizations have mobilized tens of thousands of citizens outraged by government corruption and its inability to provide even basic citizen security. Among the masses have been an unprecedented number of middle-class and upper-middle-class persons – not seen during previous crises.
- Opposition groups are still struggling, however, to coalesce into a viable, institutionalized political force. Sustaining effective leadership and overcoming pressure from the government and Honduras’s two traditional parties are difficult challenges for them.
There are no magic or quick solutions to the crisis.
- Any solution would have many moving parts, including recognition by elites that their own assets are threatened by the deepening chaos. The government will have to be held accountable for corruption. The judiciary will have to be strengthened and made independent. The military will have to return to the barracks. The media will have to be professionalized. Civil society will have to be empowered.
- The U.S.-sponsored “Alliance for Prosperity” is unlikely to help Honduras – and could make things worse if it doesn’t challenge the status quo. Honduran observers believe that the $250-plus million dollars from the program should focus on deep change – the product of a broad national dialogue – and should be conditioned on deep reforms, rather than working with just the sitting government, which has shown no willingness to reform.
- U.S. cooperation in counternarcotics and other security operations might in some cases expose partnered services to U.S. respect for human rights and democratic institutions, but the resources transferred in the process also serve to strengthen them and make them more independent of civilian authority.
October 15, 2015
* Correction: The first sentence of the article originally stated “CLALS and the Inter-American Dialogue this week hosted a conversation on the crisis in Honduras with experts Hugo Noé Pino, of the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, and Carlos Ponce, of Freedom House, and a dozen speakers from among over 80 participants.” It was edited to clarify that “about a dozen of some 80 participants spoke up.”
Posted by clalsstaff on October 15, 2015