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Saturday, December 10, 2022

US supports requests for external investigation of OAS chief

US supports requests for external investigation of OAS chief

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) is facing increasing calls, including from President Joe Biden’s government, for an external investigation into possible misconduct over his intimate relationship with a subordinate.

The OAS’s own Washington-based inspector general said in a memo this week that it is in the organization’s best interest to hire an outside firm to investigate allegations that Secretary-General Luis Almagro violated an internal code of conduct.

The inspector general’s recommendation was based on an Associated Press report that found Almagro was in a relationship with a Mexican employee who, including on the organization’s website, was described as a “senior adviser” to the secretary general.

The inspector general said the Associated Press report follows an anonymous and vaguely detailed complaint sent to his office by Almagro himself on June 3.

The organization’s code of conduct, created to strengthen peace and democracy in America, prohibits its directors from supervising or participating in decisions that benefit those with whom they have romantic relationships.

A proposal to hire an outside firm to investigate Almagro’s behavior will be discussed during the next meeting of the 34-member OAS permanent council on Wednesday.

The United States, which contributed nearly half of the organization’s $100 million funding this year, has voiced support for an external investigation even before the meeting.

“We take these allegations seriously,” a State Department spokesperson told the Associated Press in an email. He added that any violation of OAS ethics standards “should be investigated in a fair and impartial manner by an appropriate external investigative unit.”

However, at least four members of the organization – Almagro’s native Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Saint Lucia – have publicly supported draft proposals that raise questions about the cost of an external investigation, at such a time. When there is a hemispherical body of 600 employees, there is pressure to reduce expenses.

His reference point is a recent investigation into similar misconduct allegations against Inter-American Development Bank president Mauricio Claver-Caron, who was accused of having a long-standing relationship with his chief of staff. A months-long investigation by US law firm Davis Polk found that Clever-Caron had violated the rules of ethics by supporting the aide, paving the way for the president’s impeachment.

Almagro’s repeated requests for comment on the possibility of an external investigation, sent to the press office of the Secretary-General, remained unanswered.

But unlike Clever-Caron, who denied ever having a relationship with his assistant, Almagro has only stated that he never supervised the employee and was not involved in any job-related decisions, such as a pay raise. to authorize. Earlier, he promised full cooperation in any investigation by the organisation’s top supervisory authority.

Almagro also faces criticism over other administrative issues.

This week, Mexico criticized Almagro for allegedly betraying the wishes of OAS members by renewing the contract of OAS Ombudsman Nida Perez, days before a long-debated plan was approved at the organization’s annual meeting. Time to implement an open and competitive process for leadership positions.

In September, Almagro unilaterally extended Perez’s contract for four years, and Mexico complained that it was an attempt to undo those new procedures.

During a meeting on administrative matters on 1 November, the Mexican delegation said in a written statement that “unfortunately,” this is not a separate act, but part of a pattern of conduct that disregards the will of the states and the OAS. violates institutions. ,

Perez, whose contract was due to expire on October 21, two weeks after the adoption of new procedures, was recently reprimanded by the OAS’s superior review panel for neglecting his duty to serve as an impartial arbiter of labor disputes Was.

The rebuke was in response to Perez’s role in facilitating Almagro’s removal in 2020 from the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independent governing body. The commission’s executive secretary himself faced workplace complaints, but had the unanimous support of the watchdog’s seven commissioners.

Almagro, 59, was elected OAS president in 2015 with almost unanimous support after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government, but once installed in Washington, he served as the leader of left-wing leaders in Cuba and Venezuela. The protest made common cause with the United States. He also once met President Donald J. Trump’s line that he would not rule out the use of military force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Almagro was re-elected in 2020 with the support of 23 of the 34 member states. More recently, as the Left seizes power in Latin America, there has been a growing demand for its impeachment.

Last month, members of the Puebla Group – an organization of former presidents and political leaders from 16 countries – issued a statement calling for Almagro’s removal, calling for his “ethical” dismissal of the rights watchdog’s secretary and his post-election interference. was criticized. Which led to the resignation of President Evo Morales and his replacement by a conservative government backed by the United States.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Goodman is on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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