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Candidates for OAS Secretary-General are Announced

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Council On Hemispheric Affairs
Monitoring Political, Economic and Diplomatic Issues Affecting the Western Hemisphere
Memorandum to the Press 04.96
Word Count: 900

Tuesday, 14 December 2004

The Race Heats Up: Candidates for OAS Secretary-General are Announced

• As expected, former heads of state and senior ministers are the principal candidates to become the new Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS).

• Former President of El Salvador Francisco Flores, Chile’s Minister of the Interior José Miguel Insulza and Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez are considered the front runners.

• While all three contenders bring different qualities to the job, it is unlikely that any of them can shape the OAS into an organization of consequence, which it has rarely been since its 1948 founding.

• Washington continues to have inordinate influence over the organization. Its ill-advised decision to back Flores is an example of the detrimental hemispheric policy that results from hiring the ill-prepared Roger Noriega and the ideologue Otto Reich to the Latin American bureau of the State Department.

Several Latin America nations have officially announced the candidacy of one of their preeminent officials for the position of Secretary-General of the OAS. The position became unexpectedly vacant after former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002) resigned, after less than one month in office, amid corruption allegations lodged against him in his native country this past October.

Meet the Candidates

Former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores (1999-2004) is now making his second bid to become Secretary-General, after unsuccessfully running earlier this year against Rodríguez to succeed former Secretary-General César Gaviria (1994-2004). Hobbled by rumors regarding his record of corruption, Flores’ candidacy has brought more division than unity in Central America, as his bid failed to secure unanimous support from several area governments at a summit this past November in San José, Costa Rica.

On December 10, Chile officially announced that its current interior minister, José Miguel Insulza, will be its candidate for the OAS’ top post. Reports have abounded that Insulza, a socialist, would run for Chile’s presidency in 2005 as a candidate of the Concertación coalition, but for unknown reasons he decided to run for the OAS office instead. The Chilean media has reported that Insulza has obtained the support of Buenos Aires and Brasilia, and would probably get the vote of Caracas as well. Yet without the crucial backing of Washington, Insulza’s candidacy may be doomed. While the U.S. is very interested in improving ties with Chile, which has proven to be an ardent ally of the White House, it is unlikely that it will be willing to support an assertive leftist like Insulza, who openly criticized and did not support the U.S-led coalition in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Mexico City announced that its foreign affairs minister, Luis Ernesto Derbez, will be the country’s candidate for the OAS’ Secretariat, thus delivering a blow against Flores. Derbez’ candidacy appears to be fueled more by political maneuvering within the country than an overwhelming desire on his behalf to obtain the position. Not long ago, Derbez hinted at his intention to run as the ruling National Action Party’s (PAN) candidate in the 2006 presidential elections. However, observers believe that his candidacy for the presidency would not be well-received by other PAN members, including President Vicente Fox, who wants his protégé, current Minister of Interior Santiago Creel, to succeed him. Mexico originally had announced that it would support a Central American candidate, however it decided only recently to put forth one of its own, most likely because of mounting opposition to Flores who failed to achieved the unanimous Central American support and was fast becoming an untenable candidate. By nominating his foreign minister, Fox was able to kill two birds with one stone: eliminate Derbez from the presidential race, while taking credit for nominating a Mexican to be OAS Secretary-General.

Does Washington know what it is doing?

As usual, Washington’s vote will prove unfairly influential in determining who will be the next Secretary-General. It is well known that in the 1994 election, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bernd Niehaus had the Secretary-General slot secured until, in the last minute, the U.S. used its influence to switch the vote of many CARICOM (the Caribbean organization of mainly English-speaking nations) governments to elect outgoing Colombian President Gaviria. The Colombian’s decade of largely irrelevant, and almost always self-serving, rule at the OAS left many bitter memories. This year, Washington took a more neutral position, only deciding late in the game to support Rodríguez for the OAS’ top post after he had received the backing of a number of other nations. It is interesting that the U.S., with all the resources at the State Department’s disposal, was unable to learn of Rodriguez’ dirty secrets before backing him (the same can be said of other regional powers like Brazil and Mexico).

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Washington recently came out and openly stated that it would like to see a former president, a Central American one at that, as the next Secretary-General. Washington’s more or less blatant support of Flores has raised the former president’s profile, while still raising a number of questions: why is it openly supporting a candidate so relatively early in the race? Perhaps more importantly, why is Washington supporting Flores, a candidate that brings with him a very tattered record as president of El Salvador that includes implications of corruption?

This analysis was prepared by Alex Sanchez, COHA Research Fellow.

December 14, 2004


The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.” For more information, please see our web page at; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 223-4975, fax (202) 223-4979, or email

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