Press Release Bolivia Latin America and the Caribbean US Foreign Policy World

OAS Head Attempting to Expand His Power at the Expense of the Organization’s Human Rights Arm, CEPR Co-Director Says

August 26, 2020

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460Mail_Outline

Washington, DC — Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s surprise decision not to advance for renewal the current tenure of Paulo Abrão as head of the organization’s human rights arm is a “blatantly political move” designed to expand Almagro’s control and to please the region’s right-wing governments, Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. The step has been widely condemned by human rights groups, including the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) itself, which has criticized it as an attack on “its independence and autonomy.”

“Luis Almagro has made another Trump-like move, undermining a commission that has served as a much-needed watchdog against the human rights abuses being committed by Trump-allied governments in Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Honduras, Ecuador, and elsewhere,” Weisbrot said. “Meanwhile, he has refused to answer for his own role in helping to create the political and human rights crisis in Bolivia.”

Almagro issued a statement saying his decision was prompted by a complaint from the OAS’s ombudsman, which is confidential. In response, Human Rights Watch Americas Division Executive Director José Miguel Vivanco Tweeted: “Any irregularity must be thoroughly investigated following the applicable due process guarantees.” Almagro’s decision “constitutes a serious setback in OAS practice and undermines the autonomy of the Commission,” Vivanco also Tweeted.

“Almagro has gone out of his way to support the de facto government of Jeanine Añez, organizing, for instance, an extraordinary OAS permanent council session on Bolivia that included a series of witnesses supporting the Añez government and lambasting ousted president Evo Morales,” Weisbrot said. “Meanwhile, the IACHR has been a thorn in the side of Almagro and Añez through its denunciations of the massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the de facto authorities in Bolivia following the removal of Morales.”

Almagro’s move to prevent Abrão from continuing as the IACHR’s executive secretary follows many months of expert criticism and condemnation of the OAS role in Bolivia’s 2019 elections. The OAS’s claims that that there was a “drastic” and “inexplicable” change in the trend of the vote count following an interruption of the transmission of the election results have since been refuted by The New York Times, professors at Tulane and University of Pennsylvania, researchers at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab (and their post at the Washington Post site), 133 economists and statisticians, a study by a University of Michigan statistician, and several reports published by CEPR. 

Most recently, CEPR discovered that the political scientist the OAS hired to analyze the Bolivian election data made an enormous error in coding the data, sorting time stamps in a completely wrong chronological order. This means that the contractor, and the OAS, would not have been able to properly analyze any trends in the vote over time.

The OAS’s role in delegitimizing the election results, which had shown incumbent president Evo Morales winning the election in the first round, helped paved the way for the military coup that followed, as The New York Times and the International Crisis Group both noted.

“…The controversy over the OAS’s findings has cast a shadow over its already imperilled role as a credible arbiter,” the International Crisis Group wrote in a recent briefing. “Given that Morales and his supporters reject the OAS’s role as observers, it will be hard for the organisation to credibly monitor October’s vote. More broadly, the dispute and the tone of the OAS’s response to criticism positions the organisation even more decisively on one side of Latin America’s ever more polarised politics, potentially undercutting its ability to manage crises elsewhere.”

In response to the Times’ June 7 report showing the OAS’s statements questioning Bolivia’s election results were groundless, Almagro issued a 3,200-word statement attacking the Times’ journalism going back to 1931, accusing the newspaper’s reporting of “being more a defense of Stalin than of the truth.”

Members of the European Parliament representing their respective parties to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (Eurolat) and to the Delegation for Relations with the Andean Community also have criticized recent statements and actions by the OAS with regard to Bolivia’s 2019 elections.

Almagro was reelected to a five-year term as OAS secretary general in March with the strong backing of the Trump administration. Recently, he has “emerged as a key supporter” of the Trump administration’s efforts to make Mauricio Claver-Carone head of the Inter-American Development Bank. Claver-Carone would be the first US president of the bank. The Biden campaign, as well as Chile, Mexico, and Argentina have pushed back and called for a delay of the nominating process until after the November US election. 

“With the Trump administration’s strong support, Almagro has abused his power at the OAS to aid and abet serious crimes in this hemisphere,” said Mark Weisbrot. “Now he is trying to destroy the independence of the organization’s human rights commission, to prevent it from further documentation of some of the results of these crimes. OAS member countries need to put an end to his abuses.” 


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