Author: Antonio Guerrero
Unitd States


José Miguel Insulza

Washington was dealt a blow when neither of its two candidates to head the Organization of American States (OAS)—considered a US-dominated regional organization—garnered enough votes. Instead, Chilean interior minister José Miguel Insulza was elected secretary general with support from most Latin American and Caribbean governments, ending the organization’s most contested election since its founding in 1948.

The US initially backed former Salvadoran President Francisco Flores for the OAS post, in what was viewed as a reward for Flores’s decision to send troops to Iraq. El Salvador is the only Latin American country remaining in the US-led coalition. When Flores failed to gain enough support, the US then backed Mexican foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez.

Derbez ultimately withdrew his candidacy after voting in April gave him and Insulza a 17-17 tie. Eighteen votes were needed to win. Insulza won in May, with 31 votes, two abstentions (from Chile’s traditional foes Bolivia and Peru) and one blank ballot. The US reluctantly backed Insulza after Derbez’s withdrawal.

The election is a setback for US diplomacy, hit hard by the region’s push for a homegrown trade bloc to replace the nearly defunct US-led Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), congressional hurdles in Washington and Central America for passage of CAFTA, and the Bush administration’s controversial immigration reform proposals. Insulza’s election was made more sensitive by the fact that Washington is host to OAS headquarters, and the US provides some 60% of its annual budget.

Insulza, elected for a five-year term, is expected to focus on strengthening democracy and helping find solutions to issues of poverty and insecurity. He will also have to plug the OAS’s $17 million budget gap.

As a pro-market Socialist, Insulza is likely to work well with the region’s admin-istrations, most of which are led currently by leftist and center-left leaders. His relations with Washington—where he will now reside—may be a bit icier.

Antonio Guerrero