Insulza a true democrat or a trojan horse for the authoritarian left?
October 31, 2006
"You must have patience with me, Mr. Chamberlayne: I learn a good deal by merely observing you and letting you talk as long as you please and taking note of what you do not say."
"The Cocktail Party," Act 2, Scene 1.
José Miguel Insulza is the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS). He brought to this post a considerable experience in public service in his native Chile, where he was a political advisor to the Salvador Allende government. He went into exile for 15 years during the Pinochet military dictatorship and returned to his country to serve as a Minister in several democratic governments for ten years. At the same time he has had a long academic career. His political affiliation is generally considered to be with the moderate Left and he is considered to be a democrat.
As the top officer of the OAS Insulza is faced with significant challenges: how to convert the OAS into an effective organization, how to promote better governance in Latin America, how to transform what has been a mediocre club of governments into a organization of nations, how to really contribute to Latin American progress. The inertia at the OAS is monumental. The big, white building in downtown Washington, where the headquarters of the organization are located is imposing from the outside but silent and cold like a mausoleum in the inside. It matches the colorless history of an organization that has traditionally served as a well-paid refuge for the mediocre.
Insulza has expressed a desire to shake the organization out of its lethargy and convert it into an effective and proactive organization. His political ideology and his experience in Chilean public service and exile has probably led him to believe that a strategy to accomplish this should include persuading the conservative United States government to coexist peacefully and respectfully with Latin American governments that, in general, show a tendency towards the left. Although this strategy is conceptually correct, some aspects of its application could lead to error. Insulza is a politician of the left and, as such, it might prove difficult for him to get rid of a natural bias in favor of Leftist political leaders and against the conservative political establishment in the U.S., one that possibly brings him memories of a Nixon era characterized by undue tolerance for, and even promotion of, the Pinochet dictatorship.
However, by letting this bias run unchecked Insulza could end up promoting the cause of Latin American Leftist governments and groups that violate fundamental OAS principles.
From the start of his tenure at the OAS Insulza has been rather lenient towards Chávez's authoritarian style of government. He has stated more than once that he does not see Chávez as a threat to hemispheric political stability. This could simply be an attempt at minimizing tensions in the region but I sincerely believe that such a statement already sounds like the ones made by Neville Chamberlain about Hitler. During his recent visit to Caracas, where he had "a most pleasant meeting" with Hugo Chávez, Mr. Insulza made public statements, especially in an interview with Roberto Giusti (El Universal, October 29, 2006) that sounded frankly pro-Chávez. Among other things he said that he found less confrontation and tension in Venezuela than in the past, that he did not believe that Chávez was trying to form an anti-U.S. block in Latin America and that he had found no evidence of Chávez's intervention in the political processes of other Latin American countries. The overwhelming objective evidence suggests that Venezuelan society is in a very high state of chronic tension and, more than tension, anguish, due to the actions of Hugo Chávez. The evidence shows that Chávez has been trying very hard to create an anti-U.S. block, not only in Latin America but also worldwide. Chávez himself confesses to these efforts almost every day. The creation of this alliance against the U.S. has become, in fact, the central theme of his regime, at the expense of the welfare of his people. The evidence clearly shows that Chávez has been intervening systematically in other Latin American countries. The host governments have forced four of his ambassadors out, in Peru, Mexico, Chile and Colombia. Another one, in Bolivia, has been asked by members of Congress to be declared persona non grata. Chávez has refused, so far, to recognize Calderon as the president of Mexico and has insulted Alan Garcia and Vicente Fox, presidents of Peru and Mexico, not to speak of the insults against George Bush. All of these countries are members of the OAS. The failure of Insulza to recognize and criticize these transgressions of normal diplomatic behavior is impossible to justify.
Another potentially dangerous signal related to Mr. Insulza's amiable attitude towards authoritarian Leftist political leaders comes from Nicaragua. In a TV interview made to Daniel Ortega by Jorge Gestoso, Ortega speaks very affectionately of Insulza. Of course, Mr. Insulza is not responsible for what Ortega might say but it worries me that a corrupt politician like Ortega should have kind words for Secretary General Insulza.
The attitude shown by Insulza in relation with the regime of Hugo Chávez would not be important if he was not the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. But he is. The organization he leads is the arbiter of last resort for those Latin American societies that feel victimized by their governments. If and when the leader of that organization appears to side with a government that violates the principles of the organization instead of protecting the victims of those violations, something is terribly wrong with the Inter American system. Paraphrasing T.S. Eliot we could say that Mr. Insulza's silences are of even more concern than his statements.