Return of OAS?
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that with the fall of several progressive and centrist governments during the past decade, right-wing forces have sought to dismantle (UNASUR) or put on hold (CELAC) these initiatives and breathe new life into the OAS.
Attempts under Almagro to restore the OAS to the center of regional politics are part of a greater push by Washington to reassert its role in the region, something that had diminished during the years when the “Pink Tide” was on the advance.
These attempts have not come without tensions, as evidenced by the rise of the Lima Group, aimed at isolating Venezuela and aiding the US intervention in that country, but also the Puebla Group, which is aimed at rebuilding the ties between the left-wing and progressive political groups and parties across the continent.
Such tensions were also on display in the divided vote over Almagro’s reelection this March. Such divisions within the OAS had not been seen in decades — previous secretary generals had been approved unanimously, and often by acclamation, despite it being a secret vote.
The OAS can never be a democratic forum for regional dialogue or conflict resolution, and not just because of its infrastructural and financial dependence on Washington. Rather, what dictates this is the reality of the unequal power dynamics that exist between the imperialist countries of North America and the rest of the Americas. This also explains why the United States cannot tolerate its neighbors down south uniting without its presence — a move that inherently weakens US regional hegemony.
Today, the bid to invoke the political and diplomatic support of the United States as a guarantor of “stability” is again becoming more apparent, across the region. The attempted coup by Juan Guaidó in Venezuela in 2019 and his “Twitter presidency” have been openly and directly financed and sustained by resources of US-backed agencies such as the USAID and the NED, while the consolidation of Jeanine Añez’s post-coup regime in Bolivia was largely possible through the diplomatic support of the Trump administration, leading to a “domino effect” of official recognitions by the right-wing governments of the region.
With political winds once again blowing to the left in the region, governments south of the Río Grande will be faced with a choice regarding the kind of regional integration they want to pursue. The chance to restart CELAC exists with progressive governments now in power in two of the three largest countries in the region, Argentina and Mexico (who currently holds the presidency of the organization).
These same two governments played key roles in the Bolivian crisis last year. In Bolivia, the new MAS government, overwhelmingly returned to power in the October 2020 elections, has signaled its intentions to revitalize UNASUR. Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government in Brazil will be an important, but not necessarily insurmountable, obstacle to overcome in these processes.
At the same time, the existential crisis within the Lima Group continues to escalate with every right-wing government being voted out, deposed, or facing a severe structural crisis.
With the departure of the governments of Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, Mauricio Macri in Argentina, Añez in Bolivia, Donald Trump in the United States, the removal of Martín Vizcarra in Peru, and the guaranteed departure of Lenín Moreno’s government in Ecuador and Sebastián Piñera’s in Chile, it has become clear that the original objective of isolating Venezuela has failed, though not without substantial damage to the latter’s economy as a result.
On the other hand, working with Almagro, the United States will want to cement the OAS’s role in the region. It will no doubt seek to push this agenda as host of the next Summit of the Americas in 2021. Yet for people’s movements and progressive forces in the region, the hope is that they can instead use this summit as a space to promote the kind of solidarity-based integration that helped defeat the FTAA.