The Peruvian government has announced that it may nominate a female candidate to become the next secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS). While elections for a new OAS leader are over half a year away, there are already speculations about possible candidates.
Should a female Peruvian citizen win, she would become the first female OAS leader in the organization’s seven-decade history, and it is about time too.
A brief history
Since its founding in 1948, the Washington-based OAS has had 10 secretary generals; all of whom were men. The same can be said for all eight OAS assistant secretary generals.
Secretary generals serve five-year terms and can run for one re-election, and more often than not, they are re-elected. Chilean nationalJose Miguel Insulzais the current secretary general. He was elected in 2005, and then subsequently re-elected in 2010. Meanwhile, Albert Ramdin from Suriname is the OAS assistant secretary general, he was also first elected in 2005.
While the OAS secretary generals’ gender has remained entirely male, their nationalities vary. Interestingly, out of the 10 leaders that this organization has boasted, eight of them have been South Americans.
In September 2004, former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez was elected as the new secretary general, which marked the first time that the OAS had a Central American leader. However, Rodriguez was forced to resign in October of the same year due toaccusations of corruptionwhile he was president. The American Luigi Einaudi would become the acting secretary general of the organization until Insulza was elected in 2005.
So far, two candidates have been nominated by their respective governments to succeed Insulza: Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala (2004-2008), and Luis Almagro, Uruguay’s current minister of foreign affairs.
It will be interesting to see if a Central American candidate, i.e. Stein, will receive the support of the majority of OAS member states (all ofthe Western Hemisphereminus Cuba), in order to balance out the discrepancy between South Americans and Central Americans that have led the organization.
Time for change
As for the Peruvian government’s objectives, Juan Jimenez Mayor, Peru’s permanent representative to the OAS, has stated that “we are considering the possibility of nominating a female candidate, who would be the first woman to lead the OAS.” So far, Lima has not named a candidate though one likely option would be former Prime Minister Beatriz Merino.
When discussing the future of OAS leadership, as previously mentioned, it is important to remember that secretary generals are usually re-elected (i.e. Insulza or Colombia’s Cesar Gaviria, 1994-2004). Hence, the next secretary general will likely lead this hemispheric organization not just for the next five years, but rather until 2025. In other words, if a female candidate is not elected next year, we will probably have to wait another decade to have a female OAS leader.
In an April 25, 2013,commentary for VOXXI, I discussed the rise of female Latin American politicians. At the time, I highlighted the number of female heads of state in nations like Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica, as well as several female ministers. This list can now include President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who is now in her second presidential term.
Certainly, a female candidate should not be selected to become the new OAS secretary general solely in the name of gender diversity. The most qualified individual should be selected. Nevertheless, there are a plethora of qualified female professionals throughout Latin America and the Caribbean that are capable of leading the OAS into the 21st century. (Besides Peru, Mexico is also considering nominating a female citizen: Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of theUN agency ECLAC).
Traditionally, discussions about the future of the OAS center around the organization’s (ir)relevance in the inter-American system, and how it has historically been regarded as Washington’s watch dog for the Western Hemisphere.
An often-overlooked fact though, is that throughout the OAS’ existence, all secretary generals and assistant secretary generals have been men. It is time for a change. Whether it is a Peruvian, or a candidate from another nation, there should be a female Latin American or Caribbean citizen at the helm of this hemispheric entity for the next five (maybe ten) years. When Insulza leaves his post in May 2015, this vacancy should be used as an opportunity for significant change in the organizations’ senior leadership.