01:08 GMT02 April 2020
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    Maria Fernanda Espinosa, a candidate for secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), in an interview with Sputnik, spoke of how the organization should address pressing problems in Latin America, including migration, inequality and the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela.

    Sputnik: You said that an OAS head should focus on compromise. What is an ideal OAS head? What steps do you intend to take, if elected?

    I guess, first of all, I have stated several times that the role of a Secretary General is to act as a bridge builder and as a consensus builder and also to lead the organization in accordance to the rules of multilateralism, which means that who takes the decisions are the governing bodies of the organization, which are the permanent council and its general assembly. The Secretary General should lead, should implement, should deliver in accordance to the decisions taken by member states.

    That's the secret of multilateralism. That's the way it operates. How to build consensus, to build agreement. I think it is done basically through building a joint agenda, a positive agenda. There are so many things that unite the hemisphere. More things that unite us than the issues that divide us. And the issues that unite us are starting by a shared history, a shared colonial history and a shared commitment, for example, to combat poverty and inequality and to fight climate change and a devastating impact on the livelihood and the future of all our peoples, our collective efforts to fight drug trafficking and international organized crime, to make sure that our equality and policies and gender parity, for example, are put forward. The effort that we make to combat all forms of violence against women and girls. That's something that should unite us. I can raise hundreds of issues where you can build agreement around this. My slogan for the campaign is to build unity in diversity. And we should not be naive because there are different positions on critical issues. But the role of a Secretary General is certainly not to exacerbate polarization and conflict. But on the contrary, a Secretary General should be the person who brings the parties together, who is seen as an honest broker to reach consensus.

    Sputnik: What changes would you make in the existing format of the organization to make it more effective?

    We have all the tools and the instruments and we have the founding charter of OAS, which is very clear about the role of the Secretary General and what the mandate of a Secretary General is in terms of the executive of the organization. The charter doesn't mention that a Secretary General should have personal opinions on any matter. It says that the governing bodies of the organization are the General Assembly and the Permanent council. But in terms of the agenda that you mentioned… there is an incredible amount of committees, of specialized organs as the charter establishes four pillars for the work of the organization that are crystal clear and basically the four pillars are democracy, human rights, multi-dimensional security and inclusive development. So these four pillars should be addressed in an interconnected manner and in an integrated way because unfortunately the organization has focused on one or two issues, and we know which issues these are. They have completely forgotten for example, the development agenda. They have forgotten the cooperation agenda.

    The charter itself mentions solidarity and cooperation among countries of the hemisphere. But I think that we have forgotten these very principles. The mechanisms are there, the instruments are there, the technical and specialized bodies are there. The intra-American jurisprudence is there. It is a matter of taking a political decision to deliver and implement it according to priorities established by member states. We have now close to 600 mandates in the organization. I think it is time to prioritize according to the resources available, but as to the priorities and also to the vision, a shared vision from member states, and I think we need to refresh this shared vision of the organization once again.

    Sputnik: What would be your immediate agenda if you are elected? What will be your long term priorities?

    I have developed a program of work after discussing and having very fruitful exchanges with several governments and authorities, heads of state and governments, foreign ministers. And basically my program of work has three areas. The first area is more related to the management of the organization in terms of its financial sustainability, transparency and accountability. The organization has had red numbers and deficits for several years now.

    The second area of work that I'm proposing is to refresh the agenda. I mentioned that we have close to 600 mandates. I think it is time also to prioritize funding according to the current reality and current needs and expectations of member states. There are real issues on the agenda that need to be boosted such as the climate agenda... For example, the impact of new technologies, cyber security and challenges that the entire region faces. The issue of migration and refugees, which is a common and shared challenge of every country of the hemisphere, because we all are countries of origin, transit and destination.

    The third issue is as to have a modern management of the organization using the top technologies, the top information and communications technology. So there is a need, and believe me, of a full refurbishing of the organization.

    The Secretary General and the staff of the secretariat shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any authority external to the organization.

    Sputnik: In previous interviews, you said that the organization needs to increase its dialogue with institutions and organizations outside of the hemisphere. Do you think this dialogue could be with Russia and China, and, if so, would you pursue dialogue with this countries?

    Well, of course, because these two countries are also observer countries to the OAS. There are 72 countries that are an observer to the organization. And sometimes they are seen as potential sources of funding, but not as a strategic allies to implement and deliver the OAS agenda… And every country counts. You know, including these 72 observers. The capacity of the OAS to observe and fully include and coordinate with the 72 observers is very weak. … that needs to change and improve.

    Sputnik:  We know that the Trump administration is currently supporting Juan Guaido in Venezuela and pressuring other countries to follow suit. The United Nations is still supporting Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate president. Is it possible for the organization to remain impartial?

    There is a need for fresh new tool to the Venezuelan issue. It has certainly been one of the most divisive issues for the organization. And I don't think that we can expect to repeat the same strategy and yet obtain a different outcome. And I think that the membership is very divided on that issue. And if there is a need to assess all of the ongoing efforts to find an outlet to the Venezuelan crisis, I think that there is a need to take Venezuela out of the red carpet, and the flashes. And just take it very seriously and do a serious and quiet work and this has to go through a very, I would say, pragmatic assessment of what the situation is and what the different efforts have not worked. And the contact group with the participation of the European Union, the dialogue process started by Norway and hosted by Barbados, the Dominican Republic dialogue, the Lima Group efforts, etc.
    I think we need to reassess that and really think about new avenues. But the only instrument that we have in diplomacy is dialogue. And I think that the key issue is how we start. We are going to undertake a renewed and refreshed dialogue. What is the roadmap? And this has to be, of course, discussed with member states.

    Sputnik: You mentioned formats in which Venezuela is participating to reach a resolution to its long-standing crisis. Do you suggest that Maduro be engaged in negotiations? What kind of format do you envision?

    As I mentioned, I think that the whole situation needs a reassessment, including all the ongoing initiatives from different groups. The goal should be the future of the Venezuelan people.

    Sputnik: Are you willing to negotiate with Maduro?

    I'm repeating again that this is an issue that needs to be discussed with member states at the OAS.

    Sputnik: Do you think that US sanctions against Venezuela are achieving their goal? Do you agree that they are not harming people?

    That's exactly the point I am trying to make. One of the main problems has been to think that the OAS work and responsibility is only about dealing with the Venezuelan crisis. And I have proven over and over again that there are more than almost 600 mandates that the organization has, that the majority of countries and members of the OAS think that we have lacked and forgotten the development pillar and so many countries are very interested that the organization delivers on the development pillar, on the security pillar as well on the human rights pillar.

    Sputnik: Do you consider the use of force to resolve this situation unacceptable?

    I want to repeat again that the only means, the instrument that we have in hand, is dialogue. It is a very powerful and useful instrument.

    Sputnik: How do you think Venezuelan refugees can return to the country, and if they do, what role can the organization play in assisting them?

    Migration by its own nature is one of the issues that require a shared responsibility and a collective action. And I am proposing very specific action. I think that this is an issue that requires collective action and an international responsibility.

    Sputnik: Bolivia has experienced protest and crisis, especially in the end of 2019. Do you think the protests and the crisis are caused by internal situations in the countries?

    It is important to keep in mind that worldwide there is a very challenging situation regarding the disenchantment and the breach of trust of society and citizens, regarding the ruling classes in general. In Latin America and the Caribbean there is a special situation which is a profound inequality. I think that is one of the issues that can explain that people feel frustrated and unhappy. I think that if we work to deliver and implement the sustainable development goals and to fight poverty, to fight inequality, and to work on creating the 400 million new jobs that are needed for the younger generation until 2030, if we work on quality education and access to health care and proper Social Security system, I mean, this is the most powerful mechanism for having citizens happy.
    They have trust and hope in a better future for them and their families. And I think that people worldwide, they want the same thing. It's not that complicated. They want to live, to have a safe job, a decent job. And they want a promising future for their children and they want good quality education for their children, access to healthcare. I mean, these are the fundamentals
    Some of these countries claimed that there was external interference.

    I wouldn't want to comment on that because there has not been any proven, proven and solid evidence on these issues. And whatever comment I make would be just a speculation.

    Sputnik: The region is facing a migration crisis. What do you think can be done to mitigate the movement of so many? Do you think that the region can rely solely on US assistance or there should be more initiatives to help solve the situation?

    By its nature migration requires a collective response. The numbers are increasing and scary because we have almost 13 million refugees in the hemisphere, 13 million and close to 17 million migrants in the hemisphere. So we are speaking about large numbers of persons and the OAS has its specialized commission for migratory issues. First of all, we could strengthen the work of the commission. And second of all, work on something that is extremely important, which are the information and the data bases, and that has to be done in agreement and coordination with key organizations. We need to increase hemispheric coordination to work better together. I think that basically what I'm proposing is to create a clearinghouse of successful initiatives on migration and also for refugees at the hemispheric level. This should be a clearinghouse of successful policies, of successful projects and strategies, but also on regulatory and legal frameworks regarding migration.

    More importantly, perhaps, is to work on this preventive agenda, and a preventive agenda precisely is to fight poverty and inequality.

    Sputnik: What other problems in the region require urgent discussion?

    Well, I am proposing 10 priorities on the thematic agenda for the OAS. These thematic priorities include the issue of migration. I mentioned the issue of climate change. The challenge of equality. And that includes, of course, the fight against all forms of violence against women and girls. And the issue of human trafficking.

    We need to strengthen our efforts to address the problem of drugs and related crimes, illegal mining, cybersecurity, human rights.

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