Days after the CELAC summit in Buenos Aires, Francisco Mora, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), has described the OAS as “the only organization where democratically elected countries have representatives and where they are all committed to defending democracy and human rights”.
Mora, who was addressing journalists as ambassador for the first time, made the comments during an online press conference Wednesday. They were interpreted as a US position on the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Buenos Aires, which sparked controversy in Argentina after the Presidents of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua were invited.
The three countries, ruled by vocal U.S. critics who espouse socialist values, have drawn sharp criticism over respect for human rights and democratic elections in recent years. The Argentine government takes the position that since the CELAC is a regional discussion forum, all member states must be able to participate and it cannot pick and choose which presidents to invite.
In response to a question about the Biden administration’s position on the importance of the CELAC summit, Mora said the government feels it’s “good” that there are a series of regional organizations working towards regional cooperation and integration, highlighting the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
However, he added: “In the OAS, where we have a presence, there is no other organization that works so collaboratively, collaborating, despite our differences […] there’s a common purpose, a commitment to defend democratic values and respect human rights. And that’s unique, I think, in the region, and because of that, the organization has to demonstrate its relevance.”
The US and Canada are not members of the CELAC, which was formally created in Venezuela in 2011 with a view to deepen Latin American and Caribbean integration, and is widely seen as aiming to counterbalance U.S. influence in the region. The Biden administration sent Christopher Dodd, his Special Advisor for the Americas, as an observer.
While Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel attended the summit, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro canceled his trip after his government stated that they had become aware of a plan to attack him. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega was not present.
A group of conservative intellectuals had presented a lawsuit against the three leaders ahead of the summit, and opposition leader Patricia Bullrich said she would report Maduro to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. government filed charges against the Venezuelan leader for corruption and drug trafficking in March 2020, during the Trump administration.
With regard to the trio’s position in the OAS, Mora said the organization was for governments “that have been democratically elected”, adding that for Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, “the seat exists, legally they have that presence, but at the moment, those seats are empty”.
During the press conference, Mora stated that U.S. priorities in the OAS would include the fight against climate change, which he described as a “national security issue”, and strengthening regional health systems in the face of COVID-19 and potential future pandemics.