Vision for the Americas: Key Insights from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro

His Excellency Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, and María Renée Barillas, Telemundo 44, in conversation. May 21, 2024 at White-Meyer House. Photo by Oskar Dapp.


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In an era marked by geopolitical shifts and democratic challenges, the role of regional organizations in addressing these issues becomes increasingly vital. As the 54th General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Paraguay approaches, the significance of these discussions cannot be overstated. Against this backdrop, Meridian partnered with Cisco to host a pivotal installment of the Center for Diplomatic Engagement’s Insights@Meridian series, featuring a conversation with His Excellency Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States. The event, held on May 21, provided an insightful preview of the GA, convening under the theme of “Integration and Security for the Sustainable Development of the Region,” as well as Almagro’s final year priorities addressing geopolitical tensions, ensuring election security, and managing relations with external partners.  

Natalie Jones, Executive Vice President at Meridian International Center, presided over the event, announcing a groundbreaking new partnership. In June 2024, Meridian International Center and the Organization of American States will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to outline strengthened cooperation on areas of mutual interest including global leadership, democratic integrity, competitiveness, and public-private partnerships. This partnership signifies growth of our shared commitment to advancing integral development, defending human rights, and fostering multidimensional security across the Americas. 

Secretary General Almagro was joined by moderator María Renée Barillas, Anchor and Reporter, Telemundo 44 Washington DC, with introductory remarks by Nicole Isaac, Vice President of Global Public Policy for Government Affairs at Cisco.  

Here are some­ top takeaways from the program:

1. “More Rights for More People”

Secretary General Almagro’s vision for the 54th General Assembly underscores the imperative of tackling systemic challenges to foster inclusive growth and realize the full potential of the Americas. At the start of his first term in office, Secretary General Almagro announced his commitment to advancing the OAS’ human rights agenda under the framework of “more rights for more people.” The Secretary General’s dedication to this mission is highlighted by the application of social inclusion and equity at the center of promoting progressive reform. Secretary General Almagro emphasized the importance of advancing inclusive development across the hemisphere, highlighting the urgent need to address structural inequalities and poverty that persistently afflict marginalized communities. Almagro noted that “to give peace a chance, you have to give people a chance, and give people an opportunity.” By centering citizens at the heart of diplomacy, the General Assembly aims to advance the Secretary General’s pillars of pro-democracy reform and expansion of human rights.  

2. Democratic Malaise 

While the disorganization of regional democracies continues to perpetuate cycles of poverty, crime and destitution in OAS member states, the Secretary General called for tailored solutions based on the unique context of each country’s political landscape. While democracy serves as one avenue for citizens to challenge authoritarian regimes, as seen in the cases of Venezuela and Cuba, the situation in Haiti presents a distinct set of challenges that demand urgent attention and innovative approaches. Almagro highlighted the alarming indicators of a dysfunctional democracy in Haiti including low voter turnout amidst threats of violence and the inability of societal institutions to meet the basic needs of citizens. The long-simmering crisis recently boiled over when Haitian gang leaders seized control, accompanied by violence and rampant crime that has further exacerbated the crisis, prompting citizens to question the efficacy of democratic institutions. Reflecting on the dire situation in Haiti, the Secretary General stressed the importance of peacebuilding to establish long-term stability. Drawing parallels to previous United Nation’s peacekeeping missions in country, Almagro underscored the critical need for proactive measures and international cooperation to restore stability and build resilient democratic institutions capable of meeting the needs of citizens in Haiti and beyond. “To bring back peace to Haiti,” Almagro stated, will be very, very demanding and we have to go through some peaks of crisis.  

3. Election Integrity Under Siege 

As part of the OAS mandate to promote and protect democracy, the institution lends independent, impartial election observation to ensure transparency and confidence in the process. As part of its Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, the OAS supports free and fair elections with full respect for state sovereignty by observing elections in the Americas, supporting technical cooperation, modernization and improvement services, and electoral training. Several member states of the OAS including Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico are poised to hold national elections in 2024. Almagro warned about the persistent threats that jeopardize electoral integrity. He outlined three key intractable challenges: The attacks against the electoral authority or the corruption of the electoral authority; the attacks against freedom of expression we are by now the region with [most] journalists, murdered in the world; and the attacks [against] or the corruption of the judiciary.” He stressed the need for vigilance and proactive measures to combat these issues, advocating for stronger safeguards and greater transparency in electoral processes. Emphasizing the need for continuous support and reinforcement of democratic norms, Almagro called on member states to uphold the values enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter to stabilize and safeguard free, fair, and electoral processes across the hemisphere.  

4. Bridging Knowledge Gaps with Private Sector Cooperation

In the pursuit of sustainable development and democratic stability, addressing knowledge gaps within the hemisphere stands as a paramount challenge. Almagro's emphasis on the decline in understanding fundamental democratic principles sheds light on a concerning trend that hinders efforts to achieve desired outcomes in the region. Almagro proposed engaging the private sector as a strategic partner. By leveraging the pivotal resources and expertise of the private sector to close knowledge gaps and promote technological growth, initiatives to advance democracy and human rights could be more effectively implemented. Secretary General Almagro hinted at the significance of prioritizing workforce development and education within the OAS agenda, noting that “education needs to begin after your degree, [you] don’t stop learning.” Investing in educational initiatives and skill-building programs can empower individuals to actively participate in democratic processes and contribute to socio-economic growth, particularly in fields like artificial intelligence and robotics in which the region is falling behind. Closing knowledge gaps is not only a strategic imperative but also as a fundamental step towards fostering a more informed, engaged, and prosperous hemisphere. 

5. Balancing Act: A New Paradigm to Engage China 

China’s role in Latin America has grown rapidly since the turn of the century, promising economic opportunity while also raising concerns in Washington over Beijing’s influence. Secretary General Almagro asserts that a relationship with China and the U.S. is not a binary choice, that “to be forced to choose, it is like bringing us back to the Cold War.” Rather, it is an opportunity to work with both countries to advance the hemisphere. The Secretary General highlighted the necessity of navigating these relationships pragmatically, emphasizing that while China’s economic involvement is indispensable, it should not compromise the democratic values and sovereignty of the OAS member states. Almagro noted that China has become a vital trade partner for many Latin American countries, stating that “to eliminate China [from] the economic equation of Latin America would [lead to] recession of incredible proportions.”  

The Secretary General advocated for a balanced approach that leverages economic benefits without falling into dependency traps, stressing the importance of maintaining democratic principles and human rights. He pointed out that Venezuela and Cuba were already authoritarian before deepening ties with Beijing, underscoring the need to uphold democratic foundations in engagements with China. Almagro made the case that countries should foster cooperation with China on terms that respect their sovereignty and promote mutual benefit, referencing his success as the Uruguayan Minister of Foreign Relations emphasizing three requests he made of his Chinese counterparts: “I asked them not to buy land in Uruguay, not to bring workers to Uruguay, and to invest in new projects.” By imposing such guardrails, the region can benefit economically from Chinese investment while safeguarding its democratic institutions and long-term interests. Ultimately, Almagro’s message was clear: a strategic, principled, and balanced approach to engaging China is crucial for the region's economic prosperity and democratic resilience. 



This program was made possible through the support of:


Project summary

Vision for the Americas: Key Insights from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro | May 2024
Regions: Western Hemisphere
Impact Areas: Foreign Policy, Education, Human and Civil Rights, Security and Defense, Governance and Transparency
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Private Sector, Diplomatic Corps