Former Uruguay foreign minister elected new OAS secretary general

Nestor Mendez, ambassador of Belize to the United States, permanent representative to the OAS, and high commissioner to Canada, was also elected for a five-year term as the new assistant secretary general.

In his first speech, Almagro said he would work to ensure that the OAS is guided by the interests of the billion people who inhabit the Americas with pragmatism, the search for unity and solidarity as the pillars of his administration.

The secretary general-elect of the hemispheric institution announced he will work with all the countries of the region “without exception” and expressed his conviction that “it is time to put an end to unnecessary fragmentations”. 

“Beginning on May 26, as secretary general of the OAS, my efforts will be focused on making the organization a useful tool in the interests of all the peoples of the Americas, wherever they are from,” he said.

The former Uruguayan foreign minister received broad support from the member countries that participated in the special general assembly, which cast 33 votes in favour and one abstention, to elect him as successor to the current secretary general of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza.

Almagro called for the organization to set aside the debates of the past and focus on contemporary challenges. 

“I am convinced that the time of a discursive, bureaucratic OAS, far removed from the concerns of the people of the Americas, anchored in the paradigms of the past, is definitely giving way to an OAS of the 21st century,” he said. 

“I do not want to be the administrator of the crisis of the OAS, but the facilitator of its renewal,” he added.

The secretary general-elect is 51 years old, is married and has seven children. Besides Spanish, he speaks English and French and is a lawyer by profession. Before having led the Uruguayan foreign ministry for the last five years, he was Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China for five years, and held senior diplomatic posts in the foreign ministry of his country, and diplomatic representations of Uruguay in Germany and Iran.

For his part, Insulza expressed his commitment to a “completely calm and proper” transition. After congratulating the secretary general-elect, he noted his agreement with the “set of ideas and principles” expressed by Almagro during his campaign.

Moreover, Insulza expressed his hope that, during the seventh Summit of the Americas, to be held on April 10 and 11 in Panama. a further step would be taken to include Cuba in the Inter-American System. 

He recalled that the 2009 OAS General Assembly that took place in San Pedro Sula, the suspension imposed on the Caribbean nation in 1962 was lifted, and expressed hope that in the coming years the largest Caribbean island will fully rejoin the OAS.

Mendez contested the election for the post of assistant secretary general against Ambassador Bayney Karran, permanent representative of Guyana to the OAS, and secured the election with 24 votes against 10 out of a total of 34 member states. This is the first time that a Belizean has been elected to such a senior office in the OAS.

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