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OAS reelects Insulza, but is the world's oldest regional group still relevant?

José Miguel Insulza was reelected secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) today. The former Chilean cabinet minister was the only candidate on the ballot, prompting many to ask: Why bother with the vote?

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“There were allegations of pre-electoral violations that were significant that in other elections would have been called out, but because they were committed to a process of reconciliation, they allowed it to slide,” says Mr. Sabatini. Since then, he says, “they have allowed some countries to bully them.”

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Political tensions created paralysis

Political tensions in the region, mostly between leftist leaders such as Mr. Chávez and those who may support his ideals but bristle at his strident attitude or even those who more strongly align with the US, have contributed to paralysis in the body where consensus is key, says Sabitini.

Mr. Insulza has been accused of cozying up to leftist governments in the region.

At the same time Venezuela has called the OAS an arm of US foreign policy, as have many in Honduras and elsewhere.

At a recent meeting in Mexico of the Rio Group body, members called for the creation of a new regional institution that will exclude the US and Canada from membership.

US gripes

But the US is not happy with the OAS either. Earlier this month, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey introduced legislation to seek to improve the institution, calling for improved accounting standards, a results-based budgeting process, and transparent and merit-based human-resource policies.

“Last month, when even our key Latin American allies supported the creation of an alternative to the Organization of American States that included Cuba but excluded the United States and Canada, alarm bells went off in Washington – and rightfully so,” the senators wrote in an opinion piece of the “embattled institution” in The Miami Herald last week. “This was not your traditional statement of frustration with US policy, but rather an indictment of the OAS – the institution charged with helping all countries in the hemisphere speak with a unified voice.”

For some, though, the entire concept of regional bodies must be rethought.

If the OAS is outweighed by US influence, says Mr. Calix, a new regional body, like the one proposed in Mexico, will yield to other emerging powers, such as Brazil. “You are just changing the master,” Calix says.