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OAS Secretary General Highlights that “the Electoral Observation Missions of the OAS are one of our Great Achievements”

  March 11, 2015

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today closed the First Meeting of Chiefs of Electoral Observation Missions (EOMs) of the OAS, highlighting the professionalism and the experience accumulated during the more than fifty years the Organization has observed elections.

“The OAS has deployed more than 200 electoral missions in its history, and more than half were in this decade,” said the Secretary General upon concluding an event that brought together nine ex Chiefs of Mission to discuss issues such as observation in complex contexts, municipal and legislative elections, elections in the Caribbean, and the impact of the recommendations of the EOMS. After recalling the diversity of the processes observed, in terms of size, type of election and reach, the OAS leader said “when we look back upon our term in office, this is one of the great achievements, that is to say, more than one hundred observation missions in ten years.”

The Missions of Electoral Observation of the OAS are characterized, first of all, explained the Secretary General, by the quality of their observers and their methodology. “These are missions that have a high level of professionalism – there are technical teams of great quality who know what they have to examine.” Second, the missions are led by Chiefs of Mission of recognized prestige, who are designated by the Secretary General, who are completely independent and “are not susceptible to pressure from anyone.” All this contributes to the fact that, he emphasized, “our words count. There is no other electoral observation that has the prestige of the Organization of American States.”

In terms of the future of the EOMs, Secretary General Insulza emphasized the advances made by the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO) of the OAS in terms of standards of observation. “The work being done by DECO in the application of the ISO standard of nine distinct aspects during an electoral process is probably the issue with the most future that we are working on, together with the follow-up on the recommendations of the Mission and the way in which they can be applied in the countries.”

The meeting was opened by the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, and was divided in four panels titled “Observing Tight and/or Complex Elections;” “Legislative and Municipal Elections;” “Elections in the Caribbean;” and “Impact of EOM Recommendations.” In addition, the Director of DECO presented the DECO 2014 Annual Report.

First Panel: “Observing Tight and/or Complex Elections”

The first panel was presented and moderated by the Secretary for Political Affairs of the OAS, Kevin Casas-Zamora, who highlighted that the missions at times play a role in dissuading irregularities and at others in more closely examining the electoral mechanism, to suggest improvements. “In all cases they fulfill the mission of creating trust, and I believe there is no other context in which that trust is more important than when a country is facing a complicated political context or an election that is expected to produce tight results,” he explained before opening the floor to the panelists.

The Bolivian diplomat Gustavo Fernandez Saavedra, who was Chief of Mission in Nicaragua and El Salvador for the elections of 2009, 2014 and 2015, related the evolution he observed in the processes in El Salvador between 2009 and 2015. “I recall the maturity of a political system, and not only of the parties. The media also contributed to creating the conditions so that the result could be accepted,” said Ambassador Fernandez, who concluded that “if I have learned anything in the observation missions, it is that there is not one unique electoral system, no one recipe, every electoral system is the expression of the culture and political tradition of each country.”

For his part, the Argentine politician and former Ambassador José Octavio Bordón, Chief of EOMs in the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Guatemala, referred to the evaluation of the state of democracy carried out between 2008 and 2010 by the OAS and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), of which he was the political coordinator. “We assumed a vision of full democracy that implies the harmonization of democracy as representation and election; the quality of democracy as an exercise, that is, respect for the rules of the game, and the democracy of sense, that is, whether the exercise of civil rights increased, or that of human rights, social and economic rights,” he said. He added that, in his experience, “electoral observation is not a technocratic problem of how the vote takes place, but a very substantive system in the functioning of democracy. It’s true, it does not end with the election, but the election shows and builds better or worse democracy.”

Finally the Chief of Staff of the Secretary General of the OAS, Hugo de Zela, recalled his experience in the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS in Nicaragua in 1990, in the midst of a complex political context. “There it was shown with absolute clarity that the Electoral Observation Missions contribute in a concrete way to the strengthening of democracy when they are part of a process to overcome situations in which democracy and its stability have been weakened in some way,” said the diplomat, who in 1990 was the Chief of Staff of Secretary General João Clemente Baena Soares.

Second Panel: “Legislative and Municipal Elections”

The second panel was moderated by the Director of DECO, Gerardo de Icaza, and included the participation of the Senator and former Foreign Minister of Uruguay, Sergio Abreu, who was Chief of the EOM in Peru in 2014; and the Ambassador of Mexico in Brazil, Beatriz Paredes, who was Chief of the EOM in the elections in Colombia in 2011.

In his address, Senator Abreu defended that EOMs should always keep in mind the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states, and said that for democracy to function it must have strong political parties. In addition, he recalled that it must also be taken into account that Latin America is a region of varied realities, something easily detected when observing local elections. As an example, he added that when he directed the EOM in Peru, “there were more than 90,000 candidates.”

For her part, Ambassador Paredes argued that, when dealing with municipal elections “there is a biased version with respect to the remote territories that they are behind in terms of democracy.” For the Mexican diplomat, this idea “is a centrist vision.” To illustrate the point, she added that in many countries of the region there is an indigenous tradition of assembly, where there are elections according to customs. “The essential thing is to respect and guarantee that that human rights are not violated,” she said

Third Panel: “Elections in the Caribbean”

The third panel, moderated by the OAS Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, focused on the particularities and challenges of the region mainly on issues related to campaign financing, access to the media, the presence of women in elected positions, implementation of new legislative elements in the field, the use of state resources, the involvement of youth and the specific characteristics of parliamentary systems.

Rosina Wiltshire, Chief of the EOM in Antigua and Barbuda (2014) and Saint Lucia (2011), highlighted that on the issue of effective participation of women in electoral processes they have a strong presence in the management of elections, political parties and the polling stations, "but it is not the case when it comes to elected positions." In this regard, she affirmed that the Caribbean is one of the regions that is behind in this area. "We have the lowest levels of participation of women in high political positions because we lack specific measures to promote their participation and it is our responsibility to change these circumstances," she added and said "the OAS has an important role to play in this area."

For his part, Adam Blackwell, the OAS Secretary for Multidimensional Security and Chief of the EOM in Dominica in 2014 highlighted some of the risks and particularities of parliamentary systems, which include most Caribbean countries. Among them he mentioned the issue of public financing of campaigns, access to the media and the challenges related to gender quota systems. In particular on the issue of campaign financing he stressed that "the origin and influence of funds goes beyond expense reporting and includes the analysis of financial flows and the tracking of campaign sources. These are issues in which the Missions have an important role to play and that we should continue doing," he said.

Finally, the former United States Ambassador Frank Almaguer, who served as Chief of the EOM in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2010), Belize (2012) and Saint Kitts and Nevis (2015) highlighted the need to have a permanent fund or mechanism "that would allow electoral observation missions to promptly and effectively respond to the requests from countries without having concerns about financial resources." He also stressed the level and commitment showed by the officials that participate in the administrative part of the voting. "Dealing with small countries, we could imagine that we would face challenges such as the proper training of the personnel participating in the polling stations," he said and noted that nevertheless "we have noticed with great satisfaction that these personnel often exceeds the expectations, they known what they do, they know what is right and they are respected by the political leaders." He encouraged furthering this task as one of the central contributions of the EOMs, through the promotion of training programs for personnel who perform this role.

Fourth Panel: “Impact of EOM Recommendations”

The final panel of the day was moderated by the Chief of the Electoral Observation Section of DECO, Alejandro Urizar. In his presentation, the OAS official referred to a study carried out by DECO between 2008 and 2013, on the kinds of recommendations made by missions. This concluded that 56 percent were related to electoral organization, to improve voter rolls, the registration of citizens and parties and the administration of the process; 17 percent dealt with the political and campaign financing system and ten percent referred to gender participation in the elections.

On these issues, Lourdes Flores Nano, Peruvian lawyer and politician and Chief of Missions in El Salvador and Panama, explained that those who participate in the missions “with the greatest objectivity possible, to warn where the problems are and, with the greatest clarity possible, put this in black and white in our reports.” In her opinion, the creation of bipartite bodies is important, between an OAS technical body and a national body determined by the country, to follow up on the implementation of the suggestions carried out and recognized that “follow up and implementation of these measures would also require a certain level of support from the country itself, from the political actors and with international cooperation.”

For his part the Chilean politician and Chief of Mission in Ecuador and Colombia, José Antonio Viera-Gallo, said the missions have a value in and of themselves, that translates into “the presence of the OAS is seen as a guarantee of a clean election. The first objective is to give a seal of legitimacy, where appropriate, to elections that could be questioned by some actor.” Agreeing with his predecessor, he said the recommendations “should be few and tailored to each country, because one must realize that the electoral system is very sensitive to the power games that exist in every society.”

DECO 2014 Annual Report

The Director of DECO of the OAS, Gerardo de Icaza, presented at the conclusion of the event the DECO 2014 Annual Report, which is a detailed synthesis of the missions and activities the Department has implemented, including a general financial report, and objectives for 2015.

Director De Icaza highlighted that among the future objectives of DECO is the ensuring that 50 percent of the delegations of the EOM are women, while he also said that the observations on the perspectives of the participation of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants are being incorporated, as well as people with disabilities. Moreover, De Icaza announced that DECO would soon publish a public database on the internet with all the data from the EOMs.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video news of the event wiil be available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-078/15