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posted 5 Dec 2019, 01:27 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 5 Dec 2019, 08:13 ]
This is not a commentary on, or an interference in, the upcoming elections in Dominica. The people of Dominica are more than capable of deciding who should serveMap of Dominica them as elected representatives. Dominicans can and should exercise their democratic and constitutional rights without any form of external interference. Unfortunately, a motley assembly of foreign actors seems to think otherwise, and their coordinated meddling confirms the resurgence of the type of naked imperialist manipulations that we thought were left behind.

Luis Almagro
On 7 February, 2019, Caribbean diplomats were stunned to see a tweet from Luis Almagro – Secretary General of the Organisation of American States – implying that the next General Elections in Dominica might not be free and fair.

Almagro’s tweet was stunning for multiple reasons: First, elections in Dominica were previously held on 8 December 2014, and were thus not constitutionally required until 8 M
arch 2020 – a date 13 months beyond Almagro’s tweet. The far more pressing concern of the OAS should have been what happened in Dominica 17 months before Almagro’s twitter finger got itchy – the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, and the island’s continued struggle to recover.

Second, Dominica had historically enjoyed peaceful and democratic transfers of power, and there was no suggestion that the next election – whose date would not even be announced for another 10 months – would be any different. Yet there was a smiling Almagro, shaking hands with Crispin Gregoire – a former Dominican Ambassador and disgruntled former member of the old guard of the Dominica Labour Party, whose own carefully-planned political ascent was derailed by the sudden rise of Roosevelt Skerrit.

There was the head of a major hemispheric body recklessly raising the issue of electoral fraud to his 1.3 million Twitter followers without a scintilla of evidence beyond the usual baseless fearmongering and paranoia that seems to accompany every election these days. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) reacted angrily to Almagro’s tweet, issuing a terse statement that it was “deeply concerned by the actions and statements of the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) which are outside the bounds of his remit as the Head of an international organisation”.

Branding the tweet as the “latest manifestation of [Almagro’s] inappropriate behavior,” CARICOM demanded that the Secretary-General “refrain from actions and statements which are beyond the competence of the Office and affect the impartiality of the Organisation.” But Almagro didn’t refrain. He doubled down, suggesting that Dominica isn’t sufficiently compliant with the OAS’ electoral recommendations, and stating that “when [OAS recommendations] are not followed and not implemented, this does not help member states to increase the level of trust from the opposition and the international community in their electoral processes.”

And just like that, a full 10 months before the eventual Dominican election date, the Organisation of American States unambiguously signalled intent to revisit and revive its shameful historical pattern of interference and intervention in the electoral affairs of any member state that does not pass its ideological litmus test. There are entire wings of libraries dedicated to chronicling the shadowy and subversive role played by the OAS in facilitating coups, discrediting elections, or legitimizing illegal transfers of power.

A quick recap of some of their greatest hits: Barring Cuba from the Organisation for the sin of having a Marxist government; supporting the coup d’état against Salvador Allende in Chile and the installation of the brutal government of General Augusto Pinochet; enabling the 2004 coup d’état in Haiti that removed President Aristide; rehabilitating a deeply-flawed 2010 election in Haiti; recognizing the government of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras after the OAS’ own observers declined to declare the 2017 elections free or fair; validating the illegal ouster of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil; recognising the self-declared presidency of Juan Guido in Venezuela, and advocating the use of force to remove President Maduro.

Look up any US invasion in the region, and assume the vocal or tacit support of the OAS. Guatemala in 1954? Check. Dominican Republic in 1965? Check. Panama in 1989? Check. Grenada in 1983? Of course. And the beat goes on.

Bolivia – Coup by Electoral Observer

Most recently, the OAS played a central role in the removal of President Evo Morales in Bolivia, using a regime change playbook that has been updated for modern times. In Bolivia, electoral authorities have an unofficial “quick count” that gives the general public updates on the counting of ballots. It is a system that was implemented with the help of the OAS. On election night, with about 84% of ballots counted, the Bolivian electoral authorities held a press conference to update the public on its quick count numbers.

At the time, Evo Morales was ahead with 45.7% of the vote while his opponent had 37.8%. Under Bolivian law, you must have at least 40% of the vote and lead your opponent by 10 clear percentage points to win the election in the first round of balloting. With 84% of the votes counted, Evo was facing the possibility of a second ballot. A second ballot would have made Evo more vulnerable, since the defeated opposition parties could pool their votes against him. However, Evo was still confident of victory in the first round of voting, because the ballots from the indigenous mountain villages had not yet come in, and those villages tend to support him strongly.

After the press conference, the electoral commission stopped reporting quick count numbers. Ordinarily, this would not be surprising. That’s how they did it in the past and that’s what they’d announced they were going to do beforehand. But the OAS saw an opportunity, and they pounced. First, they expressed “alarm” that the quick count had stopped, and demanded it restart. When it was restarted, 95 per cent of the votes had been counted, and the results from some more rural villages had pushed Evo to a 46.9% to 36.7% lead over his main rival – enough to win in the first round.

Before all the votes were even counted, the OAS had already released a communiqué voicing “concern” about the “inexplicable change in trend” in the quick count. In truth, there was no change in trend. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington DC-based think tank, shows that the vote count was perfectly in order with the trends indicated by the earlier quick count, which had tallied the opposition-friendly cities before the Evo-backing rural communities. But the damage was done. The opposition, seizing on the OAS communiqué, mobilized its supporters to the streets, and began rioting.

The OAS and Almagro continued its destabilizing commentary, egging them on. The situation on the ground began to spiral out of control. Evo Morales, still trusting in the legitimacy of his victory, agreed to an OAS offer to audit the results. The audit predictably listed a series of failings of the system – every election everywhere in the world has vulnerabilities or failings on election day – and reiterated the assertion that Evo’s late surge was “inexplicable.” The die was cast.

Evo suggested fresh elections, predicting an even bigger victory. His military, however, suggested otherwise, and deposed him, sending him into exile in Mexico. Notably, in the disputed 2017 elections in Honduras, Luis Almagro urged that “no irresponsible pronouncements’ be made before observers could deliver their definitive reports,” but in Bolivia, the OAS was making reckless and destabilizing pronouncements even before the counting was finished. Also notable is the fact that, three weeks after Evo Morales’ exile to Mexico, neither the OAS nor the replacement government can identify any evidence whatsoever that the results of the Bolivian elections were manipulated or stolen.

Maybe, now that they’ve dispatched the legitimate President of Bolivia off to Mexico, they’ve stopped looking for any proof of their reckless claims. Which brings us back to Dominica. Almagro’s photo op with Crispin Gregoire was a calculated opening salvo to legitimise and elevate the seasonal loose talk about electoral fraud to the forefront of their Dominicans’ minds. When, predictably, a small minority of opposition supporters spent a night engaging in low-level pre-election vandalism and civil disobedience in Dominica’s capital, Almagro was quick to fire off another inflammatory tweet.

Right on cue, an American diplomat addressed the OAS to complain (1) that the Dominican PM called elections “early” (it’s not early. It’s almost 5 years to the day after the 2014 elections. And Skerritt is entitled to call early elections under his constitution); (2) that Dominica doesn’t have a voter ID card (neither does the USA!); and (3) that OAS observer missions are the “the gold standard in ensuring free and fair elections,” which should therefore be allowed to observe the Dominica election (the USA does not invite the OAS to observe their elections nor allow them to audit American election results).

The American envoy ended his statement with the thinly veiled “welcom[ing of] the attention of the OAS member states to appreciate the tense political situation in Dominica surrounding the December 6 elections, and the decision of the Government of Dominica to hold these elections without implementing electoral reforms.”

Pause here for a moment, and think about the last USA Presidential elections: There seems to be bipartisan agreement by America’s Democratic and Republican Parties that there was fraud in that election, even if both sides disagree on where the fraud lies. 

The Democrats say, with some evidence, that the Russian government interfered with the election. President Trump counters that there were 3 million illegal votes cast for Democratic Candidate Hilary Clinton. 

With such an apparently flawed and disputed election, you’d think Almagro would be involved. You’d be wrong. However, if you want to hear his shrill warnings about Russian presence in Venezuela, there’s plenty of that]. 

The Foreign Minister of Dominica refuted the American allegations in her own statement to the OAS, and detailed her Prime Minister’s numerous attempts to clean up the voters list and implement electoral reforms – often over opposition objections – but it scarcely mattered. Between the OAS and the USA, the narrative of Dominican electoral fraud has been established.

Not coincidentally, another element was added to the mix: An Al Jazeera news special aired in the midst of the Dominican election campaign, suggesting all manner of fraud and corruption in the sale of diplomatic passports to unsavoury foreigners. Reporting that corrupt and shady characters are attracted to the unscrupulous hawking of passports and citizenship is as newsworthy as suggesting that bees are attracted to honey, or flies to faeces. But in specifically linking the sale of passports to the financing of Dominican elections, Al Jazeera buttressed the outsider interference by once again tying the words “Dominica” “elections” and “corruption” into a single, Google-friendly, search term.

So what do we have here on the eve of the Dominica election? Three public statements by the head of the OAS calling into question the legitimacy of the upcoming Dominican elections. A follow-up statement by a senior American diplomat doing the same thing. A riled-up opposition amplifying these statements, without proof. And a curiously-timed mass media report linking dodgy foreigners with the financing of election campaigns in Dominica. That’s a fertile and well-tilled soil for the seeds post-election mischief.

It’s not hard to imagine a defeated party challenging the results or validity of 6th December poll. It’s not hard to imagine the OAS either endorsing or amplifying those challenges, on the basis of its earlier statements. And it’s not hard to envisage externally orchestrated events to disrupt the constitutional order of Dominica and usher in a government that is more in tune with the OAS’ ideological leanings. The question is why. Why would Almagro busy himself with building a narrative about an illegitimate electoral process in Dominica? Why would the USA suddenly question the validity of the Dominican electoral process, when it is the same electoral process that accurately reflected the will of the people in eight post-independence elections, including the polls of 2000, 2005, 2009, and 2014?

Why would anyone buy into dark conspiracy theories about international interference in the elections of a tiny country of 70,000 people? Why now? The answers to those questions take you back to the OAS. With precious few exceptions, the OAS has been alarmingly predictable in who it sides with in electoral disputes or coup d’états. Governments characterized as “progressive,” “socialist,” or “leftist” almost always find themselves on the wrong end of OAS machinations. The OAS’ ability to spot and expose imagined left-wing electoral malfeasance is legendary. Its “see no evil, say no evil” response to obvious right wing abuses is similarly infamous.

In recent years, the defining battle of Luis Almagro’s tenure, and the clearest fault line among Member States, has been the extent to which the OAS should meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela. A sustained diplomatic effort to isolate and interfere in Venezuela – using military force if necessary – was the shared objective of Almagro and former-US National Security Adviser John Bolton. That push for military intervention has been thwarted time and again by a coalition of Latin American and Caribbean countries that have stood on the foundation tenets of international law – sovereign equality, non-intervention, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

In June 2017, Almagro endured his biggest diplomatic defeat when he shepherded a carefully-crafted resolution to the floor of the OAS General Assembly in Mexico. The resolution would have paved the road for intervention in Venezuela, and Almagro thought he had the votes to pass it. His well-laid plan failed spectacularly, not the least because of stout resistance by Dominica and other Caribbean countries.

Who were historically among the reliable votes opposing foreign intervention in Venezuela? Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (prematurely replaced by a right-wing President); Evo Morales of Bolivia (prematurely replaced by a right-wing interim President); and Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica (OAS interference currently in progress). After Dominica, Almagro’s electoral intervention campaign has a few more stops to make in the Caribbean. Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne is a self-described socialist, whose government has been consistently anti-intervention and whose Ambassador, Sir Ronald Saunders, recently called the OAS a “handmaiden to the tyranny of a minority” for its interventionist Venezuela positions.

Lucky for Prime Minister Browne, his elections aren’t due ‘til 2023. More immediate are the general elections in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, likely to take place sometime in 
Image result for OAS Latin america cartoons2020. The Vincentian government has been outspoken in its opposition to military intervention in Venezuela. Prime Minister Gonsalves also recently made history by steering Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council – the smallest nation ever to be elected to that powerful body.

In a country where three of the last five elections were determined by narrow one seat majorities, and where defeated opposition candidates have already unsuccessfully played the “stolen elections” card in the judicial system – the Vincentian 2020 elections seem tailor-made for the Almagro disinformation machine.

But there is hope. First, the people of Dominica may prove themselves impervious to OAS’ interference, and make up their minds on the basis of what is important to the people of Roseau, Portsmouth and Marigot, instead of those in Washington DC. Whatever the result of the Dominica elections, it would be refreshing to hear no further parroting of OAS propaganda in the lead up or aftermath.

Almagro, who is up for re-election shortly, may be judged and found wanting for his reckless interventionism. His replacement may be a more moderate and mature diplomat and return to the areas where the OAS enjoys widespread support – education, sustainable development, institution-building and poverty reduction. Also, the American Government may lose interest in the quagmire of regional disputes and focus its attentions elsewhere, freeing the OAS to perform tasks other than being an ideological attack dog.

The OAS’ 47-year isolation of Cuba was only lifted when President Obama signalled his intent to normalise relations with the Cuban government. Now that John Bolton has surrendered his post as National Adviser on Warmongering, President Trump may realign his diplomatic efforts toward the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East or China.

Finally, though, it is critical that the governments and peoples of the Caribbean clearly see the OAS for what it is, and what it has been. Far too often, we have viewed the OAS’ interventionism as a peculiarly Latin American phenomenon, unrelated to the vibrant democracies of the English-speaking Caribbean.

Vincentian warnings in recent years that the OAS will ultimately target a CARICOM state with its weapons of regime change were derided as alarmist fearmongering. But here we are. At the 2016 Cuba-CARICOM summit, then-President Raul Castro called the OAS “an instrument of imperialist domination.” He wasn’t lying. Nor was the Cuban Government lying in 2009 when it refused to re-join the OAS, stating:

“Today it can be understood more clearly than in 1962 that it is the OAS that is incompatible with the most pressing desires of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, that it is incapable of representing their values, interests and genuine yearning for democracy; it is the OAS that has been unable to solve the problems of inequality, disparities in wealth, corruption, foreign intervention, and the predatory actions of transnational capital. It is the OAS that has remained silent in the face of the most horrendous crimes, communes with the interests of imperialism, and conspires against and subverts governments genuinely and legitimately constituted with demonstrable popular support.”

It’s time we all wake up to that clear, present and dangerous reality.