OAS boss traveled with female aide at center of ethics probe
MIAMI (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States made almost three dozen work trips with a female staffer with whom he maintained a long-running intimate relationship, according to travel records uncovered by The Associated Press.
The revelations come as an external probe is expected to wrap up this month looking into whether OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s romance with the Mexican staffer two decades his junior violated the Washington-based group’s ethics code.
The trips together, all but one between July 2018 and December 2019, included a four-day visit to Oxford, England to deliver a talk on Latin America, a newspaper publishers’ conference in the historic Colombian city of Cartagena and a quick jaunt to Miami to receive the “Executive Mastermind Latino” award.
Listings of the trips were found in publicly available reports the secretary general files periodically with the OAS’ permanent council and which are buried deep in the organization’s website.
It’s not clear how much the travel cost the OAS, which has been struggling with a deep budget crunch for years. But at least 21 of the 34 trips were paid in part of full by the organization, with payment for the remainder covered by organizers of events the two attended or not specified. In all, the couple traveled 15 times together without any other OAS staffer listed as present, according to the records.
Almagro, through a spokesman, declined an AP request for an interview and didn’t explain why the two made so many work trips together, but denied wrongdoing.
“The secretary general stands by all previous statements issued on this matter that no OAS rules were violated at any time due to the measures he and his team took to ensure all regulations were complied with,” spokesman Gonzalo Espariz said in a written statement.
The AP last year was the first to report that the OAS was investigating the long-running office romance between Almagro and the staffer, which had been something of an open secret inside the peace and democracy-building organization made up of 34 western hemisphere governments.
The report led the Biden administration, the biggest donor to the OAS, to call for an external investigation into possible misconduct. A few weeks later, the OAS’ Permanent Council hired a Washington law firm, Miller & Chevalier Chartered, to carry out the probe and deliver its findings by the end of March.
Almagro, 59, was quick to welcome the oversight even while steadfastly denying he had broken any rules. He said he wasn’t the woman’s supervisor, never benefitted her in any way and said their long-running relationship was consensual.
“I definitely want to confirm, reconfirm and super-confirm that this relationship existed” for three years, Almagro said in November. “None of this changes my vision of the institution, its operations and the responsibility we have with respect to them.”
In online bios as well as in photos with Almagro as recently as a year ago, some of them posted to the OAS’ social media accounts, the woman is described as an “adviser” or sometimes “head adviser” to the secretary general. The woman, who is not being named at the request of the OAS, has been on unpaid leave at her request since June, according to the OAS. She did not respond to AP requests for comment.
At issue are OAS ethics guidelines that bar staff members from having intimate relationships with colleagues they supervise or in a way that interferes “with the performance of their duties or to disadvantage others in the workplace.”
Details on Almagro’s extensive travel are contained in reports the secretary general was asked to file quarterly with the OAS’ Permanent Council as part of a savings and transparency initiative approved by regional governments in 2016.
Almagro didn’t appear to submit any reports in 2020 and 2021 – a period that coincided with the worst of the COVID pandemic, when travel throughout the world was largely suspended.
But the couple – whose relationship Almagro says has since ended -- appear to have made their last trip together in February 2022 to New Haven, Connecticut, for a Latin American leadership event at Yale University.
Espariz declined to explain why Almagro did not file travel reports from 2020 and 2021, and whether there were additional trips with the woman.
The U.S., which has contributed about half of the organization’s $100 million in funding in 2022, declined to comment on the trips. But the Biden administration has repeatedly said it takes allegations of ethics violations at the OAS seriously and said it supports a fair, impartial review of the facts.
Almagro was elected to head the OAS in 2015 after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government. Once installed, he quickly made common cause with the U.S. in opposing Cuba and Venezuela’s socialist government, once even echoing President Donald J. Trump’s line that he wouldn’t rule out using military force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Almagro was re-elected with the support of 23 of 34 member states, including the U.S., in 2020, overcoming questions about his leadership style that have dogged his tenure.
But more recently, as the left has regained power across Latin America, calls for his removal have been growing louder.
A few weeks after the AP reported on the romance between Almagro and the staffer, in October 2022, members of the so-called Puebla Group in Latin America issued a statement calling for his removal. Signed by former presidents and political leaders from 16 countries, the document criticized his “amoral” conduct, including the firing of the leader of the human rights watchdog, and his intervention following messy elections in Bolivia that led to President Evo Morales’ resignation.
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