Investigation into Organization of American States boss finds relationship with staff member may have breached code of ethics

MIAMI (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States is facing an internal investigation into allegations that he had a consensual relationship with a staffer who may have violated the organization’s code of ethics, a learned the Associated Press.

News of the investigation into a relationship between General Secretary Luis Almagro and a Mexican-born woman two decades his junior emerged as Almagro and delegates from 34 countries gathered in the Peruvian capital this week for the annual meeting of the OAS.

But within the Washington-based peace and democracy-building organization, their longtime romance is an open secret, which has made some of its 600 employees feel uncomfortable and intimidated to interact with the boss’ alleged lover, according to half a dozen people, including current and former staff members as well as regional diplomats.

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Two said they saw the two kissing by the pool during the OAS General Assembly in Medellin, Colombia in 2019. Another person described them holding hands during a meeting in his office in the summer of 2020. A former U.S. official said the OAS chief told him the relationship was what caused his separation from his second wife upon his re-election in 2020.

At issue are OAS ethics guidelines which state that staff members should not have intimate relationships with colleagues in a way that interferes
“with the performance of their duties or disadvantage others in the workplace”. It states that a manager must remove themselves from any role that supervises the other person or that benefits the person in any way.

Almagro, 59, declined repeated requests from the AP for comment. But an OAS spokesperson denied that Almagro had ever been the woman’s supervisor, saying that since 2019 she had worked at the OAS Secretariat for Strengthening Democracy.

“Almagro has never been involved in decisions regarding this staff member’s interests within the OAS,” spokesman Gonzalo Espariz said in an email.

However, in several online biographies as well as photos with Almagro as recently as March, some of which were posted on OAS social media accounts, the woman is described as a “counsellor” or sometimes a “counsellor Principal” of the Secretary General.

After the AP contacted the woman at her OAS email, her LinkedIn profile was changed to reflect that she no longer serves as an advisor to the organization. The OAS press office said she had been on unpaid leave since June and did not say why.

The woman, who was not named at the request of the OAS and because the investigation is ongoing, also declined to comment. But she was quoted at length about her “very deep and very intense” connection with her boss in a biography of Almagro published in late 2020 in her native Uruguay.

“I always tell him. “I’m smarter because it didn’t take me more than thirty-eight years to get to know you, it took you about fifty years,” she told the book’s authors.

In the biography titled “Luis Almagro Does Not Ask For Pardon,” the OAS chief hesitated when asked about the young staffer, instead quoting a line from legendary Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario: “ With graying hair, I approach the rose bushes in the garden.”
Almagro also said that “the female gender” had been a “very important driver” fueling his professional ambitions over the years.

The revelations from the investigation come less than two weeks after another US-dominated regional organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, fired its chairman, former White House official Mauricio Claver-Carone, for similar allegations of favoring a subordinate with whom he allegedly had an intimate relationship.

Unlike the IDB, which hired an outside law firm to investigate Claver-Carone’s relationship with his chief of staff, the OAS appears to be handling the matter internally.

The OAS inspector general told the AP he decided to look into the matter after receiving a vaguely detailed anonymous complaint from Almagro on June 3 alleging an intimate relationship with an unnamed staff member. In the internal watchdog’s latest activity report of July 31, the matter was referenced only as “Alleged misconduct by a senior OAS official.”

Almagro was elected to lead the OAS with near unanimous support in 2015 after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government. And throughout his tenure, he faced questions about his leadership style.

From the start, Almagro made common cause with the United States in opposing the socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela, even once emulating President Donald J. Trump’s line that he would not rule out using the military force to impeach Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro – a stance rebuked even by conservative US allies.

Almagro also played a key role in the resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019 following a messy election that an OAS mission found was marred by fraud – findings that were later called into question. by American scholars.

During the OAS General Assembly in Lima this week, Almagro championed the creation of “safe spaces” for women and girls in the Americas, sending out a tweet that depicted him surrounded by two dozen women.

“We must stand firm,” it reads, “in our commitment to dismantling the remnants of patriarchy that seek only to stifle women’s talent, knowledge and experience.”

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