Features — 24 March 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Ambassador Mendez gears up to tackle hemispheric priorities

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 19, 2015–Belize’s OAS Ambassador Nestor Mendez was back at work today, at the Embassy of Belize in Washington, after having enjoyed a successful bid for the second highest executive post in the Organization of American States – the post of Assistant Secretary General — yesterday, Wednesday.

Speaking with us in an interview today, Ambassador Mendez told us that his priority on assuming office at the OAS in just a few months would be giving immediate attention to the management- modernization of the OAS, which is already underway, as well as rebuilding trust with member states.

“There are many places in the Americas where there are social conflicts brewing, and the OAS has the capacity to bring a facilitative role. They do that if requested,” Mendez said, adding that, “These are the things that we will have to look at very closely.”

He notes, though, that the Secretary General is the one who sets the direction of the OAS from the macro-perspective, but he will be working closely along with the new Secretary General, Luis Almagro of Uruguay (the country which had established a pact with Belize for mutual support in Wednesday’s election), to establish a singular vision for implementation at the OAS.

One of the questions raised by Belizeans is what Mendez’s accession to the second highest rank at the OAS Secretariat will mean for the facilitation process which the OAS has led between Belize and Guatemala. Mendez said that the office of Assistant Secretary General is not involved in the facilitation process; it is the office of the Secretary General that has that mandate, and the Secretary General has a special envoy who deals with the Belize and Guatemala issue. However, he cannot say whether Almagro, the new Secretary General, will take a different approach.

Mendez highlighted the fact that the OAS has been involved in much more than dealing with contentious issues, such as the Belize-Guatemala issue. One of those areas where the OAS has had direct involvement in Belize was the observation of the 2012 dual elections. He said that in various countries across the hemisphere, the OAS has done “a tremendous job” in this regard, although he believes that there is space for expanding its role in what is done with the OAS recommendations coming out of those electoral missions. Mendez pointed to a meeting held last week at the OAS, where people who have been involved for a long time in election observer missions convened to discuss best practices.

Belize is one of the several countries where a local OAS office is located, headed by a country representative. He said that these local offices can do a lot to change the conversation about the OAS. Mendez said that because the organization has been going consistently through such a severe financial crunch, some member states say the funds invested in the maintenance of national offices could be better utilized for other activities; however, as he said in his presentation to OAS member states in the run-up to the elections, a major reason why these local OAS offices may not be delivering substantial results could be that the OAS Secretariat has not articulated a clear vision for what it is that they should be doing.

Mendez’s candidacy was supported by 24 of 34 OAS member states, including Venezuela, the United States and a majority of countries in the two regions to which Belize belongs: Central America and the Caribbean.

Mendez told us that he is extremely grateful for the support he received from the Government of Belize, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, the entire staff of the Foreign Affairs Ministry and countless Belizeans, including the Belizean community in the US, which showered him with an outpouring of support, and Belizeans who expressed their support through social media. He said that it was a national effort that secured his win at the OAS on Wednesday.

“It really is overwhelming in a good way and very humbling,” he said.

Ambassador Mendez, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, told us that he will formally begin working as Assistant Secretary General of the OAS after outgoing Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, departs in the last week of July.

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