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Latin America: Spectator or actor in international organizations?

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World Tourism Organization
Written by Galileo Violini

The unjustified advance of the date and the impossibility for many Ministers of Tourism to travel to Madrid, transfers the representation of the member states to their ambassadors in the election of the next Secretary General for the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). With UNWTO headquartered in Madrid, Spain, this favors the current Secretary General, since not all countries have a resident ambassador in Spain, so those that are already in Spain start the voting with an unfair heavy lead.

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The post-pandemic recovery plans in Latin America have some pillars. Among them the recovery of tourism. This is a global problem due to the air transport crisis. It would be illusory to think that it can be solved with bilateral actions. An important role can be played by the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) founded in 1974 and to which 19 Latin American countries joined from the beginning.

This organization is on the eve of electing its Secretary General. The role that the organization will play in the post-pandemic world recovery requires that s/he be a person of great credibility and prestige.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has not allowed the process to be followed with due attention, but there are some elements that governments leading the fight against abuse and corruption cannot ignore.

A modification of the electoral calendar, originally justified by the scheduled date for the important FITUR Fair in Madrid, has been maintained despite the pandemic having caused that Fair’s postponement until May. This, interpreted by many as aimed to exclude the presentation of strong alternative candidacies, has not prevented a small Gulf State – Bahrain – from presenting one that has already had some support in 2 of the 5 Latin American country members of the Executive Council of the UNWTO.

The unjustified advance of the date and the impossibility for many Ministers of Tourism to travel to Madrid, would transfer the representation of the member states to their ambassadors. This favors the current Secretary General, since not all countries have a resident ambassador in Spain and personal relationships can lead by secret ballot to express votes in contrast to the indications and official positions of the represented country.

Sustaining by the current Secretary General the decision to vote in January has been criticized in an open letter by the last two General Secretaries of the UNWTO. The unusualness of an intervention of this nature, even in diplomatically correct language, is conclusive proof of the seriousness of the case.

The current Secretary General’s campaign has been criticized with greater weight due to the unusual nature of the problem and with the accusation of having used institutional opportunities of the organization for his campaign, preferentially visiting the member countries of the UNWTO Executive Council and taking advantage of these selective visits for promises and commitments in case of re-election.

Latin America holds the presidency of the Council through Chile, a country with one of the greatest traditions of rejection of corruption and second on the list of the perception of corruption on the continent. Such an image cannot be tainted as rumors suggest that it has received significant promises.

Latin America has an important minority from the geographical area of the alternative candidate. Its maximum expression has been on several occasions even the highest magistracy in the country. This may be a source of sympathy for the candidacy of HE Mai Al Khalifa, but it is not a political criterion.

What it is, is to affirm the need for this appointment to be transparent, neat, and without doubts about behaviors that may affect the image not only of an organization but of the United Nations system. The last few years have been difficult for the United Nations both at the level of the UN itself and of organizations such as UNESCO and the WHO.

There is no need for a hasty election to add one more organization to that list, and time would also allow for the appreciation of the eventual foundation of the criticisms mentioned. This should also be in the interest of the outgoing Secretary General.

Latin America has always been very cohesive in the UNWTO as can be seen from the cases of shared election of its representative members in the Executive Council. It can play an important role in this choice, and it is in its interest not to be a passive bystander. This is true for the member countries of the Executive Council as well as for those that currently are not.

The World Tourism Network called for Decency in the UNWTO Elections and its campaign has gained worldwide support.


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About the author

Galileo Violini