Org. Of American States Boss Faces Probe Over Relationship

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, second from the left, waves as he stands with the leaders and representatives of the countries of the Organisation of American States during a group photo during the 52nd OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, second from the left, waves as he stands with the leaders and representatives of the countries of the Organisation of American States during a group photo during the 52nd OAS General Assembly in Lima, Peru, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Pardo)
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MIAMI (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States is facing an internal investigation into allegations he carried on an intimate relationship with a staffer that may have violated the organization’s code of ethics, The Associated Press has learned.

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

But inside the Washington-based peace and democracy-building organization, their long-running romance has been an open secret, one that made some of its 600 employees feel uncomfortable and intimidated interacting with the boss’ alleged paramour, according to a half-dozen individuals, including current and former staffers as well as regional diplomats.

Two said they saw the two kissing poolside at the OAS General Assembly in Medellin, Colombia, in 2019. Another individual described them holding hands at a meeting in his office in the summer of 2020. A former U.S. official said he was told by the OAS chief that the relationship was what prompted his separation from his second wife around the time of his re-election in 2020.

At issue are OAS ethics guidelines that say staff members must not have intimate relationships with colleagues in a way that interferes "with the performance of their duties or to disadvantage others in the workplace.” It dictates that a manager must back out of any supervisory role of the other individual or that benefits the person in any way.

The 59-year-old Almagro declined repeated requests from the AP to comment. But an OAS spokesman denied Almagro was ever the woman’s supervisor, saying that since 2019 she’s worked in the OAS’ Secretariat for Strengthening Democracy.

“Almagro never took part in any decisions regarding this staff member’s interests within the OAS,” spokesman Gonzalo Espariz said in a email.

However, in several online bios as well as in photos with Almagro as recently as March, 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.

After the AP contacted the woman at her OAS email, her LinkedIn profile was modified to reflect the she is no longer serving as an advisor to the organization. The OAS press office said she has been on unpaid leave since June and didn't say why.

The woman, who is not being 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 his native Uruguay.

“I always tell him. ’I am more intelligent because it took me no more than thirty-eight years to get to know you, it took you about fifty-something,’” she told the book’s authors Gonzalo Ferreira and Martin Natalevich.

In the biography titled “Luis Almagro Doesn’t Ask For Forgiveness," the OAS chief demurred when asked about the younger staffer, instead citing a verse from legendary Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario: “With graying hair I approach the rose bushes in the garden.”

Almagro also said “the female sex” had been a “very important engine” fueling his professional ambitions over the years.

Revelations of the investigation come less than two weeks after another U.S.-dominated regional organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, fired its president, former White House official Mauricio Claver-Carone, over similar allegations of favoring a subordinate with whom he allegedly had an intimate relationship.

Unlike at the IDB, which hired an outside law firm to probe 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 that it decided to look into the matter after Almagro forwarded a loosely detailed anonymous complaint June 3 alleging an intimate relationship with an unnamed staffer. As of the internal watchdog’s latest activity report July 31, the matter was referenced as “Alleged Misconduct of Senior OAS Staff Member.”

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

From the start, Almagro made common cause with the U.S. in opposing Cuba and Venezuela’s socialist governments, once even mimicking President Donald J. Trump’s line that he wouldn’t rule out using military force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — a position rebuked even by conservative U.S. allies.

Almagro also played a key role in Bolivian President Evo Morales’ resignation in 2019 following a messy election that an OAS mission said was marred by fraud — findings that were later questioned by U.S. academics.

At 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 pictured him surrounded by two-dozen women.

“We must remain steadfast,” it read, “in our commitment to dismantle the remnants of the patriarchy which only seek to suffocate female talent, knowledge & experience.”

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Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.