Frank Mora, a Miami native and the new U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Americas States, wants to make the organization “even more relevant” amid the “increasing erosion” of the democratic system in Latin America and the Caribbean, he told journalists on Thursday, discarding the possibility that the autocratic governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua would return to the organization anytime soon.
Mora said the three governments have vacant seats in the organization. Still, if current members follow the InterAmerican Democracy Charter — a set of commitments to uphold democracy in the region — “countries where these types of regimes exist should not have a presence in the OAS if we are going to be consistent.”
The U.S. ambassador insisted that the 34-member organization is the only regional multilateral organization with representatives from democratically elected governments and with an infrastructure strong enough to tackle some of the most urgent challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean, including climate change, recovery from the COVID pandemic and providing food.
He also said the OAS would prioritize its electoral observation missions in an effort to strengthen democracy in the region.
Mora is a well-known member of the Cuban-American community in Miami, where he has been an active member of Democratic Party campaigns and was former director of Florida International University’s Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center. He also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere during the Obama administration between 2009–13 and was a professor at the Department of National Security Strategy at the National War College.
Mora declined to comment on controversial issues, including the ongoing ethics inquiry into the organization’s secretary general, Luis Almagro, for an alleged relationship with a staff member, and Mora’s own protracted confirmation in the U.S. Senate.
He was confirmed as ambassador in December, almost a year and a half after his nomination in August 2021. Despite his foreign policy credentials, his nomination was held up in the Senate for several months by Cuban-American Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., for his role in supporting Obama’s engagement policies with Cuba.
His predecessor as OAS ambassador, former Florida state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, also a Cuban American, left the position in early 2021, and some senators refused to fill the position even when the Biden administration hosted a Summit of the Americas in June last year, a regular gathering that is co-organized by the OAS.
Mora takes the U.S. seat at the OAS at a time the organization’s leadership is being challenged by alternative regional gatherings like CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a mechanism promoted by some of the region’s dictatorships like Cuba and Venezuela. In a session last week in Argentina, CELAC welcomed back two regional heavyweights, Brazil and Colombia, after elections in both countries favored left-leaning candidates.
But Mora said the OAS offers real integration and a strong commitment to democratic values.
“There is no other organization that works so closely together, collaborating despite our differences,” he said. “There are, of course, differences, but there is a common purpose; there is a commitment to defend the values of democracy and respect human rights. And that is unique.”