Probing error OAS Boss for Work Romance, finds no wrongdoing

MIAMI (AP) — An outside investigation found the head of the Organization of American States showed poor judgment by maintaining a romantic relationship with a younger employee but not favoring her in salary or hiring decisions, according to a copy of The review Associated Press seen.

Findings of Secretary-General Luis Almagro’s conduct are contained in a 121-page report sent to OAS member states on Monday. And while he was close to clearing him of all allegations, Almagro said the report represented the conclusion of an issue that has divided regional governments along ideological lines and threatened to distract the democracy-building organization from its mission.

“I acted with maximum transparency at every moment, putting the interests of the organization first and respecting the norms,” ​​Almagro said in a 10-page response that accompanied the report, from which someone who received it said gave a copy to AP on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been published.

The report was sparked after the AP revealed last October that Almagro, 59, had been in a long-term relationship with a Mexican collaborator two decades his junior – a relationship which, while largely open, has turned out to be frustrating for some at the Washington-based organization felt like a throwback to an era of unbridled machismo in the workplace.

The investigation, conducted by Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier, accused Almagro of allowing the woman – who the AP does not name at the request of the OAS – to call herself “adviser” to the secretary general, even though she did not do it directly subordinate, and such a title was limited to a handful of high-ranking employees.

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The woman also accompanied Almagro on 42 of the 92 business trips he made over the roughly four years of their romance, and gave the impression, both inside and outside the organization, that she was a trusted associate who received preferential treatment from the boss.

“The external investigation concluded that the Secretary-General was aware of this and took no steps to prevent this perception from spreading further,” the report said.

Still, the investigation found no evidence that Almagro played a role in the woman’s pay increases — which all matched positive performance reviews, some from her time before dating Almagro.

Additionally, investigators said the couple took “reasonable precautions” not to break any rules — even filing a conflict of interest statement in March 2022, saying their relationship did not interfere with their professional duties. Shortly thereafter, they separated, and the woman went on unpaid leave.

According to the report, Almagro first interacted closely with the young talent in March 2018 at an event she co-organized at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. A week after her return to Washington, he invited the woman to move into the OAS headquarters so she could be assigned part-time to his staff – a request her boss didn’t think was unusual.

Shortly thereafter, the two became romantically involved. Almagro, in consultation with an unnamed employee, determined that the relationship did not violate OAS norms because he was not the woman’s direct supervisor, nor had a role in decisions about her promotion or salary.

“From that moment on, the Secretary-General established sufficient hierarchical and administrative distance between himself and the OAS officer not to violate, even inadvertently, the norms governing intimate relationships,” the report concluded.

Almagro was elected chair of the OAS in 2015 with near-unanimous support after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s left-wing government. From the start, Almagro made common cause with the US by opposing the socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela, even at one point emulating President Donald J. Trump’s line that he used military force to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro would not rule out.

Re-elected in 2020, he has since faced numerous challenges from mostly left-wing governments, which have criticized his key role in Bolivia’s chaotic 2019 elections, which ended with the resignation of Evo Morales amid allegations of fraud by an OAS observer mission – findings later published by US scientists were questioned.

The Biden administration, which has largely backed Almagro in the ideological tug-of-war, sees him as a bulwark against a rise in authoritarian rule across Latin America. But privately, many officials have grumbled about the recent development of the financially troubled organization and Almagro’s leadership style.

Frank Mora, the US Ambassador to the OAS, expressed his support for the report’s findings, stressing that Almagro was cleared of violating any rule or regulation related to hiring, compensation, travel or conflicts of interest.

“Based on our initial reading, the report appears thorough and fair,” he said in a written statement.

Mora did not address the separate findings that Almagro violated ethical codes that employees should “always exercise common sense and good judgment” and that he should be held to an even higher standard as leader of the organization.

However, he expressed support for working with other member states to implement the report’s recommendations, including a call for the OAS to update its decades-old code of ethics and its 2015 Harassment Policy, as well as expand its regulation of workplace relations.

“We look forward to hearing the views of other OAS member states on this matter,” he added.

Mexico’s left-wing government, which along with Argentina and Bolivia had called for Almagro’s resignation before the report was published, said the report made clear that Almagro had abused his power within the OAS.

“He’s doing harm,” Efraín Guadarrama, a senior State Department official who oversees Mexico’s involvement in multilateral organizations, said in an interview. “This report makes it clear that he does not have the minimum qualifications required to become Secretary-General.”

AP writer Gisela Salomon contributed to this report from Miami. Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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