MIAMI (AP) — An outside investigation determined that the head of the Organization of American States showed poor judgment by carrying out a romantic relationship with a younger staffer but didn’t favor her in any salary or personnel decisions, according to a copy of the review seen by The Associated Press.
The findings about Secretary General Luis Almagro’s conduct are contained in a 121-page report delivered Monday to OAS member states. And while it stopped short of clearing him of all the allegations, Almagro said the report represents closure to an issue that has divided regional governments along ideological lines and threatened to distract the democracy-building organization from its mission.
“At every moment I acted with maximum transparency, putting first the organization’s interests and respecting the norms,” Almagro said in a 10-page response that was included in the report, a copy of which was shared with the AP by someone who received it on the condition of anonymity because it hasn’t yet been made public.
The report was triggered after the AP last October revealed that the 59-year-old Almagro had a lengthy relationship with a Mexican staffer two decades his junior — a relationship that, while largely in the open, felt to some in the Washington-based organization like a throwback to an era of unbridled machismo in the workplace.
The probe, conducted by Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier, faulted Almagro for allowing the woman — who the AP isn’t naming at the OAS’ request — to call herself an “advisor” to the Secretary General, even though she didn’t report to him directly and such a title was restricted to a handful of senior aides.
The woman also accompanied Almagro on 42 of the 92 official trips he made during the roughly four years their romance lasted, generating the impression, both inside and outside the organization, that she was a trusted aide who enjoyed preferential treatment from the boss.
“The external investigation revealed that the Secretary General was aware of this and took no steps to prevent this perception to continue to expand,” the report said.
Still, the probe found no evidence that Almagro played a role in the woman’s pay increases — which were all commensurate with positive performance reviews, some from her time before dating Almagro.
Additionally, investigators said the couple took “due precautions” not to break any rules — even submitting in March 2022 a conflict-of-interest declaration stating that their relationship did not hinder their job duties. Shortly after, they broke up and the woman went on unpaid leave.
According to the report, Almagro interacted closely for the first time with the junior staffer at an event at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in March 2018 that she helped organize. A week after their return to Washington, he invited the woman to move to the OAS’ main building so that she could be detailed part-time to his staff — a request her supervisor did not consider unusual.
Shortly after, the two became romantically involved. Almagro, in consultation with an unnamed aide, determined that since he was not the woman’s direct supervisor, nor played any role in decisions about her promotions or salary, the relationship did not violate the OAS’ norms.
“From that moment on, the Secretary General established a sufficient hierarchical and administrative distance between himself and the OAS Official, in order not to fall into any violation – even inadvertently – of the norms that regulate intimate relationships,” the report concluded.
Almagro was elected to head the OAS with near-unanimous support in 2015 after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government. 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.
He was re-elected in 2020 and since then has faced numerous challenges from mostly leftist governments who criticized the key role he played in the messy election in Bolivia in 2019, which ended with Evo Morales’ resignation amid allegations of fraud by an OAS observer mission — findings that were later questioned by U.S. academics.
The Biden administration, which has mostly backed Almagro in the ideological tug-of-war, view him as a bulwark against a rise in authoritarian rule across Latin America. But privately many officials grumble about the cash-strapped organization’s recent drift and Almagro’s leadership style.
Frank Mora, the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, expressed support for the report’s findings, highlighting that Almagro had been cleared of breaking any rules or regulations on hiring, compensation, travel, or conflict of interest.
“Based on our initial read, the report appears to be thorough and fair,” he said in a written statement.
Mora did not address the separate findings that Almagro violated ethics provisions that staff should “always exercise common sense and good judgment” and that as head of the organization he should be held to an even higher standard.
But he expressed support for working with other members states to implement the report’s recommendations, including a call for the OAS to update its decade old ethics code and 2015 harassment policy, as well as broaden its regulation of workplace relationships.
“We look forward to hearing the views of other OAS Member States on this matter,” he added.
Mexico’s leftist government, which along with Argentina and Bolivia had called on Almagro to resign even before publication of the report, said the report makes clear that Almagro has abused his power inside the OAS.
“He’s causing damage,” Efraín Guadarrama, a senior foreign ministry official who directs Mexico’s participation in multilateral organizations, said in an interview. “This report makes clear that he doesn’t have the minimal essential qualifications to be secretary general.”
AP Writer Gisela Salomon contributed to this report from Miami. Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman