Clinton calls on OAS to reform

LIMA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday called on the Organization of American States to readmit Honduras and make swift fiscal reforms, saying it was on an unsustainable path.

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Clinton told the OAS General Assembly in Peru the 35-member group suffered a “proliferation of priorities and mandates that dilute its efforts, drain its budget, and diminish its capacity” and needed to refocus on basic tasks such as monitoring elections.

“We all know that the OAS has not always lived up to its founding ideals. We all know there is serious work to be done to bolster the institution,” Clinton said.

She said divisions over Honduras following the 2009 coup which toppled President Manuel Zelaya showed how urgently the OAS needed to address its internal issues.

The OAS suspended Honduras after the coup, which many in the region saw as an unacceptable reminder of Latin America’s history of unconstitutional government take-overs.

They have also demanded that Zelaya, who now lives in the Dominican Republic and could face corruption charges in Honduras, be allowed to return to the country without fear.

The United States joined in condemnation of the coup, but helped to broker elections which later brought President Porfirio Lobo to power. Clinton argued that his government has shown sufficient commitment to democracy to be reinstated.

“Now it is time for the hemisphere as a whole to move forward and welcome Honduras back into the Inter-American community,” Clinton said. “At the same time we must find ways to address conditions like that led to the coup in Honduras before they turn into crises.”

Clinton’s call has already been rejected by several Latin American nations, which argue that Lobo’s government has its roots in a coup.

Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the situation in Honduras “put the Inter-American order at risk which had been built with so much effort over these past years.”

“My government cannot recognize the new government in Honduras while there are violations against human rights,” Patino told the OAS assembly.

Clinton also warned the group on its financial situation, which she said needed to be rectified by the time the next budget discussions begin in September.

“We must work together to reform the OAS budget and take responsibility. The current path is fiscally unsustainable and threatens the viability of the organization itself,” she said.

The United States contributes almost 60 percent of the OAS estimated $100 million budget. Clinton said President Barack Obama had asked Congress to approve a three percent rise this year and other countries should follow suit.

The Obama administration has battled perceptions in Latin America that early vows of close cooperation have failed to materialize along with pledges to liberalize treatment of Cuba and to review immigration laws.

The Rio Group, which includes regional giants Mexico and Brazil, agreed in February to form a new Latin American group that could eventually be an alternative to the OAS, which could weaken U.S. influence in the region.