Organization of American States

The Organization of American States (OAS, or, as it is known in the three other official languages, OEA) is an international organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States.[1] Its members are the thirty-five independent states of the American Continent, although Honduras was suspended as a result of the June 28, 2009 coup d’état that expelled President Manuel Zelaya from office.[2]

History

The notion of closer hemispheric union in America was first put forward by Simón Bolívar[3] who, at the 1826 Congress of Panama, proposed creating a league of American republics, with a common military, a mutual defense pact, and a supranational parliamentary assembly. This meeting was attended by representatives of Gran Colombia (comprising the modern-day nations of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela), Peru, the United Provinces of Central America, and Mexico, but the grandly titled "Treaty of Union, League, and Perpetual Confederation" was ultimately only ratified by Gran Colombia. Bolívar's dream soon floundered with civil war in Gran Colombia, the disintegration of Central America, and the emergence of national rather than continental outlooks in the newly independent American republics. Bolívar's dream of American unity was meant to unify Latin American nations against imperial domination by external power.

The pursuit of regional solidarity and cooperation again came to the forefront in 1889–90, at the First International Conference of American States. Gathered together in Washington, D.C., 18 nations resolved to found the International Union of American Republics, served by a permanent secretariat called the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics (renamed the "International Commercial Bureau" at the Second International Conference in 1901–02). These two bodies, in existence as of 14 April 1890, represent the point of inception to which today's OAS and its General Secretariat trace their origins.

At the Fourth International Conference of American States (Buenos Aires, 1910), the name of the organization was changed to the "Union of American Republics" and the Bureau became the "Pan American Union".

The experience of World War II convinced hemispheric governments that unilateral action could not ensure the territorial integrity of the American nations in the event of extra-continental aggression. To meet the challenges of global conflict in the postwar world and to contain conflicts within the hemisphere, they adopted a system of collective security, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro.

The Ninth International Conference of American States was held in Bogotá between March and May 1948 and led by United States Secretary of State George Marshall, a meeting which led to a pledge by members to fight communism in America. This was the event that saw the birth of the OAS as it stands today, with the signature by 21 American countries of the Charter of the Organization of American States on 30 April 1948 (in effect since December 1951). The meeting also adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the world's first general human rights instrument.

The transition from the Pan American Union to OAS was smooth. The Director General of the former, Alberto Lleras Camargo, became the Organization's first Secretary General. The current Secretary General is former Chilean foreign minister José Miguel Insulza.

Significant milestones in the history of the OAS since the signing of the Charter have included the following:

Goals and purpose

Pan American Union (building)
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
OAS headquarters building in Washington, D.C.
Location: 17th Street NW between C Street NW and Constitution Avenue, NW.
Washington, D.C.
Architect: Paul P. Cret
Added to NRHP: 4 June 1969
NRHP Reference#: 69000298

In the words of Article 1 of the Charter, the goal of the member nations in creating the OAS was "to achieve an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence." Article 2 then defines eight essential purposes:

  • To strengthen the peace and security of the continents.
  • To promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.
  • To prevent possible causes of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the member states.
  • To provide for common action on the part of those states in the event of aggression.
  • To seek the solution of political, judicial, and economic problems that may arise among them
  • To promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social, and cultural development.
  • To eradicate extreme poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere.
  • To achieve an effective limitation of conventional weapons that will make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of the member states.

Over the course of the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, the return to democracy in Latin America, and the thrust toward globalization, the OAS made major efforts to reinvent itself to fit the new context. Its stated priorities now include the following:

  • Strengthening democracy: Between 1962 and 2002, the Organization sent multinational observation missions to oversee free and fair elections in the member states on more than 100 occasions. The OAS also works to strengthen national and local government and electoral agencies, to promote democratic practices and values, and to help countries detect and defuse official corruption.
  • Working for peace: Special OAS missions have supported peace processes in Nicaragua, Suriname, Haiti, and Guatemala. The Organization has played a leading part in the removal of landmines deployed in the Americas and it has led negotiations to resolve the continent's remaining border disputes (Guatemala/Belize; Peru/Ecuador). Work is also underway on the construction of a common inter-American counter-terrorism front.
  • Defending human rights: The agencies of the inter-American human rights system provide a venue for the denunciation and resolution of human rights violations in individual cases. They also monitor and report on the general human rights situation in the member states.
  • Fostering free trade: The OAS is one of the three agencies currently engaged in drafting a treaty that will establish a hemispheric free trade area from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
  • Fighting the drugs trade: The Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission was established in 1986 to coordinate efforts and crossborder cooperation in this area.
  • Promoting sustainable development: The goal of the OAS's Inter-American Council for Integral Development is to promote economic development and combating poverty. OAS technical cooperation programs address such areas as river basin management, the conservation of biodiversity, preservation of cultural diversity, planning for global climate change, sustainable tourism, and natural disaster mitigation.

Article 19 of the OAS Charter prohibits any State from interfering with the internal or external affairs of a member state. Article 21 prohibits any State from the military occupation—even temporarily—of a Member State's territory. The Charter subscribes to international law but goes further, saying that Charter rights depend not on power but follow from the existence of the state. The United States is signatory to the OAS Charter, meaning that the U.S. (like other Members) is legally bound by Article 19, 21, and other Charter provisions. [See Membership].

There is an increasing perception that the OAS is biased toward US concerns and influence in non-US states and countries. For example, Article 19 prohibits interfering with member states but does not prohibit interference with non-member states. This effectively forces third world nations to join the OAS by coercion and threat of US interference. There is currently an effort in South American countries including Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador to create a new body that represents the South American countries in a more equitable manner and is not based in Washington, DC.

Organizational structure

The OAS is composed of a General Secretariat (GS/OAS), the Permanent Council, the Inter-American Council for Integral Development, and a number of committees, including:

  • The Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs
  • The Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Affairs
  • The Committee on Hemispheric Security
  • The Committee on Inter-American Summits Management and Civil Society Participation in OAS Activities