Organization of American States

I INTRODUCTION

Organization of American States (OAS), also known as Organización de Los Estados Americanos (OEA), a regional alliance comprising the autonomous nations of the Americas. The OAS was founded on April 30, 1948, by 21 nations at the Ninth Inter-American Conference, held in Bogotá, Colombia, and came into effect on December 13, 1951; membership presently stands at 35 nations (2001). The organization is an outgrowth of the International Union of American Republics, founded in 1890 at the First International Conference of American States held in Washington, D.C., and the Commercial Bureau of American Republics (later renamed the Pan American Union), also founded in 1890.

II PURPOSES

The main purposes of the OAS, as described in its charter, are “(1) to strengthen the peace and security of the continent; (2) to promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the policy of non-intervention; (3) to prevent possible causes of difficulties and to ensure the pacific settlement of disputes that may arise among the member states; (4) to provide for common action on the part of those states in the event of aggression; (5) to seek the solution of political, juridical, and economic problems that may arise among them; (6) to promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social, and cultural development; and (7) 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”.

The charter of the OAS has been amended on four different occasions: by the Protocol of Buenos Aires, signed in 1967 and in force since 1970; the Protocol of Cartagena de Indias, approved in 1985 and in force since 1989; the Protocol of Washington, approved in 1992 and in force since 1997; and the Protocol of Managua, approved in 1993 but still not fully ratified by 2001. In 1998 the OAS drafted a protocol calling for the progressive elimination of the death penalty by its members.

The amendments were designed to further economic development and integration among the nations of the hemisphere; to promote and defend representative democracy; to help overcome poverty, and to render more effective the provision of technical cooperation. The Protocol of Washington stated as one of the main purposes of the OAS “to eradicate extreme poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere”.

III STRUCTURE

The OAS functions through eight major organs: (1) the general assembly; (2) the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs; (3) the Councils (Permanent Council; Inter-American Council for Integral Development); (4) the Inter-American Juridical Committee; (5) the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; (6) the general secretariat; (7) the Specialized Conferences; and (8) the Specialized Organizations.

The secretary general directs the general secretariat and is its legal representative. The secretary-general is elected by the General Assembly for a five-year term and cannot be elected for more than two terms. The seat of the general secretariat is in Washington, D.C. The secretariat also has offices in the member states.

IV MEMBERSHIP

The founding members of the OAS are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The other members joined as follows: Antigua and Barbuda (1981), Commonwealth of the Bahamas (1982), Barbados (1967), Belize (1991), Canada (1989), Dominica (1979), Grenada (1975), Guyana (1991), Jamaica (1969), St Lucia (1979), St Vincent and the Grenadines (1981), Federation of St Kitts and Nevis (1984), Suriname (1977), and Trinidad and Tobago (1967).

A mutual defence treaty signed on 2 September 1947 in Rio de Janeiro (the Rio Treaty) laid the foundation for security relations among OAS member states, although several conflicts have occurred between member countries over security issues. In 1962 Cuba was suspended from the organization when it refused to remove Soviet missiles from its territory; although Cuba nominally remains a member of OAS, it may not vote or participate in its activities. During 1980 and 1981, several members advocated imposing sanctions against Nicaragua for alleged interference in other OAS countries, although no formal action was taken. In 1989 the OAS condemned the United States invasion of Panama and called for the withdrawal of United States forces. In September 1991 the OAS imposed a trade embargo on Haiti after the deposition of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Similar sanctions were also implemented in Peru (1992), Guatemala (1993), and Paraguay (1996). Other significant landmarks in 1996 included the founding of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (a body designed to harmonize economic development in the region and to combat poverty, and which replaced both the Inter-American Economic and Social Council and the Inter-American Council for Education, Science, and Culture) and the signing of an anti-corruption treaty. The latter was followed in 1997 by the signing of the American treaty to combat illegal arms trafficking and production. In order to further strengthen democracy among member states, an Inter-American Democratic Charter was adopted in 2001.