U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Organization of American States
Headquarters: Washington, DC.
Established: April 14, 1890, as the International Union of American
Republics. Became the Pan American Union in 1910, then the Organization
of American States in 1948 with the adoption of the OAS Charter in
Purposes: To strengthen peace and security in the hemisphere, promote
representative democracy, ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes
among members, provide for common action in the event of aggression, and
promote economic, social, and cultural development.
Members: 35--Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados,
Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba(1),
Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala,
Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,
Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,
Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, and
Permanent Observers: 31--Algeria, Angola, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus,
Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, European Union, Finland, France, Germany,
Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of
Korea, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania,
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Ukraine.
Official Languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Principal Organs: General Assembly; Meeting of Consultation of Foreign
Ministers; Permanent Council; Inter-American Economic and Social Council
(CIES); Inter-American Council for Education, Science, and Culture
(CIECC); Inter-American Juridical Committee; Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights (IACHR); and the General Secretariat.
Specialized Organizations: Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM);
Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI); Inter-American Indian
Institute (IAII); Pan American Institute for Geography and History
(PAIGH); Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA);
and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Other Entities: Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Inter-American
Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD); Inter-American Defense Board
(IADB); Inter-American Defense College (IADC); Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB); the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).
Budget (1994): Regular fund (operations): $69 million, financed by
assessed contributions from all members. The U.S. share is 59%.
Voluntary funds: $23 million, financed by contributions from all member
states (the U.S. provides $11 million), some permanent observers,
international financial institutions, and development agencies.
(1) Cuba is a member, although it has been excluded from participation
since 1962 for incompatibility with the principles of the OAS Charter.
The Organization of American States, the oldest regional international
organization in the world, traces its origins to the Congress of Panama,
convoked by Simon Bolivar in 1826 and attended by representatives from
Central and South America. That congress drafted the Treaty of
Perpetual Union, League and Confederation, signed by the delegates but
ratified only by Gran Colombia (today's Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and
Hemispheric countries continued the discussion of an inter-American
system, and the first concrete step was taken in 1889, when the First
International Conference of American States convened in Washington, DC.
Delegates agreed to create, on April 14, 1890, the International Union
of American Republics "for the prompt collection and distribution of
commercial information." The agreement also established the Commercial
Bureau of the American Republics in Washington as the union's
secretariat, with the participation of 18 Western Hemisphere nations,
including the United States. In 1910, the Commercial Bureau became the
Pan American Union, and American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated
$5 million to construct a permanent head-quarters in Washington, DC.
Despite progress toward regional solidarity, it became clear that
unilateral action could not ensure the territorial integrity of the
American nations in the event of extra-continental aggression, such as
occurred in World War II. To meet the challenges of global conflict in
the post-war world, nations of the hemisphere adopted a system of
collective security, the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance
(Rio Treaty) signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro.
The OAS Charter was adopted at the Ninth International Conference of
American states in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948. It reaffirmed the
fundamental rights and duties of states, proclaimed the goals of the new
organization, and established its organs and agencies. That conference
also approved the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogota)
and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The OAS
Charter proclaims it to be a regional agency within the UN system.
Concern over slow economic development led the United States and 19
other OAS members to establish the Inter-American Development Bank in
1959. This reflected concern that the World Bank (which included Latin
American countries in its list of eligible borrowers) was preoccupied
with infrastructure and not sufficiently attuned to the need for
"social" lending as well as industrial and agricultural aid. In 1960,
the OAS produced the Act of Bogota, which called for a hemisphere-wide
commitment to economic and social development. That set the stage for
OAS support for the Alliance for Progress.
The 1948 OAS Charter has been amended twice: by the 1967 Protocol of
Buenos Aires, which went into effect in February 1970, and by the 1985
Protocol of Cartagena, which took effect in November 1988. Further
amendments, incorporated in the Protocol of Washington (December 1992)
and the Protocol of Managua (June 1993), have not yet taken effect.
The first protocol created the annual General Assembly and gave equal
status to the Permanent Council, the Economic and Social Council, and
the Council for Education, Science, and Culture. The second group of
amendments strengthened the role of the Secretary General, provided
procedures for facilitating peaceful settlement of disputes, removed
obstacles to the entry of Belize and Guyana, and called for
strengthening economic and social development by measures to increase
trade, enhance international financial cooperation, diversify exports,
and promote export opportunities.
The third set of amendments (Washington Protocol), when ratified by two-
thirds of the member states, will add a new article permitting the
suspension of a member whose democratically constituted government is
overthrown by force. It will also amend existing articles to include
the eradication of extreme poverty as one of the organization's
essential purposes. The fourth set of amendments, when ratified, will
create an Inter-American Council for Integral Development to replace the
Economic and Social Council and the Council for Education, Science, and
Culture. The new council is intended to improve delivery of technical
cooperation, thereby helping eliminate extreme poverty.
The basic objectives of the OAS, as laid out in its charter, are to
strengthen peace and security; to promote the effective exercise of
representative democracy; to ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes
among members; to provide for common action in the event of aggression;
to seek solutions to political, juridical, and economic problems that
may arise; to promote, by cooperative action, economic, social,
educational, scientific, and cultural development; and to limit
conventional weapons so as to devote greater resources to economic and
The promotion of peace and democracy are thus core OAS concerns. To
that effect, the OAS has observed elections in El Salvador, Haiti,
Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and, most
recently, in the Dominican Republic for the controversial May 16, 1994,
Following the 1990 elections in Nicaragua, the OAS took primary
responsibility for the voluntary repatriation and resettlement of the
former Contras. On Haiti, the OAS forged the hemispheric consensus on
the need to restore democracy there. The OAS called for a commercial
embargo, sent in human rights monitors, coordinated humanitarian
assistance, and strove consistently to negotiate a peaceful solution.
OAS contributions in the fields of international law, juridical
cooperation, legal development, and facilitation of regional trade have
been substantial and have provided the basis for effective observance of
a host of regional treaties concluded since 1889.
As it enters its second century, the OAS is strengthening its efforts to
promote and consolidate democracy. The Unit for Democracy and highly
successful election observation missions set the stage for broadened
human rights work, a regional program to fight drug abuse and
trafficking, and the first hemisphere-wide environmental action plan.
The OAS is also playing a supportive role in trade expansion and
The organization's new Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, is dedicated to
expanding its range of activities. Gaviria, who served as President of
Colombia from 1990 to 1994, became the first sitting president to be
elected OAS Secretary General. He brings to the job strong leadership
skills and creativity that he demonstrated as Colombia's head of state.
U.S. POLICY TOWARD THE OAS
The U.S. is committed to strengthening and working with the OAS. This
reflects the U.S. Government's determination to make optimal use of
multilateral diplomacy to resolve regional problems and to engage its
neighbors on topics of hemispheric concern. As President Clinton said
in announcing the Summit of the Americas on March 11, 1994:
We've arrived at a moment of very great promise and great hope for the
Western Hemisphere. Democratic values are ascendant. Our economies are
growing and becoming more intertwined every day through trade and
investment. Now we have a unique opportunity to build a community of
free nations, diverse in culture and history, but bound together by a
commitment to responsive and free government, vibrant civil societies,
open economies, and rising living standards for all our people.
The most elemental and historic U.S. interest in the Western Hemisphere-
-shared by virtually all hemispheric states--is to prevent interventions
of any sort by states outside the hemisphere. A second fundamental
interest shared by the U.S. and other nations is the maintenance of
peace among the states of the hemisphere. The OAS provides a means to
promote the consolidation of democracy with due regard for the charter
principle of non-intervention.
All OAS members share a common concern for democracy, economic
development, and human rights. Major U.S. interests and objectives in
the hemisphere coincide with the goals and work of the OAS: The
promotion and strengthening of democracy and human rights, narcotics
control, environmental protection, legal development, economic
assistance and technical cooperation, and trade and economic integration
and development. Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, speaking at the OAS
General Assembly in Belem, Brazil, on June 6, 1994, said, "We all agree
that the natural vehicle for enhancing this cooperation is the
Organization of American States."
OAS AND U.S. OFFICIALS
Secretary General--Cesar Gaviria Trujillo (Colombia), elected to five-
year term in 1994.
Assistant Secretary General--Christopher R. Thomas (Trinidad and
Tobago), elected to five-year term in 1990.
Address--Organization of American States, 17th St. and Constitution
Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-458-3000).
U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS--Ambassador Harriet C. Babbitt,
sworn in April 12, 1993.
Address--U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS, ARA/USOAS, Rm. 6494, U.S.
Department of State, Washington, DC 20520 (tel. 202-647-9376).
In a speech in Mexico City on May 9, 1994, Secretary Christopher noted
The movement to democracy in Latin America is a great epic of the late
20th century. It is not captured in any single image as indelible as
the fall of the Berlin Wall or the sight of South Africans marking their
ballots and claiming their freedom. But democracy's victories in this
hemisphere, from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, to Nicaragua, El
Salvador, and Guatemala, are just as vital to the cause of liberty.
The 1991 OAS General Assembly created an unprecedented automatic
mechanism, known as Resolution 1080, to deter illegal action against
democratically elected governments. This resolution authorizes the
Secretary General to convene the Permanent Council and then hemispheric
foreign ministers within 10 days after a coup or other interruption of a
legitimate, elected government.
This was followed by the December 1992 adoption of a charter amendment
which, when it takes effect upon ratification by two-thirds of the OAS
members, allows for suspension from participation in OAS policy bodies
of any member country in which a democratically elected government is
overthrown by force.
Resolution 1080 has been applied three times: following the coup in
Haiti in 1991 and the "auto-coups" in Peru in 1992 and Guatemala in
In Haiti, the OAS was deeply engaged in seeking a peaceful solution to
the crisis since the September 30, 1991, coup that sent President
Aristide into exile. OAS foreign ministers met in October 1991 and
called for the political and economic isolation of the de facto regime.
The ministers asked Secretary General Baena Soares to lead several high-
level missions to Haiti to bring both sides together in a dialogue to
resolve the crisis. In continuing efforts in this regard, the OAS
played an important role along with the UN in the international
mediation effort which culminated in the Governors Island agreement, the
recognized framework for resolving the political impasse in Haiti. The
OAS and UN created a joint International Civilian Mission (ICM) to
monitor the human rights situation in Haiti. As the Governors Island
process stalled, due to the failure of the military leaders to carry out
their obligations, the OAS held special meetings of foreign ministers in
1993 and 1994 to increase pressure against the de facto regime.
The OAS recommended a full commercial embargo against Haiti two years
before the UN and also lead the way in calling for suspension of air
transportation links to the island nation. The OAS meeting of foreign
ministers on Haiti, meeting in Belem, Brazil, in June 1994, called on
member states to support the reconfiguration of the UN Mission in Haiti
(UNMIH) and to provide assistance to Haitians fleeing human rights
violations in their country.
In Peru, President Fujimori's April 5, 1992, announcement of extra-
constitutional measures led to the second use of Resolution 1080. The
OAS Permanent Council called for the immediate "reinstatement of
democratic institutions and respect for human rights under the rule of
law." In the second use of Resolution 1080, the hemisphere's foreign
ministers met April 13, 1992, called for the re-establishment of
democratic institutional order in Peru, and asked the Secretary General
to head a small mission of foreign ministers to travel to Peru to bring
about a dialogue between the authorities and the other political forces
in that country.
In May 1992, President Fujimori traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, to attend
the second session of the OAS foreign ministers' meeting on Peru, where
he told them he would call elections for a constituent congress to
exercise legislative powers and to draft a new constitution. The OAS
sent over 200 observers to monitor those elections, held November 22,
1992, as well as a small team for the municipal elections on January 29,
1993. The OAS closely monitored the elections. Although there were
occasional irregularities as well as some violence aimed at disrupting
the electoral process, the elections were considered generally free and
fair. Following election of the constituent congress and in view of
expected continued OAS assistance to modernize electoral procedures in
Peru, OAS foreign ministers decided in December 1992 to close their
meeting on Peru.
In the third use of Resolution 1080, a May 26, 1993, Permanent Council
session convoked an ad hoc meeting of foreign ministers (MFM) on
Guatemala in Washington on June 3, in response to then-President
Serrano's suspension of constitutional democracy on May 25. The MFM
strongly condemned Serrano's actions, called for the immediate re-
establishment of constitutional democracy in Guatemala and sent
Secretary General Baena Soares to Guatemala. The MFM was to reconvene
in Managua on June 7 to consider what further action to take. Instead,
Baena Soares reported on the Guatemalan Congress's election of Ramiro de
Leon Carpio as President, replacing Serrano. President de Leon flew to
Managua June 8 to address the General Assembly to express appreciation
for the forthright OAS action that had been a major factor in bringing
about the prompt restoration of constitutional democracy in Guatemala.
The OAS has become one of the leading organizations in the hemisphere in
election observation. As a multilateral organization, OAS observers are
often able to establish closer relationships with and gain greater
access to political and electoral institutions than other observer
groups can. The OAS, in addition, has been able to organize larger
electoral missions and keep observers on the ground longer than other
The 1990 Nicaraguan elections were the first the OAS observed in a
systematic way. OAS monitoring of that election helped increase
confidence in the process and encouraged all parties to accept the final
results. While the OAS, at the request of the host government
concerned, had sent small teams of elections observers throughout the
hemisphere, the magnitude and scope of the mission in Nicaragua--more
than 433 observers and an OAS presence six months before the elections
and for weeks afterward--suggested the need to institutionalize OAS
support for democracy.
To develop lessons learned in these observations, the OAS set up a
democracy unit in the OAS Secretariat in 1991. That unit was
responsible for, among other activities, organizing the recent
observation of the 1994 Dominican elections. The OAS sent a 27-person
team to observe the May 16 elections, which were characterized by
reports of widespread disenfranchisement that prejudiced opposition
leader Jose Francisco Pena Gomez. The OAS kept observers in the
Dominican Republic for three months to help the Dominicans find a
solution to the political crisis caused by doubts over the accuracy of
the official election results, which had given President Joaquin
Balaguer a slight edge. OAS mediators helped broker a solution that led
to an agreement to hold new elections within two years.
PEACE-KEEPING AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Peaceful settlement of disputes is central to the OAS under its own
mandate and is consistent with the UN Charter. In border conflict
situations, beyond actual intervention, the very existence of the OAS
and the possibility that it might take action tends to have a chilling
effect on any unilateral resort to force. For example,
-- In 1981, Peru and Ecuador announced a cessation of their border
conflict at an OAS meeting convened for the purpose of considering that
-- In 1988, a naval incident between Colombia and Venezuela was defused
following a public appeal by the OAS Secretary General and special
sessions of the Permanent Council; and
-- In 1989, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago died in a shooting
incident between a Trinidadian fishing trawler and a Venezuelan national
guard patrol boat. At the request of the two governments, the OAS
Secretary General appointed three experts, whose recommendations led to
a solution accepted by both sides.
In the 1960s and 1970s, OAS peace-keeping took several forms:
-- In 1964, in response to proof of Cuban support for revolutionary
groups in Venezuela, the OAS voted that members should break diplomatic
relations with Cuba;
-- In the Dominican Republic in May 1965, the OAS played the central
peace-keeping role, creating an Inter-American peace force for the first
time. After elections in June 1966, the force was withdrawn;
-- The OAS provided the framework and impetus for resolution of a 1969
border conflict (called the "Soccer War") between Honduras and El
Salvador, including border-inspection forces in 1969-70 and for the four
years following a recurrence of tensions in 1976; and
-- In 1978, the OAS responded to Costa Rican allegations of border
violations by Nicaragua by creating a committee of civilian observers to
monitor the border. In 1978, the OAS also sought to arrange the
peaceful departure of dictator Anastasio Somoza from Nicaragua and his
replacement by a democratic government, but the effort failed in the
face of Somoza's determination to stay in power. The following year,
however, as armed resistance against Somoza mounted, an OAS resolution
called for replacement of the Somoza regime by a democratic government.
During the tense pre-election period in 1989, OAS monitoring in
Nicaragua contributed decisively to the fairness of the February 25,
1990, elections. The presence of impartial OAS observers gave voters
confidence and assured that the results would be respected.
In response to requests from incoming President Violeta Chamorro and
outgoing President Daniel Ortega, Secretary General Baena Soares kept
OAS observers in Nicaragua after the election. Meanwhile, he and UN
Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar negotiated terms of reference
for their organizations to implement the joint verification and support
commission (CIAV) called for by the Central American presidents to
verify compliance with the Tela and subsequent agreements. Under CIAV
auspices, the OAS has assisted more than 100,000 people (former
combatants and their families) and monitored and sought to protect their
In response to a Nicaraguan Government request, the June 1993 General
Assembly extended CIAV activities for two more years and expanded its
mandate to include displaced persons and former members of the
Nicaraguan army. Months later, CIAV played a leading role in obtaining
the release of hostages taken by rebel groups in two separate but
OAS support for the peace process and democracy in Suriname began in
1991 with the fielding of a 40-person delegation to observe the National
Assembly elections. In 1992, the OAS assisted in the negotiations
between the government and illegally armed groups. In line with a
settlement reached in August 1992, an OAS mission helped collect and
destroy weapons from armed groups that had operated throughout
Suriname's rural areas. In 1993 and 1994, the OAS monitored compliance
with the peace accord and assisted in the removal of land mines.
The Washington Protocol, signed on February 23, 1992, called for the
deployment of an OAS civilian presence in Haiti to facilitate the
restoration of democracy in that island nation. Further talks in
September 1992 resulted in the deployment to Haiti of OAS/DEMOC, a small
civilian mission tasked with working with democratic institutions in the
country. That presence was greatly expanded when former Argentine
Foreign Minister Dante Caputo, serving as a special envoy of both the
OAS and UN Secretaries General, attained agreement for a joint OAS/UN
International Civilian Mission (ICM). Between January 1993 and July
1994, the OAS deployed over 100 human rights monitors throughout Haiti,
with permanent offices in each of Haiti's nine provinces. They,
together with a small number of UN observers, investigated and reported
on incidents of abuse of human rights, as well as carrying out civic
education programs. Their very presence had the effect of easing
tensions, particularly in rural areas.
The ICM was withdrawn from Haiti from October 1993 to January 1994, due
to the deterioration of the security situation. In July 1994, in an
attempt to diminish the international spotlight on the military's
increasing human rights abuses, the Haitian de facto regime ordered the
ICM to leave Haiti. ICM members began returning to Haiti in October
1994 following the return of President Aristide.
HUMAN RIGHTS: THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
Located in Washington, DC, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) is distinguished from other multilateral organizations' human
rights entities by its political autonomy. Its seven commission members
are elected in their own right, not as representatives of governments.
IACHR autonomy is further enhanced by its prerogative to initiate human
rights investigations without the approval of the Secretary General or
the Permanent Council.
Human rights in the inter-American system are based on the 1948 American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American
Convention on Human Rights. The United States signed the American
Convention on Human Rights in 1977; ratification is under study.
The IACHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights--located in San Jose,
Costa Rica--give the OAS an active and, at times, forceful role in
promoting and protecting human rights. Through both private persuasion
and published reports on human rights infringements, the IACHR has been
instrumental in improving OAS members' human rights practices and has
helped to resolve conflicts.
The IACHR's annual report has chapters on human rights problems in
general, individual cases, and country status reports. The IACHR also
publishes special reports, which have been effective in challenging
abuses in specific countries. Its continuing special on-site reports on
the situation of human rights in Haiti have kept the international
spotlight focused on the dire human rights situation there and have been
praised by local Haitian NGOs. The IACHR played a key role in the 1989
release of almost 2,000 political prisoners held by the Sandinista
regime in Nicaragua.
The IACHR's membership is: Oscar Lujan Fappiano (Argentina); Patrick L.
Robinson (Jamaica); Leo Valladares Lanza (Honduras); Alvaro Tirado Mejia
(Colombia); Claudio Grossman (Chile); John Donaldson (Trinidad and
Tobago); and W. Michael Reisman (U.S.).
FIGHTING DRUG ABUSE AND TRAFFICKING
The OAS narcotics program was launched at the first Western Hemisphere
meeting to deal with all aspects of the drug problem--the Inter-American
Specialized Conference on Traffic in Narcotic Drugs in April 1986. In
accordance with the program of action adopted at that meeting, the OAS
General Assembly in November 1986 created the Inter-American Drug Abuse
Control Commission (CICAD), which meets twice a year to direct the
program and assess the drug situation in the hemisphere. Originally
composed of 11 member governments, the commission has been expanded to
24 because of growing interest in the program and concern about the drug
The first projects were implemented in 1988. The program has identified
five priority lines of action: Development of domestic and
international law, education for prevention, mobilization of the private
sector, establishment of an inter-American drug information system, and
The OAS program has produced notable results:
-- At the April 1990 ministerial meeting on narcotics in Ixtapa,
Mexico, top officials from throughout the hemisphere, including the U.S.
Attorney General, took several actions in the area of legal development,
including approval of model regulations on the control of precursor and
-- The 1992 OAS General Assembly approved model regulations on money
laundering and asset forfeiture. The OAS is carrying out training
programs to help governments adopt and implement these regulations as
well as the 1990 regulations on precursor chemicals.
-- Under a hemisphere plan of action for cooperation in drug abuse
prevention education approved in June 1990, Central American governments
are implementing a regional program with OAS technical support, and the
Andean countries are planning theirs.
-- In late 1993 and early 1994, CICAD launched a project aimed at
strengthening the ability of governments to stop the international trade
in firearms intended for narco-traffickers.
-- CICAD's efforts to mobilize private groups and community
organizations were boosted by the first multilateral teleconference on
public and private sector cooperation for drug abuse prevention in 1990
and a multi-sector conference on strategies for mass media campaigns in
-- In 1993 and 1994, CICAD carried out an intensive review of
hemispheric strategies against drug trafficking and abuse. As a result,
the commission approved a new high-priority program area: the
strengthening of the national commissions or other bodies tasked with
developing policy and coordinating drug programs.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
For 25 years, the OAS has actively helped member states incorporate
environmental considerations into development projects. International
development institutions have recognized the organization's in-house
expertise and leadership role, and a number of these institutions have
undertaken cooperative initiatives with the OAS or contracted the OAS to
serve as an executing agency for their environmental projects.
During the 1960s, OAS technical services concentrated on the survey,
evaluation, and development of natural resources. In the 1970s, the
scope was expanded to include the principal components of regional
development, such as socio-economic analysis, preparation of regional
strategies for development, project formulation, environmental
management, and institutional development. In the 1980s, special
emphasis was placed upon multinational projects involving the management
and conservation of natural resources, preservation of tourism areas and
national parks, development of river basins and border regions, and
mitigation of natural hazards.
The 1991 General Assembly approved the first hemispheric program of
action for environmental protection. It provides a non-binding
framework that identifies objectives and recommends specific measures to
member states for regional cooperation.
The General Secretariat is the permanent and central organ of the OAS,
executing programs and policies decided upon by the General Assembly and
the three councils. Directed by the Secretary General, it occupies a
key position within the inter-American system and serves the entire
organization and all member states. The Secretary General and the
Assistant Secretary General are elected by the General Assembly for
five-year terms. They can be re-elected once and cannot be succeeded by
a person of the same nationality.
Senior secretariat officials appointed by the Secretary General include
the executive secretaries of CIES, CIECC, and the drug abuse control
commission (CICAD), the legal adviser, the assistant secretary for
management, and the executive director of the human rights commission.
Secretariat personnel conduct the activities of the democracy unit and
serve as the staff for the commissions, councils, and other bodies.
The staff of the General Secretariat is composed of personnel chosen
mainly from the member states, with consideration given to geographic
representation. Staff members, numbering about 700, are considered
international civil servants. The OAS Secretariat also maintains a
small office in most member states.
The General Assembly is the supreme organ of the OAS. It holds a
regular session each year, either in one of the member states or at
headquarters in Washington, DC. In special circumstances, and with the
approval of two-thirds of the member states, the Permanent Council can
convoke a special session of the General Assembly. Delegations are
usually headed by foreign ministers. In addition to deliberating on
current issues, the General Assembly approves the program and budget;
sets the bases for fixing member-state quota assessments; establishes
measures for coordinating the activities of the organs, agencies, and
entities of the OAS; and determines the general standards that govern
the operation of the General Secretariat. General Assembly decisions
usually take the form of resolutions, which must be approved by a
majority vote of all members (two-thirds for agenda, budget and certain
A consultation meeting of foreign ministers can be called by any member
state, either "to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common
interest to the American States" (OAS Charter) or to serve as an organ
of consultation in cases of armed attack or other threats to
international peace and security (Rio Treaty). In either case, the
request must be directed to the Permanent Council of the OAS, which
decides by absolute majority vote if the meeting is to be called. In
cases between member states, the affected parties are excluded from
voting. Should an armed attack take place within the territory of an
American state or within the Western Hemisphere security zone defined by
the Rio Treaty, a meeting of consultation is held without delay. Until
the ministers of foreign affairs can assemble, the Permanent Council is
empowered to act as a provisional organ of consultation and make
The Permanent Council, composed of ambassadors representing each member
state, usually meets every two weeks throughout the year in Washington,
DC. The council, its four standing committees, and special working
groups conduct the day-to-day business of the OAS, which involves
implementing mandates from the General Assemblies, designing and
assessing activities to promote democracy and strengthen human rights,
considering requests from members, debating and approving resolutions on
current issues, and dealing with reports from subsidiary organs.
In an emergency, a special session of the council can be called
immediately by its chairman or at the request of any member. The chair
rotates every three months, in alphabetical order. Unlike the UN
Security Council, no member can exercise a veto in the Permanent
Council. Many OAS members place great importance upon obtaining
consensus before decisions are made. The Permanent Council also serves
provisionally as the organ of consultation (for meetings of foreign
ministers) and every year acts as the preparatory committee for the
The Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES)(1) founded in
1945, is one of the permanent organs, under provisions of the 1948
charter. It promotes cooperation among the nations of the Americas in
pursuit of rapid economic and social development. CIES oversees
technical assistance provided to member countries by the OAS
Secretariat. Its recent projects include improvement of development
finance administration; trade development and facilitation; skills
training; small business assistance; development of border regions and
river basins; natural resource development and environmental management;
and planning to mitigate damage caused by natural disasters.
CIES manages the OAS trade information service known as SICE, which
makes trade information available in a coherent, easy-to-use data bank.
Designed to promote economic growth through trade facilitation, SICE
consists of 29 databases, which include current trade statistics, import
tariffs, trade regulations, and lists of potential buyers and sellers.
The 1993 General Assembly, reflecting new economic and trade realities
in the hemisphere, as well as the organization's increased membership,
created a Special Committee on Trade to facilitate consultations on
trade policy issues. The committee, which serves as an informational
forum and clearing house on trade liberalization and integration efforts
in the hemisphere, held its first meeting in May 1994. The United
States is represented on the committee by Deputy U.S. Trade
Representative Charlene Barshefsky.
The Inter-American Council for Education, Science, and Culture
(CIECC)(1) was established by the resolution of Maracay in 1968 to
advance regional integration and contribute to the development of the
(1) 1 When the Protocol of Managua charter amendments are ratified,
the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES) and the Inter-
American Council for Education, Science, and Culture (CIECC) will be
replaced by a single body, the new Inter-American Council for Integral
Development. This new council will have overall responsibility for
coordinating all development assistance, a move expected to improve
cooperation and to attract greater financial support from donor
countries and international development institutions.
Starting in 1990, CIECC began to implement the new priority
multinational projects in basic education, education for work, materials
technology, biotechnology and food, environment and natural resources,
micro-electronics and informatics, preservation and use of cultural
heritage, and cultural policies. Apart from the multinational aspect,
these projects must have a strong training component and seek to build
the infrastructure of the country.
CIECC manages an $8-million annual graduate fellowship program. More
than 80,000 students from the hemisphere have benefited from CIECC and
related fellowship programs. The program effectively has created a
network of specialists working in government or cooperation agencies, as
well as in private business.
Specialized Organizations And Other Entities
Much important inter-American business is conducted under separate
entities, some of which are independent, some fully or partially funded
by the OAS, and others consisting simply of periodic hemispheric
meetings which receive support from the OAS Secretariat. Subjects
covered include agriculture, labor, copyrights, private international
law, highways, ports and harbors, railways, telecommunications, health
and sanitation, statistics, travel, child welfare, Indian affairs, and
tourism. The conferences are attended by high-level officials and
technical experts to further inter-American cooperation in these fields.
The Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI), with headquarters in
Montevideo, Uruguay, is concerned with the problems of mothers,
adolescents and families, including growing numbers of "street
children." It serves as a center for social action and programs in the
fields of health, education, social legislation, legislation on
adoptions, social service, and statistics. IACI has contributed
extensively to international jurisprudence in the field of family law;
the most recent example of this work is model legislation on
The Inter-American Commission on Women (CIM), established in 1928, was
the first international organization focusing on women's issues. It
works to extend the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural
rights of women in the hemisphere. Since its founding, women have
gained full political rights in every member country. Now concerned
with women's integration into development and decisionmaking processes,
recent CIM research and seminars have focused on women and politics
(1988), women and employment (1989), and violence against women (1990).
The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) was created during World War II
to plan and coordinate collective hemispheric defense. In 1993, it
arranged for training by the U.S. Department of Defense of a team of 15
de-mining instructors from Latin American nations, who, in turn,
instructed members of the Nicaraguan military on techniques for removing
thousands of landmines left in the countryside as a result of civil
conflict during the 1980s. In October 1994, the IADB began training
programs in Honduras to extend de-mining there and in Costa Rica.
The Inter-American Defense College (IADC), supervised by the IADB,
enhances military professionalism and promotes regional military
cooperation. The college usually trains about 60 students per year,
most of whom are field-grade officers, who attain leadership positions
in their respective services.
Other entities in the inter-American system are financed outside the OAS
budget. Except for the PADF, which relies heavily on private-sector
contributions, and the IDB, which has significant financial support from
non-hemispheric members, the U.S. quota assessment is, as for the OAS
itself, roughly 60%.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the first of the regional
development banks, was established in 1959 as a result of deliberations
in the OAS to provide lending attuned to the development needs of Latin
America and the Caribbean. In addition to nations of the hemisphere, 15
European nations plus Japan and Israel are now members, but only Latin
American and Caribbean members are eligible borrowers. The IDB's
ordinary capital window provides development funds at market-related
terms, while its Fund for Special Operations offers financing at
concessional terms for projects in countries classified as economically
The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA),
headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, assists member states in
promoting rural development to advance the well-being and progress of
entire populations. By strengthening national agricultural
institutional systems, IICA supports efforts to increase agricultural
productivity, employment opportunities in rural sectors, and rural
participation in development activities. IICA has an excellent record
in preventing the spread of threatening animal and plant diseases and in
helping members develop food production.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is also the Western
Hemisphere arm of the UN World Health Organization (WHO). It works
closely with member countries to coordinate hemispheric efforts to
combat disease and promote physical and mental health. It has
contributed significantly to eradicating communicable diseases and
promoting improved sanitation and health conditions.
The Pan American Institute for Geography and History (PAIGH) encourages
the coordination, standardization, and publication of regional
geographic, historical, cartographic, and geophysical studies. Member
countries receive information and technical assistance to locate and
develop their natural resources. The PAIGH preserves and documents
historical data through research and publication. It also facilitates
cooperative relationships between U.S. agencies and other countries in
such vital areas as aviation safety.
The Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII), headquartered in Mexico
City, initiates, coordinates, and directs research to promote better
understanding of the health, education, and economic and social problems
of Indian populations. It provides technical assistance for programs of
Indian community development, trains personnel in agriculture and
marketing, and provides scientific information on Indians of the
Americas. It serves as an excellent vehicle for cooperation among
countries of the hemisphere with substantial Indian populations.
The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is a unique quasi-public
international organization which, although it was created by the OAS,
receives more than half its financial support from U.S. corporations and
other private sources. PADF has channeled more than $100 million into
development projects that mobilize private sector support in recipient
countries. It also coordinates disaster relief. The PADF qualifies for
charitable donations under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code Section
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