U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau


DECEMBER 1, 1994

Organization of American States


The Organization of American States (OAS) is the world's oldest regional organization. It dates back to the First International Conference of American States, which was held in Washington, DC, in April 1890. This conference founded the International Union of American Republics and also established a Commercial Bureau, which acted as the Union's secretariat. In 1910, the International Union became the Union of American Republics and the Commercial Bureau, the Pan American Union.

The OAS Charter was signed in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948 and entered into force December 1951. It has been amended twice: first, through the Protocol of Buenos Aires in 1970, and later by the Protocol of Cartagena de Indias in November 1988. The latter marked the beginning of modernizing and strengthening the organization.

The OAS has 35 member states. It has granted permanent observer status to 32 states. The Holy See and the European Union also are permanent observers.

U.S. Policy

The U.S. is committed to strengthening and working with the OAS as the pre-eminent hemispheric institution. 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.

The most elemental and historic U.S. interest in the Western Hemisphere- -shared by virtually all hemisphere states--is to prevent military, political, or other intervention 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;

-- Drug control;

-- Environmental protection;

-- Legal development;

-- Economic assistance and technical cooperation;

-- Trade; and

-- Economic integration and development.

Since 1990, the U.S. has paid its full assessed quota to the OAS. For FY 1996, the Administration seeks full funding of the U.S. quota assessment to the OAS.

OAS Objectives

The OAS is a natural forum for the Western Hemisphere's dialogue on political, economic, social, educational, cultural, scientific, and technological matters. Its objectives are to:

-- Strengthen the peace and security of the continent;

-- Promote democracy, with due respect for the principle of non- intervention;

-- Seek solutions to hemispheric political, juridical, and economic problems;

-- Promote cooperative economic, social, and cultural development; and

-- Fight drug-trafficking and abuse.

Maintaining Peace

The OAS has a long, prestigious tradition of defending and maintaining peace in the hemisphere. For example, the OAS helped demobilize more than 22,000 members of the former Nicaraguan Resistance. Currently, it is repatriating 18,000 relatives of former combatants and providing conditions that will enable them to be fully incorporated into civilian life.

Promoting Democracy

The OAS plays a constructive role in promoting democracy in the hemisphere. Since 1989, upon explicit requests from respective governments, the Secretary General has established civilian OAS missions to observe electoral processes in Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Suriname, and Paraguay. OAS observers also were present at elections in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

The OAS strongly condemned the September 1991 coup, which interrupted the democratic political institutional process in Haiti. It forged hemispheric and world consensus on the need to restore democracy in Haiti and called for a commercial embargo, dispatched human rights monitors, coordinated humanitarian assistance, and consistently strove to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Development Cooperation

The OAS is a forum through which the hemisphere discusses the following development issues:

-- Reducing poverty and unemployment;

-- Defending social justice;

-- Incentives for investment and economic growth;

-- Liberalizing trade; and

-- Alleviating the external debt burden.

The General Secretariat supports national and multinational development programs and projects in member states. OAS-supported projects are requested by the respective governments. (###)

Organization The OAS accomplishes its objectives through the following organs:

-- General Assembly;

-- Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs;

-- Councils--Permanent Council, Inter-American Economic and Social Council, and Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture;

-- Inter-American Juridical Committee;

-- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;

-- General Secretariat;

-- Specialized organizations--Inter-American Commission of Women, Inter-American Children's Institute, Inter-American Indian Institute, Pan American Institute of Geography and History, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture; and the Pan American Health Organization; and

-- Other entities--Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, Inter-American Defense Board, Inter- American Defense College, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Development Foundation, Inter-American Commission on Telecommunications.

OAS Members(1)
Antigua and Barbuda
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
St Kitts and Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United States

(1) With the entry of Canada (1990), Belize (1991), and Guyana (1991), all sovereign states of the Western Hemisphere are OAS members. Cuba is a member, although its present government has been excluded from participation since 1962 for incompatibility with the principles of the OAS Charter.


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