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

U.S. Department of State
96/02/16 Fact Sheet: Organization of American States
Published by the Bureau of Public Affairs

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, 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 in 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.

In 1994, the OAS member states elected as their new Secretary General former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria. Secretary General Gaviria has made clear his interest in making the OAS an activist, modern international player.

The OAS has 35 member states. It has granted permanent observer status to 36 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.

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;

-- Promote and protect human rights, primarily through the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights;

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

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

-- Provide information and technical support for requesting countries in hemispheric trade integration; 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 helping to reintegrate into civilian life former combatants and people displaced by the war in Nicaragua.

Promoting Democracy

The OAS plays an important role in the promotion and protection of democracy throughout the hemisphere. The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, established in 1990, provides a range of services, including election assistance and observation, assistance to legislative institutions, and support for programs of civic education. Since 1989, OAS missions have observed elections in close to one-third of the OAS member countries.

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, called for a commercial embargo, dispatched human rights monitors, coordinated humanitarian assistance, and consistently strove to negotiate a peaceful solution. The OAS observed the legislative and local elections in 1995. The OAS remains very active in observing human rights in Haiti through its International Civilian Mission (ICM).

During 1996, the OAS is expected to observe elections in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Suriname.

Development Cooperation

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

-- Reducing poverty and unemployment;

-- Supporting education;

-- Defending social justice;

-- Incentives for investment and economic growth;

-- Liberalizing trade; and

-- Promoting rational use of natural resources and preservation of the environment.

The General Secretariat supports national and multinational development programs and projects in member states. The OAS recently reformed its procedures for administering voluntary assistance by amending its charter through the Managua Protocol.

Summit of the Americas Implementation

The 34 heads of state and government who participated in the Summit of the Americas in Miami, Florida, December 9-11, 1994, called on the OAS to assist summit governments in implementing the decisions reached in Miami. In response, the OAS is engaged in a wide range of activities designed to support the implementation of the Summit Plan of Action, which outlines specific steps to be taken in four vital areas: 1) preserving and strengthening the community of democracies of the Americas; 2) promoting prosperity through economic integration and free trade; 3) eradicating poverty and discrimination in the hemisphere; and 4) guaranteeing sustainable development and conserving the natural environment for future generations. The Summit Plan of Action contains 23 initiatives and over 150 action items.

OAS Members*

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

*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.


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


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