Organization of American States

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Organization of American States
Organización de los Estados Americanos
Organisation des États Américains
Organização dos Estados Americanos
Missing image
OAS Seal

Official languages English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Secretary General José Miguel Insulza (26 May 2005present)
 • Signed
 • Enforced

30 April 1948
1 December 1951
Member states 35
Headquarters Washington, D.C., USA
Official site

The Organization of American States (OAS; OEA in the other three official languages) is an international organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., USA. Its members are the 35 independent nations of the Americas.



The notion of closer hemispheric union in the American continent was first put forward by the Liberator Simón Bolívar 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 irretrievably 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.

The pursuit of regional solidarity and cooperation again came to the forefront in 188990, 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 190102). 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. 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.

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

Goals and purpose

Headquarters, Constitution Av., Washington DC.
Headquarters, Constitution Av., Washington DC.

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 continent.
  • 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, juridical, 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 front to counter the scourge of terrorism.
  • 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, planning for global climate change, and natural disaster mitigation.

Membership and adhesions

All 35 independent nations of the Americas are members of the OAS. Upon foundation on 5 May 1948 there were 21 members:

The later expansion of the OAS was mostly among the newly independent nations of the Caribbean. Members with later admission dates (sorted by date of admission):

The Organization's official languages are English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

(*) Status of Cuba

The current government of Cuba is excluded from participation in the Organization under a decision adopted by the Eighth Meeting of Consultation in Punta del Este, Uruguay, on 31 January 1962. The vote was passed by 14 in favor, with one against (Cuba) and six abstentions (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico). The operative part of the resolution reads as follows:

1. That adherence by any member of the Organization of American States to Marxism-Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system and the alignment of such a government with the communist block breaks the unity and solidarity of the hemisphere.
2. That the present Government of Cuba, which has officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government, is incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system.
3. That this incompatibility excludes the present Government of Cuba from participation in the inter-American system. [1] (

This means that the Cuban nation is still technically a member state, but that the current regime is denied the right of representation and attendance at meetings and of participation in activities. The OAS's position is that although Cuba's participation is suspended, its obligations under the Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, etc. still hold: for instance, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continues to publish reports on Cuba's human rights situation and to hear individual cases involving Cuban nationals. This stance is occasionally questioned by other individual member states, however.

Cuba's position was stated in an official note sent to the Organization "merely as a courtesy" by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Raúl Roa on 4 November 1964: "Cuba was arbitrarily excluded... The Organization of American States has no juridical, factual, or moral jurisdiction, nor competence, over a state which it has illegally deprived of its rights."[2] (

The reincorporation of Cuba as an active member regularly arises as a topic within the inter-American system (e.g., it was intimated by the outgoing ambassador of Mexico in 1998) [3] ( but most observers do not see it as a serious possibility while the present government remains in power. On 6 May 2005, President Fidel Castro reiterated that the island nation would not "be part of a disgraceful institution that has only humiliated the honor of Latin American nations". [4] (

Organs and agencies

Secretary General
General Assembly
Permanent Council
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Inter-American Defense Board

Perspectives on the Organization

From its creation up until, at the least, the mid-1980s, the OAS was a frequent target for critics, particularly those on the left of the political spectrum, who accused it of being a mere arm of U.S. foreign policy – "Washington's colonial office", it was scornfully labeled. This interpretation was borne out by the alacrity with which the Organization moved, at Washington's bidding, to expel Cuba in 1962; in contrast, the OAS never took steps to suspend the membership of the various other dictatorships that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and were just as disrepectful of human rights and democracy – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala – but that differed from Cuba in their political orientation.

The return to democracy that took place in the 1980s and 1990s saw the emergence of new trends within the OAS. The Organization's new direction has taken it into areas of greater direct relevance to the peoples of the continent: for example, its highly successful demining programs in Central America and the Andean region. Perhaps more importantly, the Organization's other member states (particularly the South Americans) now appear to be reasserting their political independence and assuming positions that are much less subservient to U.S. interests.

Evidence that the U.S. no longer holds hegemonic sway over the Organization has been noted, for example, in:

External links


de:Organisation Amerikanischer Staaten

es:Organización de los Estados Americanos eo:Organizo de Amerikaj Ŝtatoj fr:Organisation des États Américains gl:Organización de Estados Americanos ko:미주 기구 nl:Organisatie van Amerikaanse Staten pl:Organizacja Państw Amerykańskich pt:Organização dos Estados Americanos zh:美洲国家组织


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