Organization of American States
(OAS, or, as it is known in the three other
official languages, OEA) is an international organization,
headquartered in Washington,
Its members are the thirty-five independent
states of the Americas
with two countries
suspended. Honduras recently
withdrew from the organization; Cuba was suspended until
The notion of closer hemispheric union in the Americas was first
put forward by Simón Bolívar
who, at the 1826 Congress of
, 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
Bolívar's dream soon floundered with civil war in
Gran Colombia, the disintegration of Central America, and the
emergence of national
continental outlooks in the newly independent American republics.
Bolívar's dream of American unity was meant to unify Latin American
nations against imperial domination by external power.
The pursuit of regional solidarity and cooperation again came to
the forefront in 1889–90, 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 1901–02). 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.
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
Pan American Union headquarters
building in Washington, D.C., 1943
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
Conference of American States was held in Bogotá between March and May 1948 and led by United States Secretary of
State George Marshall, a meeting
which led to a pledge by members to fight communism in
This was the event that saw the birth of the OAS as
it stands today, with the signature by 21 American countries of the
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
. The current Secretary General is former Chilean
foreign minister José Miguel
Significant milestones in the history of the OAS since the signing
of the Charter have included the following:
Goals and purpose
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
- 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
- To provide for common action on the part of those states in the
event of aggression.
- To seek the solution of political, judicial, and economic
problems that may arise among them
- To promote, by cooperative action, their economic, social, and
- To eradicate extreme poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to
the full democratic development of the peoples of the
- 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
- 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 counter-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
- 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
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, preservation of cultural diversity,
planning for global climate change, sustainable tourism, and
natural disaster mitigation.
Article 19 of the OAS Charter prohibits any State from interfering
with the internal or external affairs of a member state. Article 21
prohibits any State from the military occupation—even
temporarily—of a Member State's territory. The Charter subscribes
to international law but goes further, saying that Charter rights
depend not on power but follow from the existence of the state. The
United States is signatory to the OAS Charter, meaning that the
U.S. (like other Members) is legally bound by Article 19, 21, and
other Charter provisions. [See Membership].
The OAS is composed of a Permanent Council, and a number of
committees, including: General Secretariat; Secretariat on
Juridical and Political Affairs; Executive
Secretariat for Integral Development
; Secretariat on
Administrative and Budgetary Affairs; Secretariat on Hemispheric
Security; Secretariat on Inter-American Summits Management; as well
as Civil Society Participation in OAS Activities.
Assembly of the Organization of American States OAS will be
held the week following a 7.3 Mw 2009
- Thirty-ninth regular session: San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June
- Thirty-eight regular session: Medellín, Colombia, June
- Thirty-seventh regular session: Panama City, Republic of
Panama, June 2007.
- Thirty-sixth regular session: Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic, June 2006.
- Thirty-fifth regular session: Fort Lauderdale, United States,
- Thirty-fourth regular session: Quito, Ecuador, June 2004.
- Thirty-third regular session: Santiago, Chile, June 2003.
- Thirty-second regular session: Bridgetown, Barbados, June
- Thirty-first regular session: San José, Costa Rica, June
- Thirtieth regular session: Windsor, Canada, June 2000.
- Twenty-ninth regular session: Guatemala City, Guatemala, June
- Twenty-eight regular session: Caracas, Venezuela, June
- Twenty-seventh regular session: Lima, Peru, June 1997.
- Twenty-sixth regular session: Panama City, Republic of Panama,
- Twenty-fifth regular session: Montrouis, Haiti, June 1995.
- Twenty-fourth regular session: Belém do Pará, Brazil, June
- Twenty-third regular session: Managua, Nicaragua, June
- Twenty-second regular session: Nassau, The Bahamas, May
- Twenty-first regular session: Santiago, Chile, June 1991.
- Twentieth regular session: Asunción, Paraguay, June 1990.
- Nineteenth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Eighteenth regular session: San Salvador, El Salvador, November
- Seventeenth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Sixteenth regular session: Guatemala City, Guatemala, November
- Fifteenth regular session: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia,
- Fourteenth regular session: Brasília, Brazil, November
- Thirteenth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Twelfth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Eleventh regular session: Castries, Saint Lucia, December
- Tenth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Ninth regular session: La Paz, Bolivia, October 1979.
- Eighth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States,
- Seventh regular session: St. George's, Grenada, June 1977.
- Sixth regular session: Santiago, Chile, June 1976.
- Fifth regular session: Washington, D.C., United States, May
- Fourth regular session: Atlanta, United States, April/May
- Third regular session: Washington, D.C., United States, April
- Second regular session: Washington, D.C., United States, April
- First regular session: San José, Costa Rica, April 1971.
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:
expansion of the OAS included the newly independent nations of the
Caribbean (most of whom gained independence only after World War II) and Canada.
Members with later admission dates (sorted chronologically):
- (member since 1967)
Canada and the OAS
independence in its foreign policy from the United
Kingdom in 1931, it chose not to join the OAS when it was
first formed, despite its close relations with the United
Canada became a Permanent Observer in the OAS on
February 2nd 1972. Canada signed the Charter of the Organization of
American States on 13 November 1989, and this decision was ratifed
on 8 January 1990.
In 2004–2005, Canada was the second largest contributor to the OAS,
with an annual assessed contribution representing 12.36% of the OAS
Regular Budget (US$9.2 million) and an additional C$9 million in
voluntary contributions to specific projects. Shortly after joining
as a full member, Canada was instrumental in the creation of the
Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, which provides support for the
strengthening and consolidation of democratic processes and
institutions in OAS member states.
Status of Cuba
current government of Cuba was 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:
This meant that the Cuban nation was still technically a member
state, but that the current government was denied the right of
representation and attendance at meetings and of participation in
activities. The OAS's position was that although Cuba's
participation was suspended, its obligations under the Charter, the
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
, etc. still hold:
for instance, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights
continued to publish reports on
Cuba's human rights situation and to hear individual cases
involving Cuban nationals. However, this stance was occasionally
questioned by other individual member states.
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."
The reincorporation of Cuba as an active member regularly arose as
a topic within the inter-American system (e.g., it was intimated by
the outgoing ambassador of Mexico in 1998) but most observers did
not see it as a serious possibility while the present government
remained in power. Since 1960, the Cuban administration had
repeatedly characterized the OAS as the "Ministry of Colonies" of
the United States of America. 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". After Fidel Castro's recent retirement and the
ascent of his brother Raúl
power, this official position was reasserted. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
promised to veto any final
declaration of the 2009 Summit of
due to Cuba's exclusion.
On 17 April 2009, after a trading of warm words between the
administrations of US President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl
Castro, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza
said he would
ask the 2009 General Assembly to annul the 1962 resolution
On 3 June
2009, foreign ministers assembled in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for the OAS's 39th General
Assembly, passed a vote to lift Cuba's suspension from the
The United States had been pressuring the OAS for weeks
to condition Cuba's readmission to the hemispheric group on
democratic principles and commitment to human rights. Ecuador's
Foreign Minister Fander Falconí
said there will be no such conditions. "This is a new proposal, it
has no conditions – of any kind," Falconí said. "That suspension
was made in the Cold War
, in the language
of the Cold War. What we have done here is fix a historic error."
At the end of the General Assembly the suspension was lifted but in
order to readmit Cuba to the Organization, this state has to comply
with all the treaties signed by the Member States including the
Inter-American Democratic Charter of 2001.
Suspension of Honduras
Those attending the Extraordinary
Assembly of the OAS voted to suspend Honduras.
Honduras was suspended unanimously in the midnight of 4–5 July
2009, following the 28 June expulsion
President Manuel Zelaya
. The de
government had already announced it was leaving the OAS
hours earlier; however, this was not taken into account by the OAS,
which does not recognize that government as legitimate.
extraordinary meeting had been conducted by the OAS in Washington,
D.C., with Zelaya in attendance.
of Honduras was approved unanimously with 33 votes—Honduras did not
vote. This was the first suspension carried out by the OAS since
Cuba's in 1962.
As of 2009, there are 63 permanent observer countries, including
the European Union
The Organization's official
, and French
, the national languages of the
majority of its member nations. The Charter, the basic instrument
governing OAS, makes no reference to the use of official languages.
These references are to be found in the Rules of Procedure
governing the various OAS bodies. Article 51 of the Rules of
Procedure of the General Assembly, the supreme body of the OAS,
which meets once a year, states that English, French, Portuguese
and Spanish are the four official languages. Article 28 stipulates
that a Style Committee shall be set up with representatives of the
four official languages to review the General Assembly resolutions
and declarations. Article 53 states that proposals shall be
presented in the four official languages. The Rules of Procedure
and Statutes of other bodies, such as the Inter-American
Council for Integral Development
(CIDI), the Permanent
Executive Committee of the Inter-American
Council for Integral Development
(CEPCIDI), the Inter-American Commission of
(CIM), the Inter-American Drug
Abuse Control Commission
(CICAD), the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) and the Inter-American Juridical
(CJI), technical bodies of the OAS, also mention the
four official languages in which their meetings are to be
conducted. Policy is therefore dictated through these instruments
that require use of the four official languages at meetings.
Although a number of other languages have official status in one or
more member states of OAS (Dutch
Suriname; Haitian Creole
in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia;
in Paraguay), they are
not official languages of the Organization.
- Coordinates of OAS headquarters:
- Suspended between 1962–2009. Has chosen not to reapply for
- Suspended in 2009.
- Canada and the Organization of American States,
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), 2005.
- Canada and the Organization of American States
by Dr. Ludwil J. Kos-Rabcewicz-Zubkowski, Air University Review,
- Canada and the OAS: A Vigorous Partnership,
Canada World View, Issue 8, Summer 2000.
- Organization of American States.
- Department of International Affairs
- General Assembly of the OAS, Amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the General
Assembly, 5 June 2000
- Marguerite Groves (Coordinator, Division of Language Services,
OAS), Information on the use of language at the OAS:
multilingualism, Inter-American Languages Management
supérieur de la langue française (Quebec), Quebec City, 20 to 22 August 2002