The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Organization of American States

Organization of American States
Organisation des États Américains
Organización de Estados Americanos
Organização dos Estados Americanos
OAS Seal
Official languages English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Secretary General Luigi Einaudi (acting) United States (2004-Present)

 - Signed
 - Enforced

 - April 30, 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. 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 Latin 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 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.

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 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 player 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. The current of government of Cuba however has been excluded from participation since 1962. Upon foundation on May 5, 1948 there were 21 members:

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

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.

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

The OAS has been regarded by some as subservient to U.S. interests. It was quick to suspend Cuba's participation after Washington became dissatisfied with the Cuban revolution – officially because of concern for democracy and human rights – but it never suspended the membership of other Latin American governments that, during the 1970s and 1980s, committed massive human rights abuses bordering on genocide.

In light of this past record, the new direction the Organization has taken in recent years bodes well for a more participatory and balanced future.

External link

  • OAS official site

Last updated: 02-18-2005 23:11:57
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55