Organization of American States
an association of 35 American countries

Formed April 30, 1948: Chartered: December 1951, (amend. 1970)

Organization of American States (OAS) is an association of 35 American countries. The OAS seeks to provide for collective self-defense, regional cooperation, and the peaceful settlement of controversies. The OAS charter sets forth the group's guiding principles. These principles include a belief in the value of international law, social justice, economic cooperation, and the equality of all people. In addition, the OAS charter states that an act of aggression against one American nation is regarded as an act of aggression against all the nations in the OAS.

The OAS functions through several bodies. Major policies are formed at annual sessions of the General Assembly. All member nations can attend, and each has one vote. Special Meetings of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs deal with urgent problems, especially those relating to defense or the maintenance of peace in the Americas. The Permanent Council, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., is the executive body of the OAS. Each member nation is represented. For convenience, diplomatic representatives in Washington serve as council members. The council supervises the General Secretariat, makes plans for General Assembly sessions, and oversees OAS administration. The secretary-general, the chief administrator of the OAS, is elected to a five-year term by the General Assembly. Specialized conferences promote inter-American cooperation.

The Organization of American States had its early beginning at the First International Conference of American States, which met in Washington, D.C., in 1889 and 1890. The delegates established the International Union of American Republics, with the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics as its central office. This bureau was renamed the Pan American Union in 1910. The Pan American Union became the permanent body of the OAS when it was organized in 1948 at the ninth Pan-American Conference, held in Bogota, Colombia. The organization's original charter became effective in December 1951. An amended charter took effect in February 1970, and the Pan American Union was renamed the General Secretariat of the OAS.

Early in 1962, the Organization of American States voted to exclude Cuba's Communist government from active membership. But Cuba itself remains an OAS member even though its government cannot participate in any of the organization's activities.

In 1965, a revolt in the Dominican Republic led the OAS to set up its first military force. Troops from six Latin American countries and the United States took part. The troops and OAS committees worked to restore order in the Dominican Republic. In 1969, the OAS acted quickly to end a five-day invasion of Honduras by troops from El Salvador.

During the late 1970's, the organization's main concern became human rights. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission--a specialized OAS agency--interviewed political exiles and conducted on-site investigations of human-rights violations. The commission also issued reports about electoral fraud, illegal imprisonment, and torture and other acts of brutality.

The influence of the OAS began to decline during the early 1980's because of increased involvement by other international agencies in Latin-American affairs. These agencies included the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Contributor: George W. Grayson, J.D., Class of 1938 Prof. of Government, College of William and Mary.

George W. Grayson, J.D., Class of 1938 Prof. of Government, College of William and Mary.


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