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U.S. Department of State

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U.S. Department of State
May 2000

Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

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Background Notes:  OAS

Official Name: Organization of American States


Headquarters: Washington, DC.

Established: April 14, 1890, as the International Union of American Republics. Became the Pan American Union in 1910, then the Organization of American States in 1948 with the adoption of the OAS Charter in Bogota, Colombia.

Purposes: To strengthen peace and security in the hemisphere; promote representative democracy; ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes among members; provide for common action in the event of aggression; and promote economic, social, and cultural development.

Members: 35--Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba*, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

*Cuba is a member, although its present government has been excluded from participation since 1962 for incompatibility with the principles of the OAS Charter.

Permanent observers: 47--Algeria, Angola, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Latvia, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Yemen.

Official languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Principal organs: General Assembly; Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers; Permanent Council; Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI); Inter-American Juridical Committee; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); and the General Secretariat.

Specialized organizations: Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM); Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI); Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII); Pan American Institute for Geography and History (PAIGH); Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Other entities: Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD), Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD); Justice Studies Center; Inter-American Juridical Committee (IAJC); Inter-American Defense Board (IADB); Inter-American Defense College (IADC); Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL); Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

Budget (2000); Regular fund (operations): $78 million, financed mainly by assessed contributions from all members. The U.S. share is 59%. Voluntary funds: $10 million, financed by contributions from all member states (the U.S. provided $5 million). Specific funds--$56 million, contributed by some member states (the U.S. provided $30 million), some permanent observers, international financial institutions, and development agencies.


The Organization of American States, the oldest regional international organization in the world, traces its origins to the Congress of Panama, convoked by Simon Bolivar in 1826 and attended by representatives from Central and South America. That congress drafted the Treaty of Perpetual Union, League and Confederation, signed by the delegates but ratified only by Gran Colombia (today's Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela).

Hemispheric countries continued the discussion of an inter-American system during the rest of that century. The first concrete step was taken in 1889, when the First International Conference of American States convened in Washington, DC. On April 14, 1890, delegates created the International Union of American Republics "for the prompt collection and distribution of commercial information." They also established the Commercial Bureau of the American Republics in Washington as the Union's secretariat, with the participation of 18 Western Hemisphere nations, including the United States. In 1910, the Commercial Bureau became the Pan American Union, and American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated $5 million to construct a permanent headquarters in Washington, DC, which is today the OAS building.

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 OAS Charter was adopted at the Ninth International Conference of American States in Bogota, Colombia, in 1948. It reaffirmed the fundamental rights and duties of states, proclaimed the goals of the new organization, and established its organs and agencies. That conference also approved the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (Pact of Bogota) and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The OAS Charter proclaims it to be a regional agency within the UN system.

Concern over slow economic development led the United States and 19 other OAS members to establish the Inter-American Development Bank in 1959. This reflected concern that the World Bank, which included Latin American countries in its list of eligible borrowers, was preoccupied with infrastructure and not sufficiently attuned to the need for "social" lending as well as industrial and agricultural aid. In 1960, the OAS produced the Act of Bogota, which called for a hemisphere-wide commitment to economic and social development. That set the stage for OAS support for the Alliance for Progress.

The 1948 OAS Charter has been amended four times: by the 1967 Protocol of Buenos Aires, which went into effect in February 1970; by the 1985 Protocol of Cartagena, which took effect in November 1988; by the 1993 Protocol of Managua, which took effect in March 1996; and by the 1992 Protocol of Washington, which took effect in September 1997.

The Buenos Aires protocol created the annual General Assembly and gave equal status to the Permanent Council; the Economic and Social Council; and the Council for Education, Science, and Culture. The second group of amendments strengthened the role of the Secretary General; provided procedures to facilitate peaceful settlement of disputes; removed obstacles, involving border disputes, to the entry of Belize and Guyana; and called for strengthening economic and social development by measures to increase trade, enhance international financial cooperation, diversify exports, and promote export opportunities. The Managua Protocol created the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) to replace the Economic and Social Council and the Council for Education, Science, and Culture. The key objectives of CIDI are to serve as a forum for technical policy level discussions on matters related to development, to be a catalyst and promoter of development activities, and to strengthen a hemispheric partnership among OAS countries to promote cooperation for development and to help eliminate extreme poverty in the hemisphere.

Ratification of the Washington Protocol made the OAS the first regional political organization to permit suspension of a member whose democratically constituted government is overthrown by force. This protocol also amended the Charter to include the eradication of extreme poverty as one of the organization's essential purposes.

The basic objectives of the OAS, as laid out in its Charter, are to strengthen peace and security; promote the effective exercise of representative democracy; ensure the peaceful settlement of disputes among members; provide for common action in the event of aggression; seek solutions to political, juridical, and economic problems that may arise; promote, by cooperative action, economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural development; and limit conventional weapons so as to devote greater resources to economic and social development.

The OAS helps preserve democracy by mobilizing the hemisphere in the face of threats to democratic rule. It acted under the mandate of General Assembly Resolution 1080 (1991) to support democracy in Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, and Paraguay. It also provides development and other assistance designed to strengthen democratic institutions, observe elections, promote human rights, increase trade, fight drugs, and protect the environment.

In recent years, OAS member states successfully negotiated major international agreements to curb hemispheric arms trafficking, provide for transparency in conventional weapons acquisition, combat corruption, fight narcotics and money laundering, and define fair telecommunications standards. OAS contributions in the fields of international law, juridical cooperation, and facilitation of regional trade have been substantial and have provided the basis for effective observance of a host of regional treaties concluded since 1889. The OAS Inter-American System of Legal Information maintains an Internet home page at http://www.oas.org/En/prog/juridico/english/default.htm.

The OAS is implementing important portions of the Action Plans from the Summits of the Americas held in Miami (1994) and Santiago, Chile (1998), as well as the 1996 Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Summit on Sustainable Development, and is expected to play a similar role after the April 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada. The Santiago Summit assigned the OAS Secretariat responsibility for maintaining records and serving as the institutional memory of the summit process. The OAS Secretariat maintains an Internet home page for summit activities at http://www.summit-americas.org.


The United States is committed to strengthening and working with the OAS. 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. As Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told the OAS Conference on the Americas in Washington on March 5, 1998:

The OAS is a living example of the determination and foresight of our predecessors....For as the embodiment of the inter-American system, the OAS will take the lead in much of what the hemisphere's leaders decide. As the OAS host country, the United States is committed to its future. We want to work with you to enhance its role as the deliberative and normative forum for the hemisphere.

The OAS is the premier multilateral forum for dealing with political issues in the Western Hemisphere. Participation in the organization enables the United States to rally international support for key U.S. political objectives. In addition to its work to strengthen and promote democracy and respect for human rights, the OAS provides valuable support on two highly important issues: trade and drugs. The OAS has refocused its trade efforts to promote free trade and economic integration. Its Trade Unit and the Foreign Trade Information System (SICE) provide valuable technical support to the working groups dealing with the issues involved in the creation of a hemispheric free trade area, to which OAS governments committed themselves at the Summits of the Americas. In 1996 the OAS produced a counter-narcotics strategy that will guide collective actions in the 21st century, and in 1999 it established a multilateral evaluation mechanism (MEM), as mandated by the Santiago Summit of the Americas. The MEM established individual country submissions that are evaluated by experts; the first ones will be approved in 2000. The OAS also has produced internationally acclaimed model legislation on precursor chemicals and money laundering control. In 1999 the OAS adopted the landmark Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisition. In 1997 the OAS drafted and approved the world's first convention to regulate the international trade in firearms and prevent their diversion into criminal hands.

The OAS has successfully adopted reforms, both by significant staff cuts and by restructuring the Secretariat to deal with the hemisphere's new priorities. It has implemented the recommendations of an outside audit of positions, resulting in downgrades of nearly one-half the work force. The OAS has decreased its staff by 20% since 1995 and maintained a no-growth budget for 6 consecutive years. Despite these constraints, the OAS has augmented programs supporting priority interests of the hemisphere, such as democracy, human rights, trade, and the environment, by reducing or eliminating programs of lower priority. More reforms are envisioned in the areas of personnel evaluation, budgetary priorities, financial management, and conference capabilities.


Secretary General--Cesar Gaviria Trujillo (Colombia), elected to a second 5-year term in 1999
Assistant Secretary General--Christopher R. Thomas (Trinidad and Tobago), elected to a second 5-year term in 1995
Address--Organization of American States
17th St. and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20006
(tel. 202-458-3000)
Internet: http://www.oas.org

U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS--Ambassador Luis J. Lauredo, sworn in January 10, 2000
Address--U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS
WHA/USOAS, Rm. 6494
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
(tel. 202-647-9376)


The promotion of peace and democracy are core OAS concerns. The OAS Unit for Promotion of Democracy (UPD) is entirely dedicated to building, strengthening, and preserving democracy. Charter amendments and Resolution 1080 also enable the OAS to help preserve democracy by mobilizing the hemisphere in the face of threats to democratic rule in a member state.

The 1991 OAS General Assembly created an unprecedented automatic mechanism, known as Resolution 1080, to deter illegal action against democratically elected governments. This resolution requires the Secretary General to convene the Permanent Council and then hemispheric foreign ministers within 10 days after a coup or other interruption of a legitimate, elected government.

Resolution 1080 has been used four times--following the coup in Haiti in 1991, the "auto-coups" in Peru in 1992 and Guatemala in 1993, and the threat to the Government of Paraguay in 1996. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Talbott told the June 1996 OAS General Assembly in Panama that "this organization has moved decisively to defend democracy when it was in peril. In all four cases. . .the long-term benefits for the entire hemisphere are already apparent."

In Haiti, the OAS was deeply engaged in seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis caused by the September 30, 1991 coup that sent President Aristide into exile. OAS foreign ministers met in October 1991 and called for political and economic isolation of the de facto regime. The OAS and UN created a joint International Civilian Mission (ICM) to monitor the human rights situation. The OAS held special meetings of foreign ministers in 1993 and 1994 to increase pressure against the de facto regime. The OAS recommended a full commercial embargo against Haiti 2 years before the UN and led the way in calling for suspension of air transportation links to the island nation. The ICM provided on-site reports about human rights abuses, and after the restoration of President Aristide's government, continued its work to promote respect for human rights and to further democracy in that country.

In Peru, President Fujimori's April 5, 1992 announcement of extra-constitutional measures led to the second use of Resolution 1080. The OAS Permanent Council called for the immediate "reinstatement of democratic institutions and respect for human rights under the rule of law." The hemisphere's foreign ministers met on April 13, called for the reestablishment of democratic institutional order in Peru, and asked the Secretary General to head a small mission of foreign ministers to Peru to bring about a dialogue between the government and other political forces.

In May 1992, President Fujimori traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, to attend the OAS foreign ministers' meeting on Peru, where he told them he would call elections for a constituent congress to exercise legislative powers and to draft a new constitution. The OAS sent over 200 observers to monitor those elections, held November 22, 1992, as well as a small team for the municipal elections on January 29, 1993. OAS foreign ministers closed their meeting on Peru in December 1992, in view of expected continued OAS assistance to modernize electoral procedures in Peru.

In the third use of Resolution 1080, OAS foreign ministers met in Washington on June 3, 1993, in response to then-President Serrano's May 25 suspension of constitutional democracy in Guatemala. They condemned Serrano's actions, called for the immediate reestablishment of constitutional democracy in Guatemala and sent then-Secretary General Baena Soares to Guatemala. The ministers reconvened in Managua on June 7 to consider what further action to take. Baena Soares was able to report the Guatemalan Congress's constitutional election of Ramiro de Leon Carpio as President, replacing Serrano. President de Leon flew to Managua to express appreciation to the General Assembly for the forthright OAS action that had been a major factor in bringing about the prompt restoration of constitutional democracy in Guatemala.

In April 1996, Paraguayan Army Commander General Oviedo attempted to force President Wasmosy to resign. In the face of this threat to democracy, the OAS Permanent Council met and called for a meeting under Resolution 1080. Secretary General Gaviria traveled to Paraguay to express support for President Wasmosy, who also received significant international support, including a call from President Clinton. President Wasmosy's decision not to give in to Oviedo's demands attracted widespread support from the Paraguayan people and the entire hemisphere, and preserved democracy in that nation. In view of the successful resolution of the situation, a meeting of foreign ministers was never held on this issue.

In recent years, the existence of Resolution 1080 and the Washington Protocol (that permits suspension of a member whose democratically elected government is overthrown by force) has enabled the OAS to bring hemispheric pressure to bear in situations where democratic governments were threatened, and the OAS successfully encouraged constitutional solutions in a number of problematic circumstances.

The OAS is one of the leading organizations in the hemisphere in election observation. Representing a multilateral organization, OAS observers are often able to establish closer relationships with and gain greater access to political and electoral institutions than other observer groups. The OAS, in addition, has the institutional capacity to organize larger electoral missions and keep observers on the ground longer than other organizations.

The 1990 Nicaraguan elections were the first observed by the OAS in a systematic way. OAS monitoring of that election helped increase confidence in the process and encouraged all parties to accept the final results. While the OAS, at the request of the host government concerned, had previously sent small teams of elections observers throughout the hemisphere, the magnitude and scope of the mission in Nicaragua--more than 433 observers and an OAS presence six months before the elections and for weeks afterward--pointed to a need to institutionalize OAS support for democracy.

In 2000 the OAS sent or plans to send electoral observation missions to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. These missions, comprised of experienced observers from many countries and equipped with the ability to conduct "quick counts" on election day, are able to render impartial judgments widely accepted by voters and governments throughout the hemisphere.

The OAS established the Unit for Promotion of Democracy in 1990. In addition to overseeing the organization's electoral missions, the UPD also administers small country programs to improve democratic institutions and processes in response to requests from more than a dozen member states. These programs seek to improve democratic governance, for example, by facilitating the dissemination and exchange of knowledge about democratic values and political systems and the exchange of experiences among institutions and experts on themes related to the promotion of democracy. The UPD provides advice and assistance in modernizing or reforming electoral laws, administrations, and processes. The UPD also develops and manages peace-building programs and provides support to societies in post-conflict situations. It supervises programs of humanitarian demining in Central America and the Andean region and provides special advisory services and support to recently installed governments. The UPD's Internet homepage is at http://www.oas.org/upd.

Another means of strengthening democracy is the new Justice Studies Center of the Americas, established by the November 1999 Special General Assembly. This center fulfills an important goal of the 1998 Santiago Summit and is the result of close consultations among Ministers of Justice, Attorneys General, and others interested in this initiative. The Center will be located in Chile, and its primary task is to promote reform in the justice sector throughout the hemisphere, focusing in the first stage on criminal justice issues.


Peaceful settlement of disputes is a basic objective of the OAS. The OAS created a Committee on Hemispheric Security in 1993 and made it a permanent body in 1995. The OAS also has organized and sponsored conferences on confidence- and security-building measures, designed to strengthen military-to-military relations, decrease historic rivalries and tensions, and create an environment allowing democratic governments to maintain and modernize defense forces without triggering suspicions from their neighbors or leading to an arms race. These meetings were held in Santiago, Chile, in 1995 and San Salvador, El Salvador, in February 1998. The OAS holds an annual meeting of experts on confidence- and security-building measures.

Under the auspices of the OAS, member states met in Lima, Peru, in 1996 in the largest gathering of countries to discuss counterterrorism. The meeting approved an action plan listing practical steps members should take to combat terrorism. The states also endorsed the characterization of terrorist acts, regardless of motivation, as criminal rather than political crimes. At a subsequent meeting on counterterrorism, OAS members decided to create a Counterterrorism Committee (CICTE), which met for the first time in October 1999. CICTE plans to create an interactive data base on counterterrorism and also will draft and promote model counterterrorism legislation. CICTE is the only entity in any regional international organization dedicated exclusively to cooperation on counterterrorism issues.

During 1997, in an effort to hinder the activities of terrorists, criminals, narcotics traffickers, and other violent groups, OAS members negotiated an Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacture of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials. At the signing ceremony November 14, 1997, President Clinton hailed this agreement as underscoring "the new dynamism" of the OAS, saying that:

Our hemisphere is setting a new standard for the world in taking on global challenges -- last year, with our pathbreaking convention against corruption, today with this arms trafficking agreement. Together, we're showing the way of the 21st century world: democratic partners working together to improve the prosperity and security of all their people.

In border conflict situations, the existence of the OAS and the possibility it might take action tend to have a chilling effect on any unilateral resort to force. For example,

oIn 1988, a naval incident between Colombia and Venezuela was defused following a public appeal by the OAS Secretary General and special sessions of the Permanent Council; and oIn 1989, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago died in a shooting incident between a Trinidadian fishing trawler and a Venezuelan national guard patrol boat. At the request of the two governments, the OAS Secretary General appointed three experts, whose recommendations led to a solution accepted by both sides.

The OAS has been involved in many conflict resolution and national reconciliation activities, such as the following:


OAS election monitoring in Nicaragua contributed decisively to the fairness of the February 25, 1990 elections. The presence of impartial OAS observers throughout the registration and balloting gave voters confidence and assured that the results would be respected. The OAS also monitored the 1996 elections which saw a successful transition from one elected president to the next.

During the 1989-90 election process, the OAS and the UN set up the joint verification and support commission (CIAV) called for by the Central American presidents to verify compliance with the Central American peace accords. Under CIAV auspices, the OAS assisted more than 100,000 people (former combatants and their families) and monitored and sought to protect their human rights. In response to a Nicaraguan Government request, the June 1993 General Assembly extended CIAV activities and expanded its mandate to include all displaced persons and former members of the Nicaraguan army. Months later, CIAV played a leading role in obtaining the release of hostages taken by rebel groups in two separate but simultaneous incidents. At the request of the newly elected government, CIAV was extended through mid-1997.


OAS support for the peace process and democracy in Suriname began in 1991 with the fielding of a 40-person delegation to observe the National Assembly elections. In 1992, the OAS assisted in the negotiations between the government and illegally armed groups. In line with a settlement reached in August 1992, an OAS mission helped collect and destroy weapons from armed groups that had operated throughout Suriname's rural areas. In 1993 and 1994, the OAS monitored compliance with the peace accord and assisted in the removal of land mines.


A February 23, 1992, agreement signed in Washington called for the deployment of an OAS civilian presence in Haiti to facilitate the restoration of democracy in that island nation. Further talks in September 1992 resulted in the deployment to Haiti of a small civilian mission tasked with working with democratic institutions in the country. That presence was greatly expanded when former Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo, serving as a special envoy of the OAS and the UN, attained agreement for a joint OAS/UN International Civilian Mission (ICM). In 1993-94, the OAS deployed more than 100 human rights monitors throughout Haiti, with permanent offices in each of Haiti's nine provinces. They, with a small number of UN observers, investigated and reported on incidents of abuse of human rights and also carried out civic education programs. Their presence had the effect of easing tensions, particularly in rural areas. While continuing to monitor the human rights situation, the ICM and the OAS are supporting a number of initiatives to strengthen democratic institutions and promote development. The OAS also observed the 1995 elections in Haiti, the first time in that country's history that one elected president succeeded another. The OAS presence in Haiti continues, and the OAS is observing parliamentary elections on May 21, 2000.

In 1999 and 2000, the OAS has provided facilitators, conciliators, and offered its good offices to help resolve disputes between Belize and Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua.


Located in Washington, DC, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is distinguished from other multilateral organizations' human rights entities by its political autonomy. Its seven commission members are elected in their own right, not as representatives of governments. IACHR autonomy is further enhanced by its prerogative to initiate human rights investigations without the approval of the Secretary General or the Permanent Council. In response to a Santiago Summit initiative, in 1998 the IACHR established a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, with a mandate to support and promote freedom of the press.

Human rights in the inter-American system are based on the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights. The United States signed the American Convention on Human Rights in 1977, but has not yet ratified it.

The IACHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights--located in San Jose, Costa Rica--give the OAS an active and, at times, forceful role in promoting and protecting human rights. Through private persuasion and published reports on human rights infringements, the IACHR has been instrumental in improving OAS members' human rights practices and has helped to resolve conflicts.

The IACHR's annual report has chapters on human rights problems in general, individual cases, and country status reports. The IACHR also publishes special reports, which have been effective in challenging abuses in specific countries. From 1990-94, its special on-site reports on Haiti kept the international spotlight focused on the dire human rights situation there and were praised by local and international organizations. The IACHR played a key role in the 1989 release of almost 2,000 political prisoners held by the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. In 1999, on the 30th anniversary of the American Declaration, the OAS and member states began an evaluation of the inter-American human rights system to determine how best to further strengthen it.

As of early 2000, the IACHR's membership is: Chairman: Helio Bicudo (Brazil); Peter Laurie (Barbados); Claudio Grossman (Chile); Juan E. Mendez (Argentina); Marta Altolaguirre (Guatemala); Julio Prado Vallejo (Ecuador);and Robert K. Goldman (U.S.). The IACHR's Internet homepage is at http://www.oas.org/cidh.


The 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas plan of action charged the OAS with finding a hemispheric approach to fight corruption. The Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, negotiated under OAS auspices during 1995-96, is the world's first treaty instrument to address this scourge. On March 29, 1996, 21 nations signed it at the conclusion of negotiations in Caracas. The U.S. and Guatemala signed the Convention at the June 1996 OAS General Assembly in Panama; as of early 2000, the total number of signatories reached 26.

The Convention entered into force on March 6, 1997, when Paraguay and Bolivia became the first countries to deposit their instruments of ratification. A total of 18 countries have now ratified the Convention; the U.S. is engaged in the ratification process. The OAS Permanent Council's Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs has a Probity and Ethics Working Group that focuses on promoting effective implementation of the Convention. The OAS Department of Legal Affairs carries out activities, including workshops funded by the U.S., to assist member states in developing the preventive measures provided for in the Convention.


The OAS narcotics program was launched at the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Traffic in Narcotic Drugs in April 1986--the first Western Hemisphere meeting to deal with all aspects of the drug problem. In accordance with the program of action adopted at that meeting, the OAS General Assembly in November 1986 created the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which meets twice a year to direct the program and assess the drug situation in the hemisphere. Originally composed of 11 member governments, the commission has been expanded to 34 because of growing interest in the program and concern about the drug problem. The first projects were implemented in 1988.

The program has identified five priority lines of action--development of domestic and international law, establishment of an inter-American drug information system, demand reduction, alternative development, and strengthening national drug commissions. CICAD maintains an Internet home page at http://www.cicad.oas.org.

The OAS program has produced notable results:


The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) was created in 1996 when the Protocol of Managua charter amendments entered into force. CIDI replaced the Inter-American Economic and Social Council (CIES) and the Inter-American Council for Education, Science, and Culture (CIECC). CIDI is responsible for coordinating OAS development and technical cooperation activities in a partnership intended to attract financial support from donor countries, international development institutions, and other sources. CIDI's Permanent Executive Committee (CEPCIDI); the Inter-American Committee on Sustainable Development (CIDS); the Inter-American Committee on Science and Technology (COMCYT); the Inter-American Committee on Ports (CIP), and other committees and ministerial-level meetings and their subgroups provide guidance and evaluation to the OAS secretariat on relevant policies, projects, and other activities. They also bring together technical and policymaking officials from the hemisphere to agree on joint priorities and initiatives.

On November 15, 1999, a Special General Assembly adopted the Statute of the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development (IACD). Created as the result of a U.S. initiative, the IACD will maximize use of existing resources, improve the management and delivery of technical cooperation, and better position the OAS to attract additional external resources to finance technical cooperation. The IACD's management board, composed of nine elected member states, provides operational guidance, while policy guidance comes from CIDI in both its annual and sectoral ministerial level meetings, from CIDI's executive committee and subsidiary bodies. IACD's statutes entered into force on January 1, 2000. OAS member governments elected Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Venezuela to the management board. In April 2000, CIDI confirmed Ronald Scheman (U.S.) as the first Director General of IACD. Information about CIDI is available on the Internet at http://www.cidi.oas.org/cidi.asp.

CIDI's Special Multilateral Fund, known by its Spanish acronym FEMCIDI, is composed of the voluntary contributions of the member states. While a member state is free to decide the level of its commitment, once a pledge is made to this fund, the country is legally obligated to pay the amount pledged, and a country is not allowed to request projects unless it has pledged by the deadline established. The projects presented must receive a favorable evaluation (conducted by outside experts) in order to be considered for funding. Projects chosen to be funded are those that receive the highest evaluation scores within their individual sectoral accounts. Horizontal cooperation funds (provided by Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the U.S.) provide further assistance to lesser developed and smaller economies.

The OAS Fellowship and Training Program awards an average of 360 graduate fellowships each year. There also is a small undergraduate scholarship program, available only to students from Caribbean and Central American nations. A third program finances travel to training courses offered by member states. Although these scholarships have to date been financed by the OAS Regular Fund (assessed quota payments by member states), a Capital Fund for Fellowships has been established to attract outside funding.

For 25 years, the OAS has helped member states incorporate environmental considerations into development projects. International development institutions have recognized the organization's in-house expertise and leadership role, and a number of these institutions have undertaken cooperative initiatives with the OAS or contracted the organization to serve as an executing agency for their environmental projects. The biggest boost for the OAS' environmental efforts came at the 1996 Summit of the Americas on Sustainable Development, held in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. At that summit, OAS members adopted the Declaration of Santa Cruz and Plan of Action and gave the OAS a strong mandate to coordinate follow-up to those decisions. At the policy level, this takes place through the Inter-American Committee on Sustainable Development (CIDS), a meeting of government officials within the framework of CIDI. At the technical level, this occurs in the Inter-Agency Task Force, a group of representatives of technical cooperation agencies such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, UN programs, and U.S. and Canadian aid and environmental agencies. The OAS Secretariat's Unit for Sustainable Development and the Environment has a webpage at http://www.oas.org/usde; the Unit for Science and Technology has one at http://www.redhucyt.oas.org/ocyt.

The OAS Secretariat, working with member states and with a wide variety of civil society organizations from throughout the hemisphere developed the Inter-American Strategy for the Promotion of Public Participation in Decision-making for Sustainable Development in response to an initiative from the Bolivia summit. This strategy, approved in April 2000, lays out recommendations and examples of ways for governments to consult with civil society on key development efforts. It is based on three years of pilot projects, studies and consultation throughout the hemisphere. Other Bolivia Summit initiatives the OAS is helping to implement include the Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network (IABIN) and the Inter-American Forum on Environmental Law (FIDA). IABIN brings together government experts and representatives from civil society and nongovernmental organizations to share electronically species population data and to cooperate in specific projects. FIDA, a network on environmental law and enforcement, will focus initially on studies and information exchange on legal aspects of water policy and of trade, investment, and the environment.

The 1999 OAS General Assembly created a committee on civil society participation to develop mechanisms to accredit representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations in OAS activities. The committee completed a set of guidelines, which the Permanent Council approved on December 15, 1999. The OAS has a long history of cooperation with civil society organizations. Non-governmental organizations have made significant contributions to the work of the IACHR, the Sustainable Development and Environment Unit, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, and CIDI. The new OAS civil society guidelines are designed to complement, but not modify the rules governing CIDI, its inter-American committees, and other inter-American specialized conferences and organizations. The guidelines establish an accreditation process similar to that used within the United Nations system.

The OAS trade unit, in cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), provides technical support to the negotiating groups created by the Miami Summit process to deal with issues involved in the creation of a Free Trade Area in the Americas (FTAA). The trade unit also has sponsored training courses on trade issues for officials from Latin American and Caribbean countries, held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The OAS' highly regarded trade information service, known as SICE, provides trade data and information on trade agreements, investment treaties and national regulations, as well as business directories and other sources of contacts, in a coherent, easy-to-use data bank at http://www.sice.oas.org. SICE also manages the FTAA home page, at http://www.ftaa-alca.org, in addition to the FTAA's Secure Document Distribution Service.

The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), which has active private sector participation, provides a impartial forum for resolving issues of keep commercial interest, such as coordination of standards and radio frequency spectrum use. In response to a Santiago Summit mandate, CITEL is developing best practices guidelines for universal service and interconnection and working to reduce standards-based trade barriers. One particularly important CITEL accomplishment was the endorsement in October 1999 of the Inter-American Mutual Recognition Agreement for the Assessment of Conformity of Telecommunications Equipment, also a Santiago Summit initiative. CITEL is a semiautonomous entity that reports to the OAS General Assembly through the Permanent Council. It maintains an Internet home page at http://www.citel.oas.org.


The General Secretariat is the permanent and central organ of the OAS, executing programs and policies decided upon by the General Assembly and the two councils. Directed by the Secretary General, it occupies a key position within the inter-American system and serves the entire organization and all member states. The Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General are elected by the General Assembly for 5-year terms. They can be reelected once and cannot be succeeded by a person of the same nationality.

Senior secretariat officials appointed by the Secretary General include the assistant secretaries for legal affairs and management, the director general of the development agency (IACD), the executive secretaries of the commission of women (CIM) and the drug abuse control commission (CICAD), the directors of the unit for the promotion of democracy and the trade unit, and the executive director of the human rights commission. Secretariat personnel conduct the activities of all the OAS units and serve as the staff for the commissions, councils, and other bodies.

The staff of the General Secretariat is composed of personnel chosen mainly from the member states, with consideration given to geographic representation. Staff members, numbering about 575, are considered international civil servants. The OAS Secretariat also maintains a small office in many member states.

The General Assembly is the supreme organ of the OAS. It holds a regular session each year, either in one of the member states or at headquarters in Washington, DC. In special circumstances, and with the approval of two-thirds of the member states, the Permanent Council can convoke a special session of the General Assembly. Delegations are usually headed by foreign ministers. In addition to deliberating on current issues, the General Assembly approves the program-budget; sets the bases for fixing member-state quota assessments; establishes measures for coordinating the activities of the organs, agencies, and entities of the OAS; and determines the general standards that govern the operation of the General Secretariat. General Assembly decisions usually take the form of resolutions, which must be approved by a majority of all members (two-thirds for agenda, budget, and certain other questions).

A consultation meeting of foreign ministers can be called by any member state, either "to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American States" (as stated in the OAS Charter) or to serve as an organ of consultation in cases of armed attack or other threats to international peace and security (per the Rio Treaty). In either case, the request must be directed to the Permanent Council of the OAS, which decides by absolute majority vote if the meeting is to be called. In cases between member states, the affected parties are excluded from voting. Should an armed attack take place within the territory of an American state or within the Western Hemisphere security zone defined by the Rio Treaty, a meeting of consultation is held without delay. Until the ministers of foreign affairs can assemble, the Permanent Council is empowered to act as a provisional organ of consultation and make decisions.

The Permanent Council, composed of ambassadors representing each member state, usually meets every two weeks throughout the year in Washington, DC. The council, its standing committees, and special working groups conduct the day-to-day business of the OAS, which involves implementing mandates from the General Assemblies, designing and assessing activities to promote democracy and strengthen human rights, considering requests from members, debating and approving resolutions on current issues, and dealing with reports from subsidiary organs.

In an emergency, a special session of the council can be called immediately by its chairman or at the request of any member. The chair rotates every three months, in alphabetical order. Unlike the UN Security Council, no member can exercise a veto in the Permanent Council. OAS members place great importance on obtaining consensus before decisions are made. The Permanent Council also serves provisionally as the organ of consultation (for meetings of foreign ministers) and every year acts as the preparatory committee for the General Assembly.

The Inter-American Council for Integral Development meets annually at the ministerial level; its subsidiary entities meet more frequently. CIDI also convokes ministerial-level sectoral meetings in areas such a labor and education to consider specialized issues in the priority areas of the Strategic Plan.


Much important inter-American business is conducted by separate entities, some of which are independent, some fully or partially funded by the OAS, and others consisting simply of periodic hemispheric meetings which receive support from the OAS Secretariat. Subjects covered include agriculture, labor, copyrights, private international law, highways, ports and harbors, railways, telecommunications, health and sanitation, statistics, travel, child welfare, Indian affairs, and tourism. The conferences are attended by high-level officials and technical experts to further inter-American cooperation in these fields.

The Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI), with headquarters in Montevideo, Uruguay, is concerned with the problems of minors and families, including growing numbers of "street children," and children in armed conflict. It serves as a center for social action and programs in the fields of health, education, social legislation, legislation on adoptions, social service, and statistics. IACI has contributed extensively to international jurisprudence in the field of family law; the most recent example of this work is model legislation on international adoption.

The Inter-American Commission on Women (CIM), established in 1927, was the first international organization focusing on women's issues. It works to extend the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of women in the hemisphere. Now concerned with women's integration into development and decisionmaking processes, domestic violence, trafficking in women, and women's human rights, CIM research and seminars have focused on women and politics, women and employment, and violence against women. The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para) was drafted under the auspices of the CIM. It was opened for signature at the OAS General Assembly in 1994 and has been signed by 29 OAS members. In April 2000, the CIM ministerial adopted the Inter-American Program on Women's Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality. CIM maintains an Internet home page at http://www.oas.org/CIM/default.htm.

The Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) was created in 1942 to plan and coordinate collective hemispheric defense. In 1993, it arranged for training by the U.S. Department of Defense of a team of 15 demining instructors from Latin American nations, who, in turn, instructed members of the Nicaraguan military on techniques for removing thousands of land mines left in the countryside as a result of civil conflict during the 1980's. In 1995 and 1996, the IADB demining programs were extended to Honduras and Costa Rica; in 1997 demining began in Guatemala. The IADB's internet address is: http://www.jid.org.

The Inter-American Defense College (IADC), supervised by the IADB, enhances military professionalism and promotes regional military cooperation. The college usually trains about 60 students per year, most of whom are field-grade officers, who attain leadership positions in their respective services.

Other entities in the inter-American system are financed outside the OAS budget. Except for the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), which relies heavily on private sector contributions and a small subsidy from the OAS, and the IDB, which has significant financial support from nonhemispheric members, the U.S. quota assessment for these entities is, as for the OAS itself, roughly 59%.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the first of the regional development banks, was established in 1959 to provide lending attuned to the development needs of Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to nations of the hemisphere, 15 European nations plus Japan and Israel are now members, but only Latin American and Caribbean members are eligible borrowers. The IDB's ordinary capital window provides development funds at market-related terms, while its Fund for Special Operations offers financing at concessional terms for projects in countries classified as economically less developed. The bank's internet address is: http://www.iadb.org.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), founded in 1942 and headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, assists member states in promoting agricultural health and food safety, strengthening national agricultural institutional systems, and eliminating barriers to trade in agricultural commodities. IICA supports efforts to increase agricultural productivity, employment opportunities in rural sectors, and rural participation in development activities. IICA also has an excellent record in preventing the spread of threatening animal and plant diseases and in helping members develop sustainable methods of food production. Policy direction comes from ministers of agriculture in each member country, who form the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA).

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), created in 1902, has served as the Western Hemisphere arm of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) since 1948. It coordinates hemispheric efforts to combat disease and promote physical and mental health. It has contributed significantly to eradicating communicable diseases and promoting improved sanitation and health conditions. PAHO's internet address is: http://www.paho.org.

The Pan American Institute for Geography and History (PAIGH) encourages the coordination, standardization, and publication of regional geographic, historical, cartographic, and geophysical studies. Member countries receive information and technical assistance to locate and develop their natural resources. Established in 1928, the PAIGH preserves and documents historical data through research and publication. It also facilitates cooperative relationships between U.S. agencies and other countries in such vital areas as aviation safety and natural disaster mitigation.

The Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII), created by the Patzcuaro Convention in 1940 and headquartered in Mexico City, initiates, coordinates, and directs research to promote better understanding of the health, education, and economic and social problems of Indian populations. It provides a forum for indigenous leaders and government representatives to discuss mutually acceptable approached to address the many problems facing Indian communities in the Americas.

The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is a quasipublic international organization which, although created by the OAS in 1962, receives more than half its financial support from U.S. corporations and other private sources. Intended to serve as a social service partner for corporations operating in Latin American and the Caribbean, PADF has channeled more than $100 million into development projects that mobilize private sector support in recipient countries. It also coordinates disaster relief. The PADF qualifies for charitable donations under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3).


Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is http://1997-2001.state.gov.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet ( http://www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

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