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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Op-Ed: The OAS Marks Fifty Years
for Diario Las Americas, Miami, Florida
June 7, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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The OAS Marks Fifty Years

Fifty years ago, on April 30, 1948, twenty Latin American republics and the United States of America signed the Charter in Bogota, Colombia, establishing the Organization of American States (OAS). That act gave birth to an international organization of the Americas devoted to advancing peace, justice, and democracy through the cooperative efforts of sovereign, independent nations. Today, the OAS is the premier multilateral forum for forging consensus, exchanging experience, and cooperating on a multitude of issues affecting our hemisphere as well as for addressing a range of global issues of concern to all peaceful nations.

The OAS has worked intensively to promote the spread of democracy and to preserve democratic systems by creating observer missions to insure that elections are conducted freely and openly. Last year the OAS became the first and only regional organization committed by its Charter to suspend the participation of any member state whose democratically elected government is overthrown by force. OAS members have successfully negotiated major international agreements to curb hemispheric arms trafficking, combat corruption, battle international crime, and define fair telecommunications standards. The OAS has been at the forefront of promoting cooperative efforts to halt the use, production, and trafficking in illegal drugs. Its members have made the eradication of extreme poverty one of the OAS's primary concerns. The OAS has also made substantial contributions to international law, juridical cooperation, the advance of free trade and economic integration, and preservation of the environment.

The OAS begins its next fifty years in a strong position: it has reinforced its commitment to the furtherance of democracy in this hemisphere, displayed a willingness to confront new issues, and accepted responsibility for implementing many of the proposals entrusted to it by the second Summit of the Americas held in Santiago, Chile, last April. The tasks facing the organization as it embarks on its next half-century were addressed last week during the OAS General Assembly, which convened in Caracas June 1-3 for the Twenty-Eighth regular session.

During those meetings, I joined U.S. Special Envoy for the Americas Thomas F. McLarty III, and foreign ministers from throughout the hemisphere in discussing strategies for renewing the inter-American system, strengthening systems of justice, and cooperating to advance development in the Americas. Our challenge in implementing those strategies is to improve the lives of all our peoples. This is a test we must meet, if the democratic ideals we all cherish are to further deepen their hold within our region.

At the summit in Santiago, our leaders came together with an eye on the future and came away with fresh strategies for promoting education, fighting poverty, creating opportunity, improving health care and combating disease to continue the progress made since the summit in Miami four years ago. We know that, in many parts of our hemisphere, rural poverty has declined, children are staying in school longer, women are gaining more equitable access to education, health care and economic opportunity. And programs are in place to extend micro-enterprise loans to one million new customers over the next several years. Despite the progress, huge challenges of underdevelopment remain. In Caracas, we continued working to ensure that the institutions of the OAS provide as much help as possible in responding to these challenges.

Although the issue of Cuba was not on the agenda for the General Assembly, I found broad agreement in Caracas that we all wanted to see a democratic Cuba reintegrated into the OAS. After all, the OAS is a club of democracies united by shared values and principles. It is in our interest and that of the hemisphere that the OAS remains so. Unfortunately, for the Cuban people as well as Cuba's neighbors, Cuba remains the odd man out in this hemisphere. Until the Cuban government undertakes fundamental democratic change, the United States will continue to oppose Cuba's reintegration into regional organizations and its return to the OAS.

The resolutions and the principles that were adopted by the General Assembly and set forth in the Declaration of Caracas represent significant progress toward further strengthening the OAS, advancing peace and security, and bringing the benefits of open societies and open markets within the reach of all of our citizens. By forcefully condemning the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, the OAS again demonstrated its commitment to building a peaceful and secure world. Those goals are also reflected in the Assembly's adoption of model regulations to implement the Firearms Convention signed last fall in the presence of President Clinton and President Zedillo as well as in the framework previously adopted by the OAS to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of our regional counternarcotics efforts.

As we mark the organization's fiftieth anniversary, we continue to renovate and renew the OAS to insure that it will effectively meet the challenges of the next century. The OAS plays a critical role in helping to forge an inter-American partnership dedicated to creating strong democracies, sustainable development, and open, prosperous economies throughout the Americas. We are proud of what the OAS has achieved since 1948 and will work to make sure that progress continues in the years ahead.

[End of Document]

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