Organization of American States Is Founded

The creation of the Organization of American States, or OAS, established a vehicle for all nations in the Americas to work toward common goals. From its inception, the OAS has championed human rights by attempting to prevent warfare between member nations and by condemning human rights violations within these nations.

Summary of Event

After World War II, the traditional preeminence of Latin American countries in U.S. diplomacy was replaced by the demands of Europe and the Far East upon U.S. money and military strength. Latin America was not forgotten, but the United States concentrated on the communist threat to Western Europe and gave highest priority to economic and military aid in that region. This change would lead to difficulties with Latin America. In the years between 1945 and 1948, the United States was interested primarily in hemispheric security, whereas the Latin American nations wanted to further their own internal economic development. [kw]Organization of American States Is Founded (Apr. 30, 1948)
[kw]American States Is Founded, Organization of (Apr. 30, 1948)
[kw]States Is Founded, Organization of American (Apr. 30, 1948)
Organization of American States
Organization of American States
[g]Latin America;Apr. 30, 1948: Organization of American States Is Founded[02460]
[g]Colombia;Apr. 30, 1948: Organization of American States Is Founded[02460]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Apr. 30, 1948: Organization of American States Is Founded[02460]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 30, 1948: Organization of American States Is Founded[02460]
[c]Human rights;Apr. 30, 1948: Organization of American States Is Founded[02460]
Lleras Camargo, Alberto
Marshall, George C.
[p]Marshall, George C.;and Latin America[Latin America]
Truman, Harry S.
[p]Truman, Harry S.;Cold War
Gaitán, Jorge Eliécer

This principle of hemispheric defense had been confirmed by the Act of Havana Act of Havana (1940) of July, 1940. The agreement, signed by the twenty-one republics of the Pan-American Union Pan-American Union[PanAmerican Union] , provided that the republics of the Americas, individually or collectively, should control and administer any European possession in the Western Hemisphere threatened by any act of aggression. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, most Latin American nations had declared war on Germany and Japan, thus causing pan-Americanism to be strengthened. This wartime cooperation was continued by such agreements as the Act of Chapultepec Act of Chapultepec (1945) of March 3, 1945, which recognized that aggression against any American nation was aggression against all of them. Two years later, negotiations were undertaken for the purpose of creating a permanent defensive alliance.

On June 3, 1947, U.S. president Harry S. Truman announced that the United States was willing to negotiate an inter-American mutual defense pact Cold War;mutual defense agreements . Working to secure this end, in August a conference of twenty-one American nations convened at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. U.S. secretary of state George C. Marshall spoke for the United States. Faced by clamor demanding a Marshall Plan for Latin America, the secretary of state asked that such economic questions be postponed temporarily. The principal result of the conference was the signing, on September 2, of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (1947)[InterAmerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance] providing for active cooperation in the event of any attack on an American nation. Members agreed to consult together if the threat of aggression arose against any of their number, and eventually all twenty-one American republics ratified the treaty.

This pact became the model for later mutual security agreements, but it failed to set up methods by which signatories of the pact could be convened or make decisions and carry out resolutions. The questions left unanswered at the Rio de Janeiro conference were held over for the Ninth International Conference of American States Ninth International Conference of American States (1948) , which met at Bogotá, Colombia, in the spring of 1948. This conference led to the formation of the Organization of American States (OAS). The charter was signed by twenty-one founding-member states on April 30, and members elected then-former president of Colombia, Alberto Lleras Camargo, as the first general secretary of the OAS. (Lleras Camargo would become Colombian president again, in 1958.)

Soon after the delegates arrived for the Bogotá conference, riots broke out in the Colombian capital, which almost disrupted the meeting. Secretary of State Marshall, who again headed the U.S. delegation, addressed the second plenary session. Describing the tremendous economic, military, and humanitarian responsibilities that the United States was undertaking all over the world, Marshall confessed that U.S. resources were limited. He bluntly admitted that a Marshall Plan for Latin America was not possible. Europe was the critical front, and success there would ensure universal economic stability.

The most critical topic at Bogotá was the establishment of permanent machinery for hemispheric cooperation. Discussions of this important matter were interrupted abruptly on April 9, when Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, leader of the opposition Liberal Party in Colombia, was assassinated in downtown Bogotá. The violence provoked a riot that soon spread out of control. For several days, the visiting delegations were besieged in their embassies and hotel rooms. Much of Bogotá lay in ruins by the time that the Colombian army gained control of the situation. On April 14, the conference was able to resume its meetings in a boys’ school near the U.S. embassy.

The major achievement of the conference was the creation of the OAS, which was accomplished by renaming and reorganizing an existing organization, the sixty-year-old Pan-American Union. The charter of the OAS consolidated into one organization what previously had been an informal association acting on matters of common concern, but it replaced the flexibility of the former inter-American system with a rigid, more coherent pattern of rights and obligations. Although the OAS was not an entirely new inter-American organization, there were clear distinctions in theory and in practice between the OAS and the old Pan-American Union.

Under the OAS charter, all American nations that ratified it agreed to certain basic principles: international law and order govern inter-American relations, especially the idea of equality of member states; an act of aggression against one will be considered to be aggression against all; any controversy between states shall be decided by peaceful means; and the well-being of the American peoples depends on social justice, political democracy, economic welfare, and mutual respect for national cultural values. The most important provisions of the charter were those that created the machinery for carrying out its principles. Six organizations were established: the Inter-American Conference, the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Specialized Conferences, the OAS Council, the Pan-American Union, and Specialized Organizations. The first three bodies were given responsibility for issues of a political, economic, or general nature. The Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers was an emergency assembly reserved for matters of extreme urgency, such as an armed threat to hemispheric peace.


The organization thus created was less than an autonomous international body. The OAS could exercise authority only in limited areas; it was the creature of those nations that brought it into existence. Nevertheless, formation of the OAS did strengthen cooperation among the republics of the Western Hemisphere, and increasingly it has become the vehicle for majority action in the political and military realms.

Although the OAS was founded in 1948, its charter actually took force on December 13, 1951. Since that time, as economic, social, and political views have evolved, the OAS has restructured, reformed, and modernized to stay abreast of events and address issues as they arise. In 1967, the Protocol of Buenos Aires enabled the inclusion of new ideas in economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural fields. In 1985, the Protocol of Cartagena called for representative democracy within the already established policy of nonintervention. An example of this in action was the organization’s efforts to assure peaceful and democratic elections in Haiti in December, 1995. An OAS observation mission spent a month in Haiti before the elections, observed voting throughout the country on election day, and monitored the vote counts. The Managua Protocol, which was adopted on June 10, 1993, calls for a cooperative effort to encourage development and eliminate abject poverty from the Western Hemisphere; this policy was ratified upon the approval of two-thirds of the members and was officially put in place on January 29, 1996. The OAS remained active in Haiti through the political instability experienced there in 2004-2005, in an effort to monitor elections in that troubled country. With the rise of democratic governments, the OAS is frequently engaged with member states to ensure free and fair elections.

Other measures of great interest within the OAS include human rights, the rights of women, an end to domestic violence, and an end to the use of violence as a way to overthrow governments. The Protocol of Washington, which was adopted in 1992, calls for suspending the rights of any member of the organization’s councils if that member’s government has been overthrown by force. This protocol, which entered into force in 1997, is designed to pressure countries into settling disagreements and ousting unpopular or corrupt governments by peaceful means, such as through the ballot box. Organization of American States

Further Reading

  • Connell-Smith, Gordon. The Inter-American System. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966. An informative study of how the inter-American system works, and a good presentation of the original Bogotá meeting in 1948.
  • Harris, David J., and Stephen Livingstone, eds. The Inter-American System of Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Anthology exploring the history and status of human rights in the Americas and the international treaties and laws designed to enforce those rights.
  • Matthews, Herbert L., ed. The United States and Latin America. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. A thorough look at the United States and its relationship with members of the OAS in Latin America.
  • Melish, Tara. Protecting Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in the Inter-American Human Rights System: A Manual Presenting Claims. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Law School, 2002. A practical guide to the inter-American human rights system and its functioning in the early twenty-first century.
  • Mower, A. Glenn, Jr. Regional Human Rights: A Comparative Study of the West European and Inter-American Systems. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. Considers the question of human rights, a subject of increasing importance in international relations.
  • Muñoz, Heraldo. The Future of the OAS. New York: Twentieth Century Free Press, 1993. Discusses the anticipated role of the OAS in the twenty-first century.
  • Palmer, Bruce, Jr. Intervention in the Caribbean: The Dominican Crisis of 1965. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1989. A thoughtful look at one of the most important crises to face the OAS, and how that crisis was handled by the organization.
  • Shaw, Carolyn M. Cooperation, Conflict, and Consensus in the Organization of American States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. A study of conflict management and global security among OAS member-states.
  • Stoetzer, O. Carlos. The Organization of American States: An Introduction. New York: Praeger, 1965. An easy-to-understand, introductory examination of the OAS.
  • Thomas, Christopher R. The Organization of American States in Its Fiftieth Year: Overview of a Regional Commitment. Washington, D.C.: Organization of American States, 1998. In-house report of the fifty-year anniversary of the organization. Includes a bibliography.

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Inter-American Court of Human Rights Is Established