The Pan-American Union is founded by the First International Conference of American States in Washington, D.C

The Pan-American Union is founded by the First International Conference of American States in Washington, D.C

14 April 1890 AC

The Organization of American States (Spanish: Organización de los Estados Americanos, Portuguese: Organização dos Estados Americanos, French: Organisation des États américains), or the OAS, is a regional international organization. The OAS was founded on 30 April 1948, and has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., United States. Its members are the 35 independent states of the Americas.

Since 26 May 2005, the Secretary General of OAS has been José Miguel Insulza.



The notion of an international union in the New World was first put forward by Simón Bolívar who, at the 1826 Congress of Panama, proposed creating a league of 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 ratified only by Gran Colombia. Bolívar's dream soon floundered 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. Bolívar's dream of American unity was meant to unify Latin American nations against imperial domination by external power.


The pursuit of regional solidarity and cooperation again came to the forefront in 1889–1890, 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 1901–1902). 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 Pan American Union Building was constructed in 1910, on Constitution Avenue, Northwest, Washington, D.C.

In the mid-1930s, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt organized an inter-American conference in Buenos Aires. One of the items at the conference was a "League of Nations of the Americas", an idea proposed by Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. At the subsequent Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 21 nations pledged to remain neutral in the event of a conflict between any two members. 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 Ninth International Conference of American States was held in Bogotá between March and May 1948 and led by United States Secretary of State George Marshall, a meeting which led to a pledge by members to fight communism in the western hemisphere. 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, Bogotá considered the first defensive state in the event of war, of the Organization of American States.


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. The current Secretary General is former Chilean minister of the interior and foreign minister José Miguel Insulza.


Significant milestones in the history of the OAS since the signing of the Charter have included the following:


1959: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created.

1961: Charter of Punta del Este signed, launching the Alliance for Progress.

1962: OAS suspends Cuba.

1969: American Convention on Human Rights signed (in force since 1978).

1970: OAS General Assembly established as the Organization's supreme decision-making body.

1979: Inter-American Court of Human Rights created.

1991: Adoption of Resolution 1080, which requires the Secretary General to convene the Permanent Council within ten days of a coup d'état in any member country.

1994: First Summit of the Americas (Miami), which resolved to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005.

2001: Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted.

2009: OAS revokes 1962 suspension of Cuba.

2009: OAS suspends Honduras due to the coup which ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

2011: OAS lifts the suspension of Honduras with the return of Manuel Zelaya from exile.


Goals and purpose

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, judicial, 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 continent.

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 part in the removal of landmines deployed in member states 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 counter-terrorism front.

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 aiming to establish a continental 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, preservation of cultural diversity, planning for global climate change, sustainable tourism, and natural disaster mitigation.


Organizational structure

The Organization of American States is composed of an Organization of American States General Secretariat, the Permanent Council, the Inter-American Council for Integral Development, and a number of committees.

The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States consists of six secretariats.


Secretariat for Political Affairs

Executive Secretariat for Integral Development

Secretariat for Multidimensional Security

Secretariat for Administration and Finance

Secretariat for Legal Affairs

Secretariat for External Relations

The various committees of the Organization of American States include:


The Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs

The Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Affairs

The Committee on Hemispheric Security

The Committee on Inter-American Summits Management and Civil Society Participation in OAS Activities


General Assembly

The General Assembly is the supreme decision-making body of OAS. It convenes once every year in a regular session. In special circumstances, and with the approval of two-thirds of the member states, the Permanent Council can convene special sessions.


The Organization's member states take turns hosting the General Assembly on a rotating basis. The states are represented at its sessions by their chosen delegates: generally, their ministers of foreign affairs, or their appointed deputies. Each state has one vote, and most matters – except for those for which the Charter or the General Assembly's own rules of procedure specifically require a two-thirds majority – are settled by a simple majority vote.


The General Assembly's powers include setting the OAS's general course and policies by means of resolutions and declarations; approving its budget and determining the contributions payable by the member states; approving the reports and previous year's actions of the OAS's specialized agencies; and electing members to serve on those agencies.