60 Years of Inter-American Cooperation at the Organization of American States

Posted by Andrew Stevenson
April 30, 2008
President Bush and Jose Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS

About the Author: Andrew Stevenson serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS).

When I learned early last year that the Organization of American States (OAS), the world's oldest regional organization, was planning to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2008, I took advantage of the occasion to learn more about the history of the OAS and the role played therein by the U.S.

During the hours I had spent in negotiations at the Main OAS Building in downtown Washington , I had already become familiar with the prominent fig and rubber hybrid Peace Tree planted in the central patio in 1910 by President Taft during the dedication ceremonies for the organization then known as the Pan American Union. But I quickly realized that more recent inter-American cooperation stems from the early roots symbolized by the Peace Tree, manifesting itself in a variety of other forms and shared commitments over the years.

In fact, today marks the 60th anniversary of the Charter of the OAS, a document signed by the U.S. and 20 other countries of the Americas at the Ninth International Conference of American States on April 30 1948, in Bogotá , Colombia . Concurrent with the adoption of the Charter, the same states also adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, predating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by more than six months.

In the 60 years since the founding of the OAS, the Americas have undergone profound and positive changes. All 35 countries of the Americas have ratified the OAS Charter and belong to the Organization -- even Cuba , though the current Cuban government was excluded from participation in 1962. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved on September 11, 2001, also underscored the strength of a deepened OAS consensus on democracy.

When the OAS returns to Colombia to hold its annual General Assembly next month, it will do so acknowledging these past challenges and accomplishments. From the seeds planted by Simon Bolívar, who expressed his dream of a Pan-American union "with a single bond that unites its parts among themselves and to the whole" in his famous 1815 "Letter from Jamaica ," the OAS has truly grown in importance and relevance.

The U.S. commitment to the OAS was strong and forward-looking from the start. President Truman's June 16, 1951 statement on U.S. ratification of the OAS Charter reflected shared post-war and security concerns, a recognition that "we are bound together by a common past and by common beliefs," and interest in engaging the OAS in advancing the region's diverse interests. Observing that the "pace of change is not fast enough," President Johnson's remarks on the 20th anniversary of the OAS emphasized support for the Alliance for Progress and the Inter-American Development Bank.

President Bush also underscored the important role which the U.S. plays in the region and in the Organization when, shortly after being sworn into office, he addressed the OAS, attended three OAS-organized Summits of the Americas , and later served as host to its 2005 General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale .

Over the past two years, I have attended numerous OAS meetings, and seen up close the real impact which the OAS is having on people's lives. As a result, I also know that the work of the OAS parallels key U.S. interests in promoting democracy, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, fostering economic development, and combating terrorism, illegal drugs, and corruption.

In negotiating resolutions in preparation for the OAS General Assembly next month under the theme of "Youth and Democratic Values," I am constantly reminded of the high hopes and aspirations which we - and other member states -- have put on paper over the years, in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. I also am reminded that Bolívar's ideals of Pan Americanism, based on independence, sovereignty, and the right of all nations to live in peace, find clear expression in the work of the OAS and its Charter. The challenge we now face is making tangible -- especially for youth -- this vision of a just, united and democratic hemisphere.

More information available at the OAS website.

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