22 September 1998
Original: Spanish


(Document prepared by the General Secretariat)

Organization of American States
Washington, DC
The Secretary General
September 15, 1998


I have the honor to transmit to Your Excellency the General Secretariat’s reference document on reform and modernization of the OAS.

This document was prepared to provide background information for the discussions of the Special Joint Working Group of the Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development on the process of strengthening and modernizing the OAS. It is part of the package of documents on institutional reform to which I referred in the note I sent you this past July 31.

Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

C�sar Gaviria

His Excellency
Ambassador Antonio Mercader
Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the
Organization of American States
Chair of the Permanent Council
Washington, DC


Reference Document on Reform and Modernization of the OAS


At the dawn of a new century, the Americas face fresh challenges and opportunities. Growing global interdependence following the Cold War reveals that most of today's problems can only be solved through cooperation. Regional organizations have a key role to play within this new Hemispheric dynamic, but it is a role that can only be fulfilled if they are modernized and adapted to the new world context.

For the Organization of American States, the challenge is significant. At the 1994 Summit of the Americas, held in Miami, and at the more recent Summit in Santiago, Chile, the Heads of Government of the Hemisphere, entrusted the OAS with a series of new mandates. These define the parameters for change in the Organization and commit the nations of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen the Inter-American system.

The first steps towards renewal of the OAS have already been taken. The OAS General Secretariat began its modernization with a new system of cooperation for development along with administrative reform and budget rationalization. An Enterprise level information system is being installed and staff has been streamlined.

While the OAS enjoyed early progress in this effort, the assembled Heads of State and Government of the region recognized during the Second Summit that the process of modernization needed to be deepened. In the Declaration of Santiago they stated:

Recognizing the importance of, and positive role played by hemispheric institutions, particularly the Organization of American States (OAS), we instruct our Ministers to examine the strengthening and modernizing of these institutions.


This effort of renewing the OAS has been the subject of debate both within and outside the Organization. The purpose of this document is, therefore, to provide a compendium of the multiple views and proposals on the subject as put forward by different authors and institutions.

I. The debate within the OAS during the last decade

In 1988 the General Assembly convened a Task Force of Ministers of Foreign to conduct an in-depth review of the role of the OAS /. The Task Force adopted a resolution which became the basis of a Program of Action that included the following topics:

1. Strengthening of the OAS as a political forum and instrument for Inter-American understanding and cooperation on the basis of the free exercise of multilateral diplomacy;
2. Human rights;
3. Drug abuse control;
4. Development financing and the external debt;
5. Trade;
6. Integration and development of Inter-American law;
7. Technical cooperation;
8. Clandestine arms traffic and its effect on the peace and security of the hemisphere;
9. Presidential Summit of Heads of State and of Government;
10. Regulation of the obligation for the member States to pay their quota assessments.

In order to study the Program of Action, the Permanent Council formed a Working Group on the Strengthening of the OAS. Between 1989 and 1995, the Group presented reports on the various issues, drafted resolutions on specific topics and recommended that certain matters be assigned to other working groups and committees.

In addition, in 1990 the XX Regular Session of the General Assembly, instructed the Secretary General "to establish a high-level independent Consultation Group to examine the future of hemispheric relations and the orientation to be given to and use to be made of the Inter-American system in light of present changes in the hemisphere and throughout the world"/. That group, made up of prominent leaders of the region, defined broad lines of political action, but did not dwell either on the Organization’s administration, or the internal structure of its organs, agencies and bodies.

The final report argued that "[t]his is the ideal time in history for us to modernize and revitalize the OAS" and concluded that "it [is] vital that the OAS be updated and modernized so that it will be better able to carry out its functions in keeping with the new challenges facing the countries of the hemisphere. The Group recommends that the member states see about strengthening the Organization in view of the preeminence it should have as a political forum for dialogue and negotiation, and as an instrument of cooperation, integration and solidarity among the countries of the hemisphere. The political will of member states is of the essence if this is to be achieved. If the political will does not exist, then there is no justification for the Organization's continue existence.

Following are some of the more general issues addressed in the report of the Consultation Group with regard to the future direction and use of the Inter-American system:

1. The Group concluded that peace and security issues take second stage to more topical economic and social problems of the hemisphere. This, in turn, suggests a need to strengthen and reorganize the OAS to enable it to fulfill its responsibilities in these areas more effectively, while also improving its operations in connection with other objectives embodied in its Charter, particularly those relating to the promotion and strengthening of democracy and the defense of human rights.

The new direction to be given to the future role of the OAS must be guided by the following conclusions and objectives:

Reaffirmation of the basic principles enshrined in the Charter of the OAS: It is vital that the OAS be modernized and strengthened on the basis of respect for international law, and specifically of Inter-American law.

Balance between the principles of free self-determination of peoples and non-intervention: In addition to playing a role in elections in response to a precise request from the governments, the OAS should sponsor greater contacts between the parliaments and judicial bodies of all member states.

High priority to the problems of economic and social development in the hemisphere: The OAS must play a leading role in Inter-American dialogue and cooperation so as to overcome current problems and redirect the area's general developments to achieve economic and social efficiency. This, in turn, would strengthen the region's democratic processes and the extension and effective exercise of human rights, including social and economic rights.

2. The integration process comprises, in addition to the political, economic, trade and financial aspects, others of a cultural and social nature. It is essential to spread the spirit of American fraternity and culture and make the OAS an expression of the irrefutable will to achieve understanding among the nations of the region. The OAS must play a crucial role in promoting integration through education, culture and information.

3. The OAS must continue to promote and expand its action in the area of the environment, development, and population problems. The environment and development are priority themes of the moment. Every effort must be made to achieve a development that is sustainable in ecological terms, reconciling the natural and human environments. An integral approach to the ecological problem is called for, one that includes access to technology and to other resources needed by the developing countries if they are to address it adequately.

4. Inter-American Juridical Development: The OAS must promote its action for the juridical development of the Inter-American System, especially in the areas of cooperation and economic integration.

5. Collective Security: The development needs of the people of the Americas and the responses they demand call for the acceptance of the modern integral concept of security which has an economic and social side in addition to the military one.

6. Relationship with international and Inter-American organizations: There is a need to increase coordination between the OAS and the United Nations, the other organizations of the Inter-American System, regional Latin American and Caribbean organizations, and with regional organizations of other continents.

7. Organization and functioning of the OAS and the Inter-American system: - The technical and administrative situation of the OAS should be reviewed, in order to increase its effectiveness and avoid duplication of efforts.

The renewal of the OAS as a center for political dialogue in the hemisphere calls for better use of the powers invested in its Councils, and endowing the Secretary General with greater initiative and action-taking capacity.

It is important to facilitate access by governments of member States and the general public to the resources and information available at the Organization, especially in matters of trade; it should therefore be given modern communications equipment.

8. The need for adequate human and financial resources:

The member states must recognize the need for a proper balance between the tasks and resources of the OAS. The Organization must be given sufficient resources for it to carry out the missions entrusted to it efficiently. The OAS must establish a system of sanctions for default of quota payments, as the UN has done.

The OAS's priorities must be clearly defined and resources allocated as a matter of priority to more important activities, cutting back resources for other activities and getting rid of those found to be superfluous.

In 1995 the Secretary General presented a working document entitled A New Vision of the OAS, with specific ideas and proposals for action to be taken with a view to strengthening and revamping the Organization. In April of this year, the Assistant Secretary General presented The Organization of American States in its 50th Year. Overview of a Regional Commitment, his reflections about the continuing process of evolution of the OAS.

Last June, the modernization of the OAS was thoroughly discussed during the XXVIII General Assembly held in Caracas, Venezuela, and was one of the three topics chosen for the dialogue of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the region.

II. The views and proposals of various authors and institutions:

In the last decade, many essays and reports have been written on the challenges facing the OAS in the post-cold war era. The following table presents a short summary of the proposals and general views of various authors and institutions:




General Comments and Proposals

Scheman, Ronald. "Rebuilding the OAS: A Program for its Second Century," Inter-American Review of Bibliography, vol. 28, no. 4, 1989,

pp. 527-534.

The international agenda holds much for an active OAS. Drugs. Environment. Debt. Technology. Refugees. Transportation. Energy. These are all issues beyond the control of any individual nation. Their impact crosses all national frontiers. They are, by definition, Inter-American issues. They are -by definition- the OAS. There are several ways in which the OAS can begin to deal with them more effectively.

First, we must separate the political and development agendas. They are governed by entirely different criteria. A serious development agenda requires analysis and decisions on development issues by experts in each field. The delegations to the OAS in Washington are not prepared to deal with them. We must get the real experts, the active forces within each nation, to deal with them. The US could set the example for the nations with one significant action. Let AID assume the portfolio of representation before the Inter-American development councils. AID officials are professionally deeply involved in the process of development and are accustomed to managing money.

Second, the OAS has tried to be a multi-functional agency serving all development needs. It does not work -either from a budgetary or staffing point of view. We must separate the development agenda to focus on specific issues and make it easier for the real actors to get involved. This means involving more than government officials, to include private sector, labor groups, educators and civic leaders.

There is no reason why the OAS cannot devise procedures to allow mixed working groups of public and private sector entities to make recommendations to its governing bodies. More important, by involving diverse sectors of the societies, the OAS will build an understanding and a constituency; it will involve people who know what they are talking about and who will be pleased at the opportunity to register their views with their governments. This is participation. It will make the OAS relevant. It will get results.

Third, we should consider moving part of the development activities of the OAS to new headquarters in Latin America or the Caribbean (Kingston, Caracas, San Jos�, Quito).

In addition, Scheman argues that the OAS should play a vital role in development assistance. The need for these services is insatiable in the Americas considering our world of accelerating technological change. The development equation, however, has two components: money and people. The international banks provide the money. But without educated and trained people, money is useless. This is the role of the OAS. It can and should be the principal entity of our hemisphere concentrating on the need for development of the human and technical skills of our hemisphere.

Vaky, Viron . "The OAS and Multilateralism in the Americas." In: Vaky, Viron and Mu�oz, Heraldo, The Future of the OAS, New York, Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993, pp. 3-65.

Viron Vaky considers that today there is a uniquely auspicious climate for hemispheric cooperation, that presents a historic -but passing- opportunity to revitalize the OAS. While the particular circumstances for which the Organization was originally created have changed over time, its underlying raison d’etre has remained powerful. It is still the only place where all the countries of the hemisphere can meet with a regional focus on regional policy and mutual problems and none of the myriad other organizations and subregional arrangements can fully replace it.

International organizations like the OAS and the UN are instruments of the States that formed them. They are neither a deus ex machina nor a self executing mechanism like the World Bank, and therefore can be no more or less than the member States want them to be. It is unrealistic to think that the member States will make huge changes suddenly, sharply transforming both the OAS and the region's dynamics. Pragmatically, the best chance for the development of the OAS lies in incrementalism: small gains, modest shifts in attitude and cumulative processes that add up over time to substantial advances. As the hemisphere nations learn to work with the OAS and channel more and more of their interlocking relationship through it, they will get both experience and reassurance in the process. The OAS could conceivably become a more determinative organization, an agent as well as a product of change.

Throughout the years, the OAS has–cautiously but noticeably–widened agreement as to what principles ought to govern states’ behavior across a range of issues. In that sense, it has become a real source of legitimacy for governments. Consensus building, especially in terms of reinterpreting traditional precepts and legal concepts, promises to be the soundest long-term route to the development of regimes for various issues that cross state borders.

Having made reasonable progress in building consensus, member States are now forced to grapple with the consequences. What is the extent of their collective responsibility to carry out and defend the norms they proclaim? The OAS has, throughout its history, demonstrated some ad hoc capacities for collective action. But today, the need is for much more systematic capabilities. Without further progress in that direction, consensus building risks degenerating into a mere exercise of hortatory rhetoric. Even where there is a broad sharing of basic values and goals, member States still differ among themselves as to just what that means for the OAS in terms of specific roles and functions. A few would prefer that it be little more than a forum for debates and discussion. Others believe that its ability to act as a collective should be carefully circumscribed and controlled by the members. Still others are prepared to vest some power and authority in the Organization to act as the region’s agent for joint management of problems that cannot be handled adequately any other way.

The difference of opinion puts a premium on diplomacy, dialogue and shared learning. It means recognizing the nature of basic fears and concerns about sovereignty and nonintervention, and the depth of the reflexive suspicions about US motives and intentions that exist in Latin America. Precisely because the OAS is an instrument of its members, efforts need to be made to build support for the OAS within individual states and to make the concepts, ideals and goals of regional governance attractive to national leaders and the public. Unless the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean feel that they have a real stake in the system, and unless they feel assured that the US will use its power responsibly and with restraint, the organization will not flourish.

Vaky, Viron . "The OAS and Multilateralism in the Americas." In: Vaky, Viron and Mu�oz, Heraldo, The Future of the OAS, New York, Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993, pp. 3-65.

One core task is to reconcile the tension between those who want the OAS to be primarily a means to problem solving and those who stress the application of legal safeguards. A suggestion considering what might be done would be for the Inter-American Juridical Committee to sponsor a long-term policy study of the sovereignty/interdependence, intervention/nonintervention tensions in the 21st. Century, involving political theorists and experts from all over the world. It is striking that so many inquiries into the OAS by US writers and scholars focus on internal structural and procedural reform -or on new programmatic activities- as the key to improving its effectiveness, without any realistic appraisal of the recommendations' prospects and with relatively little attention given to the policies, interests and fears of the individual member States. Usually phrased with hortatory "shoulds" and "musts," such proposals' validity almost always depends on the assumption that all member States see the objective, goal and purpose in the same way, and that it is just a question of the best means. But that is seldom the case.

This is not to disparage recommendations for internal reforms. Streamlining and rationalizing procedures, upgrading the quality and expertise of staffs, and devising imaginative new activities, are all ultimately essential to improved performance. The role of the Secretary General, for example, offers a special potential for generating new ideas, innovative management, and strategies, even though the Charter- and the member States- have placed considerable restraints on what the Secretary General can do.

The point to be emphasized in all this is that reforms follow political consensus. In the words of one scholar, the failures and inadequacies of multilateral institutions, almost always stem from "lack of political consensus and not organizational malfunction" /. It is, in short, political will that produces organizational and programmatic changes, not the other way around.

A somewhat different approach -looking at the OAS from the stand point of the member States- is to ask what opportunities are present for the OAS to become the principal channel through which member States take action. For what aspect of the Inter-American affairs is the OAS the most suitable instrument for individual member governments to pursue their interests? These questions require contemplation of priorities, comparative advantage, and where the OAS might optimally concentrate its attentions. The political objectives of the OAS, enshrined in the Charter, suggest that the priority in directing and focusing the OAS should be given to such political functions (democracy, human rights, security and conflict resolution). In other major areas of concern, such as economics, trade and environment, there is a surfeit of international organizations and a variety of functioning channels, both multilateral and subregional. The OAS is thus unlikely to occupy center stage when governments deal with such questions. But there is still a need for some way to oversee and broadly relate these issues to political and social goals like democracy and security. The OAS is a fitting panregional instrument for that purpose. The Permanent Council could serve as a coordinating body following policy developments and providing guidance and recommendations to both member governments and international institutions. Policy oversight is, in short, a second suitable priority for OAS specialization.

Vaky, Viron. "The OAS and Multilateralism in the Americas." In: Vaky, Viron and Mu�oz, Heraldo, The Future of the OAS, New York, Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993, pp. 3-65.

The variety of special services and assistance provided by a myriad of specialized agencies, committees and commissions suggests a third priority. The governing bodies of the OAS have never decided to what extent they should themselves engage in program execution as distinct from policy guidance, or how much to centralize operations under their direct control or decentralize to specialized entities. Different patterns have been followed by different bodies at different times. A more optimal use of OAS energies would be a "linchpin" concept, that is, decentralizing operational matters (such as technical assistance, narcotics, etc.) to its subsidiary agencies, commissions or committees (such as CICAD, IACHR and PAHO), while the central governing bodies concentrate on overall policy control and coordination. In this concept, the councils and the Secretary General's office would constitute the coordinating hub of a flexible array of decentralized, associated and even independent organizations and cooperative ventures. This linchpin role would be an especially useful way for member governments to ensure coordination among agencies, including those with a global reach, involved in hemispheric affairs.

In the final analysis, the future prospects of the OAS will be shaped, to a substantial degree, by the US. This country cannot by itself make the OAS effective nor determine how the Organization is to function, but no one can dispute that US influence and willingness to use its resources to carry out OAS decisions are essential and would be a powerful catalyst to broader regionwide attempts to collective governance. If the US thinks of the OAS as its alliance and throws its weight around and expects others to accept its schemes and is unwilling to adjust to theirs, then it will resurrect old resentments and it will shatter consensus. If, on the other hand, US policy makers honestly consult and discuss, listen and bargain, convey mutual respect and consideration, the result could be an exemplary regional organization.

There are three sectors in particular in which an effective OAS performance would be very much in the US interests and for which US ideas, influence and support are critical:

  1. Programs and incentives to strengthen democracy and prevent democratic breakdowns. Professionalizing and reinforcing the UPD could be an immediate step to be taken.
  2. Strengthened resources and mandate for the IACHR.
  3. Cooperative programs in the security area to promote confidence-building measures, strengthen arms limitation and arms control programs, and improve civil-military relations.

Mu�oz, Heraldo. "A New OAS for the New Times." In: Vaky, Viron and Mu�oz, Heraldo, The Future of the OAS, New York, Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993, pp. 69-100.

Bouncing back from a long period of stagnation and political irrelevance, the OAS is engaged in a process of adapting itself to the post-cold war era.

A new common agenda may already be perceived in the work of the Organization, ranging from the promotion of democracy and human rights, to the control of drug trafficking and environmental protection. But given the convergence of a long-standing tradition of doctrinal support for representative democracy in the Inter-American system with the ascendancy of democratic politics in the region, the process of renewal of the OAS has been characterized by an overriding concern for democratic governance in the Americas. The widely recognized fact that the young democracies are still frail and that democratic rule cannot be taken for granted, has led to an unprecedented effort to deepen and consolidate democratic gains and to discourage and oppose reversals.

The 1990s have demonstrated how difficult it is for an international organization to reverse coups d’etat or breakdowns of democratic rule in sovereign countries. Nevertheless, most countries agree that reacting forcefully against those who would overthrow democratic rule is worth pursuing, even if the desired restoration is not achieved. Such actions could represent something of a deterrent against future conspiracies. At the very least, they would signal a collective will in the Americas to resist the enemies of democracy. In the last analysis, the OAS will be judged by its true ability to act effectively on its doctrinal commitment to the promotion an defense of democracy in the Americas. This will require additional institution building and adequate resources. For example, the Organization requires a cadre of professionals from which it can draw for fact-finding at any time. The UPD might assume that responsibility. As a further step toward implementing the Santiago Commitment, the OAS member States could elevate the unit to under-Secretariat level and provide it with material resources proportional to the magnitude of its tasks.

As in the case of any international organization, the decisions of the OAS will be most effective when the countries involved are willing to accept assistance or mediation. The OAS is essentially a political institution that operates best when it is guided by a criterion of consensus among its members states. To expect the OAS to engage in the use of force to solve a given problem is simply unrealistic. The OAS needs to work closely with the UN, which has the expertise and the mandate to engage in peacekeeping or peacemaking operations. In a similar vein, in the area of economic development and technical cooperation, the OAS cannot and should not compete with other specialized regional or subregional organizations like ECLAC and the IDB. The achievement of relatively modest tasks and well focused efforts is the recommended road for the OAS as it continues its process of renewal. The Organization should concentrate its attention, energies and financial resources, only on a few policy areas of the highest political significance for the member States, setting aside secondary matters or those that duplicate the work of other bodies.

Mu�oz, Heraldo. "A New OAS for the New Times." In: Vaky, Viron and Mu�oz, Heraldo, The Future of the OAS, New York, Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1993, pp. 69-100.

The process of renewal of the OAS will require the strengthening of the Secretariat to give it a larger, more politically experienced, and better qualified staff. According to one view, the OAS is still "a fundamentally weak organization" in terms of personnel; "its governance leadership, staffing and mandate [must] be substantially strengthened"/. At the same time, some streamlining in other areas of the Organization, such as technical cooperation will be beneficial.

The process of renovation of the hemispheric organization is far from completed, and its prospects are still uncertain. Many positive changes have occurred, but many more are needed. The international context of relaxation of tensions and the ever-greater intricacy of global ties has helped the process of change, but inevitably the transformation of international organizations tend to lag behind the new realities. Following the often quoted but still valid phrase, the effectiveness of any international organization "depends to a great extent on the political will of its members, including those that unjustly criticize and condemn the organization." If our expectations are not unreasonable about its potential, we may see emerge a new OAS for the new times, an organization that serves the purposes and principles of its Charter and the fundamental aspirations of the people of the Americas.

Hakim, Peter. "The OAS: Putting Principles into Practice," Journal of Democracy, vol.4, no.3, July 1993, pp. 39-49.

In order to ensure that the new hemispheric commitment to democracy results in appropriate, effective and sustainable action, the OAS must be strengthened as an institution, and its member States must agree on an operational strategy. Although it must be grounded in a common set of standards, this strategy also needs to be flexible enough to deal with the complexities of each specific case.

While the OAS has taken on a range of new responsibilities, it is still a fundamentally weak organization, lacking the mandate, resources, and institutional autonomy needed to act forcefully on behalf of hemispheric democracy. Unlike international agencies such as the World Bank, the IMF, or even the UN, the OAS has virtually no independent authority to manage its affairs. Its 34 member governments retain control of all major substantive and operational decisions, which are mainly taken by consensus. The OAS Secretary General has far less authority and autonomy than its UN counterpart. It should not be surprising, then, that the OAS is so often indecisive and slow-moving, and rarely able to take significant risks. If it is to become a true hemispheric leader, the OAS will need a new governance structure. Its customary method of decision-making by consensus will have to give way to a more agile mechanism -something like the UN Security Council, perhaps - and its senior officials must receive greater leeway to act on their own. It must, in other words, act more like an institution and less like a collection of governments. But the nations of the hemisphere are a long way from yielding this kind of independent authority to the OAS or any other regional group.




While fundamental change is likely to come slowly, there are several important initiatives that can be taken to strengthen the organization in the meantime:

  1. Its finances need to be put on a surer footing.
  2. The OAS requires resources to expand and upgrade the UPD. The Unit's mandate should be expanded to include greater operational responsibilities for OAS initiatives to protect and advance democracy in accord with the Santiago resolutions. The Unit needs to develop fact-finding and analytical capabilities. It currently has no real ability either to gather and interpret information on countries, where the constitutional order has been swept aside or is under siege, or to evaluate alternative strategies of response.
  3. Quality OAS decision making demands accurate up-to-date, and nuanced assessment of key political actors (including the military) and their positions and alliances; of the points at which different kinds of pressure would be more effective; and of the main options for proceeding. Such assessments require continuing consultations across the political spectrum and among many different actors of society. Not only is this kind of information and analysis crucial for such choices of strategy and tactics, but it should also help to forge and sustain political agreement among OAS members engaged in the collective effort.

    A small permanent staff of analysts within the UPD could, during a period of crisis, draw on a wider, previously-organized network of experts for assistance. At other times, these analysts could be responsible for monitoring democratic progress in the Americas and investigating potentially eruptive situations.

  • The OAS should reinforce the IACHR, which has long be regarded as the most effective of all OAS agencies, and which clearly plays a role in the struggle for democracy. With its own governing board and an independent mandate, the Commission operates with considerable autonomy and could well serve as a model for a reorganized UPD. Some observers have even suggested that the Commission should absorb the Unit and take a responsibility for all democracy related initiatives at the OAS. At a minimum, the UPD should closely coordinate its activities with the Commission and rely on it for human rights expertise.
  • Besides the OAS, the Inter-American community includes many other organizations - public and private, multilateral and national, regional and subregional- that can and should take part in collective responses to democratic ruptures. Smaller regional associations (like the Rio Group and the Group of Three) will often have greater flexibility and access than the OAS. Therefore, they can be helpful in tasks such as mediation, fact-finding and communication with key political actors. International financial institutions - including the IDB, the IMF and the World Bank - have considerable scope, even under the current rules, for exerting economic pressure on unconstitutional regimes

A crucial part can also be played by the multitude of NGOs, national and foreign, that are active in such areas as human rights, humanitarian aid, refugee protection, press freedom and judicial and electoral reform. With their particular skills, dedication and access, they can serve as independent sources of information and interpretation, help monitor the effects of measures pursued by the OAS and individual member governments and undertake specialized tasks in accord with their own missions. The OAS has failed so far to take advantage of NGO networks, because of the lack of regular means of communication with them. Cooperation with these groups could be fostered in a variety of ways - for example, by establishing informal advisory committees to exchange information and perhaps map out strategies for concerted action in specific situations. A stronger UPD, armed with greater authority and a more clearly defined mission, would give the OAS the capability it currently lacks to cooperate with other organizations engaged in the struggle for democracy, to contribute constructively to their activities, and to gain from their efforts.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Organization of American States: Advancing Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Commission on the OAS, Washington, D.C. August 1994, 14 p

In 1994 the Inter-American Dialogue decided to form a small commission to develop concrete and practical suggestions to improve the OAS. The Commission, formed by ten distinguished leaders of the region, produced a report which was intended to be an "operational memorandum" with immediate, short-term practical effects. Its basic premises were pragmatism, the desirability for quick action and the conviction that it is unrealistic to expect major changes to take place suddenly. As a practical matter, the Commission believed that the best chance to spur the development of the OAS lies in incrementalism, that is, in small gains, modest shifts and cumulative processes that over time can add up to substantial advances. It also recognized that some deeper reforms and changes in the basic instruments of the OAS could be necessary. If so, the recommendations would lay the foundation and would suggest the direction for such deeper study and consideration. The Commission proposed a six-part strategy for institutional change and made various recommendations:

  1. The Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights can best strengthen their capacity to handle cases involving violations of human rights by emphasizing their roles as judicial and quasi-judicial bodies:
  2. a. It is important to develop procedures to ensure that cases reach the Court in a timely fashion, after the Commission has conducted a thorough and impartial examination of the facts and judicious application of the law.

    b. Member governments should increase the funding of the Commission and the Court.

    c. The commissioners and judges should be individuals of the highest qualities, unquestioned integrity and sound judgement.

    d. The Commission and Court should preserve their independence from political influences.




  • The OAS Secretary General should play a forceful and effective leadership role in dealing with situations of political stress throughout the hemisphere:
  • a. To prevent crises, the Secretary General and his staff should play an effective leadership role in anticipating and responding quickly to threats to democratic government throughout the hemisphere. The Secretary General should provide a "menu" of services that can be used by the Permanent Council, the Meeting of Foreign Ministers and OAS member States, to deal with troubling and thorny political situations.

    b. To resolve crises, the Secretary General and his staff should be prepared to engage in, and support negotiations and other conflict resolution methods, as appropriately authorized. A cadre of hemispheric experts, trained in conflict resolution techniques should be organized.

    c. The Secretary General should have primary responsibility for organizing electoral observation missions.

    d. The Secretary General, in coordination with the Executive Coordinator of the UPD, should avail himself of the expertise of relevant scholars, universities, research institutions and think tanks throughout the hemisphere.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Organization of American States: Advancing Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Commission on the OAS, Washington, D.C. August 1994, 14 p.


  • The UPD should emphasize a long-term strategy to promote and strengthen the key institutions of democracy. To help advance this purpose, the Commission proposed an enhanced, more efficient and focused UPD, and recommended:
  • a. The Unit must have adequate resources to carry out its function effectively (governments should be prepared to support the UPD at about double its current budget and its staff should be of the highest caliber).

    b. The Executive Coordinator should have sufficient authority and flexibility to make appropriate expenditures, within the official budget authorized by the General Assembly.

    c. The Unit should have three different functions: serve as a clearing house, play a catalytic role, and provide technical assistance in support of democratic institutions and practices.

    d. The Unit should make a serious effort to coordinate efforts with other organizations working in the rule of law area.

  • To function adequately, and to meet growing needs and expectations, the OAS mechanisms mentioned above require additional resources, both human and financial. All OAS member governments should be prepared to match their rhetorical concern to advance in these issues with concrete financial commitments.
  • The strength and effectiveness of the Inter-American system depend on the strength and effectiveness of national institutions within the hemisphere. OAS member governments should commit themselves to improving national institutions for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Particular attention should be given to trying to make judicial systems more effective.
  • The OAS should make greater efforts to work with other organizations to advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the hemisphere.

Scheman, Ronald. "Promise and Potential of the OAS," North-South, November-December 1994, pp.14-18

Any effort to address the potential of the OAS requires a realistic evaluation of its assets and limitations. Its assets are clear. It is the only political forum in which the nations of the Americas can address their common problems. Its core service to the hemisphere resides in its role to protect democracy and human rights. Given the realities of the evolving global economy, however, a meaningful Inter-American system needs far more than a political component. The movement toward integration impelled by NAFTA demands no less. A coherent Inter-American system to buttress the infrastructure for integration requires strong pillars in the political, financial and trade areas. It requires viable machinery for a wide range of functional issues that are, by definition, Inter-American issues, such as trade, the environment, migration, capital flows, narcotics and disaster relief. Many are related to global efforts in similar fields, but their implementation is relevant in a regional context.



The major limitation of the OAS is the member States' failure to find effective ways to involve the real actors in the economic and political life of the hemisphere. To do this, the OAS must break through its restricted access to the countries through the foreign ministries which, in most countries of the Americas, are only peripherally in touch with the real forces moving their societies. Before the OAS is able to assume a serious policy role, the first task facing the leaders of the hemisphere is to think realistically about how the Organization relates to the new forces driving the economies and societies of the Americas.

In this context, Scheman argues that it may be useful to brainstorm about what a viable Inter-American system should be, looking at the following areas:

1. Politics: Today the legislative branch is pivotal to the consolidation of democracy and its ability to address the social development and economic adjustments necessary to build world class countries. The OAS should find ways to involve the legislators in major Inter-American issues and thus establish a new dynamic in the Inter-American system.

2. Trade: There are presently 23 separate agreements for integration in force in the hemisphere. A forum to allow the ministers of commerce to meet periodically would contribute significantly to bring coherence to those associations. Moreover, such a policy-making body would facilitate the IDB's work in helping reinforce trade infrastructure. The OAS has the machinery to facilitate this goal while resting substantive control in the hands of the ministers of commerce. The Specialized Conference mechanism under article 128 of the OAS Charter provides a framework for an Inter-American Specialized Conference on Trade and Integration which could be maintained as a continuing conference with the ministers of commerce as the principal delegates. Establishing a trade entity as a Specialized Conference would enable it to have its own regulations which could provide for including technical services from both the IDB and ECLAC, something which is difficult under OAS structures. It could also designate special committees with private sector representatives to address special problems, thereby opening the door to meaningful involvement of the users of the service.




3. Finance: Finance in the Inter-American system is now well covered by the lending capacity of the IDB. The Bank, however, could be even more effective if it related better to the normative activities of the OAS in areas where the OAS has traditional strength. These are, for example, modernizing states, strengthening judiciaries and legislative branches and implementing drug programs. Useful patterns of collaboration with the other Inter-American institutions would be invaluable to the Bank in fulfilling its new mandate for social sector reform. One way to accomplish this is for the OAS to form relevant policy-making bodies among the technical ministries responsible for environment, transportation, labor, etc. through the use of Specialized Conferences.

4. Other Inter-American issues:

  • Non-governmental organizations: NGOs are as vital to social sector reform as private enterprise is to productive sector reform. The NGOs tap the energy, experience and drive of private citizens on education, health and poverty alleviation just as private enterprise does for technology and production. They frame the public policy dialogue and press for the civil responsibility and accountability that enable democracy to work. The OAS, in collaboration with the IDB, has a great opportunity to actively strengthen civil society throughout the hemisphere by establishing a machinery for them to have a voice in its deliberations and by channeling programs through them in areas such as the environment, education and health.
  • Youth programs: An Inter-American Health Corps and an Inter-American Education Corps would mobilize youths and a broad range of specialists. Charging the OAS to mobilize and manage such a program could inject a new and vigorous public image into Inter-American cooperation as well as significantly enhance IDB health and education programs.

5. Financing the Inter-American system: Responsibility should be divided among the different Inter-American agencies so that the IDB covers the financial and technical assistance needs of the nations while the nations use the limited resources they devote to the OAS to enhance the organization's political role. To achieve a comprehensive, rational Inter-American system, it is time for a special commission to examine the basis of finance of the entire system to determine effective ways to achieve its goals.


Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.

In April 1997, the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemispheric Governance issued a report which argued that the OAS is the logical and principal mechanism through which governments can collaboratively engage each other -and civil society- in the management of hemispheric affairs and it should, therefore, constitute the central "hub" of the hemisphere's multilateral networks. Nevertheless, the Group considered that the OAS does not currently have the capacity to play such role, "not for any intrinsic or organic reason, but because of the absence of political consensus among member governments about what the organization should be and what it should do". The report, therefore, posited "the urgent need for a fundamental reassessment by the member States of the role and function of the OAS. The time has come for an inter-governmental, bottoms-up review of the organization. The issues are too pressing and the opportunities too passing to afford the region's nations the luxury of incrementalism." Hence, the Santiago Summit should start an in-depth discussion on the role of the OAS, that is, the chiefs of state should begin a process of consultation at the Santiago meeting, by forming an independent, inter-governmental task force, as their instrument to examine, consult and recommend to them for action proposals for basic changes and reforms which would encourage effective regional governance.

The report made two sets of proposals:

A) Long-term basic reform:

a. Roles and Function of the OAS:

1. It is a central Deliberative Forum where members come together to build consensus, set priorities, exchange information and views, establish norms and guidelines, resolve disputes, vent pressures, dispel fears, discuss, consult, conciliate and generally oversee and collectively influence Inter-American affairs. In short, it is the means by which member States commit themselves, decide things and provide the resources to fund the mandates. Currently, the instrument of these deliberations are the General Assembly, the Permanent Council and CIDI.

The group had a broad concept of the "deliberative" function. "The governing instruments," stated the report, "should not only be the venue for consultation, discussion and debate on current issues and problems, but also a forum for developing new approaches and new ideas for current issues. They should have the capacity to stimulate research, authorize working groups and explore grounds for consensus on new proposals and ideas."

Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.


2. It is a central Secretariat/Clearing House, providing members with the staffing, services, information, research, analyses, monitoring and coordination that member governments need to cope with the decisions, norms, standards and broad goals agreed to in their diplomatic deliberations. Instrumentally, this is currently the General Secretariat. When the OAS was established, the foreign ministry focus of the organization was logical and necessary. Today, however, the OAS and its framework can no longer be fruitfully thought as just an instrument of the foreign ministries, but must be understood and structured to represent the totality of governments and their interests and policies. Rather than a project-execution agency, the group considered that "the basic organizing concept of the OAS should be that of an overall pro-active forum, forging cooperation among states, inducing agreements and commitments from governments, generating policy norms and principles as well as strategies, and coordinating cooperative ventures and activities of action bodies.



b. The OAS and the Summit Process: A Central Secretariat should be established within the OAS, and the member States should begin preparing and equipping the organization to perform this function.

c. Internal governance:

* The Deliberative Forum: Despite reforms to the Charter, the basic internal governance structure is still essentially the one created 50 years ago. Hence, there is an urgent need to reassess the fundamentals of this structure, which needs to be "delayered," streamlined and updated. When the General Assembly was created as the "supreme organ," for example, there was no other instrument to bring governments together on regional matters. Today, the institutionalization of summit meetings of heads of state and government is surely as "supreme" as one can get. Thus, the OAS framework should be fitted to the summit process and the concept of the General Assembly and the Permanent Council need to be re-examined:

  • General Assembly: Some have suggested that one should conceptually think of the Summits as the ultimate decision-making forum, with the OAS and its framework relating to them as their agent and "between meetings" machinery in the same way the Permanent Council now relates to the General Assembly. Therefore, the purpose and function of General Assemblies would change and could be thought of more as a review mechanism, and might, for example, meet twice a year, for briefer periods, with specific and limited agendas, and with more than Foreign Ministry representation.
  • Permanent Council: Today, when Ministers can meet quickly and when chiefs of State can communicate instantaneously, it is not clear why the Permanent Council needs to be in continuous session. Many observers believe that this requirement leads to micro-management, make-work, and the temptation to engage in such matters as protecting patronage and debating protocol and status. Critics have also argued that current member-state representation in the Permanent Council does not have the breadth of background and expertise to act as a provisional decision maker when current agendas cover so much beyond traditional and conventional political topics. A possible alternative is that instead of being in continuous session, the Council could meet on a prescribed schedule of periodic sessions, say, quarterly, or monthly, or some similar periodicity on a specific agenda. In case of an emergency it would be relatively easy to convoke a special meeting.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.



  • CIDI: The creation of CIDI implied that it would be the OAS platform for dealing with the economic, environmental, scientific, developmental and other fields subsumed under the "integral development" rubric. Thus, it would be a sort of two-chamber governance- the Permanent Council for political and security matters, and CIDI for social and developmental issues. It is not yet working like that and although the Permanent Council and CIDI are technically co-equal, the Permanent Council remains "more equal than others." Furthermore, as a practical matter, the same member State representatives by and large make up the membership of both Councils on a daily basis. Although it is fair to say that CIDI is still being organized and its scope is being defined, member governments do not as yet seem serious about converting CIDI into an effective governance mechanism for social and economic oversight.

* Secretariat/Clearing House: The ability of the OAS to provide effective coordination and technically competent staff support for programs and strategies is essential to the "central hub" concept. Hence, it would be useful to divide the General Secretariat into Political and Economic/Social Departments, each headed by a distinguished, respected regional figure as "Assistant Secretary" or "Under secretary." Each would group within it appropriate units according to their nature and would act as the Executive Secretariat for CIDI (social and development issues) and the Permanent Council (political and security matters). The General Secretariat would be formed by a central Department for Management and Budget, the executive offices of the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General, all of which would act as a sort of "working cabinet" of the Secretary General.

The Secretariat needs to be upgraded in terms of quality, productivity and wider expertise. Nothing will increase member States's confidence in the OAS more, than demonstrated efficiency and technical competence. Although political considerations will be necessarily involved at the Assistant Secretary level and major unit heads, underneath this level there is a need for a relatively small, but highly expert, elite cadre of civil servants. The secretariat should be lean and productive. For that, the following options should be considered:

1. Establish a strict performance review process for all employees with continued employment upon its result.

2. Establish a good, in-service staff training and educational development program to provide employees with career and professional development services.

3. In the meantime, consider seeking temporary secondment of expert and experienced officials from member governments and/or other international institutions.

In addition, the group supported consensus as the best way to insure that in the long run expressed values and norms will take force. "Given the hemispheric context, heritage and make-up," the report said, "the consensus procedure is a particularly valuable and indicated tool for OAS governance."

Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.



B) Short term reform: There are also a number of immediate challenges and opportunities confronting the OAS and the member States, which should be faced without delay:

a. Democracy: Defending and promoting democracy entails two distinct kinds of activity:

1) Defending democracy:

a) Crisis management: The report was not in favor of the argument that the OAS should agree in advance to a formula of escalating sanctions in cases of coups. Close consultation should be maintained with the UN and a coordinated division of labor between the two organizations should be explored.

b) Preventive measures, such as electoral observations, reconciliation and dispute settlement, and post-conflict peace-keeping: These activities have been located in the UPD, but are unrelated to its basic mandate, thus blurring its focus and creating confusion about its purposes and priorities. The different roles and functions now lumped together in the UPD should be separated into distinct sub-units, each with a clear purpose and line of authority. To this end, the report recommended the creation of a Political Department within the General Secretariat, perhaps under an Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs to manage and coordinate distinct activities such as:

  • A Special Projects Division to provide staff support and management of the political operational programs (demining, monitoring peace arrangements, etc.).
  • Election Observation/Monitoring, should be moved to the Political Department as a distinct sub-unit, since it is essentially a political task requiring political legitimacy of the elections observed. Technical assistance to help reform government electoral mechanisms should remain with the UPD as an institution-building activity.
  • A Policy Planning Staff should be established to provide the Secretary General and the Permanent Council with a capacity to track developments throughout the hemisphere, identify future trends and problems and supply general analytic and evaluation support for operational decisions.
  • The Political Department would also serve as the Executive Secretariat for the Permanent Council, in addition to managing these sub-units.

2) Promoting democracy: The UPD should concentrate on institution-building and democratic development, and should restructure itself to function as a "Democratic Resource Center." As a program-executing entity, the UPD should be spun from the General Secretariat as a specialized agency, with reasonable independence from political pressures, and with authority to recruit its own staff. It should appoint an advisory board composed of distinguished scholars and practitioners.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.



b. Human rights: The group argued against the introduction of radical alterations in the institutions and the institutional arrangements of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Its basic design and nature are basically sound. The reforms and changes that may be needed for optimal performance lie in the areas of resources, quality and productivity.

The mayor activity of the IACHR and the Court should be the judicial function of hearing petitions and cases and developing a body of human rights case law. Monitoring and reporting should continue, but with some shift to thematic reporting and analysis. The Commission should shed educational/promotional activities, which can be carried out by other agencies and organizations, so as to concentrate its resources and energies on the judicial and monitoring function which no one else can do. The report also recommended the introduction of organizational and administrative reforms.

c. Security:

a) Measures to deepen the notion of "cooperative security" and confidence building should be continued and intensified.

b) The Defense Ministerial process should be institutionalized, but as part of the OAS framework and of the larger Summit process.

c) The mission, structure and purpose of the existing military organizations (the Inter-American Defense Board and the Inter-American Defense College) should be re-examined to make them relevant to regional needs.

d) Internal Public Order:

    • CICAD should be expanded into an Inter-American Commission on Crime Problems which would include issues related to narcotics, crime, terrorism and public order.
    • Initiate a "Justice Ministerial" process by convening annual meetings of the region's Justice Ministers to exchange experiences, adopt guidelines and seek regional agreements.

d. Economic:

a) Trade: It is necessary to give the OAS responsibility for acting as a permanent secretariat for the FTAA process. Member States should now bend to the task of developing its technical and staffing capacity to do so, seconding personnel to the organization as much as necessary.

b) Fiscal and Macroeconomic Policy: The OAS should not play a central technical role, given the existence of other institutions already involved. However, CIDI could have a "watching brief" function, thus relating issues in this area to other political and social goals. It could also be a key instrument for convening ministerials to examine various macroeconomic questions.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Inter-American Agenda and Multilateral Governance: The OAS, A Report of the Inter-American Dialogue Study Group on Western Hemisphere Governance, Washington, D.C., April 1997, 35 p.


c) Integral Development: The OAS role should be examined in the recommended long-term reassessment review. In the meantime, member States should take the evolution and implementation of the CIDI concepts seriously. It would be helpful to create within the CIDI Secretariat a central core development planning and evaluation staff, as well as geographical "desks" to liaison and interact with the sub-regional economic organizations.

The administration of the small technical assistance program -if it is to be continued at all- should be spun off into a specialized agency, which would report to CIDI and its Executive Secretariat.

Shifter, Michael. "The Inter-American System: Progress, Pitfalls and Future Challenges," Entrecaminos, 1997, pp.29-35.

Three main multilateral activities are underway in the hemisphere: the "Summit Process," the "Trade Ministerial Process" and the "Williamsburg Process." All of these have been initiated and directed chiefly by the US. Each is important and promising. Yet, though they are substantially related, there is little connection and coordination among these separate processes. It remains unclear whether the US will be prepared, at some point, to relinquish its dominant role in setting the agenda for and organizing related meetings. For the next Summit, the US and Chile are serving as co-chairs. But this formula is unlikely to help assuage concerns of other hemispheric governments, or do anything to diminish the asymmetry that has long characterized US-Latin American relations.

Further, it is crucial not to confuse constant meetings at various levels with effective multilateralism. Bringing people together -from the non governmental, private or public sectors- certainly has its benefits, but unless the meetings are sharply focused and mutually productive, they are likely to lead to fatigue and some disappointment. Indeed, there are signs that this has already taken place to some extent, especially with smaller states that typically lack the resources to keep up with a frenetic and costly schedule of meetings on a vast array of subjects.

To help make the patterns of region-wide cooperation more rational and effective, what is needed is a genuinely regional organization to play a coordinating function. The OAS is, in theory, the obvious option. Skeptics, of course, will contend, persuasively, that the OAS is far from being equipped for the job, that it remains largely patronage-driven and lacks the necessary credibility and capacity. The problem, however, is that there is no other existing organization that could conceivably play such role. And the question of whether the OAS can, over a period of time, be sufficiently strengthened and successfully adapted for such a coordinating, multilateral function depends ultimately on the will and commitment of its member governments. In the final analysis, it is a matter of accepting shared responsibility to deal collectively with common, underlying problems. The alternative, it seems, is to defer to the United States to set the terms for multilateral interaction, which is bound to be problematic in the long run.

For their own self interest, Western hemisphere governments should not only seek to bolster the OAS to coordinate and improve multilateralism. They also need to concentrate on deepening the processes of political and economic reform, and to seriously address the immense social agenda of their own countries. Multilateral progress, after all, depends substantially on national progress on these fronts which tend to be inextricably linked.


Hakim, Peter and Shifter, Michael. "New Beginnings: The Promise of Democracy and Prosperity," Harvard International Review, vol.19, no.4, Fall 1997, pp.8-11, 56.

The US should take the lead in having the summit meetings of the hemisphere's democratically elected heads of state gradually integrated with the OAS. The first such meeting in a generation was held in Miami in December 1994, and the next one is scheduled for April 1998 in Santiago, Chile. There is no more effective multilateral engagement than an assembly of heads of state seeking to build a consensus on regional norms, principles and objectives.

And there is no better way to get senior US government officials to focus on Latin American and Caribbean issues than to involve the US President in those issues through regular summit meetings. By themselves, however, summit meetings are ad hoc events that do not provide a sustained or cohesive approach to managing cooperation in the hemisphere. There is the danger that summits and related activities, such as the meetings of the hemisphere's defense ministers and the deliberations on extending free trade, may weaken, rather than strengthen, the hemisphere's established institutional forum, that is the OAS. The US and other governments should undertake the task of adapting the OAS to the summit process.

Lohl�, Juan Carlos. "La OEA como compromiso diplom�tico interamericano," LASA Congress, Guadalajara, M�xico, April 1997, p.22..

It is necessary to develop a decision-making system within regional organizations, so as to find quick solutions to the problems that are faced by the member States and to make the multilateral process more dynamic. Hence the new role of the OAS should be to regulate the procedures for decision making, which should not be subject to the pressure of extra-regional actors as it is the case in bigger organizations like the UN. In the new context of a globalized world, multilateral organizations should redefine their strategies to produce effective results in important areas, or should only act when the actors involved cannot solve the problem through bilateral or regional means. It is necessary for the OAS to adjust to the new political times.

In extreme situations, when diplomatic exercises are replaced by the use of or the threat of the use of force, or when there are different policies and ideas on common issues, it is necessary to change the system so as to adapt it to reality or otherwise to knowingly admit that it will lack any operating capacity. This sort of issue raises doubts with regards to the efficacy of the OAS. Whenever the differences between the US and Latin America are more pronounced, it is difficult to preserve collective action and to have an authentic consultation process. Today, Latin America is in a better position to negotiate. The group of states will not likely accept that a country, acting unilaterally, decides to change the rules of the game. Thus, the OAS serves as a forum of dialogue, harmonization and consensus.

Whenever there is a conflict, the presence of the countries is activated and manages to circumscribe the controversy. In other cases, the OAS acts as a forum for the exchange of information and not as a multilateral actor with the capacity to dissuade. This responsibility is entrusted to bilateral diplomacy, for it is generally considered that the large number of actors in the multilateral arena does not contribute to a quick and effective decision making process. In reality, once the conflict is triggered, the Permanent Council and the organs established by the Charter are activated by the countries in crisis and the Inter-American forum is used as a sounding board for Washington and the rest of the states of the region. In this way, they are able to have access to negotiations, or to exercise more influence or pressure on behalf of their respective interests.


Dosman, Edgar. "The OAS and Political Integration in the Americas." In: FOCAL, Power and Integration Virtual Conference Papers, April 1997, p.5.


It would be wrong to deny that a revival of the OAS has occurred since the end of the Cold War. Though, during the 1980's, its very existence seemed in doubt, this is no longer the case. The OAS is now accepted as an essential part of the regional architecture of the Western Hemisphere. Since the Miami Summit, however, the OAS (and the overall Inter-American mood) have encountered unexpected turbulence, blunting the reform process undertaken by Secretary General Gaviria and restoring doubts and low expectations of its role. There has been a recent drought of creative initiatives like the Santiago Commitment (Resolution 1080) and a sense of drift in the Permanent Council. Curiously, what is not at stake is a strong consensus among all countries from the Southern Cone to the Arctic Circle, including Washington, on the need for the OAS. Rather, the problem facing the organization as the 1990's draw to a close, is the continuing lack of consensus among the 34 governments on its appropriate role, structure, and authority in a period of increasing interdependence. That the OAS faces an historic debate, is not in doubt. What are the prospects for its emergence from the sidelines to become a significant force in the political integration of the Americas?

From one perspective, since 1990 the OAS has come a long way. In several key agenda areas--such as the promotion of democracy and cooperative security-major advances have been achieved. This incipient OAS strengthening process, however, has already largely stalled in the aftermath of the Miami Summit. Collectively and individually, the advances since 1990 have confirmed the OAS existence, but not decisively reshaped its legitimacy within the Inter-American system. Meanwhile, the post-Miami period illustrates additional complexities.

First, the OAS now confronts three new multilateral activities which arose from the Miami Summit, but that are not within its jurisdiction or under its overall management. The so-called "Summit Process" initiated under US leadership in Miami will be followed in 1998 by another in Chile, involving a series of working groups coordinated by the US (SIRG). In addition, the "Williamsburg Process" initiated by US Defense Secretary Perry after Miami involves regular meetings of Defense Ministers throughout the Western Hemisphere. Notwithstanding the existence of its new Permanent Committee on Security, the OAS remains in the shadow of this exercise. The final element in this multi-track confusion is the Trade Ministerial Process, which began in Denver (1995), continued in Cartagena the next year, to be followed by a Ministers meeting in Brazil (1997). While the OAS Trade Unit is performing essential preparatory work for the Trade Ministerial meeting in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the OAS, again, is a marginal player in the FTAA agenda. Although all three efforts are potentially beneficial, the issues of overall coordination and the OAS role must be addressed.


Dosman, Edgar . "The OAS and Political Integration in the Americas." In: FOCAL, Power and Integration Virtual Conference Papers, April 1997, p.5. (cont.)

Second, the Miami Summit marked the end of the general enthusiasm throughout the Americas for NAFTA-accession as the preferred model of hemispheric trade integration while strengthening MERCOSUR as an alternative mechanism for South America. The reasons for this change of approach are complex, as are the long-term implications for multilateralism in the Americas. Fundamental questions are raised by the reality of the US and Brazil as anchor-states of NAFTA and MERCOSUR, respectively. Are the "driving forces of regionalization," so to speak, creating not one, but two economic regions in the Western Hemisphere? Is MERCOSUR more appropriately viewed from a global perspective as a major trade integration bloc in its own right (as is NAFTA), or primarily as a sub-regional building block towards an FTAA? Is the R�o Group emerging as a counterpoint to the OAS? Is the vision of Bol�var disputing the Monroe Doctrine? Whatever the answers, the post-Miami Summit era demonstrates an increasing decentralization in the Western Hemisphere which must be accommodated in any optimal architecture for regional governance.

Challenge: The OAS in the New Architecture

If the OAS is to become the central hub of hemispheric governance, it must perform two essential roles.

First, it must become the "central deliberative forum" through which governments shape a regional consensus on the principal issue-areas confronting them and develop the norms and guidelines for dispute settlement and Inter-American cooperation. Second, the OAS must shake off the dust from previous decades and revitalize its capacity to perform the "central secretariat/clearing house" role required by members for effective inter-action in hemispheric community-building.

Along with the drastic organizational overhaul permitting the OAS to evolve into an effective hub institution in the Americas, certain other requirements would be necessary for its ultimate success. First, the identification of cooperative security as the basis for hemispheric cooperation is of central importance for the future of hemispheric governance. While some authors may exaggerate the degree and permanence of US conversion to this approach, the concept has demonstrated sufficient potential to underscore its continued vitality for community-building. Second, the post-Miami, multi-track processes should be merged under the overall authority of the OAS. Third, the new architecture must accept the reality-and needs-of vastly different sub-regions with approaches that support their differing requirements and global insertion. Finally, the old OAS model, based on narrow inter--tate interaction via Foreign Ministry Ambassadors, must yield to the new realities of multi-sector governance and regionalization from below, requiring the active engagement of Inter-American civil society.

Prospects: Transition and Leadership

Identifying the challenges facing the OAS reform process is easier than predicting its success. Ultimately, the 35 governments (including Cuba) must decide whether they will deepen regional governance in their common long-term, but not so obviously short-term, interests. Without political will energetically pursued, the OAS Secretary General will not succeed in revitalizing the Organization.


Dosman, Edgar. "The OAS and Political Integration in the Americas." In: FOCAL, Power and Integration Virtual Conference Papers, April 1997, p.5. (cont.)


It remains an open question whether such leadership from the US and other key countries will be forthcoming, given the familiar Inter-American tensions and power asymmetry, on the one hand, and widespread domestic political obstacles, on the other. In Washington, the handling of the drug issue, Cuban policy, and the ongoing reluctance to fast-track the trade liberalization process demonstrate a unilateralist reflex which worries US neighbors. The Latin American middle-powers, particularly Brazil and Mexico, retain their historic ambivalence toward an interventionist OAS. For the majority of small states, particularly those in the Caribbean and Central America which confront NAFTA and MERCOSUR, multilateralism is only meaningful if it assists the weak as well as strong. Throughout the region, social sustainability and democratic development loom as major challenges. The initial Latin American optimism of the immediate post-Cold War years is over, and trade liberalization is now viewed as only one of many conditions for a successful transition. Canada remains a true believer in regional multilateralism, but is having to adjust its sights downwards, in view of the intractable realities of this complex region.

Nevertheless, a residual New World vision lurks in all regional capitals, waiting for opportune moments when common sense and forthright leadership permit movement in the right direction. Such a moment occurred after 1990, and it was seized by an imaginative coalition of determined Ambassadors from regional middle-powers and the US. This informal grouping was the pre-condition for advance, and demonstrated that leadership can sweep away doubts and prove effective in changing Inter-American political prospects. As the 50th Anniversary of the OAS approaches, another burst of creativity is urgently required. In this context, the forthcoming 1998 Summit in Chile will be a key event, closing out the first post-Cold War decade and providing a clear signal of future directions for the OAS and regional governance.

The Stanley Foundation.

Building Multilateral Cooperation in the Americas: A New Direction for US Policy, Report of the Thirty-Eighth Strategy for Peace, US Foreign Policy Conference, October 23-25, 1997, 19 p.

In October 1997, the Stanley Foundation brought together a group of scholars and practitioners to discuss prospects for building multilateral cooperation between the US and Latin America. One of the questions that was raised was whether the OAS is underutilized because it is unworkable or the reverse.

The OAS, states the report, is the only forum to which all the region's governments belong and where all can come together on an equal footing. As an existing body, it has an infrastructure already in place. For these reasons, it is the most likely candidate for locating future collaborative efforts.

The OAS, however, is burdened with a difficult legacy. The US traditionally saw the OAS as a means to legitimize its use of power in the hemisphere. Latin Americans, in turn, sought to use the OAS to constrain unilateral US intervention. One member of the group commented that many Latin Americans believe that a strengthened OAS would mean greater US influence, while many US leaders behave as if a stronger OAS would only decrease US influence. More pragmatically, others pointed out that the organization's objectives are far greater than its means- it lacks the resources, the credibility, and the staff to carry out tasks well - and that some governments are satisfied to have it that way.




Despite these problems, most members of the group felt that it is better to work to strengthen and restructure the OAS as a forum for multilateral cooperation rather than try to construct a new organization. They argued that the US, with some urgency, should join with other governments to reform the OAS to enable it to better perform two related but distinct roles:

  1. a deliberating forum where governments regularly come together to consult one another, air disputes and establish norms and principles;
  2. a mechanism to provide the basic staffing services, information, coordination, and clearing house functions that governments need to carry out decisions.

Some felt the first or policy function should be focused on political matters, leaving economic matters to global and bilateral agreements. There was agreement that the second or secretariat function could be carried out either centrally or through an array of specialized agencies such as the IDB, CICAD or PAHO.

With regards to the Summit Process, a majority -but not all- of the members of the group, agreed that the process that began in Miami in 1994 and to be continued in Santiago in 1998, should be institutionalized in a system of periodic summits. However, they also agreed, that to realize its potential fully, the hemispheric summit process now needs to be institutionalized, connected to other regional institutions, and deliberately transformed into the primary instrument of hemispheric cooperation.

In this concept, the summits become the forum in which presidents meet to work out among themselves the pressing issues, conflicts and opportunities confronting the region. The summits would serve as the ultimate coordinating forum for regional management, with the existing institutions of the Inter-American system - in the first instance the OAS, but also the IDB, PAHO and perhaps even some subregional groupings -functioning as their agents and "between-meetings" machinery.

The Stanley Foundation.

Building Multilateral Cooperation in the Americas: A New Direction for US Policy, Report of the Thirty-Eighth Strategy for Peace, US Foreign Policy Conference, October 23-25, 1997, 19 p.


Noting that Chile has asked the OAS to serve as the "institutional memory" of the 1998 summit, some participants recommended that the central secretariat function of the summit process be established within the OAS and that its member States begin to prepare and equip the organization to fulfill its role. Others questioned whether the OAS, even with changes to ensure direct ties to capitals, could be relied upon to manage the summit process.

The group also felt that major multilateral institutions, including the IDB, the World Bank, PAHO and the UN system, as well as the OAS, should be used more actively to exchange information and experiences in specific areas such as health and education, with an eye ultimately to developing broader regional reforms.

The list of issues that were discussed included drugs, security and civil-military relations, trade and economic integration, as well as the need to involve NGOs in more of the activities of the OAS.


Inter-American Dialogue. The Americas in 1997: Making Cooperation Work, A Report of the Sol M. Linowitz Forum, Inter-American Dialogue, May 1997, 41 p.

This report highlights the need for stronger multilateral institutions to manage and advance the growing cooperation in Inter-American affairs, and urges all governments to assign high priority to restructuring and adapting the OAS to the needs of an increasingly interdependent hemisphere, as well as to integrate the OAS and the presidential summits.

The opportunity to build strong and productive hemispheric partnerships must be grasped soon, otherwise it will fade. Progress is needed on three fronts to assure the future of hemispheric cooperation:

  • Within individual nations, the challenges are to strengthen democratic practice, improve economic performance and, most of all, raise the living standards of all citizens.
  • In hemispheric affairs, the U.S. and other governments must turn their verbal commitments into consistent national policies that foster political cooperation and economic integration.
  • Multilaterally, stronger rules and institutions are required to consolidate, deepen, and sustain cooperation in the hemisphere. The OAS should be restructured and adapted to the changing needs of hemispheric relations.

Following are some of the points discussed in the report:

The Pace of Integration Slows: In the two and a half years since the Miami Summit, progress towards building a more politically cooperative and economically integrated hemisphere has been uneven. To be sure, governments and private organizations in the hemisphere collaborate on many issues. Multilateral efforts prevented a military takeover in Paraguay and restored peace between Peru and Ecuador. OAS monitors helped to assure the fairness of presidential elections in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Subregional cooperation has been even more vigorous. The presidents of Central America have initiated regular (twice-yearly) meetings to review common problems and set courses of action. The four Mercosur nations have strengthened their economic and trade group, and incorporated Chile and Bolivia as associate members. Despite a number of specific disputes, the three NAFTA partners continue to implement their agreement.

Countries have also been working toward the goals of the December 1994 Summit. The hemisphere's trade ministers have met twice, in Denver (Colorado) and Cartagena (Colombia), and a third meeting is scheduled in Belo Horizonte (Brazil) for May 1997.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Americas in 1997: Making Cooperation Work, A Report of the Sol M. Linowitz Forum, Inter-American Dialogue, May 1997, 41 p. (cont.)

The governments have established working groups on all the key trade issues. With the assistance of several regional agencies, these groups have made important technical progress on the free trade agenda. Ministers of defense from countries throughout the hemisphere have assembled twice, to explore ways to improve Inter-American collaboration on security matters. New treaties have been signed to combat money laundering and corruption. At the same time, however, confidence in the future of hemispheric cooperation has diminished. Progress toward hemisphere-wide free trade has been slower than expected. Despite the election in 1994 of a highly regarded new Secretary-General, the OAS has not gained significantly in stature or credibility. Most nations remain opposed to expanding its financing or mandate, or making necessary changes in its structure and operations.

The report claims that in the area of economic integration, a permanent secretariat is needed to support negotiations toward a free trade agreement. The secretariat, which could be associated with a strengthened OAS, is already needed as an independent source of information, technical analysis and expert advice (particularly for the hemisphere's smaller economies) as well as a coordinator of schedules and logistics. As negotiations proceed, these tasks will become increasingly complex, and the need for a competent secretariat even greater.

OAS Reform: A number of governments oppose efforts to reform the OAS, and expand its role in hemispheric affairs. Reflecting, in part, Latin American and Caribbean concerns about the potential U.S. dominance of a more robust OAS, some nations are prepared to restrict the institution's mandate, tolerate mediocre performance, and keep the Organization away from major issues.

Latin American governments, for example, have resisted efforts to make the OAS's Democracy Unit a more forceful instrument for democratic change. Proposals to bolster the Inter-American Commission and the Court of Human Rights by expanding their authority, upgrading staff, and improving procedures have languished. Some countries would like to constrain these institutions further. There is little interest in Latin America and the Caribbean to take advantage of post-Cold War opportunities to revamp hemispheric security relations.

Regional Cooperation: Expectations for regional cooperation could well have been too high. The convergence of interests and values among the countries of the hemisphere may have been exaggerated. The obstacles to more cooperative Inter-American relations are, after all, still formidable and should not be underestimated. Despite the growing similarities in many dimensions, the differences among the nations of the Americas are enormous, in size and power, political and economic arrangements, history and culture, and race and ethnicity. There is a particularly striking asymmetry of power and wealth between the United States and the rest of the Americas, and that asymmetry is a continuing, potent source of distrust in hemispheric relations.

Inter-American Dialogue. The Americas in 1997: Making Cooperation Work, A Report of the Sol M. Linowitz Forum, Inter-American Dialogue, May 1997, 41 p.


Summit Process: The U.S. government should take the lead to have the summit implementation and planning process (and related activities like the meetings of the hemisphere's defense ministers and the FTAA deliberations) gradually integrated with the OAS. Summit meetings of the hemisphere's presidents and prime ministers are a powerful basis for Inter-American cooperation.

Multilateral Institutions: The governments of the hemisphere should give high priority to strengthening the capacity and expanding the mandates of key Inter-American institutions, especially the OAS. Stronger and more active multilateral institutions will be required to manage sustained political and economic cooperation in the hemisphere. Institutional creation and renovation, from APEC, OECD, and NATO to reform of the UN, are hallmarks of a world increasingly challenged by transnational issues.

The problems and weaknesses of the OAS are serious, and stand in the way of genuine multilateral cooperation in the hemisphere. In good measure, they reflect the absence of political consensus among member governments about what the OAS should be and what it should do. Forging that consensus is a crucial challenge for all governments of the Americas.

The OAS along with the IDB, are the logical mechanisms through which governments should engage each other in the management of hemisphere affairs. Other regional arrangements, like the FTAA process, the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG), and the Rio Group, for example, are making valuable contributions. The OAS, however, is the only forum where all governments regularly come together to address the full range of regional issues. The OAS provides the infrastructure and machinery for cooperative effort. It is up to the governments to make good use of them. The OAS does not have the capacity today to assume a central role in the design and management of the presidential summits or the hemispheric free trade negotiations. Member governments should, however, recognize the desirability of having a reformed and revitalized OAS that could eventually assume these responsibilities.

The nations of the Americas should initiate a fresh and systematic review of the OAS, for the purpose of reforming its operations and redirecting its activities. The future of the OAS should be a priority issue at the next summit meeting in Santiago in March 1998. Extensive preparation will be required to reach agreement on fundamental questions regarding the OAS's future, and governments should start now to develop proposals for change. Governments must begin to look to the OAS, as the place to deal with the central problems of Inter-American relations. Relying on ad-hoc arrangements is not good enough. Genuine hemispheric cooperation requires effective hemispheric institutions.

Other articles and essays are centered around specific issues such as democracy, human rights and hemispheric security. Following is a list of some of those that have been published in the last few years:

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