OAS – The structure
According to Abbreviationfinder, OAS stands for Organization of American States. The highest decision-making body is the General Assembly, which meets once a year. It decides on general guidelines for the activities, approves the budget and determines the contribution of each Member State.
Each member state has one vote in the General Assembly and is represented by a delegation, usually led by the Foreign Minister. Decisions, which take the form of resolutions and declarations, must be supported by a majority in order to pass. Questions about the agenda and budget require a two-thirds majority.
In addition to the General Assembly, the work within OAS is conducted mainly through the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Permanent Council and the Integrated Development Council, a Legal Committee, a Human Rights Commission, a General Secretariat, and through so-called specialized conferences and specialized organizations.
Problems that require quick decisions are dealt with by the Council of Foreign Ministers (Meetings of Consultations of Ministers of Foreign Affairs). Each Member State may require that the Council of Foreign Ministers be convened to discuss urgent issues, such as internal conflicts that threaten security in the region or conflicts between countries. In the event of conflicts between Member States, the countries concerned have no voting rights. Decisions are made unanimously, by consensus.
The Permanent Council decides on OAS ‘ongoing work and meets regularly at OAS’ headquarters in Washington. All members, represented by ambassadors, have one vote. Decisions are made by tradition with consensus. The Permanent Council shall also monitor and maintain friendly relations between the members. The General Assembly’s guidelines are reworked into more detailed programs, the ongoing work is evaluated and current issues are addressed. Most of the issues discussed in the General Assembly have been investigated by the Permanent Council or one of its sub-committees and working groups. In emergency situations, the council can be convened extra.
The Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) is responsible for OAS development programs in economic and social areas. Each member state is represented by a minister.
Both Cidi and the Permanent Council are directly subordinate to the General Assembly.
The General Secretariat of Washington implements the decisions of the principal organs. The secretariat has branches in each member state and a number of specialized institutes attached to it. The Secretary-General, who leads the work of the Secretariat, is elected for a term of five years and may be re-elected once. The Secretary-General may draw the attention of the General Assembly or the Permanent Council to situations which threaten the peace, security or development of the region. The Secretary-General has no right to vote, but always the right to speak.
The Inter-American Juridical Committee (IAJC) provides legal advice and is located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Its eleven independent lawyers are appointed by the General Assembly.
Two other independent bodies within the OAS, both commonly referred to by the abbreviation IACHR, have the task of monitoring human rights in the Member States. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights consists of seven experts. They investigate and report on human rights violations and act as advisers. Violations of the American Convention on Human Rights dealt with by the seven judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Inter-American Court on Human Rights), the Costa Rican capital of San José (see also activities).
Specialized conferences are meetings that focus on specific technical issues or aspects of inter-American cooperation. They are convened when the General Assembly or the Council of Foreign Ministers deems it necessary.
Specialized organizations are specialized bodies with special coverage areas. Among them are a Pan American Health Organization (Paho) and an Inter-American Commission of Women (Cim).
There are also a number of other bodies. The Anti- Drug Commission Cicad coordinates the fight against drugs and drug-related crimes (see Operations). There is also a group of institutions in Washington that have been created to facilitate specific areas of cooperation. For example, in 1942 the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB) was formed to study the region’s defense during World War II. It functioned for a long time as an advisory body for OAS in security matters, but in the spring of 2006 became a separate unit within the organization.
In 1999, the Commission Against Terrorism (Cicte) was established, which coordinates the work with border control and the like in order to fight terrorism (see also Activities).
At the 1994 Miami meeting, the countries agreed to create the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas, in Spanish Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas, Alca). The negotiations were to be completed by 2005, but when the United States, with the support of most other countries, in Mar del Plata wanted to include the free trade agreement in the final document of the summit, opposition was encountered. Left-wing governments in several countries opposed the FTAA, which was considered too neoliberal, with reduced control for the states and increased influence for large companies. The United States was also criticized for not being willing to stop its extensive subsidies to its own agriculture.
Venezuela, together with Cuba, instead took the initiative to form the alternative organization Alba (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, compare Alca above). The United States instead invested in free trade agreements with individual countries in the region.
At Venezuela’s initiative, an organization was also formed in 2011 that was intended to be an alternative to the OAS itself, without the participation of the United States and Canada. All states in Latin America and the Caribbean are members of Celac, which, however, has not had a major impact.