Whither the OAS?


Photo by: Photo by: Jose Miguel Insulza via http://www.flickr.com/photos/insulza/2561669250/

The OAS General Assembly in Bolivia this week underscored, yet again,the Organization of American States’s struggle for relevance in the hemisphere.  Only Presidents Correa and host President Morales showed up.  Secretary Clinton skipped the summit, and U.S. Assistant Secretary Jacobson didn’t even stay to deliver her own speech.  The ALBA countries, led by Venezuela, attacked two of the OAS’s defining initiatives, while the other members stood by.  Alleging the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was biased in favor of the U.S. agenda, ALBA won a vote to discuss reform in the future.  Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua also announced their withdrawal from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance.  Known as the Rio Treaty, the pact has enshrined the principle of mutual defense in hemispheric relations since 1947.

ALBA’s complaints about the OAS are not new, and neither are Washington’s.  The House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to zero out U.S. funding for the OAS in July 2011, when several Congressman called the OAS “an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security” and claimed it was “bent on destroying democracy in Latin America.”  The Obama Administration did not come to the organization’s defense, and, as in the past, the OAS appeared passive, apparently calculating that the storms would blow over.

The South Americans will be happy to fill the void with their counter to the OAS – the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which explicitly excludes the United States and Canada.  But CELAC lacks infrastructure and funding and, so far, has mostly been a forum for speeches.  Brazil’s position will be key.  Although probably bemused by the decline in U.S. and OAS influence in the region, Brazil may nonetheless see advantage in reviving – and reforming – the OAS as a buffer for working out north-south and even south-south differences.

Click here for additional information from CLALS’s “Hemisphere in Flux” initiative, an ongoing research program on the future of Inter-American affairs, conducted in partnership with Brazil’s Institute Nacional de Estudos dos Estados Unidos (INEU) and the Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales (CRIES) .


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