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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 66
Año: 1999
Autor: Christopher R. Thomas
Título: The Organization of American States in its 50th Year: Overview of a Regional Commitment

III. Charter Reforms 1967 and 1985: Structure and Membership

The refocused and restructured institutional machinery to which the preceding paragraph refers was undertaken in the context of the first reform of the Organization’s Charter, through the Protocol of Buenos Aires, signed in 1967 which came into effect in 1970. From 1948 to 1969, the original Charter provided, inter alia, for a Council of the Organization and three Organs of that Council—Article 57 of the original Charter stated as follows:

The following are organs of the Council of the Organization of American States:
  • The Inter-American Economic and Social Council;
  • The Inter-American Council of Jurists; and
  • The Inter-American Cultural Council.
In 1967, the Charter, under the measured but growing influence of the multilateral initiatives and programs, at the social, economic, and cultural levels was reformed to situate the objectives of the Organization in these areas, in direct perspective to its overall political goal. The Council of the Organization was reconfigured and three councils established in their own right. Article 68 of the Charter of 1967 accordingly provided for three councils and stated as follows:
The Permanent Council of the Organization, the Inter-American Economic and Social Council, and the Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture are directly responsible to the General Assembly and each has the authority granted to it in the Charter and other inter-American instruments, as well as the functions assigned to it by the General Assembly and the Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs.13
Also in the Charter of 1967 the Inter-American Council of Jurists was replaced by the Inter-American Juridical Committee, which became an organ of the Organization. The related article 105 reads as follows:
The purpose of the Inter-American Juridical Committee is to serve the Organization as an advisory body on Juridical matters; to promote the progressive development and codification of international law; and to study juridical problems related to the integration of the developing countries of the Hemisphere and, insofar as may appear desirable, the possibility of attaining uniformity in their legislation.14
The Protocol of Buenos Aires also introduced a number of other significant provisions into the Charter. The original Charter of the Organization had provided for an inter-American conference as the supreme organ of the Organization. The conference convened every five years in regular session to consider and direct the regional agenda. Through the Protocol of Buenos Aires, the General Assembly became the supreme policy making organ of the Organization and would meet in regular session annually. The first regular session of the General Assembly of the Organization accordingly convened in 1971.

The introduction of a regular annual General Assembly clearly evidenced a significant development in the Organization’s evolution. It increased its regional and international visibility, restructured the basis of decision-making and enhanced its focus. More significantly, it signaled that the Organization was now ready to establish a more structured and directional political space in the dynamics and agenda of the region.

The Charter of 1967 also established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as an organ of the Organization, and established an Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. The corresponding Article 112 reads as follows:
There shall be an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose principal function shall be to promote the observance and protection of human rights and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters.

An Inter-American Convention on Human Rights shall determine the structure, competence, and procedure of this Commission, as well as those of other organs responsible for these matters.15
Since its creation, the Commission has evolved into one of the most credible and objective instruments of the Organization and has gained regional and international respectability. The Commission’s reports and recommendations have carried great weight within the membership as a whole and with national governments.

The Convention, which was adopted in 1969 in San Jose, Costa Rica, came into force in 1978. It became an instrument within the inter-American system for the consolidation of peace, social justice, liberty and respect for human rights.

In 1979, the ninth regular session of the General Assembly established the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as an autonomous judicial organ of the Organization for the purposes of application and interpretation of human rights questions. The Commission, the Convention and the Court, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948 have since constituted a hemispheric framework and system for the vigilance, observance, adjudication, and jurisdiction in respect of human rights within the region.

The Charter of 1967 also adjusted the terms of office of the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General to a duration of five years, with the possibility of one reelection, and renamed the administrative organ of the Organization from the Pan American Union to the Secretariat.

In light of the above Charter reforms, by 1970, in the area of political management as well as economic, social, cultural, and juridical affairs, and the field of human rights, the Organization had begun to assume a progressively new dimension in the affairs of the Hemisphere. The organs of the Organization were accordingly defined in Article 51 as follows:

The Organization of American States accomplishes its purposes by means of:
  • The General Assembly;
  • The Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs;
  • The Councils;
  • The Inter-American Juridical Committee;
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • The General Secretariat;
  • The Specialized Conferences;
  • The Specialized Organizations; and
  • Such other subsidiary organs, agencies, and other entities as are considered necessary.
The revised structure of the Organization introduced a new mood of optimism and expectation. This was aptly expressed by the then Secretary General, Jose Mora in June 1967 when he stated:
The inter-American system has been infused with new life, for it has placed in sharp relief its capacity to adapt to unforeseen situations and to incorporate new ideologies of innovation that have given it clear and exact lines for action in the modern world…we have created new instruments for cooperation to respond to social demands.16
The Charter of 1967 had established a more structured basis for the Organization in its relations with the Hemisphere.

A historic provision of the Protocol of Buenos Aires related to the expansion of the Organization’s membership. The period from 1948 to the 1960s was difficult but maturing as the Organization sought to establish its identity as a truly hemispheric organization. Developments were taking place within and without the region that would impact fundamentally on the membership. One such development was the increased impetus of decolonization during the first half of the twentieth century which would inevitably result in the political independence of a number of British colonies within the Caribbean and the Hemisphere, and the need to address the question of their membership within the Organization. In the contextual circumstances of the era of the Organization’s establishment, the English-speaking Caribbean region was not envisaged in the Organization’s original hemispheric vision. If the agenda of the Organization were to be truly hemispheric in dimension, and if the long-term objective were to fashion a credible hemispheric identity, all the members of the Hemisphere should be represented. This increased membership was made possible by the adoption of the Act of Washington, on December 18, 1964, which was subsequently enshrined in the Charter of the Organization through the Protocol of Buenos Aires. This was provided for through Article 6 of the amended Charter, which read as follows:
Any other independent American State that desires to become a Member of the Organization should so indicate by means of a note addressed to the Secretary General, in which it declares that it is willing to sign and ratify the Charter of the Organization and to accept all the obligations inherent in membership, especially those relating to collective security expressly set forth in Article 27 and 28 of the Charter.17
The entry of the English-speaking Caribbean states within the Organization was an unprecedented development, not specifically contemplated in the Charter. The process of initial entry was therefore not without due and deliberate consideration related to the composition of the membership, and the impact and expectations deriving from new and culturally different members. The nature of that consideration resulted in considerable initial hesitation and suspicion by both the founding as well as the new membership in respect of the spontaneity of a holistic regional engagement. The integration of the overall membership has, accordingly, been slow and circumspectual and a number of consequential questions and issues still persist. The OAS is still in the process of coming to terms with this new dimension to its identity and presence. Its achievements in this regard will be a measure of its genuineness as an organization in seeking integral development through full integration. The new dynamism, which should attend the cause of the 50th anniversary, could well be the occasion to consolidate a membership identity, not in the context of traditional dialogue and rhetoric but by credible outreach to identify sub-regional concerns in the construction of conscious regional cooperation.

The membership of the former British colonies in the Caribbean, beginning in the late 1960s, opened the prospect for a significant enlargement of the regional actors in the inter-American system and by 1984 ten English-speaking Caribbean States and Suriname had entered the Organization increasing the regional membership from twenty-one to thirty-two.18 The amended Charter, however, did not permit membership of two English-speaking Caribbean states, Belize and Guyana, due to existing border disputes with Venezuela and Guatemala respectively. This question was engaged and resolved by the membership through a further amendment of its Charter—the Protocol of Cartagena de Indias, in 1985— in a spirit of maturity, political pragmatism, and regional outreach. Article 8 of the Protocol stated as follows:
The Permanent Council shall not make any recommendation nor shall the General Assembly take any decision with respect to a request for admission on the part of a political entity whose territory became subject, in whole or in part, prior to December 18, 1964, the date set by the First Special Inter-American Conference, to litigation or claim between an extracontinental country and one or more Member States of the Organization, until the dispute has been ended by some peaceful procedure. This article shall remain in effect until December 10, 1990.19
As a result of the above-mentioned protocol Belize and Guyana applied for membership of the Organization in 1991 and were duly admitted. The Protocol of Cartagena de Indias effected other reforms in the Organization’s Charter, which will be discussed later. Two years earlier in 1989, Canada also became a full member of the Organization of American States. Entry of the English-speaking Caribbean and Canada increased the Organization’s membership to thirty-five and brought about a new configuration of the regional body. This new configuration enhanced the credibility of the Organization as a fully hemispheric entity and served to enseal its regional vocation. It also set the stage for an unprecedented outreach of hemispheric interaction that would deepen and extend the dimension of Panamericanism.

This historic outreach must, inevitably, resolve the reentry of Cuba and address the Organization’s relationship with the other territories of the Caribbean region. The occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Organization should not therefore be seen solely as an opportunity for self commendation but one of consolidation, review, and political engagement with the larger regional community. As the Organization turns fifty, its membership must address critically its political leadership function within the region. The present government of Cuba still remains outside the hemispheric family and a number of non-independent territories within the region have no direct or structural developmental relationship with the Organization. Effective regional integration cannot be achieved and consolidated at the exclusion of contiguous community members. In this regard the wider geographic region cannot be treated as an area of separate subregional development, particularly where a majority of its independent membership participate in a larger community of interests. Creative functional outreach is, therefore, an inevitable development option of the Organization in the interest of its organic growth and development, and must, of necessity, constitute a constant in its enduring benefit to the region. It is this focus and characteristic among other progressive features, which will determine its future relevance within the dynamics of the new millennium.

A general overview of the Organization would suggest that the period 1948 to the early 1970s was essentially a formative one during which the Organization acquired a maturity, identity, and growth as bases for regional outgrowth. Some of the major characteristics of the Organization during this period were: the development of a regional culture of consciousness and spirit of cooperation; the building of an internal dynamism for the pursuit of multilateralism; and the profiling of its role as a central regional actor in inter-American cooperation in the political, economic, social and cultural areas. That period of growth served to equip the Organization to pursue, on behalf of and in collaboration with member states, a number of specific initiatives of major regional concerns. These included the questions of democratic governance, the enhancement of its concept and structure for economic and social development, an expanded and interrelated program of inter-American cultural cooperation, and a wider and revised security perspective for the region. The new and increased membership of the region also required a specific development focus on the Caribbean and the effective involvement of that sub-region in overall regional integration. These questions would serve as an increasingly evolving agenda for the Organization over the period of the decades of the seventies to the nineties. This agenda would also require some internal restructuring of the Organization’s mechanism.