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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


I. The International and Regional Circumstances

The Organization of American States is the world’s oldest regional organization and is one of a select number of regional bodies that can celebrate its 50th anniversary in the present century. The occasion of this fiftieth anniversary comes on the verge of a new millennium, which is being ushered in by a radical transformation of communication technology generated by the phenomenon of globalization. Globalization in turn requires management of change, security engagement, sustainable development, multilateralism, and functional interdependence. These constitute symbiotic forces in the context of the integration of the global community. How the OAS responds to these phenomena related to globalization will determine its success in enhancing its profile as an organization and its ability to assume more effective hemispheric leadership functions into the twenty-first century.

Rapid advances in communications technology are both a force for change and the result of such changes within the international system. The continuous current of technological innovation, evolution and transformation of the processes that constitute the system is so significant that “change” in itself has become a reality in the continuously evolving social and economic contexts. New systems and evolving technological breakthrough have to be constantly integrated and adapted into our societies, thus making enormous demands not only on our human resources, but also on the structural capabilities of our societies to assimilate such a continuous flow of innovation.  Effective management of such change will require a virtually scientific approach in prognosticating the nature of such changes in the future, and in determining their potential impact on the human fabric of our societies. Such prognosis will therefore form the basis of plans, programs, and projects aimed at meeting future needs, while at the same time directing the progress of such change in such areas considered essential to the future integral development of our communities.

The intensification of the globalization process has left many areas of the social, political, and environmental structure of national and regional life open to external influences of every kind through an intricate and inevitable array of linkages. This unfolding development has resulted in a redefinition of the security question and a revisitation of our engagement on such issues through the expediency of a more open and joint approach to what has become a global issue. Future responses to the question of security, therefore, demand the type of engagement which is comprehensive and global, and which reflects and addresses the concerns of all players within the system. A major effect of globalization is the formation of mega companies and cartels, among the wide range of interest groups operating within the system, as they seek to increase their profits by adapting to, and at the same time driving forward the process of globalization.  In the face of such formidable odds, governments are challenged, not only to keep the development agenda decidedly focussed, but most importantly to ensure that it is integral and sustainable.  These concerns of national and regional governments impose a multilateral approach to all responses aimed at addressing questions of development.  This is inevitable since development, of necessity, is evolutionary, incremental, and never static. Within this context, multilateralism and development become compatible since the globalization process itself is multilateral. Such multilateralism increases interdependence not only of the political decision-making bodies of the nation states, but also of the very processes which constitute the fabric of social, economic, and political structure of these states.  Functional interdependence is inscribed within the very logic of globalization and will most certainly characterize international collaboration for the future. In the particular case of the Americas and the Organization of American states the circumstances of the regional membership in the closing years of this last decade will constitute the determinants of the organization’s capacity and capability to engage the opportunities and challenges of the new millennium which are imperative to its survival.

What then are the circumstances of the regional membership as it inevitably enters the new millennium and how do the internal dynamics of the Organization equip it for effective future action? First the circumstances - during fifty years of regional effort and endeavor the Organization, in conjunction with member states, has effectively secured democracy as a regional political culture. There is a hemispheric commitment to the consolidation of this culture, the basis of which must be the promotion of integral development. Democracy, through development, has therefore become a regional target. Development has been pursued, through a people oriented strategy over a wide range of human interests primarily in the areas of economic and social questions, education, culture, unemployment, gender equity, youth, the mentally and physically challenged, the rights of indigenous peoples, and human rights. The culture and practice of Democracy must underpin the effective engagement of all these areas. Democracy, therefore, is the single fundamental constant on which the future of the Hemisphere must be anchored.

There can be no doubt that the Organization has recorded significant achievements over the last fifty years. Many objectives, however, are still to be realized. The proposed Inter-American Declaration and Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the projected Inter-American Convention on the Physically and Mentally Challenged should be expedited. There also still remain the vexing questions of poverty, inequitable wealth distribution, gender inequalities, intrinsic social ills, and a consequent absence of social justice. There is a regional consensus however, that these questions must be structurally engaged. The driving elements of that sustained regional action must therefore be commitment, momentum, and opportunity.