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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


The juncture of the Organization’s fifty years trajectory coincides with regional projections for a new millennium and the unfolding of the feature of hemispheric summitry, the later at the initiative of President Clinton of the United States, in 1994. The first review and follow-up of the Summit of 1994 were undertaken in Santiago de Chile, in April 1998. A number of basic understandings follow from the Santiago Summit.  These include the following:
1. That Hemispheric Summits will be convened periodically.

2. That Summitry will constitute the wider policy framework within which the hemispheric agenda will be cast.

3. That the implementation of that wider agenda will be undertaken through a functional involvement and coordination of the other agencies and actors of the region through a core tripartite arrangement comprising the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The Pan American Health Organization will also be involved in the above-mentioned organizational arrangement.

4. That the OAS will occupy a directional role in the development and implementation of that wider hemispheric agenda.
Summitry and collective management arrangement are neither novel nor original to regional endeavors. Both mechanisms have been previously engaged in the search for regional responses to development. The telescoping and dynamics of present requirements could, however, make these mechanisms—particularly in respect of the multipartite focus advocated by the Santiago Declaration—both apposite and functional today. Two mechanisms, which were established following the first summit— A Summit Implementation and Review Group (SIRG) and A Special Committee on Summit Management (SMC) were also reconfirmed in Santiago de Chile. The periodic summit meetings and the two follow-up bodies will therefore constitute the instruments through which the broad hemispheric agenda will be defined, focused, reviewed, and evaluated as to their implementation by member states. In the context of the Summit’s decision, the SIRG and the SMC will be integrated into wider hemispheric consultative and advisory bodies. A role for the Organization of American States in this process has been identified but not singly defined.

The agenda of the Summit is of necessity very general and spans the breadth of the entire Inter-American System. It is therefore neither possible nor practical for the Organization to assume the totality of the Summit’s agenda. The Charter of the Organization and the decisions of the Summits are fully compatible in their objectives for regional cooperation and development. Every issue identified by the Summit has been previously addressed within the Hemisphere. The comprehensiveness of the coverage and its policy focus therefore posits five questions for the membership of the OAS:
  • Through which regional forum can this agenda be integrated and constructively pursued?
  • Where can the OAS, as the central regional political forum of the Hemisphere, situate itself in the promotion, pursuit, and implementation of this wider hemispheric agenda, and with what additional resources?
  • What status would this agenda have in the context of the organization’s present regional role?
  • What implications are there in this wider policy agenda for practical regional development specifically in respect of technical cooperation programs and projects? and
  • How might the Organization manage its specific agenda and be a functional actor in the implementation of the wider Summit agenda?
From the management perspective, responses to the above policy questions can only be undertaken through mechanisms of interaction. One might be a focussing of the Summit’s agenda on a select number of topics of regional priority in conjunction with organizations of the inter-American system, if such could be determined.  In the case of the Summit of Santiago de Chile, the priority topic of education was identified, though the final action-plan covered a wider range of priorities.  The merit in this doubtful approach would make the process more immediately manageable. It could, however, inhibit the momentum of the development thrust at a time when the regional mood is recognition of the interconnectedness of the development function and the acknowledged requirement for integral action. The other would be the elaboration of a constructive dual management that would maintain the identification of both or several agendas. In this respect, in the context of its Charter goals, the Organization would serve to incorporate the Summit’s decisions, as appropriate, within its unfolding mandates into policy priorities and the identification and elaboration of action programs. These action programs would be developed in joint collaboration with other regional organizations, non-governmental bodies, civil society, and other interested social actors. The results of this latter process would inform the considerations of the Summit Implementation and Review Committee and the Summit Management Committee, which might in fact be merged into one committee. Where the results of the Summit process impact upon the running programs of the Organization, they could be reviewed for incorporation by the General Assembly redesigned to merge with existing programs or form the basis of new programs as determined by the redesigned Summit Implementation Review and Management Committee (SIRMAC). There is an advantage in maintaining this duality management function of the wider hemispheric agenda for when the impetus of Summitry would have served its regional cause, the remaining constant will be the Organization.

The maintenance of the constancy of the Organization is critical to its membership. The regional identity that the Organization has established over the period of half a century has been a human lesson in growth, development, and maturity. It also constitutes a social experience whose perspective is both regional and sub-regional. This is a unique achievement as fundamental as the securement of the democratic culture. That experience has given rise to an awareness and mindfulness of the particularities of the individual membership and groups of membership. It covers and comprehends the spectrum of island states, sub-regional and subcontinental nations and related holistic engagements. In the present circumstances the Organization is, therefore, both historically and psychologically, poised as never before for the construction of a cohesive integrated action. It must now fully consolidate its regional identity. This is the fundamental challenge of the membership as it crafts its future course.

The strength of an enterprise is a function of its parts. At this stage of the Organization’s development, summitry is vital to its future course. A continuous negotiated agenda of the Organization is also critical to the function of summitry. The summit process must, therefore, serve the cause of a structured organizational agenda in the overall framework of hemispheric cooperation and development.

Over the past fifty years the Organization of American States has evolved into the foremost hemispheric body working on a continuous basis toward achieving hemispheric consensus in all areas crucial to regional and  national security, peace and integral hemispheric development. The new century ushers in new challenges. It also heralds new opportunities to respond to the evolving political context of the Hemisphere.

The Organization came into being in the aftermath of the two world wars, and in the context of ensuing conflicts and tensions, which have marked a full half-century of international relations. Today, in the context of diffused military hostilities, yet more subtly dangerous threats to the future well being of mankind, almost all areas of regional and international collaboration have assumed political significance. The dawn of a new century is, in many ways, a unique occasion to set the pace and trend of things to come.  In condition and circumstance, our entire region now shares a common perspective.  For the leadership of our organization, the twenty-first century can therefore have but one goal—the translation of its outreach in the empowerment of the peoples of the region through the synergy of action and resolve of all social partners. In this respect, construction of a functional partnership for development and prosperity becomes a legitimate function of a regional and dynamic organization.

In the Declaration of Santiago coming out of the Second Summit of the Americas in Chile, 1998, the Heads of State and Government of the Hemisphere called for the strengthening and modernization of the Organization of American States and other regional institutions because of the increasingly important role they must assume in this broad agenda of hemispheric dialogue and cooperation. This is essentially a political agenda. How the OAS integrates the political into its already defined cooperation instruments will be the measure of its relevance into the twenty-first century. The axis of that relevance must be consolidation, full entrenchment and continued vigilance of the political culture throughout the entire hemisphere.