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Organization of American States

Organization of American States (OAS), international organization, created Apr. 30, 1948, at Bogotá, Colombia, by agreement of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Another 15 nations have subsequently joined. The status of permanent observer is now held by 62 additional states and the European Union. The OAS is a regional agency designed to work with the United Nations to promote peace, justice, and hemispheric solidarity; to foster economic development (especially during the 1960s; see Alliance for Progress); and to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the signatory nations. The general secretariat, formerly the Pan-American Union, located in Washington, D.C, is the permanent body of the OAS.

After 1948, the OAS council set out to enforce the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, known as the Rio Treaty (see also Pan-Americanism). The OAS has repeatedly opposed unilateral intervention in the affairs of member countries. However, the OAS did approve (1965) the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic's civil war, though it refused a similar action during the Nicaraguan revolution (1979). Among the many conflicts handled by the council were those between Costa Rica and Nicaragua (1948, 1949, and 1955), when the Nicaraguan regime of Anastasio Somoza was censured for aiding the attempted overthrow of the Costa Rican regime of José Figueres Ferrer; the conflicts between the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo Molina and Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala, and Venezuela (1949, 1950, and 1960); the Panamanian-U.S. conflict over control of the Panama Canal in 1964; the Honduras–El Salvador dispute in 1969; elections in El Salvador amid civil war (1984, 1989); the Panamanian-U.S. conflict (1988, 1989) over the involvement in drug trafficking of the dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, and subsequent U.S. invasion (1990); and the Haitian coup overthrowing President Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991, 1992).

A nearly five-decade issue for the OAS was its relationship with Cuba after the Cuban revolution (1959). In 1962, Cuba was formally suspended from the organization on charges of subversion. Two years later, a trade boycott was imposed on Cuba, but by the 1990s, practically all member nations except the United States had resumed trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba. In 2009, by which time the United States was the only American nation without relations with Cuba, the OAS's suspension of Cuba was ended, but Cuba, at least initially, rejected rejoining the OAS.

See studies by M. Ball (1969) and R. Scheman (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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