Inter-American Organizations

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Inter-American Organizations

Inter-American Organizations, the constituent organizational, institutional, and legal-constitutional elements of the Inter-American System. From 1889 to the present there has been a gradual evolution of the Inter-American System, the successive creation of Inter-American organizations, first through the Pan-American Union and then through the Organization of American States (OAS).


The OAS is the central inter-American institution. The principal components of the OAS include the following:

General Secretariat

The central, permanent institution of the Inter-American System that implements the programs and policies as directed by the General Assembly and the various decision-making councils. The General Secretariat is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with national offices and specialized institutes located in member countries.

General Assembly

The supreme decision-making organ of the OAS. The Assembly, which meets at annual sessions in one of the member states or at OAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., sets the policy and budget for the OAS and its agencies.

Meetings of Consultation and Ministers of Foreign Relations

Conferences may be convened (by the OAS Permanent Council at the request of a member state) "to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest" (OAS Charter) or in cases of attack or threats to peace and security.

Permanent Council

Body that guides and monitors the daily business of the OAS. It is comprised of permanent representatives (holding ambassadorial rank) from each of the thirty-four active member states. The Council meets more than twice a month at OAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI)

The "Protocol of Managua," approved at the June 1993 OAS General Assembly and now subject to ratification, merges the Inter-American Social and Economic Council (CIES) and Inter-American Council for Education, Science and Culture (CIECC) into a single Inter-American Council for Integral Development, which will provide greater coordination and efficiency of technical cooperation programs.


The other inter-American organizations which, together with the councils of the OAS comprise the Inter-American System, include the Inter-american Development Bank, the Inter-American Defense Board, and the following specialized institutions and agencies:

Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

Founded in 1942 and based in Costa Rica, the Institute initiates projects to help member states plan and evaluate agriculture policies, develop and share technology, promote rural development, improve animal health, and generate trade.

Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)

Based in Washington, D.C., this agency cooperates closely with governments of the hemisphere to promote health care. Founded as the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau in 1902, it is both an OAS specialized organization and a regional arm of the World Health Organization.

Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR)

Created in 1969, it is governed by the American Convention on Human Rights, which was signed in 1969 and put into force in 1978. The Commission, based in Washington, D.C., has seven members, who are proposed by member states and elected, in their own right, by the OAS General Assembly. The IACHR represents the thirty-five member states of the OAS.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Created by the Pact of San José in 1969, the court is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose is to apply and interpret the American Convention of Human Rights. It is composed of seven jurists from OAS member countries and is located in San José, Costa Rica.

Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

Established by the General Assembly of the OAS in 1986, it has a current membership of twenty-four states, which will increase to twenty-nine by 1995. CICAD's mandate is to promote and facilitate close cooperation among the member countries in the control of drug trafficking, production, and use in accordance with the Inter-American Program of Action of Rio de Janeiro (1986).

Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM)

A specialized agency of the OAS, which was established in 1928 at the Sixth International Conference of American States in Havana, Cuba. It is the first official intergovernmental agency created expressly to ensure recognition of the civil and political rights of women in the Americas—the first not only in the region, but in the world.

Inter-American Children's Institute (IACI)

Founded in 1927 and located in Montevideo, Uruguay, the IACI strives to achieve better health and living conditions for children and the family. The Institute serves as a center of social action, carrying out programs in the fields of health, education, social legislation, social service, and statistics.

Pan-American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH)

Founded in 1928 and located in Mexico City, the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History seeks to encourage, coordinate, and publicize geographic, historical, cartographic, and geophysical studies in the Americas.

Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII)

Created in 1940 and located in Mexico City, the IAII is concerned primarily with initiating, coordinating, and directing research for better understanding of Indian groups in the hemisphere and for the solution of their health, educational, economic, and social problems. It provides technical assistance in establishing programs of Indian community development.

See alsoPan-Americanism .


Charles G. Fenwick, The Organization of American States: The Inter-American Regional System (1963).

Henry H. Ham, Problems and Prospects of the Organization of American States (1987).

Organization of American States, The OAS and the Evolution of the Inter-American System (1988).

L. Ronald Scheman, The Inter-American Dilemma: The Search for Inter-American Cooperation at the Centennial of the Inter-American System (1988).

G. Pope Atkins, Latin America in the International Political System, 2d. rev. ed. (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Cooper, Andrew Fenton, and Thomas F. Legler. Intervention without Intervening?: The OAS Defense and Promotion of Democracy in the Americas. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Marichal, Carlos. México y las conferencias panamericanas, 1889–1938: Antecedentes de la globalización. México: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 2002.

Sheinin, David. Beyond the Ideal: Pan Americanism in Inter-American Affairs. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Shaw, Carolyn M. Cooperation, Conflict, and Consensus in the Organization of American States. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

                                   Michael Gold-Biss

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Inter-American Organizations

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Inter-American Organizations