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What is the Organization of American States (OAS)?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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The Organization of American States (OAS) is an international organization with members drawn from the independent states of the Americas. Almost all nations in the Americas are members of the OAS, representing their interests and regular meetings and promoting a variety of policies which will benefit the Americas as a whole. French Guinea, as a dependency of France, is excluded, and Cuba has been suspended since 1962 by agreement among the members of the OAS.

The earliest version of the OAS was founded in 1890, as the International Conference of American States. By 1910, this had been changed to the Pan-American Union, and in 1948 the OAS adopted its current charter and name. The flag of the OAS consists of a blue field with a white disc, in which all of the member nations' flags are displayed fanned on staffs. Because there are 35 members, the full flags are not shown, but rather just enough of each flag for the nations to be identified.

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One of the primary goals of the OAS is promoting and strengthening democracy in the Americas while respecting the individual sovereignty of members. The organization also promotes free trade and sustainable government, encouraging members to form economic agreements which are mutually beneficial. OAS members also agree to “[limit] conventional weapons” to “make it possible to devote the largest amount of resources to the economic and social development of member states.” One pressing issue for several member nations is the war on drugs, focused on drug producing nations like Colombia.

In addition to focusing on economic issues, the OAS also looks at issues of human rights, especially for women and indigenous people, promoting equality and fair legal systems in its member states. Members of the OAS are also committed to peace and cooperation, ideally creating a collectively powerful group of nations which can work for each other, rather than against each other. The OAS charter also dictates that nations in the OAS must have a non-interventionist policy.

Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese are all spoken in the OAS and used in official documents from the organization, reflecting the fact that these languages are all in use by member states. The organization is headquartered in Washington, DC, with states taking turns as hosts of the general assembly each year.

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