Overview of the OAS

The OAS: The Principal Forum for Inter-American Relations

Founded in 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) is the oldest regional organization in the world. It was built upon the Pan-American Union to promote peaceful relations in the Americas.

The OAS is the premier multilateral and political forum of the Americas, with 35 member countries.

OAS Headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. and the Organization has 29 national offices in Latin America and the Caribbean. The OAS’s annual budget is approximately $US180 million.

Member States are represented by their Permanent Representatives, who meet regularly to analyze hemispheric issues and to take action as necessary. The central principle of the hemispheric agenda is the protection and consolidation of democracy. The OAS seeks to prevent conflicts and to bring political stability, social inclusion and prosperity to the region through dialogue and collective action.

OAS Structure

General Secretariat

: The OAS General Secretariat is led by a Secretary General and an Assistant Secretary General elected by the membership for 5-year terms.

General Assembly

: The General Assembly is the principal organ of the Organization. It gathers Ministers of Foreign Affairs of all Member States on an annual basis and also holds special sessions to consider urgent matters.

Permanent Council

: The Permanent Council, as a main governing body of the OAS, meets regularly to set broad priorities of the Organization and direct its ongoing actions. It is composed of one Permanent Representative per member state, who is accredited with the rank of Ambassador.

OAS Decision Making

: OAS Member States generally take decisions by consensus. The General Assembly provides the forum where major decisions are made concerning OAS policies and actions.

Summit of the Americas

The Summit of the Americas convenes the leaders of the democratic countries in the hemisphere. It plays a key role in setting the priorities of the Inter-American system. The OAS serves as the technical secretariat and institutional memory of the Summit process.

Since the first Summit in 1994, Leaders have met regularly to discuss their shared vision, to address the political, economic and social development challenges and opportunities in the hemisphere. Canada hosted the 2001 Summit in Quebec City. Trinidad and Tobago hosted the 5th Summit in 2009. The resulting Declaration of Commitment of Port of Spain provides a detailed roadmap for hemispheric co-operation on prosperity, social development, energy, the environment, security, and democracy. It contains two key commitments introduced by Canada: to holding the Summit at least every three years, and to ensuring alignment between the Summit and the OAS and other inter-American institutions. Colombia will host the 6th Summit in 2012.

Canada reports on our progress in implementing commitments made at the Summits. Reports submitted by Canada and other member states are available.