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Profile: Organization of American States (OAS)

Organization of American States (OAS) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Haiti agrees to implement a wide array of neoliberal reforms outlined in the IMF’s $1.2 billion Emergency Economic Recovery Plan (EERP) put together by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Organization of American States (OAS). The recovery package, to be funded and executed over a five-year period, aims to create a capital-friendly macroeconomic environment for the export-manufacturing sector. It calls for suppressing wages, reducing tariffs, and selling off state-owned enterprises. Notably, there is little in the package for the country’s rural sector, which represents the activities of about 65 percent of the Haitian population. The small amount that does go to the countryside is designated for improving roads and irrigation systems and promoting export crops such as coffee and mangoes. The Haitian government also agrees to abolish tariffs on US imports, which results in the dumping of cheap US foodstuffs on the Haitian market undermining the country’s livestock and agricultural production. The disruption of economic life in the already depressed country further deteriorates the living conditions of the poor. (International Report 4/3/1995; International Monetary Fund 10/18/1996; Shamsie 2002; Reeves 9/7/2003; Williams 3/1/2004)

Haiti holds run-off elections for candidates who failed to win a majority of the votes in the May 21 elections (see May 21, 2000). However 10 senators from the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide who won only by plurality, and not by majority, are not required to run, prompting immediate criticism from the US, UN, the OAS, and the opposition parties. Donor nations and organizations threaten to continue withholding $400 million in aid. (BBC 7/11/2000; Greste 7/14/2000; BBC 2/7/2001; Nesmith 2/28/2004)

The Organization of American States (OAS) blocks $400 million in aid to Haiti from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), citing the unresolved status of the contested 2000 Haitian elections (see May 21, 2000). The aid package was to consist of four separate loans for health, education, drinking water, and road improvements. Though it is claimed that this decision has been reached by a consensus, critical observers raise questions about the influence of an April 6 letter (see April 6, 2001) from a US official asking the IDB to suspend the release of these funds. (Farmer 4/15/2004)

Lawrence Harrington, the US representative to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sends a letter to Enrique Iglesias, the IDB’s president, recommending that the bank block already approved loans to Haiti. “At this point disbursements could normally begin, assuming all loans conditions had been met,” Harrington writes. “However, we do not believe that these loans can or should be treated in a routine manner and strongly urge you to not authorize any disbursements at this time.” (US Department of State 4/6/2001 pdf file; Farmer 4/15/2004) The loans are for health, education, drinking water, and road improvements. The OAS will block these loans 14 days later (see (2001)). (Farmer 4/15/2004)

With the exception of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 34 heads of state attending the Organization of American States (OAS) summit, pledge to direct their “Ministers to ensure that negotiations of the FTAA [Free Trade Area of Americas] Agreement are concluded no later than January 2005 and to seek its entry into force as soon as possible thereafter, but in any case, no later than December 2005.” (Stevens 4/18/2001; Andean Community 4/22/2001; Haiti Weekly News 5/2/2001) According to an unnamed senior offical at the US State Department, the declaration also lays the groundwork for creating a legal pretext for blocking aid to countries. (US Congress 7/15/2003 pdf file; Farmer 4/15/2004) The section of the declaration discussing the OAS’s commitment to democracy reads: “… any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order in a state of the Hemisphere constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state’s government in the Summit of the Americas process….To enhance our ability to respond to these threats, we instruct our Foreign Ministers to prepare, in the framework of the next General Assembly of the OAS, an Inter-American Democratic Charter to reinforce OAS instruments for the active defense of representative democracy.” (Andean Community 4/22/2001; Ives and Dunkel 4/25/2001) During the summit, before the final declaration is made, Haiti is singled out as the region’s problem democracy. “Democracy in certain countries is still fragile,” Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien says, “We are particularly concerned about the case of Haiti. We note the problems which continue to limit the democratic, political, economic, and social development of this country.” (Ives and Dunkel 4/25/2001) Press reports note the ant-Aristide atmosphere. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the presence of Mr. Aristide at the summit has been an embarrassment to some of the leaders, who agreed that only democratic countries would be included in the Free Trade Zone of the Americas.” (BBC 4/22/2001) The New York Post similarly recounts, “Diplomats said the expressions of concern about Haiti were to make sure that Aristide can’t use his presence at the summit… to claim he has international support.” (Orin 4/23/2001) And according to Reuters, “the Summit decided to comment on Haiti because leaders did not want Aristide to return home in triumph.” (Orin 4/23/2001; Ives and Dunkel 4/25/2001)

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru for a meeting of the Organization of American States. He is having breakfast with the president of Peru and his cabinet. As Powell later recalls, “[S]uddenly a note was handed to me saying that something had happened in New York City, some planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.… And then a few moments later, more information came in, and it was… obviously a terrorist attack. So we concluded the breakfast.… I told my staff, ‘Get the plane ready. We got to get home.’ Because clearly this was—this was [a] catastrophe and I had to get back to the United States.” It will take an hour to get his plane ready, so Powell stops off at the Organization of American States conference where he gives a brief statement, and other foreign ministers give speeches of support. Powell then leaves immediately for Lima’s military airport to fly back to Washington. (Campbell 9/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 9-10; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Powell 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004 pdf file) However, his plane reportedly does not take off until about 12:30 p.m. EDT. (US Department of State 9/11/2001) His flight will take seven hours, during which time he has significant problems communicating with colleagues in Washington (see (12:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (ABC News 9/11/2002; Powell 9/11/2002)

Trinidad Foreign Affairs Minister Knowlson Gift announces that the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) has requested that the Organization of American States (OAS) investigate the February 29 removal (see February 28, 2004-March 1, 2004) of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (Associated Press 5/6/2004; Associated Press 5/6/2004)

At an OAS meeting in Washington, Haitian interim Prime Minister Gerard LaTortue appeals for reconciliation with the governments of other Caribbean states. “Haiti is a member of CARICOM and proposes to continue being a member,” LaTortue says. “In this key moment of its history, my country needs all of you. May the misunderstandings be left behind.” (Associated Press 5/6/2004; Associated Press 5/6/2004) The new government of Haiti had previously announced its temporary withdrawal from CARICOM because of the organization’s refusal to recognize the new interim government (see March 15, 2004).


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