By Kiernan, James Patrick
Americas (English Edition) , Vol. 62, No. 3
For a hundred years a beautiful Beaux-Art building has graced the corner of Constitution Avenue and Seventeenth Street in Washington, DC, a corner buffeted by heavy traffic and visited by legions of curious tourists. A monumental structure built on a human scale, the "House of the Americas" is a peoples' palace that has drawn from the many architectural vocabularies of pre-European America. Its unusual design elements and physical features reflect the unique nature and intent of the building. It is distinct in its dimensions, its balance, its overall design, and its structural and decorative detail. The physical characteristics of the building render it a gem in a stately setting, but its outstanding universal significance goes far beyond this singularity.
After one hundred years, the House of the Americas stands as the embodiment of the efforts of the countries of the Western Hemisphere to secure a better existence for their citizens, maintain standards of respect for national sovereignty, and promote collective security and cooperation. Tangibly and inseparably associated with inter-Americanism as a living tradition, the significance of this structure that is now the OAS headquarters building is evident in the continuity of the organizations that have occupied it, from the Pan American Union to the Organization of American States. Over the last one hundred years, the inter-American system has gradually been constructed under the roof of this building,
The House of the Americas was first built as the headquarters of the "Bureau of American Republics," soon after renamed the "Pan American Union." It lodged a large library and information center that contained the creative and informational publications of all the member nations. It also housed conference and meeting rooms in which the successive problems common to the member nations were discussed and responded to first by the Pan American Union (PAU) and then by the Organization of American States (OAS).
For one hundred years, the House of the Americas has served as a center of operations and as a planning site for international conferences, seminars, and meetings held in various member nations. And over time, the PAU/OAS became the forum for establishing the legal conventions and agreements that define and support inter-American economic, social, political, and cultural collaboration.
During the years of the Pan American Union, the multitude of resolutions, conventions, and treaties that emerged as the fruits of its labor established the foundation for international law in the Americas, and frequently by extension throughout the world. The many questions and topics debated in the PAU established the agenda for the Organization of American States which succeeded it. Some of the issues addressed include: customs and maritime law; human rights; international arbitration; political asylum; public health; intellectual property; international commerce; women's rights; tourism; drug trafficking; child welfare; education; postal regulations; indigenous fights; and copyrights and trademarks.
Since then, the Organization of American States has continued the process of legal codification and has continued to be actively engaged in many of these questions. It has advanced the cause of women's rights, responded to the problems related to drug trafficking, and carried the banner of universal education. The OAS has successfully promoted horizontal cooperation for development, human rights, and representative democracy. At the same time, the collectivity that the PAU/OAS building represents has expanded to include the countries of the Caribbean and all of the sovereign nations of the Americas. The continuum of the PAU/OAS has birthed the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, and dozens of smaller organizations and centers that have each responded to the particular needs of the peoples of the Americas. …