Changing Empahsis: 50 Years of Inter-American Cooperation

Harvard International Review, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview
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Changing Empahsis: 50 Years of Inter-American Cooperation

Cesar Gaviria is Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS).

As Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS) since 1994, Cesar Gaviria has earned a place of prominence across Latin America as conflict mediator, advocate of democracy in the Hemisphere, staunch supporter of regional integration, and defender of human rights. Before his election as Secretary-General, he was President of Colombia from 1990 until 1994, where he gained world prominence for his role in challenging drug trafficking and his many initiatives to strengthen Colombian society.

Prior to being elected to the highest office of his native Colombia, Gaviria served as Minister of Finance and Minister of the Interior during the Barco administration (1986-1990). Gaviria has also been a journalist, writing for "La Tarde," the principal paper in his hometown of Pereira, and later for "El Tiempo," Colombia's largest and most influential newspaper. Interview Editor Pedro Pimentel spoke with Secretary-General Gaviria in early March about the current role of the OAS in Latin America and its future challenges.


Traditionally, the OAS has been an important venue for regional cooperation ever since is inception on February 11, 1948. Notwithstanding the historical lack of democracy within the region, the OAS has always strongly maintained that regional peace and justice are essential. How would you characterize inter-American relations today and the historical role of the OAS in fomenting peaceful relations among member states?

The 1990s have been very productive years for the OAS and for inter-American relations. We left the Cold War behind, with all the negative implications it had for inter-American relations and for the OAS. The 1970s and the 1980s in particular were very difficult years: the confrontation between East and West complicated inter-American relations, especially in the countries of Central America, where civil wars were difficult to resolve.

By contrast, this decade has been very positive. The Miami Summit convened by President Clinton in 1994 was very timely, and it has allowed us to move ahead in many areas of inter-American relations. We have begun significant work toward the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and we have initiated measures to further improve human rights, encourage democracy, and promote sustainable development. Concurrently, many challenges to democracy have been confronted, including corruption, terrorism, illegal arms traffick, and drug trafficking. In all those areas, inter-American relations have been strengthened and the role of the OAS has been instrumental.

You just mentioned the role of human rights. How would you characterize the work the OAS has accomplished in the area of human rights, including the creation and placement of verification committees within Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala?

I would like to highlight the role of the inter-American system of human rights, which has the most prestige of the inter-American organizations. Without a doubt, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the Institute of Human Rights have helped to promote respect for human rights. These organizations have also had a very significant role in protecting human rights during the period of dictatorships and in bringing down these dictatorships. Even today, notwithstanding widespread democracy, the system continues to play a significant role. For example, individuals can bring cases of human rights violations committed by states to the attention of the Court. People are now more determined to bring these claims forth, thus protecting lives in cases in which people are endangered. The OAS is committed to strengthening the system financially, administratively, and juridically. We are working on giving these institutions significant support to guarantee that they achieve their goals.

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