OAS Operates in the Red

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Updated: June 21, 2016

By now, the Organization of American States is no stranger to the Belizean people, considering that they have played a major role in the Belize/Guatemala territorial differendum over the last few years.  Belize, however, is not the only country that the OAS has involvement in as they are the agency that deals with American States with an objective to achieve among its member states—as stipulated in Article 1 of the Charter—”an order of peace and justice, to promote their solidarity, to strengthen their collaboration, and to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their independence.”  In an article by The Washington Post uploaded earlier this month, it was written that while the OAS is working with its member states, the very organization is battling with its own financial woes.  The article drew a parallel with the current economic crisis in Venezuela, stating that, ‘ as Venezuela teeters on the brink of economic collapse, its problems are roiling the Organization of American States, an institution that faces its own dire financial crisis under a new leader who is pushing it to focus more on human rights and democracy.  Secretary General Luis Almagro has accused the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of violating the organization’s Democratic Charter requiring members to uphold democracy, and OAS member states are deeply divided between those that support Almagro and those that see his charge as an unwarranted intervention in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.  Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, has set in motion a procedure that could lead to the suspension of Venezuela from the OAS.  Almagro confidants say his efforts to push back against growing authoritarianism in Venezuela reflect both principle and the financial realities of the OAS. With many member states in arrears in contributions, the organization’s $82 million budget may have to bear further cuts of $12 million or more. That has forced Almagro to start trimming some extraneous programs so he can train needed money on what he considers the “core competencies” of human rights and democracy.  When Almagro became secretary general last year, he took over the helm of an organization that has been running in the red for decades. Although democracy was one of its founding principles, over time the OAS had taken on other popular missions, such as economic development and a scholarship program. Now, Almagro wants to pare back some of those programs and launch new initiatives such as a school of governance to teach ethics and accountability to young Latin American politicians.  To do that, he needs to get the budget on a sustainable course. Today, many of the 34 OAS member countries in good standing have not paid their dues for many years. Venezuela is one of the biggest debtor nations. So is Brazil, although it recently paid its $4 million share for 2014. The United States contributes 60 percent of the total OAS budget and is by far the largest contributor to related organizations such as the autonomous Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Among the high-profile cases the commission has investigated over the years are the mass abduction and disappearance of 43 students in Mexico in 2014, the disappearances of civilians during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, and conditions for detainees at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Every year, the human rights commission receives 2,000 new petitions for help.  Today, the OAS brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.