Originally: The OAS and Us

Originally appeared in Le Matin

When, in 1948, in Bogota, Colombia, the twenty-one independent countries of the hemisphere, including Haiti, signed the charter of the Organization of American States, they undertook to pursue shared objectives, with respect for each nation?s sovereignty. Respect for sovereignty was underscored at the time in direct reference to the numerous violations of that principle commonly seen on every continent. The twenty-one countries had also adopted the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, the first such declaration at the international level.

The establishment of the OAS thus gave concrete expression to the notion of inter-American cooperation dear to Simón Bolívar, who had proposed the outlines for such cooperation at the 1825 Panama Conference, to which the Republic of Haiti, despite its contribution to the independence of other countries in the hemisphere, was not invited, under pressure from advocates of slavery.

The OAS now has thirty-five member states, and includes all countries of the hemisphere. From 1967 to 1991, all the current Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, plus Canada, joined the OAS?s founding members. Cuba remains a member state, although a resolution adopted at the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in 1962 excluded the regime of Fidel Castro from all participation. Haiti also remains a full member, although it too to some extent continues to behave like a poor relation.

This behavior has grown more pronounced over the past ten years as the delegation of Haiti to the OAS finds itself obliged sometimes unwillingly to spend most of its time defending the legitimacy of the Haitian leaders, so neglecting other major aspects of its duties. Moreover, behaving like a poor relation began long ago with the delegation of Haiti?s role in the exclusion of the government of Cuba. Admittedly, nearly all the founding members had voted for its exclusion, on the pretext of blocking the expansion of Communist ideology, but Haiti seems to have been the only country to cash in on its vote. Indeed, Heinl, in Written in Blood, in referring to the negotiations conducted prior to adoption of the resolution, mentions ironically that a lunch with the then?Haitian minister of foreign affairs to discuss the exclusion of Cuba had cost the delegation of the United States over a million dollars. As one Mexican commentator put it, as much as Judas?s thirty pieces of silver!

It?s interesting to assess the itinerary of our diplomacy over the course of twenty-five years. While in 1936, Haiti stood firmly against the invasion of far-off Ethiopia, in 1962, it contributed actively to the exclusion of Cuba from the OAS. And this only two years after President François Duvalier, speaking in Jacmel, claimed that he was ready to turn towards the East if the West, in particular the United States, continued to interfere in Haitian affairs.

These remarks, wrongly termed “the cry of Jacmel,” unfortunately contributed to sparking unrest among progressive Haitian youth, many of whom had allowed themselves to become caught in the toils of the Duvalier anti-Communist repression of the 1960s. The story of the youth of that time has not been sufficiently told! And it should be mentioned that the primary players and witnesses of that time, among them the late and lamented Professor Gérard Pierre-Charles, are gradually beginning to die off.

But some may say that this is ancient history?However, modern history has not cast a better lot for Haiti or its youth. I still note that while all countries of the hemisphere are at our bedside, at the political level the OAS as an institution has completely marginalized itself. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Ecuador sent troops to assist Haiti, but not as members of the OAS. They answered a call from the United Nations.

In that respect, it is a great pity that the OAS had not succeeded in establishing itself in Haiti as the serious, credible, well-intentioned, and indispensable institution it has become in most countries of the hemisphere. (I already see some of my compatriots furrowing their brows.)

It is a fact that for nearly twenty years, the OAS has conveyed the impression of taking more interest in the political affairs of Haiti than in its socioeconomic problems. In any event, it is in the political arena that it has been the most visible. With the exception of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), whose actions in Haiti are relatively well known, I do not believe that Haitians can name another OAS specialized agency that has been active in Haiti over the last decade.

Why then do not the Inter-American Children?s Institute, the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History, the Inter-American Council for Integral Development and its successor the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development have even a presence in Haiti? Why are there no Haitians in senior positions at the OAS and in its agencies and entities, as is the case for the other member countries? The answer to these questions and other concerns expressed below would help the OAS to understand Haitians? disillusionment with it.

Not so long ago it only had to be so indicated for the OAS to have an effective presence in Haiti. That was before the IDB, the World Bank, and the European Union (which did not exist then), before USAID, before the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). What researcher, student, or professional of the 1970s did not benefit from the great technical and scientific value of the report Mission d?assistance technique intégrée de l?OEA [OAS integrated technical assistance mission to Haiti], published in 1972? Even today, this report retains astonishing currency.

And if I were asked to point to three studies or documents over the past fifty years describing at once the complexity and the simplicity of Haiti?s development problems and or those of its rural population, and providing keys to understanding them, I would , due allowance being made, cite le Paysan haVtien [the Haitian peasantry] by Paul Moral, the Mission d?assistance technique intégrée de l?OEA, and l?Espace haVtien [The Haitian void] by Georges Anglade. I am not among those who yearn for the past. But I would be glad to rediscover in Haiti the OAS of that era, as it exists in the other member states.

Paradoxically, the unending Haitian crisis of the post-Duvalier era and the OAS?s ceaseless efforts to contribute to its resolution have led the organization to define and adopt mechanisms and instruments that have helped it to modernize and equip itself to face the political challenges of the region. Thus, resolution AG/RES. 1080 (XXI-O/91), adopted in Chile, enabled procedures to be established for use in reacting to threats to democracy in the hemisphere. The only time that resolution has thus far been applied was to isolate the military government of Haiti following the 1991 coup d?état. But the other side of the coin is that the name of the OAS has forever been associated with the embargo that caused so much suffering among Haitians.

Following on from this resolution was the 1997 ratification of the Washington Protocol, which gives the OAS the right to suspend a member state whose democratically-elected government is overthrown by force. Perhaps a balance should have been struck in this resolution by also making provision for the imposition of quarantine on heads of state who are elected, but whose governmental practices are anything but democratic. Had such a clause existed, I am certain that last year Haitians would have made their peace with the OAS. And the two dozen unsuccessful negotiation missions undertaken by Luigi Einaudi from 2001 to 2003 would not have raised among Haitians many more questions than they answered.

The establishment in 1998 within the OAS of the Office of Summit Follow-up and the adoption in 2001 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter afford the Organization yet two more powerful instruments for use in assisting member states to defend democracy, protect human rights, strengthen security, fight drugs and corruption, and promote free trade.

That said, the organization needs to project an image other than that of a club to employ former heads of state or to ensure imposition of the decisions of the powerful. In the OAS?s fifty-six years of operation, the secretaries-general have been nationals of six countries and the assistant secretaries-general of five. Thus, two Colombians headed the OAS for sixteen years, a Uruguayan for thirteen, a Brazilian for ten, an Argentine for nine, and an Ecuadorian for seven. A national of a Central American country, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, a Costa Rican, was recently elected secretary-general, but had to resign shortly afterwards on account of accusations of corruption. Which just shows that it is easier to make an OAS secretary-general leave through charges of corruption than it is a president at the helm of one of the member states. Something to think about!

In response to that turn of events, the foreign ministers of Central America and the Dominican Republic met to propose a replacement for Miguel Ángel Rodríguez. The name most often cited is Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador. I heard on Univisión that the Dominican Republic was designated to represent the other Caribbean countries at that meeting. I am keen to know whether the Republic of Haiti was consulted.

As to assistant secretary-general, the United States has occupied that post for twenty-four years, including Luigi Einaudi?s current term; the English-speaking Caribbean for twenty (Barbados for ten, Trinidad and Tobago for ten); and Central America for twelve (El Salvador for seven, Guatemala for five).

I consider that, in the interest of equity, it would be advisable to amend the rules governing the appointment/election of the secretary-general and assistant secretary-general. For a financial institution one may understand arguments in favor of retaining an outstanding administrator at the helm for many years. In my view, in a political institution, such arguments do not hold the same weight. Accordingly, the OAS secretary-general should be elected only for a single five-year term. The assistant secretary-general would be chosen by rotation within a bloc, in accordance with predetermined rules, for a single three-year term.

In reality, with the exception of Haiti, all OAS member states already belong to a bloc: North America, Central America, the Andean Group, URPABOL (Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia), CARICOM, MERCOSUR, etc. Assistant secretaries-general might be elected by rotation as follows: after North America, now occupying that post, it might be the turn of MERCOSUR, followed by CARICOM, and so on. Rules would be established for intra-bloc rotations, etc. Such a mechanism would give each member state, including Haiti, the opportunity for one of its nationals one day to occupy at least the post of assistant secretary-general.

It is imperative that we improve our relations with the OAS. We must in fact develop a sense of ownership of that regional organization. It has been called upon to play a role of growing importance in the hemisphere, especially in view of the numerous conflicts calling for an active United Nations presence in other regions of the world. Its misadventures in Haiti are not of its making. We must acknowledge that we have a knack for concocting crises that overtake and diminish us. We must stop looking for scapegoats. Instead of treating the OAS coolly or disregarding it, let us seek to be proactive. And if, like the United Nations, the OAS does not always fulfill its promise, we must realize that this is not reason enough to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Ericq Pierre is a senior counsellor at the Inter-American Development Bank. Views expressed here are not necessarily those of the bank.