Organization of American States: History & Goals

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  • 0:03 Organization of…
  • 1:18 Cold War
  • 2:26 Economics
  • 2:50 OAS Falls Short of Goals
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Today's lesson will focus on the Organization of American States' (OAS) past and present. The lesson will highlight the OAS's ties to the Cold War, as well as its pursuit of economic prosperity for those living in the Western Hemisphere.

Organization of American States

About 20 minutes from my home sits a lakefront community that offers boating in the summer and skiing in the winter. It's a rather popular place to live but those who reside there have to abide by the homeowners' association rules. They can't let their dogs run wild, they can't have above ground pools, and they definitely can't let visitors come in unattended! In other words, if you live there you have to play by the neighborhood rules.

Along the same lines, countries that share the same region often form unions to govern their rather large neighborhood. In today's lesson, we'll focus on one of these coalitions as we dive into the Organization of American States.

To begin, the Organization of the American States - the OAS for short - is a union consisting of the United States and many Latin American countries. Putting this union in a nutshell, it was birthed out of the desire to foster cooperation in the realm of economics, politics, and military action between its member states. To make it easy, we can think of it as a homeowners' association for the Americas.

To give some hard facts, the OAS formed in 1948. At its inception, it had 21 members, a few of them being the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. Today it has over 30 members.

Cold War

As an organization, one of the OAS's main goals is to promote peace within the Western Hemisphere. However, during the '50s peace meant different things for different members. For instance, the U.S. thought peace meant keeping communism out of Latin America. This was especially pertinent as the U.S. busied itself with the Cold War, a time of political antagonism that existed between the U.S. and the Communist Party, specifically the Soviet bloc countries. On the other hand, many Latin American countries saw the OAS as a way to keep the U.S. from trouncing on their sovereign rights. This was especially true in places like Nicaragua and Guatemala, where communism had gained popularity, and the governments were afraid the U.S. would interfere to stamp it out.

In order to appease all parties, the OAS agreement included a clause denouncing communism. In order to appease Latin America, it also included a clause stating no state had the right to interfere in the affairs of the other states. Sort of like a homeowners' association, the OAS made rules about how the countries should interact, but it had no jurisdiction over what went on in the individual homelands.


Moving away from politics, the OAS also stepped into the realm of economics. In fact, one of its main goals included and still includes the promotion of economic development. Showing how seriously many of the founding members took this, it calls for eradicating poverty within the Western hemisphere. It actually asserts members should use their resources to encourage economic development and limit the resources they use to make weapons.

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