June 06, 2012

The 42nd. OAS General Assembly in Bolivia

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Agencia Bolivia de Información

The 42nd. General Assembly of the OAS, held in Cochabamba, from the 3rd. to the 5th. of June, 2012, is over. From an observer's perspective, it was a truly Latin American affair, with the US and Canada (and some English speaking Caribbean islands) limiting themselves at more or less observing how the host country and its allies try to change the power structure within the organization. Of, course, publicly, that is, because behind the scenes, the US government (and its allies) was determined to demonstrate continuity in its approach to the region and was not willing to leave spaces without contestation.

Why do I say this? Because, while the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, very publicly, questioned the work and relevance of the OAS in the hemisphere, the US and its allies (among them Mexico, Chile and Colombia), quietly and behind the scenes, worked towards the continuity of the organization. A prime example of this was the attempts by the already mentioned countries to reform the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) alleging a subordination of such commission to US government's interests. These countries, through the work of a commission, proposed changes on the ability of the IACHR to issues its reports. The reforms include that the IACHR ask the assembly before issuing a report, revise its criteria for observing the state of Human Rights in the hemisphere and being subject to delays in the case a country has observations about one report. On the other side, the US (which interestingly enough is not part of the IACHR system) and its allies argue that any reform has to guarantee the independence of the IACHR.

At the same time, the two other issues, tangentially related to the OAS' work bur that captured most of the attention were the issues raised by Argentina and Bolivia about their disputes with the UK and Chile. The first was a resolution, introduced by Brazil, supporting Argentina and the UK (which is a permanent observing country) to engage in negotiations over the highly contested issue of Malvinas (Falkland Islands). Argentina had done this very many times, however, this was the first time that they got an answer from the UK representative. It basically repeated its argument that the Falkland islands issue is an issue of self-determination of people living in the islands and that the UK is there only to guarantee that right for them in light of the aggressive intentions shown by Argentina in 1982. The other issue was the attempts from the part of the Bolivian government to force some type of resolution in favor of David Choquehuanca's proposal to re-negotiate the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1904 with Chile, which ended the hostilities between the two nations in 1879.

Agencia Boliviana de Información

On the first issue, the assembly showed its full support (with the exception of Canada) for the Argentinean proposal. Both countries, Argentina and the UK showed its intentions to negotiate. However, on the second issue, the Bolivian government, once again, had to accept a defeat because all of the representatives essentially supported Chile's argument that said that the issue was a bilateral one and it had to be solved among the two nations with the use of dialogue and in peace. In addition, the message was that internationally negotiated treaties are not to be renegotiated.

But what is the outcome of this assembly? For one, the assembly issued, complementing the Inter-American Chart, the Social Charter and the Declaration of Cochabamba on Food Security with Sovereignty for the Americas. The Social Charter was a document drafted by an alternative conference of the social movements that was happening parallel to the general assembly. Basically, the document calls on to the governments to prioritize the supply of food within a country and the availability of arable land as well. The Declaration of Cochabamba calls for the implementation of the will of the attending countries to implement the idea of Food Security with Sovereignty for the Americas, which was an idea advanced by the Bolivian government.

On the other hand, from the Bolivian government's point of view, the modest outcomes from this assembly were a defeat. First, because the government's attempts to force Chile into a position of re-negotiation of the 133 year old treaty, not only failed but back fired. The Chilean government publicly and on the record said that the treaty will not be re-negotiated. In addition, it was clearly in favor of Chile that for the whole assembly thought that the issue between Chile and Bolivia was a bilateral one, which gives the de facto support to Chile's argument. In similar terms, the failure to gather support for the proposal to reform the IACHR, and thus to begin a reform process in the very OAS itself was another diplomatic failure.

What does this mean for the OAS and the region? It seems that the OAS will continue to carry on its work, for now, albeit a bit weakened due to the dissatisfaction of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua with it. For now, it looks like the reform proposals for the IACHR will continue to be discussed (in six months time), but the prospects for them to gather support are very poor. The proposals are widely seen as taking away independence, rather than augmenting the work of that organization. Additionally, it doesn't help that precisely the countries which have been most criticized for their Human Rights situations are the ones who want to reform it.

The only real result I see from all this is the exit of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua from the Inter-American Treaty for Reciprocal Assistance, which was signed in September 1947 in the aftermath of WWII. The treaty was basically a mutual defense agreement which adopted the motto, if one country is attacked the all countries are being attacked and have to respond. According to Ecuador, the treaty should be abandoned because it has become obsolete and it did not work when it had to work, the example being the Argentina Malvinas War in 1982.