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AMERICAS: OAS Debates Same Old Problems, Few New Solutions

Ángel Páez

LIMA , Jun 9 2010 (IPS) - The 40th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States, held in the Peruvian capital this week, failed to issue a decision on the reinstatement of Honduras, and instead served as a forum for Argentina, which seeks sovereignty over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, and for Bolivia, in its fight for access to the Pacific Ocean.

The closing session of 40th OAS General Assembly. Credit: Courtesy of Peruvian Foreign Ministry

The closing session of 40th OAS General Assembly. Credit: Courtesy of Peruvian Foreign Ministry

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana criticised Britain’s continued refusal to discuss the dispute over the islands — known to Argentines as the Malvinas, and to the British as the Falklands — situated in the southern Atlantic. The two countries faced off 28 years ago in a two-month, highly unequal war over the islands.

Britain’s installation of oil rigs in the area of dispute is evidence of its attitude against engaging in dialogue with Argentina, Taiana said.

The Argentine official requested and obtained an OAS pronouncement on ridding the western hemisphere of the “anachronistic colonial situation,” manifest in Britain’s dominion over the islands since Jun. 14, 1982, when the Argentine troops surrendered in their frustrated attempt to recover the islands by force.

It also underscored the warlike tone of the British government, saying it represents a threat to peace in the region.

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, secretary-general of Brazil’s foreign ministry, brought a draft declaration before the Assembly that expressed the imperative need to resolve the dispute.

The document states that the OAS reaffirms the need for “the Governments of the Argentine Republic and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to resume negotiations in order to find, as soon as possible, a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute.”

Following expressions of support from Bolivia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic and El Salvador, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Louis Almagro, after denouncing the Malvinas Islands as a “colonial enclave” in the Americas, called for the approval of Brazil’s initiative by acclamation.

In the end the declaration received support by acclamation of all 33 delegations present.

The final session of the 40th OAS General Assembly, held Monday and Tuesday in Lima and hosted by Peruvian Foreign Minister José García Belaúnde, also served as a platform for his Bolivian counterpart, David Choquehuanca to insist on sovereign access for his country to the Pacific.

Choquehuanca urged the Chilean government to find a “rapid and definitive solution to the sequestering of Bolivia and resolve an historic injustice,” alluding to the recovery of sea access that was lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which involved Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

“Bolivia fraternally requests a concrete solution achieved through dialogue and negotiation,” said Choquehuanca.

He added that this demand is in keeping with consolidating the region’s integration, a context in which “the forced enclosure” of Bolivia does not fit. His country lost 158,000 square kilometres of territory in that 19th century war.

Choquehuanca also called on the OAS to provide a “roadmap” for helping Bolivia achieve its dream of re-establishing an outlet to the Pacific.

Almost immediately, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno stated that his country is open to a discussion with La Paz to further Bolivia’s development and facilitate its exports. However, he did not mention sovereign access to the Pacific as his Bolivian counterpart had proposed.

In turn, Néstor Popolizio, Peru’s deputy foreign minister, said his country would not stand in the way of Bolivia and Chile’s efforts to resolve this long- standing dispute arising from the War of the Pacific.

Additional Agenda Items: Honduras, Weapons

As for the request to reinstate Honduras into the hemisphere-wide forum, the delegates decided to set up a high-level commission that will meet in that Central American country to study the situation and issue a report before Jul. 30 to the OAS Secretary-General Miguel Insulza, of Chile.

The commission’s assessment will determine whether Honduras can return to the OAS fold. It was suspended as a full member following the Jun. 28, 2009 civil-military coup that overthrew constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya. He was taken from his home that night in his pyjamas at gunpoint and sent to neighbouring Costa Rica.

The resolution — just a few lines long — was presented as a formula for reconciling the member countries’ divergent positions on the matter.

Nearly all the countries of South America, and a few others, oppose the reincorporation of Honduras, arguing that the current government of Porfirio Lobo was elected in a vote organised by the dictatorship without democratic guarantees.

Among the countries supporting Honduras’s reinstatement is Panama, whose foreign minister, Juan Carlos Varela, announced the full restitution of Honduras into the Central American Integration System (SICA).

The OAS General Assembly concluded with the approval by acclamation of a document in which the 33 member countries urge effective reduction of arms acquisitions and setting aside more resources for development programmes.

The text reiterates the organisation’s emphasis on peaceful solutions to conflict, which includes regulation of military equipment and the non- proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The “Declaration of Lima” also recommends adherence to the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials, as well as the Inter- American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisition.

The hemispheric organisation, headquartered in Washington DC, was signed into existence in 1948. The goal of the members at the time was “to achieve 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.”

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