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Joel D. Hirst Headshot

A Sad OAS General Assembly Meeting

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A few weeks ago in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the Organization of American States (OAS) held its 42nd annual general assembly meeting. Despite receiving little fanfare, this meeting was concerning for those of us who dedicate ourselves to human freedom for two important reasons.

The first reason was the sustained attack mounted by Brazil, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza and the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) countries against the autonomy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In an almost unprecedented opinion piece, Human Rights Watch Latin America Director Jose Miguel Vivanco called the attempts to limit the commission's autonomy a "campaign of assault." For why this is important, a quick recap: The OAS is built around the principles of freedom and democracy, as outlined by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The CIDH was set up as an autonomous agency to defend these principles. Any politicization of cases by withdrawing the commission's autonomy would see human rights in the hemisphere deteriorate.

Simultaneously, at the general assembly meeting the Social Charter of the Americas was approved unanimously. This Charter commits member states to promote social justice, equitable and inclusive development, access to health care, healthy lifestyles, full access to adequate, safe and nutritious food, collective culture, south-south cooperation and a host of other "Trojan horse" principles.

While on the surface these principles appear to be positive, a deeper look demonstrates that they are in fact very dangerous, for two reasons.

First, those who are committed to Jeffersonian democracy understand that these social rights fly in the face of limited government and the ideas of representative democracy. All rights accepted as such by the state demand the corresponding duties from said state. The principles advocated by proponents of social rights would force governments to guarantee housing, or employment or culture to each citizen; something that ends up violating free market capitalism, individual responsibility and private property. This is not only untenable -- but is in point of fact a back-door advance of old communist ideas. Most believers in Jeffersonian democracy see instead the Social Rights not as "natural" or "inalienable" rights but instead as the negotiation of the role and extent of the social contract among free citizens within the framework of representative democracy and limited government. It is for this reason that the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (the sister covenant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) was never ratified by the United States. It simply does not fit with what we know brings about prosperity.

The second reason is well understood for those of us who have spent time studying Cuba/Venezuela and their Bolivarian Alliance. This social charter, proposed by Venezuela in 2005 as the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas began to advance across the region, is being pushed not as the extension of the civil and political rights already protected under the OAS. It is instead being advanced as the replacement of or alternative to civil and political liberties: the services delivered by caudillo governments in exchange for the total loyalty of their subjects. It is for this reason that the Bush administration, which rightly understood what was at stake, successfully thwarted the passage of this Venezuela-inspired document.

Coming during the same general assembly where the Inter-American Commission and Court were subject to sustained attack, it appears that the obituary of this once mighty organization is being written. This is tragic, for it heralds a darker time for the hemisphere, especially as forces of authoritarianism again begin to reappear in the form of predatory governments who use a blurring of the lines between party, administration and state to consolidate power.