Posts Tagged ‘Organization of American States’

Inuksuk02

An Inuksuk

As I was riding my bike down Constitution Avenue on this lunchtime ride, I saw what looked like an unusual pile of rocks on the grounds of the Organization of American States, which is located at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  As I stopped to explore it further, I realized that it was, in fact, a pile of rocks. However, it was not just a random pile of rocks. It was actually an inuksuk.

An inuksuk (also spelled inukshuk, plural inuksuit) is a man-made stone landmark or cairn, which can vary in shape, size and complexity. Historically, the most common type of inuksuk is a single stone positioned in an upright manner, although the appearance of some inuksuit suggest that their construction was likely the effort of many, if not an entire community. The inuksuit have their ancient roots in the Inuit culture, but they are also used by the Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome and, therefore, has few natural landmarks.

The word inuksuk means “something which acts for or performs the function of a person.” The word comes from Inuk, meaning “person,” and suk, meaning “substitute.” Inuksuit are used for a variety of purposes, including a marker for travel routes, fishing places, camps, hunting grounds, holy grounds, or to mark a food cache. There are even examples of Inupiat in northern Alaska using inuksuit as drift fences to assist in the herding of caribou into contained areas for slaughter.

The inuksuk I saw on this ride serves as public art, and an Inuit cultural symbol. It was a gift from Canada to the Organization of American States to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the country’s admission to the Organization. The inuksuk was built in April 2010 by Peter Taqtu Irniq, an Inuk artist and Canadian politician.

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Organization of American States Headquarters Building

The Organization of American States Headquarters Building

On this lunchtime bike ride I rode to the headquarters for the Organization of American States (OAS), known as the Pan American Union Building, which is just off of Pennsylvania Avenue and across the street from The Ellipse, at 200 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

The OAS is an inter-continental organization which was founded in April of 1948 by the United States and 20 Latin American countries. Officially, the organization was established in order to achieve among its member states – as stipulated in Article 1 of its Charter – “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.”

Unofficially, however, the reasons for its formation were somewhat different than the charter’s stated intent. The Latin American member states wanted a political institution to deal with intra-hemispheric disputes based on their fears that the United States, intent on its anticommunist crusade at that time, might engage in unilateral interventions against Latin American governments. For the United States, it was intended to serve as a protection against communist penetration of the Western Hemisphere.

The United States insisted that the charter include a statement condemning “international communism or any totalitarianism” as “irreconcilable with the tradition of the American countries.” For the Latin American delegates, the key article of the OAS charter stated that, “No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State.”

The OAS has had some successes, including settling border conflicts between various member countries, such as the truce and subsequent resolution of the Soccer War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969.  However, in generally it never actually functioned as any of the member states had intended, and neither side got what it had hoped for when it was formed.

The OAS proved a disappointment to the United States because the other member states did not share its own Cold War zeal against communism. This was evidenced by the organization’s refusal to approve direct action to remove what the United States felt were “communist threats,” most notably in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. For the other member states, disappointment in the OAS centered around the organization’s failure to curb the United States use of unilateral force in other situations, such as the U.S.-orchestrated overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, and its intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The OAS has grown over the years to a total of 35 countries, and now includes Canada and 14 additional independent countries in the Caribbean. However, since the end of the Cold War, the OAS’s importance in intra-hemispheric affairs has continued to diminish.

The OAS’s original charter members, listed in alphabetical order, were Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Countries that were subsequently admitted, in chronological order of when they became a member, are Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Suriname, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bahamas, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Canada, Belize, and most recently, Guyana, which was admitted in 1991.

The Embassy of Grenada

The Embassy of Grenada

The country of Grenada is a small island nation and commonwealth realm consisting of the island of Grenada and six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean Sea, northeast of Venezuela. While I was out for this daily lunchtime bike ride at work, I stopped by their country’s embassy. Located at 1701 New Hampshire Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood, the Grenadian Embassy serves as the country of Grenada operational headquarters for its bilateral responsibilities with the United States, as well as its multilateral role representing Grenada’s interests as one of the 35 members of the Organization of American States.

Grenada gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1974. Five years later, the leftist New Jewel Movement seized power in a coup, deposed and executed Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, and suspended the country’s constitution. This led to an internal power struggle within the country. President Ronald Reagan, citing the threat posed to American nationals by that nation’s Marxist regime, then ordered the Marines to invade the island and secure the safety of Americans as well as others living there. The invasion by a U.S.-led military force began early in the morning hours, exactly 31 years ago tomorrow.

In a military operation named “Operation Urgent Fury,” U.S. military forces, along with those from Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, launched the invasion on October 25, 1983. In little more than a week, Grenada’s government was overthrown and a constitutional government was restored. The Reagan administration claimed a great victory, calling it the first rollback of communist influence since the beginning of the Cold War.

While the action enjoyed broad public support in the U.S., and received support from some sectors in Grenada from local groups who viewed the post-coup regime as illegitimate, it was criticized by the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United Nations. After the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the invasion as “a flagrant violation of international law,” President Reagan brushed it off by saying that the resolution “didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

To commemorate the invasion, October 25th is now a national holiday in Grenada called Thanksgiving Day. Even though it bears the same name as the American version of Thanksgiving celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, the Grenadian holiday is unrelated to this country’s celebration. Regardless, I stopped on my ride back to my office and bought a roast turkey sandwich for lunch to celebrate early.  Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone.

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SimónBolívar1
The equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar, located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue, 18th Street and C Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, is a public artwork by Felix de Weldon. It depicts Bolívar wearing a military uniform with great detail, including the gold medallion that was given to him by George Washington.  He is shown riding his horse, and holding a sword in his right hand and wielding it upward over his head.

Bolívar is remembered as “El Libertador,” or The Liberator, so it is befitting that his statue is part of a series, entitled “Statues of the Liberators,” honoring liberators and other national figures of western-hemisphere countries.  The statues can be found along Virginia Avenue between 18th and 25th Streets, near the headquarters of the Organization of American States in northwest D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The statues were erected by various Latin American countries, and are maintained by the National Park Service.  The sculpture of Bolívar was authorized by the U.S. Congress in July of 1949, and installed at its current location in June of 1955.  It was donated by and the installation was paid for by the government of Venezuela.

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, more commonly known as Simón Bolívar, was the son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent.  He was born to wealth and position, and travelled to and was educated in Europe, where the thought of independence for Hispanic America took root in Bolívar’s imagination.  The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority.  Bolívar became an outstanding military general and charismatic political leader, and played a key role in Latin America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire.  He not only helped drive the Spanish from northern South America, but also was instrumental in the formative years of the republics that sprang up once the Spanish had gone.

Having also traveled to the United States, Bolívar was an admirer of President George Washington, with whom he shared two commonalities.  First, like President Washington, Bolívar was a Freemason.  George Washington and Bolívar also shared the same objective, namely, independence for their people and the establishment of democratic states.  But Bolívar differed in political philosophy from George Washington and the leaders of the revolution in the United States on two important matters.  First, unlike his northern counterparts, Bolívar was staunchly anti-slavery.  Second, while he was an admirer of the American independence, he did not believe that the same governmental system could function in Latin America, and establishing a republic there would require making some concessions in terms of liberty.

Bolívar is considered by historians as one of the most powerful and influential figures in world political history.  Yet today, outside of Latin America where he is still practically worshipped, his name and who he was is almost unknown.