Cook Holds Oversight Hearing on Organization of American States
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Paul Cook (R-CA-08), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, delivered the following opening statement at the Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Advancing U.S. Interests Through the Organization of American States”:
“The Organization of American States or OAS is the oldest multilateral regional organization in the world. As Secretary Tillerson recalled in his remarks earlier this month, the “precursor to today’s OAS” began with the First International Conference of American States in 1889, hosted by the U.S. We and 20 American States are signatories to the OAS, which was chartered in 1948. The Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted in Lima on September 11, 2001 – on the very day that the U.S. was brutally attacked – was a unified response by our neighbors that tyranny will not win. Article One of the Inter-American Democratic Charter affirms that “the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and the governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.” This is the underlying reason for the existence of the OAS and is a vision that we share with our Latin American and Caribbean partners.
Yet today, the OAS is composed of 35 nations in the Americas. The Member States of an organization devoted to promoting democracy welcomed the Communist Cuban regime back into its membership in 2009 and has so far prevented the suspension of the Venezuelan dictatorship that has wreaked havoc on its people and sent hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighboring countries – all for some preferential financing and subsidized oil. OAS Secretary General Almagro has shown leadership in fighting for the Venezuelan people to reclaim their country as has Peruvian President Kuczynski in yesterday’s decision to rescind the invitation to Venezuela to attend April’s Summit of the Americas, a bold action in defense of democracy and human rights. Today, we meet to consider the role of the OAS and other Inter-American Organizations, such as the Pan-American Health Organization, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, and the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History towards advancing U.S. interests in the region. U.S. assessed contributions to these organizations is nearly 60 percent of their budgets, and the American people have an interest in knowing why we contribute money, if U.S. investments have achieved results, and if there are areas for reform.
Following years of advocacy from the Foreign Affairs Committee for the OAS to appoint a Secretary for Multidimensional Security and a new Inspector General, I commend Secretary General Almagro for filling these key positions. Conversely, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently found that the U.S. faces challenges in tracking results for aid to Inter-American organizations, and the U.S. may have difficulty complying with the 2013 Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act, which prioritized quota reform in the OAS so that no Member State pays more than 50 percent of the OAS’ assessed fees. The next OAS General Assembly meeting occurs in June, and I believe that this is the time to address these issues if the OAS is ever going to move forward to address its financial deficit. The U.S. should no longer shoulder the uneven financial responsibilities when half of OAS Member States had quotas below $100,000 and quotas for 26 Member States equaled less than one percent.
Today, the OAS has a $80 million budget and four objectives: promoting democracy, human rights, development, and regional security. OAS electoral missions play critical roles in safeguarding the electoral process in the hemisphere, and this year, 10 countries have requested OAS observation missions. This is no small thing when the region will be holding six presidential elections, and regional confidence in democracy is at an all-time low. The OAS political missions, like the OAS Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, assist countries with important anti-corruption efforts. The OAS Inter-American Committee against Terrorism and Cyber-Security program prioritizes cybersecurity and terrorism finance prevention efforts. Yet for all these efforts, some say the OAS is overstretched and underfunded, lacking clarity about its missions. Others laud the efforts by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights but question whether these entities respect the Member States’ sovereignty and domestic rule of law.
In addition, the Inter-American organizations I mentioned earlier all receive U.S. funding, and these entities support work that is significant to many Member States. However, some have raised concerns that these efforts, along with OAS efforts related to scholarships, lead to overreaching mandates and siphon away resources from other critical priorities. There may be ways to modernize these priorities to achieve greater cost savings through other entities or the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). I want to take a moment to note that the U.S. is a 30 percent shareholder of the IDB, and the IDB’s initial selection of China to host the IDB’s 60th anniversary annual meeting is unacceptable for the U.S. and others that want to see greater private sector investment and transparent governance in the Americas.
In conclusion, the Trump Administration has named this the “Year of the Americas,” and I believe that the U.S. has a vital role to play in leading efforts to modernize the OAS, which desperately needs a new IT system for instance, and in ensuring that U.S. support for the OAS and Inter-American organizations support U.S. interests. To do so, the U.S. Mission to the OAS needs an Ambassador and a cohesive strategy. I urge my Senate colleagues to move quickly to confirm President Trump’s nominee, Carlos Trujillo. With that, I turn to Ranking Member Sires for his opening remarks.”