America First in the Americas

June 23, 2017

The United States has long sought a balance between participating in international organizations that promote the spread of democracy and protecting the sovereignty of other countries. At times, this delicate balance has been lost and our ability to promote American interests has been diminished.

Unfortunately, it appears our recent involvement with the Organization of American States has tipped toward undermining the sovereignty of other nations.

The OAS was founded on the admirable principle that "Every State has the right to choose, without external interference, its political, economic, and social system and to organize itself in the way best suited to it." And for decades, the United States has been the single largest donor to the OAS.

While the OAS has proven useful in opposing Communism and dictatorships like the ones in Cuba and Venezuela, some of its recent activities have contradicted its founding principle. The organization has pressured Latin American nations to adopt social policies favored by progressive elites, not their own people. Such initiatives, aided by U.S. funding, ignore the cultures of these countries and ultimately alienate their people from the United States.

The OAS exerts pressure on countries through the resolutions of the General Assembly, executive actions of the Secretary General's office, and rulings of the Inter-American Court. The OAS has also used the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to force alien cultural practices on Latin American countries, including formal recommendations promoting abortion in countries whose legal, cultural and religious practices defend life.

It has promoted abortion in countries party to the American Convention on Human Rights, which protects human beings from the moment of conception. Countries like Paraguay took measures in 2016 to strengthen and protect their own pro-life standards in reaction to pressure coming from the OAS and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The IACHR also has promoted redefining the institution of marriage, including the 2016 Duque vs Colombia case where the IACHR stated that Colombia's - at the time - traditional definition of marriage reflected, "an obtuse and stereotyped understanding of what a family is." Provocations like that serve no useful purpose for the United States, and indeed hinder constructive engagement with the family-oriented countries of Latin America.

U.S. taxpayer dollars should not be spent overseas to advocate for political issues that aren't even settled here at home. We must ensure that the $41.9 billion we spend on foreign assistance every year does not promote an agenda that many foreigners and Americans alike find repugnant.
Trump has indicated his desire to rebalance our foreign policy to better serve the American people. The State Department can significantly further this goal by ending the progressive cultural imperialism that the OAS spread over the past eight years.

Our national interest lies in promoting security and economic prosperity for Americans, not in telling other democracies what to do. Respecting the cultural and religious differences of our allies should be a top priority for an administration that campaigned on breaking away from business-as-usual foreign policy.

A longer version of this op-ed first appeared in The Houston Chronicle.