Foreign ministers from the Western Hemisphere met June 4-6 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, for the 36th General Assembly of the Organization of the American States (OAS).

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick represented the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice having been detained by business relating to Iran.

One commentator referred to the OAS as “an institution with 33 mice and one very large cat,” alluding to the traditionally dominant role of the U.S. But the cat, the writer said, has apparently lost interest, although formerly the OAS played a role in U.S. strategic maneuvers during the Cold War.

The focus this year was supposed to have been on “technological developments.” Issuing a pre-assembly statement, Thomas Shannon, the State Department’s top official for Latin American affairs, noted that, “This is an opportunity for the region to get back to work. … There’s a lot of rhetoric. There has been too much ideology.” He, too, was a no-show at the meeting.

The assembly rebuffed several U.S. initiatives, including Guatemala as the U.S. choice over Venezuela for a seat on the UN Security Council, and a condemnation of alleged Venezuelan interventions in Peru’s recently concluded presidential runoff election.

Referring to elections scheduled for November in Nicaragua, Zoellick called for an OAS observer mission on the ground there “as soon as possible” to prevent the election of “old strongmen of corruption and communism who want to stay in power.” It turned out that eight OAS election technicians had arrived in Nicaragua on May 7 and that other members of a 33-person OAS election observer mission had been in Nicaragua for a week or so.

Addressing the assembly, Zoellick referred to the “the pied pipers of populism.” Meeting with representatives of Brazil, Argentina, and other nations, he lobbied for OAS condemnation of Venezuela. In a concluding address to the assembly, however, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Marín recalled for the delegates “the importance of non-intervention.”

This was the direction taken by a similar meeting convened a year ago in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There, too, a spirit of independence prevailed amid declarations in favor of social justice and Latin American dignity.

Simultaneously, a first “People’s Alternative Summit” was unfolding in Santo Domingo. Some 200 activists representing at least 30 Latin American and Caribbean political organizations held forums and workshops on the campus of Santo Domingo Autonomous University, where they denounced capitalist globalization and lent support for alternative initiatives put forth by Venezuela and other nations.

The gathering concluded with a march to the OAS meeting to introduce a “people’s agenda.” Stopped several blocks short of their destination by heavily armed security forces and attack dogs, the marchers handed documents to an OAS representative.