The Washington Office on Latin America promotes human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean. WOLA facilitates dialogue between governmental and non-governmental actors, monitors the impact of policies and programs of governments and international organizations, and promotes alternatives through reporting, education, training and advocacy. Founded in 1974 by a coalition of civic and religious leaders, WOLA works closely with civil society organizations and government officials throughout the Americas.
Statement from The Washington Office on Latin America
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is, first and foremost, an advocate for human rights. We serve as a resource for Latin American non-governmental organizations, foster dialogue and debate between them and U.S. lawmakers and policy formulators, and monitor the impact of U.S. policy on human rights and democracy in Latin America. We conduct ground-breaking research in Latin America on everything from drug control policy and gang violence to rural poverty and police reform. Our work is widely cited in U.S. policy circles, the media and academia.
As you can imagine, our work requires a great deal of discretion. When you are documenting human rights abuses in Colombia or monitoring links between the drug trade and organized crime in Central America, your ability to keep confidences is critical. We often obtain sensitive information from individuals who put themselves at great personal risk by giving us information in confidence. The new wiretapping law jeopardizes that expectation of confidentiality upon which we rely to do our work. Under the Protect America Act, the U.S. government can gather our international emails and phone calls without a warrant, and the mere knowledge of that will undermine our ability to guarantee privacy to our colleagues and contacts in Latin America.
For WOLA, the implications of this bill are deeply worrisome. If our contacts know their phone conversations and emails may not be secure, they will be reluctant to talk to us. We could either lose critical communications or be forced to travel great distances, at great cost, to speak to our contacts in person. For some of our work, like that in Venezuela, Cuba or Colombia, even scheduling travel or setting up meetings by telephone or Email could jeopardize our partnerships because those communications, too, would be subject to warrantless surveillance by the U.S. government.
The pressure to keep silent about human rights violations is always great. By compromising the ability of our contacts to share information about rights abuses with us in confidence, the U.S. government adds to that pressure to keep silent. Whether we are talking to a labor leader facing persecution in Colombia, a free-speech activist in Venezuela or a government whistleblower denouncing harmful counter-drug strategies in the Andes, our contacts must be able to trust that we operate free from unreasonable government intrusion. Anything less will impair their, and our, free speech. Without access to free speech, it becomes much easier for the powerful to silence voices that speak out for dignity and respect for human rights everywhere.