Founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America. In 1982, COHA’s board of trustees voted to expand its mandate to include monitoring Canadian/Latin American relations. Since its inception, COHA has been one of the most active and broadest-based U.S. private bodies dealing with the entire spectrum of political, economic and diplomatic issues, as well as responding to the economic and political challenges confronting the nations of this hemisphere. From its beginnings, COHA’s board consisted of the leadership of some of this country’s most important trade unions, professional organizations and religious groups, as well as distinguished civic and academic figures, who joined together to advance their common belief in support of representative government and pluralistic institutions throughout the hemisphere.
COHA subscribes to no specific political credo nor does it maintain partisan allegiances. It supports open and democratic political processes just as it consistently has condemned authoritarian regimes of any stripe that fail to provide their populations with even minimal standards of political freedoms, economic and social justice, personal security and civic guarantees.
In recent years, COHA has directed a good deal of its research energies to such issues as unproductive U.S. pressure on President Aristide which eventually led to his ouster and Washington’s replacement with a hapless interim regime. COHA also has condemned Washington’s unexamined and reflexive policy towards Cuba and Venezuela, and the negative impact of neo-liberal reforms on the average Latin American. COHA was opposed to the adherence of the U.S. to NAFTA under the thesis that it shouldn’t have been initiated until basic Mexican institutions were truly democratic, its trade unions free enough to negotiate as equals, and the government purged of endemic corruption. COHA also is a critic of the indiscriminate application of structural adjustment formulas that end up negatively affecting the poorest stratum of Latin America’s population.
COHA is staffed by a small professional core, who contributes their services to the organization, supplemented by a large number of volunteer graduate and undergraduate students who often receive academic credit from their home institutions for the experience gained through their work with it. Over the years, retired government employees also have cooperated with COHA in preparing monographs on such topics as regional development, trade policies, and the controversial development strategies of the international lending agencies. The staff is assisted by a number of COHA senior research fellows from the United States, Latin America and elsewhere, who are generally considered to be leaders in their respective fields of expertise. It has been described on the Senate floor as “one of our nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers.”
COHA’s analyses are frequently sought after by the major media, with its long-time director, Larry Birns, as well as other of its senior personnel regularly being called upon by the major national and international press, along with network radio and TV public affairs programs, to provide commentary on breaking regional issues. COHA contributors also appear regularly in the opinion columns on editorial pages throughout the country, and its findings frequently have been heard and seen over the BBC, NPR Voice of America, CBC, Radio Marti, Radio Havana, and other television and radio networks in a number of overseas countries. COHA personnel have appeared several times on CNN, C-Span, Firing Line, CrossFire, Nightline, as well as over the CBS, ABC and NBC evening news, as well as the network Larry King and Oliver North programs, “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show.”
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