The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is an American non-governmental organization (NGO) whose stated goal is to promote human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Washington Office on Latin America, WOLA, facilitates dialogue between governmental and non-governmental actors, monitors the impact of U.S. foreign policy on human rights, democracy and equitable development in Latin America, and promotes alternatives through reporting and advocacy. Through its reports, WOLA informs and educates policy-makers, religious and non-governmental organizations, and the general public about that impact. In addition, WOLA's briefings bring policy-makers and the media in direct contact with Latin American leaders and experts on a regular basis. Founded in 1974 by a coalition of civic and religious leaders, WOLA works closely with civil society organizations and government officials throughout the Americas.
The organization's founding in 1974 came as a result of the military coup of Pinochet in Chile. It was originally conceived as a resource for civil society and policy makers in the US for first hand information from the region, and to inform the US government about the effects of US policy on the region. Since 1975, when WOLA worked behind the scenes to write the first major legislation conditioning U.S. military aid abroad on human rights practices, WOLA has played a key role in most major Washington policy debates over human rights in Latin America. Today, WOLA is called upon regularly to provide information and analysis to the executive branch, to multilateral organizations, to members of Congress, and to US and Latin American news media.
The organization currently works on issues including Cuba, U.S. drug policy, Plan Colombia, rural development and rural poverty, violence against women, organized crime, and Central American youth gangs, human rights in Mexico and Central America and police reform. It also has country specific program work in the Andes and Colombia, concentrating on the plight of internally displaced people and Afrocolombian and indigenous rights.
WOLA plays a key role within four somewhat distinct networks of non-governmental organizations: the human rights community, the foreign policy community, academic think-tanks, and the community of peace, justice, solidarity, and religious-based organizations. WOLA's role as a bridge connecting different networks with each other and with policy-makers has increased over the years.
The first director of the organization was Joseph Eldridge, who is currently the chaplain for American University.