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Ash Center Fellow Links Democracies in the Americas

By Charles Levene, Contributing Writer

Despite a strong link between countries in the Americas, there remains little recognition of the close connection between Latin America and the United States, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Senior Fellow Peter Quilter argued during a small discussion with students Wednesday night.

In a talk titled “U.S. Policy and the State of Democracy in the Americas,” Quilter addressed current political situations in Latin America and the effects of U.S. involvement in the region.

“[Latin America and the United States] are linked in so many ways, and yet we in the United States don’t behave that way toward the region. We find ourselves considering it a place that’s ‘over there,’” Quilter said in an interview following the event, which was off-the-record.

He also discussed the recent Colombian referendum on whether to end the conflict between the Colombian government and guerilla forces; Colombians voted, by a thin margin, not to approve the peace agreement, thrusting the country into political limbo.

“The referendum in Colombia has driven a lot of attention here in Cambridge,” Daniel Harsha, Ash Center spokesperson, said. “There’s a hunger for students to learn more about that process.”

Quilter, whose family is originally from Argentina, has devoted his career to United States and Latin American relations.

“When I was a kid living in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, I wanted to have some effect on U.S. policy for the region, and I basically made my professional life that,” Quilter said.

Throughout his career, Quilter has held a variety of positions in government. He was secretary for administration and finance at the Organization of American States, senior Democratic staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, and adviser to both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

After giving brief remarks, Quilter opened the event to an informal discussion, which was largely in question and answer format.

“I took away a lot from the talk,” Eric Gao ’20 said. “It was very relaxed and definitely an environment where everyone was free to contribute.”

Quilter said he wanted to spread awareness about the close connection between countries in the Western Hemisphere and provide students insight into his professional experiences.

“I’m not an academic. I try as much as I can in this setting to give a real-world perspective about how these things play in a practical sense, in a policy form, in real discussions where these things are decided,” Quilter said.

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Student LifePoliticsHarvard Kennedy SchoolLatin America