Wilson Center Experts
Joy Olson, named Executive Director of WOLA in 2003, is a leading expert on human rights and U.S. policy toward Latin America. Under Ms. Olson’s direction, WOLA is pioneering new approaches to human rights advocacy, focusing on the underlying causes of injustice, inequality, and violence. Ms. Olson’s special expertise is in the area of military and security policy. She has been a longtime advocate for greater transparency of military programs in Latin America. She co-founded the Just the Facts project, which makes information about U.S. military policy in Latin America publicly accessible. For more than a decade, she has co-authored an annual study on trends in U.S. security assistance, including the recent report Waiting for Change.
Ms. Olson has testified before Congress on Latin America policy issues ranging from human rights in Mexico to drug policy to the problems of poverty and inequality in the region. She is a frequent commentator in the media, including CNN, CNN Español, the BBC, the Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, and an array of national and international news outlets.
Prior to joining WOLA, Ms. Olson directed the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), a coalition of sixty non-governmental organizations working to promote peaceful and just U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America. Her many accomplishments include leading NGO efforts to increase U.S. funding for Central American peace accords implementation and a successful advocacy effort to lift the ban on food and medicine sales to Cuba. In the 1980s she worked on immigration and refugees issues, and developed legislation to suspend the deportation of Salvadoran refugees from the United States.
Ms. Olson earned a Masters in Latin American Studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, following two years’ work in community development in Honduras.