The Washington Office on Latin America joined many others today in honoring the life and work of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), a long-time champion of human rights around the world, including in Latin America, who died this morning at the age of 80.
Rep. Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus almost 25 years ago and was an advocate for human rights from his position on the House Foreign Relations Committee, which he chaired at the time of his death.
Through the caucus, whose members included both Republicans and Democrats, Rep. Lantos built bipartisan support over many years for the idea that human rights had to be at the center of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. He offered an opportunity for lawmakers and staff on all sides of the political spectrum to work together and ensure that Congress and the Administration took seriously the issue of human rights.
“From its earliest years, the caucus was always open to the concerns we raised about human rights and U.S. policy. Tom Lantos, his wife Annette, who served as director of the caucus, and their staff met with Salvadoran trade unionists, Nicaraguan farmworkers, Chilean church workers, with the range of activists in Latin America,” said WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson.
“Because of Tom Lantos’ personal commitment, the caucus held hearings to educate members of Congress about issues ranging from the Contra war in the 1980s to the unsolved murders of women in Guatemala. He and his staff helped make Congress, the administration, and the media take human rights in Latin America seriously,” she added.
That commitment continued when Rep. Lantos was ranking member and later chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Lantos and his staff heard first-hand the testimonies of Latin American human rights workers and raised their concerns in meetings with U.S. officials, in letters and hearings, and in legislative language.
“We will remember and honor Tom Lantos for all he did for human rights in Latin America. His work in Congress reflected the courage and commitment that was at the center of his political values,” said Olson.