Latin America Work Creates Unforgettable Experiences

IN the SPOTLIGHT: Jennie Lincoln
Director, Latin America and Caribbean Program 

  • Jennie Lincoln, director Latin America and Caribbean Program

    Jennie Lincoln, director of the Carter Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Program, participates in a Friends of the Inter-American Democratic Charter meeting at The Carter Center last summer. (Photo: The Carter Center/M.Schwarz)

Jennie Lincoln’s career in the Carter Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Program has allowed her to be part of some incredible moments.

In Panama in 1989, she stood at a press conference with President Carter as he denounced as fraudulent the very first election the Center observed.

In Nicaragua in 1990, she sat in on a historic meeting between President Daniel Ortega and Violeta Chamorro on the evening after Chamorro bested him in an election, listening as he agreed to concede and allow Nicaragua’s first peaceful transition of power in decades.

And in Colombia just last year, she participated in that country’s “roller coaster ride” that culminated in the signing of a peace accord that brought an end to a 52-year civil war.

“To be on the inside and to see it developing, to be there when it was signed, and now to have the opportunity to work on the peace accord’s implementation,” said Lincoln, “is a highlight of my career.”

The story of how a girl who grew up in a small Ohio town with no Hispanic community came to be the director of a former U.S. president’s Latin America and Caribbean Program begins in a high-school Spanish class. Her love of the language led to all that followed.

“In college I studied abroad in Mexico; then I went to Spain. When I did my dissertation research, I lived with a family in Peru, and later I was a Fulbright professor in Costa Rica.”

She landed at The Carter Center as an associate director in 1989. She left two years later for Georgia Tech, where she taught foreign policy and Latin American politics before the promise of more once-in-a-lifetime experiences lured her back to the Center in 2015.

In Panama in 1989, Jennie Lincoln stood at a press conference with President Carter as he denounced as fraudulent the very first election The Carter Center observed.

Lincoln hasn’t had a moment to breathe since. Last year, she said, she made 17 international trips. The majority of those were to Colombia: “Now that the peace accord between the government and the FARC guerrillas is signed, the challenge is implementation. The Carter Center has pledged its continued support, because it’s going to take generations to bring complete peace to Colombia.”

The program currently has five projects underway in the country, involving everything from mapping human rights systems to helping reform electoral laws, from supporting peace education to monitoring the reintegration of the FARC child soldiers.

Lincoln and her team are also busy in Nicaragua, working with the Organization of American States on a new project to help strengthen democratic institutions and encourage political participation.

Revisiting Nicaragua reminds her of the somewhat comical tale of a trip she made there during her first stint at The Carter Center, when she arrived in the country only to discover that her suitcase had been lost. The time and nature of the trip meant there was no room for shopping.

“Secret Service gave me t-shirts to sleep in,” she recalled. For the next five days, she wore the same dress — and because she had dressed for her flight in a hurry, one black shoe and one blue shoe.

She laughed: “So that was an unglamorous experience.”

But that’s OK, because for Lincoln, it’s always been about the work.

“The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are our neighbors. When they suffer, we suffer. When they prosper, we prosper. When there is democratic stability in our neighborhood, it strengthens our democratic stability as well,” she said. “President Carter’s values of waging peace, fighting disease, and building hope are an inspiration throughout the hemisphere, and for me, it’s an honor to be a small part of that.”

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