Larry Birns was a visionary. The work that he carried out in the 1970s in defense of human rights in Latin America, at a time when the Cold War was used to justify atrocities, was simply courageous and inspiring. Mr. Birns and COHA clearly and unambiguously stood up for defending democracy and denouncing imperialist practices. For the past 45 years, Mr. Birns continued in his courageous struggle and gave an opportunity to numerous interns and fellows to get to know Latin America beyond the headlines.
I first met Mr. Birns in 2016. For two years, I had the privilege to work closely with him. I learned deeply from his writing process but above all, how to maintain an independent and solid position, even in cases where it meant confronting the dominant narrative. As a Brazilian, I will be always thankful for the creation of the Brazil Unit and for its clear position in denouncing the coup d’état in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff at a time when other think tanks and academic groups simply conformed to the version of a regular impeachment process.
The Washington DC community would do well to keep his legacy alive: the relentless defense of democracy and human rights, the emphasis on listening directly to Latin Americans and exploring their concerns, and the courageous calling out of U.S. foreign policy when it contradicts fundamental human rights.
Aline Piva is a former Research Fellow and head of the COHA Brazil Research Unit.