Angelika Albaladejo


What do you do as Program Assistant & Financial Associate at The Latin America Working Group (LAWG)?

I work on our programmes, going into US foreign policy towards Cuba, Colombia, and Central America. Primarily the northern triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Because the Latin America Working Group is both an organisation and a coalition of organisations, we do our own programmatic work publishing reports, blogs, and grassroots action alerts and we also work in conjunction with a coalition. We manage meetings with organisations from the US and throughout Latin America and we bring delegations to visit - mostly human rights defenders and civil society actors from the countries where we're focused with our programme work.

A big part of what I will do is to accompany some of these delegations to their meetings with congressional offices, with the state department and various public events. We'll plan these events so that they can directly speak on the issues that are impacting them with regards to US foreign policies in their country.

What has been your biggest learning at The Latin America Working Group?

I had never been engaged in direct lobbying and so it's been a great learning experience to see that side of it. Previous to that, I had mostly focused on writing about foreign policy, which is still something that I do a great deal of. I'm actually in the process currently of publishing a series of posts as part of a report on a trip that we took late last year. I'm engaged in a lot of the analysis of foreign policy, which I am using to directly reach out to our grassroots network to get them engaged in changing the policies as well.

What's your favourite thing about your job?

Because we're such a small team, there's a lot of space for me to engage in different kinds of work. Any given day, my job will be different from the one before, so I've been engaged in everything from creating video projects with a group of Honduran migrants to photographing delegations that have come to visit us and accompanying them to events. I've been able to create infographics as well as write reports. My favourite thing is that it's very dynamic; I have a lot of space to grow in various skills.

What other skills make you good at it?

Working in a small non-profit requires you to be creative and to figure out new ways to reach out to other organisations and to your grassroots and to keep them engaged. My interest in creating visual graphic elements to express these complicated issues of foreign policy has been really important for engaging a broader audience.

How did you develop your creative skills?

It's come from a lot of different experiences. I freelanced before and in-between the positions that I've held in Washington. I've held internships and positions that weren't directly related to foreign policy or to Latin America, but those experiences were helpful in exposing me to engagement and social media and in practicing outreach in a casual language that can be different from what you learn at a university.

Most of the foreign policy knowledge and understanding of the region that I had coming into the workforce came from my experience studying. I completed a Master's degree at Vanderbilt University in Latin American studies. That was very useful for me in engaging more directly with the history of the policies in the region. A lot of the more creative work that I've done has been very freelance in nature. For instance, last year I co-launched and co-produced a podcast. It's called Periphery and it's just one example of the venues and outlets that I've tried to use to engage with a broader audience. A lot of these skills have been self-taught. I've just had to do some research, delve in and start practicing. It's been really illuminating for me!

What sparked your interest in Latin America?

My mother is from Cuba. My father is from Puerto Rico. I grew up in South Florida, which has a one of the most highly concentrated Hispanic populations in the United States. I grew up speaking Spanish with my grandparents, but mostly English with my parents and at school. When I went off to study at George Mason University for my undergraduate degree, I knew I had an interest in foreign policy, but I wasn't really sure exactly what region I would concentrate on.

As I started in my studies, I realised that with my language skills in Spanish and my direct connection to the region through cultural experiences growing up, it made sense to me to delve more deeply into the region. The more I did that, the more interested I became. One of the first areas that I really began to study in my undergraduate degree was the civil conflict in Colombia, particularly the ways that the conflict impacts and is impacted by women. Themes of gender and conflict and the effects of US foreign policy have always deeply interested me and I think they play out in really interesting ways in Latin America.

How so?

Let me see if I can think of an example of something that might make a little bit clearer sense. For example, in El Salvador (which I visited in September 2015) I was able to meet with feminist organisations and with women's rights organisations that are focused on the impacts of violence against women. It was very powerful to see how the civil society groups in that country and others throughout the region have been able to very closely document many things that are, in general, hard to document because of lack of transparency - things like the homicide rates of women and interfamilial violence and domestic violence and sexual violence. El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world, with the highest per capita homicide rates in the world for a peace-time country. The security crisis is affecting women in very different ways than men. It was very impactful for me to go and meet with female advocates and human rights defenders, such as the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) who maintain databases documenting cases of violence against women in El Salvador. To see that women like these have been able to engage in such an active defence of human rights in the face of extreme violence against women and a nationwide security crisis has been very powerful for me, and inspires me to continue my work in support of them.

Is that a direction you would like to take your career into?

I've been more broadly focused on security issues in Latin America and the ways that US foreign policy and US assistance impact the region. Gender-based violence and violence against women, in particular, are facets of the security situation that many foreign policy analysts don't focus on. It's something that for me is going to continue to be very important to analyse because it fits into the broader security picture in every country.

Overall, in terms of security policies particularly in the United States and throughout the Americas, violence against women and also the participation of women in politics has not really been at the forefront of most analysis, but it's something that plays a major overall role in the security of a country. That’s why I try to keep intersectionality at the front of my mind when looking at issues concerning security and human rights throughout the region; Women, LGBTI, youth, Afro and indigenous communities, and the poor are all disproportionately impacted by violence throughout the Americas and elsewhere in the world. The needs of these groups should be considered in the creation of policies and assistance packages and that is something I will continue pushing for in my work.

How was your time as an undergrad at George Mason university? 

I very much enjoyed studying there. I studied Global Relations, which at George Mason, is the equivalent of International Relations elsewhere. The programme is interdisciplinary. I had the opportunity to take courses in every discipline from Political Science to Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Economics, and History. That was very useful for me to get a broader picture of US foreign policy toward Latin America, not just by studying in one discipline.

While doing your Master’s degree at Vanderbilt, you spent some time abroad in São Paolo...

It was a summer programme, co-hosted by Vanderbilt and several other universities in the United States with Centers for Latin American studies, including Tulane University.

I went to Vanderbilt University directly after I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree. I studied Latin American studies there, and through that programme, I learned of the summer language studies programme to focus on Portuguese in São Paolo. I studied Portuguese for the two years I was at Vanderbilt, as well as over the summer programme between my first and second year. I spent just over a month studying at Pontifícia Universidade Católica in São Paulo.

There were two different components. There was Portuguese language study with a Brazilian professor as well as a cultural study of Brazil and the city of São Paolo with two US professors. We visited different communities in São Paolo and meet with civil society actors, activists, students and professors who lived there - mostly to learn more about Brazilian culture, but also about the diaspora communities specific to São Paolo.

At Vanderbilt, you mostly focused on Latin American studies.

Vanderbilt has one of the highest ranked Latin American study programmes in the United States. It began initially as a Brazilian studies programme and later expanded to cover the rest of the region of Latin America.

I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to further my language studies with Portuguese while at the same time engaging in another dynamic interdisciplinary programme. I was able to choose the courses that I wanted to take to further my understanding of Latin America in a certain way. For me, that meant focusing on social movements in Latin America, as well as conflict, violence and the ways that factors like gender, race, and inequality can play into violence as well as social movements against violence in Latin America.

You are at the early stages of your career but is there one thing you wish you'd known when you were 16?

I wish that I had reached out more to others who were working in the field that I was trying to break into in a more direct and more personal way.

When I moved to Washington, D.C. I started to just meet up with people for coffee or to send someone an email because I really enjoyed their work and see if they would be willing to speak to me more about the work that they were doing. I was nervous to reach out, but once I did, I saw that most people are friendly and helpful to those trying to enter the field. I wish that someone had told me earlier on that it would not only be very useful to reach out in order to understand the kinds of work that people were doing, but that it could help me build relationships with amazing people doing amazing work. Networking like this actually helped me find out about and apply for the job I am currently in at the Latin America Working Group.

Do you have any role model or mentors?

At the Latin America Working Group, our staff is made up at the moment of myself and four other women, and that's been very inspiring for me to see the kind of work that they've been able to accomplish as women in the field of US foreign policy and human rights. LAWG’s staff has had direct impacts on US foreign policy towards Latin America over the course of their careers, and I've learned a lot from them even just in the year that I've been working with them.

Through that work I've also had the very special pleasure of meeting human rights defenders and members of various organisations from Latin America who I’ve accompanied during their visits to Washington, D.C. I've also had the opportunity to meet with civil society actors, journalists, human rights lawyers... These brave women and men are in most cases working to protect the human rights of their communities in the face of threats against their own lives and those of their loved ones. It truly awes me to see the kind of work that they're able to do, and what they've accomplished in promoting better policies even when their own lives are at risk.

Recently, the risks of defending human rights were made visible once again with the murder of Berta Cáceres, the beloved and renowned Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist. I am mourning, together with countless others, the profound loss of a defender with such a beautiful and powerful spirit who dedicated her life to protecting her community.

You have a special link with Cuba through your mother. How has it been to work on projects on Cuba these past few months?

Well, when it comes to US foreign policy towards Cuba, the relationship has been very tense for many years. Because there is such a strong political support on both sides of engagement or non-engagement, it can become very personal for many people. Particularly in areas like South Florida where there's such a large Cuban-American population. My grandparents fled from Cuba to Florida with my mother, aunt, and uncle as political refugees in 1970. So, conversations with my Abuelita (grandmother) have been very influential in how I try to consider all sides of the political debate when it comes to US policies toward Cuba.

My entire life my grandmother has described herself as being very political. It's true. So am I. I've debated politics with her since I was in the second grade and that's made me more reflective on the very personal experiences that influence the way someone might see the relationship between the United States and Cuba, and any other dynamics in foreign policy.

Through my work with LAWG, I've been able to see some massive changes in the kind of engagement that's taking place between the two countries, for me that appears to be a very positive move. Significant changes have been made to regulations as travel and trade restrictions have been loosened, but the 53 year long US embargo on Cuba remains. Much remains to be done for true normalisation of diplomatic relations, but progress is being made.

Seven years' experience

Studied at Vanderbilt University | Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo | George Mason University

Previously worked as Latin America Rights and Security Fellow at Center for International Policy | Central American Artifacts Intern at Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian  

Languages spoken English, Spanish, Portuguese

Find Angelika online LinkedIn | @AAlbaladejo |Personal website | Periphery Podcast

Inspired by Angelika's career? Check out these related career opportunities: Internships and jobs at the Latin America Working Group | Jobs and internships at Center for International Policy

Exclusive interview by Lucie Goulet, 2 March 2016

The currently all-female human rights-focused foreign policy team at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG). From left to right: Angelika Albaladejo, Lisa Haugaard, Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Mavis Anderson and Emma Buckhout.

Angelika Albaladejo and Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) accompany a group of Honduran LGBT rights activists to congressional meetings. 

Accompanying members of an International Verification Mission during a Washington D.C. visit. From left to right: Sister Lidia Mara Souza, Executive Secretary of the National Migration Pastoral Program for the Honduran Bishops’ Conference; Angelika Albaladejo of the Latin America Working Group; Mayra Alarcon of Project Counseling Services; and Patricia Montes of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities. Photo taken at a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Briefing in September 2015 entitled "A View from the Field: Migration in Honduras."