2022 Annual Report

A Message From Our Executive Director

Dear friends and supporters,

We are thrilled to share with you the achievements of Rainforest Foundation US’s (RFUS) work over the past year. Our efforts in the areas of territorial protection, land rights, and capacity strengthening have made significant impacts throughout a number of regions. We invite you to join us in celebrating these successes and reflecting on the challenges that lie ahead.

One of our major accomplishments was the expansion of our innovative territorial monitoring program, Rainforest Alert. This cutting-edge initiative has enabled our Indigenous partners to enhance their ability to safeguard the cherished ecosystems of South and Central America. Through advanced technology and collaborative partnerships, we have been able to support Indigenous communities to detect threats to their territories and address them more effectively.

Respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights to free, prior, and informed consent is also paramount to our mission. In Guyana, we proudly supported the development of a national consultation framework for legislative changes. This framework serves as a crucial step toward ensuring Indigenous communities’ voices are heard and their rights are upheld.

Additionally, we provided comprehensive training to emerging leaders in Mexico and Central America. We helped equip these future advocates with the skills and knowledge they need to protect their communities and their ancestral lands.

A Collective Call to Action

Despite our achievements, it is essential to acknowledge the ongoing crises gripping Central and South America. The fires that ravaged the Brazilian Amazon in 2022 serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for action. Tragically, Indigenous environmental defenders continue to face alarming rates of violence, and land rights violations persist in Indigenous communities worldwide.

Isolated, small-scale interventions are no longer sufficient to face these challenges. Preserving our forests and addressing the climate crisis requires us to act boldly and collaborate broadly. We must all work hand in hand with local Indigenous partners, expanding upon successful models of rights-based forest protection. Only through close collaboration and coordination can we prevent the collapse of crucial forest ecosystems in Central and South America, and ensure the long-term sustainability of Indigenous peoples’ territories.

Looking Ahead to 2023

We are filled with enthusiasm about the opportunities ahead. In 2023, we will expand our support of territorial monitoring work with communities in Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador. In Guyana, we will continue our advocacy efforts to ensure the Guyanese government’s engagement in carbon markets respects Indigenous peoples’ rights. Moreover, we remain committed to equipping Indigenous communities with the tools and knowledge necessary to recommend substantive legislative reforms that protect their rights. And we will continue supporting the institutional strengthening of Indigenous governance bodies in Central and South America, as well as creating training programs that facilitate the expansion of land management planning and monitoring in the region.

A Heartfelt Thank You

None of this year’s achievements would have been possible without the generous support of our donors. Your contributions play a pivotal role in ensuring that Indigenous communities’ rights are respected and asserted. By adequately financing their institutions, we enable our Indigenous partners to build sustainable and resilient families and communities.

Together, we can make a lasting impact and create a better future for Indigenous peoples in South and Central America. Your generosity equips our Indigenous partners with the necessary tools, skills, and resources to protect their territories, reduce deforestation, and safeguard the invaluable biodiversity we all depend on.

With deepest gratitude,

Suzanne Pelletier

Suzanne Pelletier
Executive Director
Rainforest Foundation US

Major Achievements in Our Priority Areas

Priority I: Land Rights

We support Indigenous peoples in their fight for legal recognition of their traditional lands.

RFUS believes that to protect and sustain the world’s tropical rainforests, we must recognize the rights of the Indigenous peoples who have been responsibly stewarding these forests for centuries and make those rights effective on the ground. We assist our partners on the ground in advancing land rights, as well as advocating for national and international policy change involving Indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands and forests.


Championed an Indigenous-led consultation proposal in Guyana

Indigenous person holding a sign that reads “Our territories, our decisions.”

In the process of revising the Amerindian Act—national legislation that provides for the collective rights, governance, and titling of Indigenous lands in Guyana—the government of Guyana has undertaken to consult all Indigenous villages. However, government consultations are not historically conducted in a manner that fully respects Indigenous peoples’ rights. To address this, Indigenous representatives throughout Guyana—with support from RFUS, the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), and Forest Peoples Programme—developed an Amerindian Act Consultation Proposal. This proposal outlines how Indigenous peoples expect to be consulted by the government of Guyana in the process of legislative reform. It was endorsed by all district councils, Indigenous governance bodies that represent villages, and was submitted to the government in an attempt to ensure that Indigenous peoples’ rights to participate in decision making—and to free, prior, and informed consent—are respected when revising the Amerindian Act. 

Advanced a precedent-setting case to protect forest guardians

The four Saweto widows standing in a forward-facing line

RFUS has advocated for more than eight years with the community of Saweto in Peru and the widows of four Indigenous environmental activists who were assassinated in 2014. Partnering with local leaders and lawyers, our advocacy efforts ensured that this case continued to be in the international spotlight and that these murders were tried as an organized crime. This means that those who ordered the killings are also held accountable, not just the triggermen. In 2022, the Superior Court of Justice in Ucayali, Peru, finally began the criminal trial of the alleged killers of the four victims, who had been engaged in a years-long struggle to stop a multinational logging company from illegally deforesting their territory. And for the first time in Latin America, the triggermen and industry executives are all being held accountable in this pivotal case that stands to have an impact on other similar trials throughout the region. 

Priority II: Territorial Protection

We provide resources for strong forest governance and cutting-edge monitoring tools so Indigenous peoples can more effectively protect their rainforests from intruders and have greater control over what happens in their territory.

Our territorial monitoring program, Rainforest Alert, provides training, tools, and financial support to Indigenous organizations to map, monitor, and secure their territories using cost-effective technology like smartphones and drones. The methodology—developed with partner organizations in the field—integrates forest monitoring with strengthening decision-making processes and direct engagement with relevant government agencies, for a more effective and holistic approach.


Expanded Rainforest Alert to protect 12.2 million acres

Close-up of someone’s hand holding a cellphone showing a digital map of the rainforest

After a peer-reviewed study showed that RFUS’s territorial monitoring program, Rainforest Alert, reduced deforestation by more than 50% in its first year of implementation, we expanded the program to 36 new communities in 2022 throughout the Peruvian Amazon. RFUS conducted more than 23 trainings and supported more than 117 forest monitors this year.

Implemented Rainforest Alert payments totaling $447,000

Indigenous forest monitor, Betty Rubio, flies a drone over an Indigenous community in Peru's Amazon rainforest.

We introduced a pioneering program that offers biannual payments to participating communities in recognition for their successful forest defense. In 2022, we dispersed the first of these payments, totaling $447,000 among 26 communities. With these much-needed funds, community members tasked with some of the world’s most important environmental defense work are better able to stand up to exploitative, extractive activity on their lands. They can take necessary steps to create sustainable livelihoods by addressing community-wide infrastructural deficiencies, such as lack of potable water or electricity. Some communities used their payments to apply for land titles—a critical step for all communities to be able to effectively protect their territories.

Priority III: Organizational Strengthening

We provide direct financial support and trainings to our partners upon request, to strengthen the skills they need to lead initiatives to assert, secure, and defend their rights.

Trainings include financial management, proposal writing and grant reporting, project implementation, communications and advocacy, as well as bigger-picture governance, and land and forest management strategies. With this support, our Indigenous partners are better equipped to advocate on their own behalf to government agencies responsible for forest and climate policies, as well as for the recognition and implementation of their territorial rights.


Trained 90 emerging Indigenous leaders in Mexico and Central America

Two hands hold a phone up and take a picture of a group of Indigenous people working together

With support from RFUS and funding from USAID, the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB)—a coalition of 11 national Indigenous and local community organizations—expanded the presence of AMPB’s Mesoamerican Leadership School in Guatemala and Honduras. They also established new programming in Mexico. The school is an investment in retaining and galvanizing Indigenous youth, whose participation is necessary for the survival of the Indigenous peoples’ environmental movement and Indigenous communities.

“It’s such a unique space and experience,” says Q’eqchi’ Maya activist and teacher Carolina Alvarado from Guatemala. “I like collaborating with the youth, to help them build towards a better country without losing their sense of identity.”

Developed a climate and gender strategy for women leaders in Mexico and Central America

 Indigenous woman holds a microphone and speaks

Despite the critical role Indigenous women play in rainforest protection, including promoting resilience through traditional medicine and regenerative agriculture, they face challenges that have historically excluded them from participating in important decision-making and policy discussions. In 2022, RFUS and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests developed a climate and gender strategy alongside the Coordination of Territorial Women Leaders of Mesoamerica, which aims to increase participation of women in all political spaces. The strategy addresses the intersection of gender, climate change impacts, forest protection, and sustainable livelihoods in the region. As women throughout Central and South America unite to fight for their rights and the health of the planet, the climate and gender strategy will support sustainability and gender inclusion in all aspects of governance. 

Piloted a program to train community paralegals to defend land rights in Guyana

Indigenous people gather around a map of their territories in Guyana.

RFUS supported the South Rupununi District Council in developing a community paralegal program centering Indigenous communities in their fight for justice in Guyana. This work includes collaborating with partners to assist community paralegals to know, use, and shape the law to defend their ancestral lands, as well as protect their rights. It involves sharing legal knowledge and providing skills training to grassroots advocates who then build the legal empowerment of community members in remote villages. Informed Indigenous communities who know their rights are better equipped to fight for them.

Supported direct financing platforms to deliver much-needed funds to Indigenous communities through Central and South America

Indigenous leaders and activists from the GATC gathered in New York City for Climate Week

During the United Nations’ Conference of Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow in 2021, $1.7 billion was pledged for Indigenous organizations and communities defending the forests. This followed recent research by our sister organization in Norway showing that historically, Indigenous communities receive less than 1% of climate funding. In this context, one of RFUS’s Indigenous partner organizations—the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests—established the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund (FTM). We helped the FTM solidify its governance structure and procedures to ensure that it can provide its first grants to Indigenous communities throughout Central America and Mexico in 2023.

Additionally, RFUS partnered with the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC)—a coalition of the main representative federations from the tropical forests of the world—in its launch of the Shandia Platform. This high-visibility initiative, showcased during New York Climate Week in September 2022 and COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, will help ensure that funding pledged by governments and private donors is distributed to millions of people living in forest communities by flowing through new Indigenous and community-led territorial funds. These territorial funds, such as the FTM in Mesoamerica, currently exist in the Amazon, Indonesia, and are being established in the Congo Basin.

Impact at a Glance


8 Communities served
74K Acres monitored


57 Communities served
506K Acres monitored
104K Acres land rights advanced


10.1M Acres monitored
7.9M Acres land rights advanced


7 Communities served


1.5M Acres monitored
1.2M Acres land rights advanced

Mexico & Central America

50+ Communities served

0 M

Acres monitored

0 +

Communities served

0 M

Acres land rights advanced


Several hundred community members and Indigenous leaders trained

Meet a Few Team Members

Meet a few RFUS team members who offer a glimpse into their work and describe their commitment to our mission.

Rolando Rodriguez

Tropical Forest Engineer & Ecologist

I discovered my love for the Amazon when my professor parents brought me to the rural communities near Iquitos, Peru, when I was off from school. Now, I’m an engineer in tropical forest ecology. I work in Peru on Indigenous land monitoring and I lead trainings to improve governance, territorial control, and threat reduction within forests and Indigenous territories. My work focuses on strengthening the resilience and capacity of Indigenous organizations, and supporting Indigenous peoples in obtaining better financial resources to protect their territories. I feel a strong connection to RFUS’s mission, which is closely tied to my professional and personal goals of seeing an Amazon without threats—where Indigenous peoples are empowered through technology, tropical forests are protected, and human rights are respected. I value the ways in which RFUS works, including how we train Indigenous peoples in territorial monitoring, and I believe that our intercultural approach on an institutional level is what differentiates us from other organizations. In the next year, I hope to see RFUS strengthen and expand partnerships in communities, regions, and federations that we have not yet reached, and that we continue to better understand new customs, cultures, and populations as we work together toward our shared vision.

Jaime Cardenas

Assistant Project Coordinator

I joined RFUS in 2018 to support the transfer of territorial monitoring technology to Indigenous communities. I feel that RFUS’s mission is of vital importance to future generations and I value our emphasis on “learning while doing”—staying in communities to train Indigenous peoples, including supporting them as they learn to use the technology, and ensuring there is follow up. Every time I train Indigenous communities in the use of the monitoring technology, I feel joyful knowing that I am contributing and serving as an ally for the defense of forests and Indigenous peoples’ territories. Given the nature of our work, I also leave each community with a greater understanding of the lived experiences of the people there. My hope for 2023 is that we will connect with new allies to help sustain and expand upon our territorial monitoring work that improves the quality of life for our Indigenous partners and safeguards life on earth.

Joshua Lichtenstein

Program Manager

I’ve worked in human rights and conservation, mostly in Latin America, for over 30 years, and I’ve been at RFUS for seven of those years. Since 2016, I’ve been working with the Global Alliance for Territorial Communities and in Mexico and Central America. I also support RFUS’s efforts in Guyana. I feel strongly that defending forests by protecting Indigenous peoples’ lands and strengthening partner organizations is the best thing I can personally do to make a difference in the climate crisis. RFUS stands out in the forest protection space—not just because of our rights-based approach and focus on land rights, but also in the way we collaborate and foster long-term, effective partnerships built upon trust and mutual accountability. I’m honored to be able to work with our partners on organizational strengthening and capacity building, land rights, and advocacy around direct access to climate finance. Our partners and the Indigenous leaders who are defending their lands, forests, and communities constantly inspire me. I follow their lead, and then, when I can, I offer options for solutions that have worked for others. That’s where my decades of experience comes in handy. In the coming years, my hope is that more of our partners will be better equipped to receive direct funding. I’m proud to be a part of making that happen by offering capacity-strengthening trainings for our Indigenous partners on how to access and manage grant funds that are available.

Indigenous Partners

Meet One of Our Partners:

Juan Carlos Jintiach

Shuar, Executive Secretary for the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities

The Indigenous movement the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC) organically came together between 2015 and 2017, with the goal of representing 35 million people living in forest territories and defending over 958 million hectares of land. When the Global Alliance began to build its governance, RFUS was there, at the beginning, and now continues with us as a key player and our fiscal sponsor. The organization fulfills an important role in our work together. There aren’t many institutions that work within both a global and regional territorial framework like RFUS. Their support enables the GATC to expand how we approach forest protection, collaborating to coordinate programs not just regionally but across the globe. The experience that RFUS has is extremely important. It helps us to collaborate and envision ourselves in the future, not just in one region, but with tropical forests all over the planet.

Board of Directors

John W. Copeland
Managing Partner, Wealth Partners Capital Group, LLC

S. Todd Crider, Esq.
Vice Chair
Partner, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Member Executive Committee (founding Chair), The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice

Brett Odom
Retired Finance Executive

Jenny Springer
Director, Global Program on Governance & Rights at IUCN

Becky Yang
Founder, Lin Lane; Partner, The Fund

Steven Kemler
Principal & Managing Director, Stone Arch Group

Christian Lelong
Director, Natural Resources at Kayrros

S. James Anaya, J.D.
Distinguished Professor & the Nicholas Doman Professor of International Law, University of Colorado Law School

Revenues & Expenses

Your support has helped to strengthen Indigenous peoples’ organizations in their capacity to fight deforestation, climate change, and the systemic violation of their rights. RFUS and our partners couldn’t make such a substantial impact without you. Thank you! 

Revenue & Support 2022

Expenses 2022

Assets 2021 2022
Net Start of Year $3,202,940 $5,513,142
Change in Net $2,310,202 $2,234,799
Net End of Year $5,513,142 $7,747,941

All financial figures past and present can be found on Rainforest Foundation US’s fiscal year 990 filings on our Financials & Transparency page.

Support Our Work

Join Us in Creating a More Sustainable Future for Generations to Come

RFUS is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your commitment moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

While all donations make an impact, please consider becoming a monthly donor. Monthly contributions provide vital and reliable aid to our Indigenous partners as they work to ensure that tropical forests can keep capturing and storing carbon while also producing fresh air and clean water for generations to come.

John Copeland
Managing Partner, Wealth Partners Capital Group, LLC

John is Managing Partner of Wealth Partners Capital Group, LLC, which provides capital and strategic support to Registered Investment Advisor firms. Formerly, John was President of AMG Wealth Partners, and served in leadership roles prior to that at Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse First Boston and Goldman, Sachs & Co. John holds Bachelors’ degrees in Economics and English Literature from Georgetown University, a Master’s in Management from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School.

As a child of the ‘70s, John remembers celebrating the first Earth Day. He has been involved in various environmental causes for over 30 years. John has been a RFUS board member since 2009, and is particularly devoted to RFUS given the team’s efficiency and intense commitment.

S. Todd Crider, Esq.
Vice Chair
Partner, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Member Executive Committee (founding Chair), The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice

As Head of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s Latin America Practice, Todd advises clients in international corporate finance transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and project finance. A leader in pro-bono practice, he is a member of the governing body and executive committee of the Cyrus R. Vance Center of International Justice, where he was founding chair. He also serves as the Vance Center representative to the boards of the Pro Bono Network of the Americas (Red Pro Bono de las Américas) and the Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights of the Americas. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Howard College of Arts & Sciences at Samford University, the board of directors of the Council of the Americas and the board of directors of Equitable Origin. He has acted as counsel to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the context of the Awas Tingni case, an important precedent-setting case related to property rights of indigenous peoples under international law. Todd holds a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Samford University, a License d’histoire from Université de Paris IV Sorbonne, and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School.

Todd came to issues related to indigenous peoples rights almost three decades ago. As a young lawyer, he represented the Awas Tingni community in Nicaragua in negotiations with the Nicaraguan government and a lumber company. The experience introduced him to the intersection of environmental concerns and human rights, which defines the work of Rainforest Foundation US. Todd has served on RFUS’s board since 2007. He firmly believes that supporting indigenous peoples to protect their rainforests is the most cost-effective solution to forest degradation, deforestation, and related climate change.

Brett Odom
Retired Finance Executive

As Deputy Chief Compliance Officer for Partner Fund Management, L.P. from 2016 to 2019, Brett ensured the firm met national and international regulations. Formerly, he held leadership roles at Kingdon Capital Management, L.L.C., PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Brett is also a dedicated volunteer, having worked for several years at Animal Haven, where he prepared dogs for adoption. Now retired, he currently volunteers at Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, an NGO dedicated to rescuing disoriented sea turtle hatchlings in coordination with local and state authorities. He earned his Bachelor’s in Accounting from Millsaps College and uses his background in accounting and finance to serve as the Treasurer of Rainforest Foundation US. Brett is dedicated to environmental causes and ensuring that the indigenous populations of Central and South America are entitled to own and manage their own land.

Jenny Springer
Director of Equator Group

Jenny Springer is Director of Equator Group, an independent advisory service. For more than 20 years, she has worked to advance rights-based and community-led approaches to conservation, Indigenous and community land rights and community-led climate action. Her previous roles include serving as Director of IUCN’s Global Program on Governance and Rights, Chair of the IUCN CEESP theme on Governance, Equity and Rights, Director of Global Programs at the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and Senior Director for People and Conservation at WWF-US. Across these diverse roles she has led programs supporting Indigenous and community-led conservation, analytical work demonstrating how secure community land rights contribute to global development goals and diverse collaborations on rights-based approaches to the environment. She conducted anthropological field research on community resource governance in South India and the Philippines, served in the Peace Corps in Ifugao (Philippines), and holds degrees from Harvard College and the University of Chicago.

Becky Yang
Founder, Lin Lane; Partner, The Fund

Becky is the founder of Lin Lane, an advisory and investment firm focused on early stage companies. She is also currently working as Partner at The Fund, a platform of founders and operators investing in the next generation of local entrepreneurs. Before joining The Fund, she worked in global expansion and business development at WeWork, and later served as the Global Director of Growth and Community at Summit. She holds a Bachelor’s from Vanderbilt University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Columbia University.

Becky brings with her over a decade of public and private sector partnerships and fundraising work, including at the Clinton Foundation and Avantage Ventures, which focuses on impact investing. She is committed to aligning these skills with her deep interests in climate change and biodiversity to advance Rainforest Foundation US’s mission.

Steve Kemler Headshot

Steven Kemler
Principal & Managing Director, Stone Arch Group

Steve is an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. He is the Principal of the Stone Arch Group, a private investment firm that funds single and multi-family real estate opportunities and growth stage companies. Steve and Stone Arch also support organizations committed to climate change mitigation, rainforest preservation, education, children’s health, and the arts. Between 2005 and 2016, he was the Co-Founder and CEO of Group of Health Care Training Companies, which built and operated five healthcare training organizations. Formerly, he served as the Managing Director of Fastwired, and as the CEO and Owner of Human-i-Tees. Steve holds a Bachelor’s in Economics from Trinity College-Hartford and a Certificate in Organizational Design for Digital Transformation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management.

In addition to running various businesses, Steve has been involved in environmental advocacy and forest preservation for over twenty years. He is committed to utilizing this experience in helping Rainforest Foundation US effectively fulfill its mission.

Christian Lelong
Director of Natural Resources, Kayrros

With more than 20 years of experience working in the natural resources, technology and financial service sectors, Christian leads the development of environmental services based on satellite imagery and advanced analytics at Kayrros. Formerly, he played leadership roles at Goldman Sachs and BHP. Christian started his career as a software engineer and holds a Master’s of Business Administration from INSEAD.

Christian supports the RFUS team by analyzing the risks presented by extractive industries, and finding ways in which indigenous communities can use new technologies to protect their lands and livelihoods. Christian’s life-long devotion to environment issues and interest in supporting indigenous peoples stem from his childhood in Mexico.

S. James Anaya

S. James Anaya, J.D.
Distinguished Professor & the Nicholas Doman Professor of International Law, University of Colorado Law School

S. James Anaya is a University Distinguished Professor and the Nicholas Doman Professor of International Law at the University of Colorado Law School (USA), where he teaches and writes in the areas of international human rights and issues concerning indigenous peoples. Professor Anaya is a graduate of the University of New Mexico (B.A. in Economics, 1980) and Harvard Law School (J.D., 1983).  Among his numerous publications is his acclaimed book, Indigenous Peoples in International Law (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996, 2d. ed. 2004) and his widely-used co-authored textbook, International Human Rights: Problems of Law, Policy and Practice (Aspen, 6th ed. 2016) (with Hurst Hannum and Dinah Shelton).

Professor Anaya served as the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2008 to 2014. In that capacity, he examined and reported on conditions of indigenous peoples worldwide and responded to allegations of human rights violations against them, including through country visits and direct contacts with governments.  In addition, Professor Anaya has litigated major indigenous rights and human rights cases in domestic and international tribunals, including the United States Supreme Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Among his noteworthy activities, he participated in the drafting of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and was the lead counsel for the indigenous parties in the case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time upheld indigenous land rights as a matter of international law.


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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.