Virginia Bouvier, who worked for peace in Colombia, dies at 58

Virginia M. Bouvier played a key role in a peace treaty between rebels and the Colombian government in 2016.
United States Institute of Peace
Virginia M. Bouvier played a key role in a peace treaty between rebels and the Colombian government in 2016.

WASHINGTON — Virginia M. Bouvier, the chief of operations in Colombia for the US Institute of Peace who played a vital role in reaching a 2016 peace treaty between rebel guerrillas and the government, died July 29 at a hospital in Washington. She was 58 and lived in Silver Spring, Md.

The cause was complications from salmonella, typhoid, and lupus, said a sister, Nicole.

The Colombian newspaper El Espectador stated of Dr. Bouvier after her death: ‘‘She was one of those people who was not known to the general public but whose committed, discreet and persistent work for peace in Colombia has been and continues to be key to the success of peace in Colombia.’’


The peace treaty led to a Nobel Prize for Peace for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. It called for an end to hostilities between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist-Leninist peasant guerrilla force that had taken up arms against the government in 1964. In more than 50 years of fighting, hundreds of thousands of civilians had been driven from their homes, thousands were killed, and children were kidnapped and forced to become soldiers for the FARC.

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The treaty, ratified by the Colombian Congress, called for rural reforms, revised conditions for political participation, measures for dealing with illicit drugs, and justice and reconciliation for perpetrators and victims of violence. Dr. Bouvier was invited to the signing ceremony.

Since 2003, she had been the resident expert on Latin America for the Institute of Peace, a congressionally funded research group for conflict resolution.

She had been chief of the organization’s Colombia program since 2006.

In that capacity, she developed relationships and alliances with a variety of disparate groups and organizations. She trained female mediators, religious organizations, Afro-Colombian ethnic groups, displaced homeowners, agricultural workers, landowners, and business executives in methods to work for and support peaceful resolutions of conflict.


Such measures could range from petitions for the return of children who had been kidnapped to water relief from the government for drought-stricken areas.

Colleagues said she was equally adept and comfortable addressing peasant farmers in a barnyard, with chickens scurrying around her feet, and in a business suit talking to government officials or leaders of industry.

She was editor of a book, ‘‘Colombia: Building Peace in a Time of War’’ (2009), which explores how local and regional issues relate to national ones, and she was author of a blog, ‘‘Colombia Calls.’’

Virginia Marie Bouvier was born in New Haven on Nov. 9, 1958. Her father was a manager with the telephone company, and her mother was a social worker. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1980, received a master’s degree in Latin American literature at the University of South Carolina in 1984 and a doctorate in Latin American studies at the University of California Berkeley in 1995.

In 1989, she married James Lyons. Besides her husband, of Silver Spring, and her sister, survivors include a daughter, Maya Lyons of Brooklyn; her mother, Jane of Hamden, Conn.; and her father, Edouard of Silver Spring.


Early in her career, she taught at the University of Maryland and served on the staff of the Washington Office on Latin America, a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights and social justice.

After joining the Institute for Peace in 2003, she attended many of the Colombian peace negotiations, which took place in Havana over four years.

The initial draft of the peace treaty was rejected by Colombian voters in a referendum. Then a revised version was approved by both houses of the Colombian congress. There remains a smaller and less-known guerrilla organization, the National Liberation Army, which has not yet signed a peace treaty with the Colombian government.