Former Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Latin American Studies professor Marc Chernick passed away at 62 after suffering a heart attack while at a peace meeting in Cali, Colombia, on April 18. Chernick had worked at Georgetown for over 20 years before recently receiving emeritus status.
Chernick was buried April 22, and a memorial will be held in Riggs Library this Friday.
At Georgetown, Chernick led the CLAS from 2013 to 2016 before Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., took over in 2016, and he led the Master of Arts in Latin American studies program from 2009 to 2013. Chernick also founded the Georgetown summer program on conflict resolution and human rights at the University of Los Andes in Colombia.
“I think he really made Georgetown the place to study Colombia; I mean, it’s remarkable how many people came here because they wanted to be involved in the peace process or understand it in a deep way,” Carnes said in an interview with The Hoya.
Chernick had an immense network and knowledge that greatly benefited Georgetown’s CLAS because of his deep involvement in the peace process in Colombia, both Carnes and Dean of the School of Foreign Service Joel Hellman said.
Chernick was a notable force in the peace process in Colombia. He was one of the only foreigners being considered to sit on the peace commission before he passed.
“He dedicated his life to the peace process in Colombia and furthering and advancing it. I’m just very happy that he was able to see the peace process come to fruition before he died,” Hellman said.
Armed conflict between the Colombian government, several paramilitary groups, and far-left guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army began in 1964, making it the oldest ongoing conflict in Latin America. Between 1958 and 2013, an estimated 220,000 Colombians were killed; an estimated five million civilians were internally displaced by the conflict between 1985 and 2012. All parties involved in the conflict have been accused of numerous human rights violations, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Chernick arrived in Colombia in the 1980s, when then-President Belisario Betancur was conducting early peace talks with FARC, and worked continuously for the next three decades on the peace process, eventually participating in the peace negotiations in Havana, Cuba, in September 2012.
Although the first agreement reached in August 2016 between FARC and the Colombian government was rejected in an October 2016 referendum, the two parties agreed on a revised deal on Nov. 24, 2016, that was ratified by the Congress of Colombia on Nov. 29.
“He had this undeniable hope that a peace could be achieved even when things started to look pretty negative, and so he was very inspiring to me,” Carnes said.
Colleagues and former students of his described him as modest, passionate and extremely dedicated to his work in Colombia.
“Marc was someone who was humble in some ways, soft-spoken, but with a tenacious set of beliefs and a desire to engage people,” Carnes said.
Chernick was not just interested in academia and international relations but also in their real-world applications, his colleagues and former students also said.
“This is someone who in every sense of the word was a true scholar-practitioner, someone who loved studying the country but who really felt himself called to contribute to its work for peace for the last almost three decades he’d been working on this,” Carnes said.
Chernick also had a great ability to create connections and build bridges; he formed deep, meaningful and lasting bonds with his students, according to Carnes.
“Everyone always talks about how personally he engaged each student, and the number of memorials the last few days I’ve been reading of students who felt like he was their personal mentor, that he really heard them and helped them discover what their vocation or calling was really remarkable,” Carnes said.
Christopher Wahoff (GRD ’11) was invited by Chernick’s family to speak on behalf of Chernick’s students at his memorial service Sunday, and he reflected on his relationship with Chernick, who served as a mentor and even as a groomsman in Wahoff’s wedding this past year.
“Ever since I was his research assistant, he’s sort of guided and supported every step that I’ve taken throughout my professional career and has been a very good friend and mentor, and I always look to him for advice and a good debate, but that was just the kind of person he was,” Wahoff said.
Hellman echoed that he wanted to emphasize the personal connections that Chernick cultivated as a significant contribution to Georgetown in addition to his extensive work in Colombia and with the CLAS.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to miss the human qualities that made him beloved among the students that he worked closely with, that helped bring together the community,” Hellman said.
Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Hellman as saying “he was able to come to fruition before he died.”