Benjamin LessingBenjamin Lessing 
Director and Associate Professor in Political Science

Professor Benjamin Lessing leads the Center in coordinating University interests in research and teaching on Latin America. He studies "criminal conflict"—organized violence involving armed groups that do not seek formal state power, such as drug cartels, prison gangs, and paramilitaries. His first book, Making Peace In Drug Wars: Crackdowns and Cartels in Latin America (Cambridge University Press, Studies in Comparative Politics Series, 2017), examines armed conflict between drug trafficking organizations and the state in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil.


Mauricio Benitez3.jpgMauricio Benítez

Associate Director

Mauricio is responsible for the Center's programming, policy-making, budget, and supervision of staff. He also manages the Center's external grants and fellowships. As the CLAS Associate Director, Mauricio fosters linkages with faculty and students across UChicago as they seek to engage with Latin America. A native of Morelos, Mexico, Mauricio is a political scientist by training (B.A., El Colegio de México; M.A., University of California, San Diego; Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley). He joined CLAS from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, where he served as Executive Director of their Mexico Office.  He has also held visiting scholar positions at UC San Diego and the University of Southern California, and taught at Chapman University. 


Diana Schwartz FranciscoDiana Schwartz Francisco
Assistant Instructional Professor

Diana Schwartz Francisco serves as program adviser for the LACS BA degree and graduate certificate programs; teaches the required BA Colloquium, as well as courses of her own design;  and develops experiential learning opportunities for students. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Chicago (2016). Her work integrates economic development, Indigenous politics, and environmental issues.


Mario-Pino copy_0.jpegMario Pino

Program Manager

Mario Pino joined CLAS in January 2022. He manages the Center's student affairs and public programs and coordinates financial processes. He came to CLAS with nearly a decade of experience in Politics and International Relations in Latin America and Europe. His background includes working as Legislative Director at Chile's Senate and Project Director at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Mario obtained his JD at the Universidad de Chile and a MA in Social Sciences at The University of Chicago.


KevinChrisman_1.jpgKevin Chrisman 
Instructional Assistant

Kevin Chrisman serves as an instructional assistant for CLAS. His primary responsibilities are to advise, mentor, and teach students enrolled in the prerequisite Introduction to Latin American Civilization sequence, that introduces students to the history and cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean. Chrisman is a cultural historian of modern Mexico who earned his Ph.D. in Latin American History from York University in 2019.