Young Latin American leaders gathered Tuesday on the second day of the 2nd Youth and Democracy Regional Forum in Panama and addressed issues such as the rise of populist regimes in the region, and agreed on the need to organize civil society at the hemispheric level to fight against political apathy.
The protagonists of the morning session were Micaela Hierro Dori, president of the Argentine civil association CICES, who acted as moderator; Ricardo Antonio Álvarez Arias, vice president of Honduras; Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala; Guillermo Cochez, former Ambassador of Panama to the Organization of American States (OAS); Martha Lucía Ramírez, former Minister of Defense of Colombia; Gustavo Amaya, executive director of the Center for Training and Promotion of Democracy (CECADE) in San Salvador; and Carolina Quinonez, a journalist from Guatamala’s Antigua Channel.
Political apathy, according to attendees at the meeting, threatens equally countries ruled by totalitarian regimes and those in which the society assumes that “all is well” or at least “better than in other countries,” because in the latter it can leave the door open to the possibility that populism and other deformations will silence thoughtful proposals to take advantage of what the traditional parties have not resolved. Carlos Amel Oliva, of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), compared this phenomenon with the rise of fascism in Europe before World War II, ignored by governments until the outbreak of the war. “The democratic countries of the region need to not let the same thing happen with populism. It is not Cuba’s or Venezuela’s problem, it is a regional problem.”
Press freedom was another issue that focused attention during the morning panel. The representative from UNPACU denounced the “media laws that are driving some governments to control and limit freedom of expression under the pretext of preventing the spread of lies and distortions.”
Participants also discussed the problem of parasitism that grows in the region due to both the family remittances from emigrants as well as government “handouts,” especially under populist systems, factors that discourage the growth and development of national economies and create a vicious circle that encourages emigration and at the same time reinforces parasitism.
Participants’ skepticism of transnational organizations and meetings was reflected in the statements of Eduardo Stein, shared by several attendees, who questioned the existence of a regional organization like the OAS. For the former vice president of Guatemala, on the OAS Permanent Council, the alliance of a few countries prevents certain issues from being analyzed in the Summits. “There will be no will to confront the political problems of each country, appealing to the right of national sovereignty,” he added about the Summit of the Americas.
The afternoon of the day was dedicated to the initiatives of young Cubans with regards to democratic opening, with the participation of Kirenia Yalit Núñez, Yasser Rojas, Eliécer Ávila and Roberto Jiménez on behalf of the Roundtable, a proposal of democratic changes on the base of initiatives that seek to involve all Cubans in the solution of the problems that affect the whole population.
Also presented at the meeting was the new Cuba Decides initiative led by Rosa María Payá and Erick Álvarez, members of the Christian Liberation Movement; while Yusmila Reyna and Carlos Amel Oliva spoke of the objectives of UNPACU.
Finally, the Aulas Abiertas (Open Classrooms) project was presented, a project which promotes knowledge of the basic questions inherent in democratic societies, to prepare citizens before the eventual process of transition in which they will be capable of participating with a proactive role.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to expand the debate with questions from the audience due to the frequent and prolonged power outages in the room where the session was being held, which also affected some of the equipment for projecting materials, and which the Forum organizers attributed a deliberate attempt to sabotage the activity.