The Second Regional Youth and Democracy Forum started Monday in Panama City with the challenge of becoming a “dialogue space for young leaders of student, social and political movements in the region.” The meeting, which runs until Tuesday and is organized by the Latin American Youth for Democracy Network (RLJD), is being held in the framework of the Summit of the Americas and aims to prepare future leaders for democratic governance and citizen participation, two of the priority themes of the Summit.
Most participants concluded, during the day yesterday, that the region is undermined by the cancer of populism, whose origins lie in Cuba. They also consider that democratic governments violate the fundamental principle of the Organization of American States (OAS) by sitting down with Cuba and Venezuela and not recognizing the legitimate voice of civil society in these countries. If the OAS and its organizations are not genetically reformulated, they warn, they will cease to have a reason for being and could lose any credibility as a regional body.
In the opening session,Guillermo Cochez, Panama’s former Ambassador to the OAS and member of the RLJD Advisory Council, urged the young people not to allow authoritarian governments to appropriate the discourse of social justice and of the continent. “I urge you to continue the fight against the enemies of democracy, who do not rest. You also must not rest in your struggle to defend democracy,” he urged.
Present at the conference were Eduardo Stein, former vice president of Guatemala, and Marta Lucía Ramírez, former Minister of Defense of Colombia, who participated with opinions and questions.
Yesenia Alvarez, director of the Institute for Political Freedom (IPL- Peru) and member of the Iberoamerican Youth Advisory Council, asked the young civil society leaders to look at the problems of each country across the region. “We join with Cuba, and we will continue together with the Cubans until they are free and can choose their destiny as a nation. We will work hard for it. The Latin American presidents will not speak about it, so I ask the civil society not to forget Cuba and Venezuela. Don’t be afraid. Dictatorships live in self-censorship that causes fear,” she added.
Meanwhile, Gina Romero of RedLad (Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy), called for developing an awareness of the kind of democracy that seeks and prioritizes the objective that all citizens have a decent life.
The first panel of the day, Youth Participation in Proposals for Strengthening Democracy and Governance, had as participants Pedro Cruz (Youth for Guatemala), Ricardo Sande (Student Federation of the Catholic University of Chile) and Rosa Maria Paya, who spoke of her project Cuba Decides. Also invited was, Rodrigo Diamanti, one of the directors of the video A World Without Gag Laws, who could not attend because the Venezuelan government prevented him from leaving the country. Sande demanded citizen involvement in politics to prevent the State from becoming the only provider of solutions. “There is no point having a democracy if we give the solution of the problems to power, (…) forgetting that citizens are responsible to each other, not to the states.”
Among those attending the second panel, on the Inter-American System of Human Rights and specific cases in the region, was Nizar El Fakih, a human rights lawyer from Venezuela who offered specific data on the situation in the country — including the unofficial count in 2013 showing 6% of the Venezuelan population in extreme poverty. Kirenia Nunez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), warned of the known increase in short-term detentions on the island, while Ana Karina Garcia, from the Venezuelan Youth Popular Will, discussed the challenge to sensitize Venezuelan society to the fact that authoritarianism affects not only the opposition but the entire society. “The government is applying the same methods as the Cuban dictatorship, spreading terror to paralyze the population, alongside increasing deprivation and violence,” she said.
The Nicaraguan deputy Edipsia Dubon focused criticism of the government of her country on the Canal Law that will threaten and sweep away indigenous rights, given that 52% of the lands that will be confiscated by the State under the Law belong to those groups. For his part, Mauricio Alarcon, of Fundamedios (Ecuador), called attention to the violation of freedom of expression and press, as well as the attempts by some of the governments of the region to maintain themselves in power.
After a discussion between all the young participants and the social and political leaders from Latin America, the first day closed with a concert with Cuban hip hop artists Michel Matos (Matraka), Soandres del Rio, David D Omni and Aldo Roberto Rodriguez Baquero (of Los Aldeanos).