Guatemalan Populism Meets Its Match in Gloria Álvarez
EspañolYou may already know Gloria Álvarez as the face of the YouTube video on classical liberalism that has gone viral over the past two weeks. Álvarez was a participant in September’s Youth Parliament in Zaragoza, Spain, hosted by the Latin-American Leader Network, an organization that aims to bring together young Latin-American leaders with a commitment to democracy, human rights, and individual freedom.
“It’s overwhelming and impressive. It’s something that I did not expect,” she says of the positive feedback that her presentation on the defense of republican institutions has received, including more than 450,000 views on YouTube.
Álvarez is a political scientist, radio broadcaster, and project director at the National Civic Movement of Guatemala (MCN), an NGO that advocates for the participation of an informed, responsible, and active citizenry in national politics.
“Now the challenge is determining what we can do to maintain the momentum generated by the speech, and harness it to dismantle populism,” she said.
Could Álvarez be the “Camila Vallejo” of liberalism?
Do you believe it is worth immersing yourself in the world of politics to fight for the republican institutions mentioned in your video?
Yes, I believe so, but it isn’t for everyone. As a citizen, you must first determine where you stand on various economic, political, and historical issues. Then you can decide what it is that you would like to see from the government and you will be in a position to demand it.
Although we are not politicians, I believe that our role as citizens in the political arena is very important. We are the watchdogs who ensure that our elected officials are properly doing their job.
What role do new technologies play in education?
In the case of Guatemala, we are seeing smartphones and tablets emerge in places that don’t even have safe drinking water. People living without electricity in the countryside come to the city just to charge their phones. Technology is coming before other basic services, including education.
Therefore, it is important that we utilize the full range of technological tools that the internet offers us, including different documentaries, tutorials, courses, PDF books, and videos. These are tools that we can use to bring education to people in need.
Opportunities, such as scholarships, that allow for free education are a great benefit. Above all, when we realize how disinterested populist governments are in education, we understand that they depend on our ignorance to remain in power.
Given the irresponsibility of the Ministry of Education, I would advocate for greater use of technology in education, especially as an aid to teachers who have become an afterthought over the last century.
The idea of gratuity that you mention in your speech is very interesting. What do you mean by that?
Populists always speak in abstract terms: the nation feels, the nation is of the opinion, the nation thinks. But when you actually think about this, you realize that neither the nation nor the state is anything more than a collection of individuals making decisions.
I believe everyone deserves an opportunity, not because of their gender, but based on their demonstrated ability to improve their country.
When someone speaks to you in abstract generalizations, like “the state pays,” the public tends to forget that the state is not an entity that generates money, but a group of individuals who receive resources from other individuals and decide how to best manage them.
Nothing is free. We must be aware that everything comes at the cost of something else. In my country, only two out of every 10 businesses pay taxes. Everybody has something to demand of the state, but it’s easy to demand when you’re not contributing anything yourself.
What would you like to say to our female readers?
For starters, the same thing that I tell young people. Being young is a virtue in itself. Being a woman likewise has its virtues, but when it comes to political issues what’s important is your mental capacity to lead a nation and ability to solve problems.
I’m against quotas. I believe everyone deserves an opportunity, not because of their gender, but based on their demonstrated ability to improve their country.
I would urge women not to use their gender to obtain [political] posititons, as this is neither valid nor rational. Secondly, women are associated with being mothers, and mothers give, give, and give without asking for anything in return. Many women employ this as a populist tool upon entering politics, but it is wrong to do so.
I’m thinking of Eva Perón, Cristina Kirchner, Michelle Bachelet, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Obama. The few women who become involved in politics tend to fall into this populist discourse of endless giving. They are well received by the population because people are reminded of motherly figures.
Our politicians have also done a wonderful job of telling people that they are not responsible for their own lives; they are simply victims of other people’s actions.
Why do you believe politicians do not defend liberal ideals?
The challenge of classical liberalism is that everyone is free to pursue the lifestyle of their choice, but free choice requires people to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
So, as an example, we all go to a party on the other side of town to get drunk, but nobody wants to be held responsible when we drive away and run somebody over. Everybody wants the party, but not everybody wants to accept responsibility for the consequences of the party.
Responsibility is the flip side to the classical liberalism coin. And of course, our politicians have also done a wonderful job of telling people that they are not responsible for their own lives; they are simply victims of other people’s actions.
Our next objective is to position the republic as an antidote to populism.
In Guatemala, you encounter women who get pregnant with the sole purpose of collecting more money from the state. They become completely irresponsible, because government policies enable them to do so. Politicians tell them, “Don’t you worry, this isn’t your fault.”
What objectives lie ahead for the National Civic Movement?
Our next objective is to position the republic as an antidote to populism. The republic is the system that protects individual rights and maintains institutions and the rule of law.
Our challenge next year, which is an election year in Guatemala, is to continue touring rural rural areas.
For example, we work in indigenous communities that have been easily manipulated by populist leaders. We inform people in these communities about their rights and obligations, and speak to them about how the Guatemalan state works.
And now, given the popular response to the video, we can begin to build a network to exchange information and knowledge. We can also start collecting unused technological equipment to donate to people in need.
The popularity of this video has demonstrated that we are all dealing with similar problems that can be resolved by simple solutions.
Have you been tempted to get involved in politics? Have politicians been in touch with you following the release of the video?
Several parties have called me since the last elections because of my work in radio. They want my endorsement and stamp of approval, but because of my media background I have always remained neutral.
Following the release of the video, political parties wanted me to become affiliated with them, but that doesn’t really interest me. I have seen how they’ve used my colleagues’ names to try and clean up a politician’s dirty reputation, so it just doesn’t interest me.