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Young Latin Americans Won’t Let Go of Their iPhones, or Democracy

By: Elena Toledo - @NenaToledo - Jun 30, 2015, 1:19 pm

EspañolAt the recent Much with Little workshop in Nicaragua, the PanAm Post spoke with Matías Bianchi, director of Asuntos del Sur (Southern Affairs), a think tank devoted to finding ways to use new technologies to strengthen democracy.

Bianchi shared his thoughts on his latest publication, Democracy at the Margins of Democracy, his work with Asuntos del Sur, upcoming workshops, and the future of democracy and freedom in Latin America.

How was Asuntos del Sur born? 

We [the founders] were studying overseas, and we wanted a space where we could discuss Latin America from a Latin-American perspective. All the spaces available at the time had foreign middlemen involved or other entities. So we envisioned [Asuntos del Sur] as a way to push the frontiers of debate.

It began in 2008 as a hobby. Back then, we’d invite a leading figure to speak, like CEPAL Executive Director Alicia Bárcena and other experts, and ask them to come up with questions about development problems in the region. Then we’d gather a wide variety of people to respond, not just experts, sparking an entertaining debate.

What kind of public policy does Asuntos del Sur advocate or promote?

This has changed over the years, and we have added several topics to our agenda. The most important one now is probably drug policy. We have created a watchdog group and carried out the only regional poll on drug policy and consumption. This is probably the activity that is most demanding of our time.

We have also worked a lot on promoting same-sex marriage and LGBTI rights.

Right now, we are working on the issues of human trafficking and political innovation, which is where I focus the most. We analyze what can be done with the available technology and civil society, what we can innovate in politics. I’m convinced that we are moving toward a more participative, democratic model.

After your experience at Much with Little, what do you think about people labeling themselves ideologically?

It’s a very natural tendency across history, and I’d say its perhaps a positive one. One starts working within a close, trusted group. The problem is that this closed environment no longer contributes to democracy.

We believe the most interesting process underway in the region is what is going on at the margins of democracy. Nowadays, there are organizations with a more horizontal structure, more collaborative and open, working through networks of young activists that fight for different causes.

That is why we are going to where those few are doing much, so we can meet, learn, share, and hopefully support them.

What did you find in your study, Democracy at the Margins of Democracy, and what inspired you?

Matías Bianchi's latest study draws upon two years of experience in 14 Latin-American countries.
Matías Bianchi’s latest study draws upon two years of experience in 14 Latin-American countries. (Asuntos del Sur)

It was an inductive process that drew conclusions from two years of the Much with Little workshops. We have already visited 14 countries in the continent, and there was a need to write down the basic ideas, an attempt to make an intellectual exercise of what we were observing.

I explain how Latin America adopted its very own interpretation of modernity, how the nation-states were built, and the unique coexistence of democracy with inequality and exclusion.

At the same time, there is an entire generation that has been raised in a democratic context: democracy is non-negotiable for them, and neither is access to technology. So, part of what I try to get across is that we can be positive about the possibility of a more inclusive democracy than what we have now by debating ideas.

How do you see the current trends in Latin America regarding corruption and how has technology influenced them? 

I have quite a positive opinion on that. I see a lot of people alarmed over it, thinking Latin America is falling into the abyss, but the truth is that I’m very positive. I believe that when we see demonstrations in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, that something good is going on.

Previously, when there was a problem, conservatives would go knocking on the military’s door. Now, society does not tolerate that anymore and takes to the streets. So, I believe there is democratic growth; rulers don’t have a blank check anymore, even in countries with lots of challenges to overcome. Beyond that, the biggest problem is not democracy but drug-trafficking, as you can see in Central America and Mexico.

Is drug legalization the solution? 

Our position is that legalization is not the only step we need to make; we support it, but from a holistic point of view. Legalization is a must to put an end to the illegal activities. However, it is also necessary to enforce quality controls, to tax it, and design health policies.

I say a holistic approach because we need to consider health issues and raise awareness among the youth, the main victims of violence and drug consumers.

Policies must be regional, which also have to include the largest consumer in the world, the United States. Without policy change inside the United States, nothing can change in our countries.

Where is Asuntos del Sur headed?

It’s a living project. The workshops began after a joint effort with different organizations, because we believe that networking is important. We always promote political inclusion and a more egalitarian economic development. You can follow our discussions and future events on our website and on social media.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Elena Toledo Elena Toledo

Educator by trade, social-media apprentice, activist for a democratic Honduras, and free thinker. Follow her on Twitter @NenaToledo.