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Student Activists Pave Latin America’s “Path to Liberty”

By: Elisa Vásquez - @elisavasquez88 - Oct 14, 2014, 4:20 pm
Participants were photographed with Giancarlo Ibárgüen, former dean of Francisco Marroquín University (UFM), upon receiving the 2014 Manuel F. Ayau A Life for Liberty 2014 Prize.
Participants were photographed with Giancarlo Ibárgüen, former dean of Francisco Marroquín University (UFM), and recipient of the 2014 Manuel F. Ayau A Life for Liberty 2014 Prize. (PanAm Post)

EspañolTotalitarianism will not take hold in Latin America without a fight. The liberty movement is striding forward throughout the region, and youth activists have taken it upon themselves to advance their message throughout the continent.

From Friday, October 10, to Sunday, October 12, Guatemala City and Antigua Guatemala accommodated nearly 650 young professionals from across the Americas to participate in the second Latin-American Students for Liberty (EsLibertad) Conference, dubbed the Path to Liberty.

The attendance marked a record for the group, which hosted only 100 participants during the first conference in Chile in 2013. In addition to the 650 young activists who made the journey to Guatemala, social media users were also able to livestream the conference online.

“This is essential for the region. Historically, we have relied on a few chosen people to solve our problems, but we can now come together at this wonderful conference with hundreds of like-minded students,” said Gabriel Calzada, dean of Francisco Marroquin University (UFM).

“We have all said, ‘No, we are not going to wait for others to do it. We are going to organize and reflect on the institutions that have encouraged peaceful coexistence and economic development, and we are the ones who will make proposals about how to bring us closer to a stable society.'” UFM opened its doors to this year’s Students for Liberty Conference, and hosted speakers such as Tom Palmer, Carlos Sabino, Francisco Pérez Antón, Ricardo López Murphy, and Surse Pierpoint.

Youth activists were strongly represented at the conference.
Youth activists were strongly represented at the conference. (PanAm Post)

“The liberty movement in Latin America is experiential. Many young people have discovered freedom, not through books, but through their surroundings. Unfortunately, we live in a region of abuse and condescension, which we are not fond of,” explained Ricardo Avelar, member of the Executive Council of EsLibertad. “The ‘left’ and ‘right’ seem increasingly alike, and this makes the ideas of liberty much more powerful and attractive.”

Avelar also pointed out that attendance to the public conference had more than tripled since last year, which he attributed, in part, to a reaction to totalitarianism’s gains throughout the region.

Students Take Up the Cause

Francisco Pérez Anton, president of the UFM Fiduciary Committee, noted that liberty is still a very young idea compared to the thousands of years human beings have lived under tyranny. He says it is important for students to defend liberty, not for its intrinsic qualities in the human spirit, but rather as a product of struggle.

“If a tyrant is one man and his subjects are many, why settle for being servants? The only ones who are free are those who want to be free. It’s that easy, and that difficult. It’s easy to forget the liberty that we could have, and fall into the road to serfdom,” he warned.

Ricardo López Murphy, president of the Latin American Liberal Network, echoed Anton’s sentiment and suggested 21st-century socialist regimes have been responsible for much of the misery experienced throughout Latin America.

The former Argentinean presidential candidate managed to connect problematic situations in Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba through humor, leaving the audience breathless between laughter and concern.

“Venezuela is the greatest example of the failure of 21st-century socialism. In theory, every Venezuelan citizen owns US$2 million in oil reserves and other natural resources. It takes a lot of talent for Venezuelans to live like beggars in such a rich country!” he joked.

Tom Palmer, one of today’s most recognized liberty advocates, offered an overview of the progress and benefits civil and economic freedom have introduced to humanity. He acknowledged the imperfection of democracy, while at the same time recognizing it as the only political system to have quickly generated a high level of social well-being.

From Saying to Doing

A number of speakers expressed the need for young people to step beyond theoretical discussion and take a more proactive approach to defend freedom.

“Students for Liberty must leap towards proactive organization, and towards becoming the sort of think tank that proposes liberal public policy,” said UFM professor Eduardo Fernandez. “As of right now, it is an organization with a lot of horizontal structure and a continent-wide network.” Fernandez also encouraged the movement to reach out to different cultures and media outlets.

López Murphy also spoke on the different ways to expand the group’s message. “I see that the liberty movement is very popular among young people, and I see them galvanized to act. What we are still missing is a discourse or narrative capable of appealing to the population in mass. We are currently much too focused in academia. We need a simpler version of our ideas that can be easily transmitted to other sectors of society.”

Students for Liberty member Ricardo Avelar insisted that activists must rebuke the current system in favor of policies that permit the harmonious development of people. “Questioning things is the thorn in the side of the politician, and that is exactly what we must do,” he told the PanAm Post.

Carlos Sabino, profesor de la UFM y columnista de PanAm Post, consideró que para abordar el problema de la pobreza es necesario un aumento en producción de riqueza.
Carlos Sabino, professor at UFM, argued that poverty can be reduced through a broad increase in the production of wealth. (PanAm Post)

Freedom as the Solution

The many different lectures and forums hosted during the conference presented liberty-based solutions to problems such as drug trafficking, mass migration, poverty, and urban development. Carlos Sabino, UFM professor and PanAm Post columnist, argued that rather than eradicating poverty, countries throughout Latin America should focus on increasing the production of wealth.

In order to do this, he called for a change in policy and incentives that would encourage the growth of entrepreneurship and employment.

Estudiantes y ponentes se trasladaron a la ciudad de Antigua y continuaron las discusiones en sus plazas y cafés (PanAm Post)
Students and speakers relocated to the city of Antigua where they continued the discussion of freedom along the city’s cobblestone streets. (PanAm Post)

Along these lines, Surse Pierpoint, general manager of the Colón Free Zone, Panama, and Zachary Caceres, executive director of the UFM Startup Cities Institute, proposed the development of decentralized policies that would favor entrepreneurship and enable people to take advantage of technology.

On Saturday, Students for Liberty presented the 2014 Manuel F. Ayau A Life for Liberty prize to former UFM dean Giancarlo Ibárgüen. The former dean graciously thanked the students for their recognition and congratulated them for the exponential growth of the organization that he has supported since it’s founding.

On Sunday, the participants and speakers traveled to the city of Antigua, where discussions on liberty continued from the cafes and plazas of the colonial city.

Translated by Peter Sacco.

Elisa Vásquez Elisa Vásquez

Elisa Vásquez is a Venezuelan journalist with experience covering social and community topics. Her specialty is human rights education and international solidarity. She reports from Panama City. Follow her on Twitter @elisavasquez88.