May 28, 2020 Print

El movimiento liberal en América Latina—the Latin America liberty movement—came together at Latin America Liberty Forum 2020 Online, Atlas Network’s first online regional forum held entirely in Spanish, to discuss the need for deregulation, transparency, and freedom as the best antidote to authoritarian rule.

Atlas Network’s Rómulo López welcomed more than 100 attendees from among Atlas Network’s partner organizations in 17 Spanish-speaking countries, inviting them to engage and exchange during two days of seminars and discussions. López introduced Dr. Roberto Salinas León, the director of Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, who launched into a discussion of a post-COVID-19 future and the implications that economic recovery will have on liberty in Latin America, particularly given the challenge of authoritarian governments in the region. Salinas referenced This Time Is Different, the 2009 book by newly-appointed World Bank chief economist Carmen Reinhart, pointing out that society tends to learn very little from past disasters.

Salinas’ thoughts on the future of freedom led into a discussion with three Latin American leaders in the liberty movement who are dealing with very different crisis in their home countries. Ignacio Munyo of Uruguay’s Centro de Economía, Sociedad y Empresa spoke of how liberalization reforms in progress have halted because of the challenges in dealing with the pandemic. With much of the country at a standstill, Munyo sees renewed opportunities to modify regulations that would encourage job creation and develop new free trade agreements, since he believes that Uruguayans are ready and able to get the economy moving again.

From Ecuador, Gabriela Calderón de Burgos of ElCato.org offered a sober assessment of the heightened fear of risk that has caused the country to renew its faith in government solutions—despite the obvious failures of the country’s centralized health care system. Calderón sees enormous opportunity for the private sector to step up and show how the market can provide sustainable health care solutions when government does not, particularly if regulations that obstruct private sector success are removed.

One of the largest beneficiaries of technological progress has been the healthcare sector, but as Manuel Molano of the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad in Mexico pointed out, good healthcare cannot succeed in a struggling economy—which is part of the current problems countries across Latin America are facing. Molano was adamant that the success of economic liberalization and open markets can be the death knell of the authoritarian caudillos whose failures have led to poverty across the region, and that now is the time to denounce the enemies of liberty who are standing in the way of true recovery.   

In response to the changing needs of our partner network during the COVID-19 crisis, Atlas Network’s “Powerful Pivots” session highlights how civil society organizations are addressing local needs in a time of uncertainty and upheaval. Three Atlas Network partners—Fundación Eléutera in Honduras, México Evalúa in Mexico, and Fundación Libertad in Argentina—made short presentations on their projects to address sudden challenges and opportunities caused by the pandemic. At Eléutera, Guillermo Peña and his team have developed a three-pronged policy campaign that focuses on reducing regulatory barriers for small businesses, introducing e-government options to help people manage bureaucracy, and streamlining the healthcare sector. Fernanda Ballesteros and México Evalúa are working on ways to streamline excessive healthcare and business regulations that would interfere with Mexico’s economic recovery, using social media to spur outreach to a large national audience. At Fundación Libertad in Argentina, Alejandro Bongiovani spoke of the organization’s new COVID-19 tracker, which will collect general economic data as well as healthcare data that will be used to develop the HEAL Index (Health, Economy and Liberty), ranking provinces in Argentina to help lay a foundation for recovery.

In the day’s third and final session, Peruvian-Spanish author Álvaro Vargas Llosa spoke with Salinas in a wide-ranging conversation about the ways in which governments around the world have responded to the pandemic, noting that the authoritarian tendencies of many governments have complicated the development of workable solutions. Vargas Llosa celebrated the efforts of global leaders who have refrained from attacking civil and economic liberties, singling out Sweden in particular, and was positive about the role the freedom movement and freedom-oriented ideas will have as countries come out of isolation.

A major announcement about the Instituto Cervantes’ Mario Vargas Llosa Chair was made by Fundación Internacional para la Libertad’s president Gerardo Bongiovanni. Effective immediately, the chair will move to Fundación Internacional para la Libertad and will focus on expanding the ideas of liberty more in the realms of literature, culture and other fields outside of economics. An announcement of the chair’s next scholar will be made at a later date.

In her closing remarks, México Evalúa’s Edna Jaime made a strong case for the importance of think tanks in shaping policy discussions, especially as policymakers cope with questions related to COVID-19. Jaime believes that evidence-based policymaking will be key to addressing the challenges of economic recovery, and that civil liberties and transparency will be increasingly important both in Mexico and around the world. 

Salinas also announced that The Freedom Movement: Its Past, Present, and Future, a monograph authored by Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips that examines the evolution of global institutions that have developed to advance the classical liberal principles of individual liberty and free markets, has been translated into Spanish by Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America in conjunction with the Fundación para el Progreso in Chile. El movimiento por la libertad: su pasado, presente y futuro is available for download here.

Day 2 of Latin America Liberty Forum Online kicks off on Thursday, May 28.