June 28, 2019 Print

The problem of populism, the future of Venezuela, and the need to educate larger audiences about the benefits of liberty were key themes at Atlas Network’s Latin America Liberty Forum 2019, which was held June 27–28 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

More than 280 think tank professionals from 23 countries across the region came together for an enthusiastic and energetic event full of engaging speakers, interactive workshops, competitions and awards, and fantastic camaraderie.

“When we meet each other at events like this, we realize we are not alone,” said Mónika Melo Guerrero of Instituto OMG, one of the two co-hosts of the conference. Ernesto Selman of Centro Regional de Estrategias Económicas Sostenibles (CREES), the other co-host, added, “The philosophy of liberty means we can create a society that is truly just. This will give a better quality of life for all of us.” 

Attendees were also welcomed by Dr. Roberto Salinas León, director of Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, who discussed the importance of this event for the liberty movement throughout Latin America. 


The conference opened with a discussion on the fate of Venezuela, with María Corina Machado (a former member of the Venezuelan Parliament) video conferencing in because she has been forbidden to leave the country.

María Corina Machado (a former member of the Venezuelan Parliament), Sary Levy-Carciente (of Academia Nacional de Ciencias Económicas, Venezuela), and María Teresa Romero, who is the current ambassador to Guatemala in the Guaidó administration, discussed with Rocío Guijarro (of CEDICE Libertad) the road ahead in light of Venezuela’s continuing struggles under the weight of socialist policies. The panel agreed that the way to a freer future is difficult and will require continuing efforts to educate citizens about how the country’s fortunes declined under years of oppressive socialist policies and official corruption. “We have worked for the freedom of Venezuela for 35 years and we will not stop showing the barbarity that is socialism,” explained Guijarro. 

A particularly uplifting moment of the conference occurred Thursday evening when Guijarro was honored for her decades of work advancing freedom in Venezuela. “I would like to express my thanks, and I want my country to be free and to regain its prosperity,” she exclaimed as the audience gave her a standing ovation.


Rocío Guijarro of CEDICE Libertad was honored at Latin America Liberty Forum 2019 for her decades of courageous leadership advocating for a free and open Venezuela.

In general meetings, breakout sessions, and hallway conversations, speakers took on a wide variety of topics, including populism, public security and a free society, classical liberalism and the Overton window, free trade, and the ways in which the liberty movement is changing--and how they are responding.


The keynote luncheon of the first day of the conference featured a conversation on the importance of storytelling and compelling messaging liberal think tanks must use to counter the efficacy of populist movements throughout Latin America.

During the keynote lunch, Axel Kaiser (Fundación para el Progreso, Chile) moderated a conversation between Pancho Búrquez (Ola Libertad, Mexico), Dr. Frederic J. Fransen (Certell, Inc., United States), and Dr. Tom Palmer (Atlas Network Executive Vice President for International Programs and George M. Yeager Chair for Advancing Liberty) about the communication and storytelling skills needed to advance freedom in the region.

“Morality needs a place in order to grow,” explained Dr. Palmer. “We need to engage people with the meaning of freedom.” 


Dr. Roberto Salinas León speaks during a panel on defending free trade in the Americas.

Atlas Network’s Latin American partners work tirelessly to advance the cause of freedom in their home countries and throughout the region, and the Regional Liberty Forums are an opportunity to celebrate their successes. Estudiantes por la Libertad (Students for Liberty) won the 2019 Award for Student Outreach in Latin America for conducting the first Latin America LibertyCon in Mexico, and Fundación Eléutera won the 2019 Latin America Liberty Award for their tireless efforts to inculcate the rule of law through small business regulatory reform in Honduras. 

Guillermo Peña Panting, Fundación Eléutera’s chairman of the board of directors, had a special message to all attendees about what can further and hinder their work: “The biggest threat to all of us who are here is our egos. Egos destroy your work.”


Guillermo Peña Panting, Fundación Eléutera’s chairman of the board of directors, accepted the 2019 Latin America Liberty Award.

The dinner keynote address was given by Manuel Hinds (Former Minister of Finance of El Salvador). Hinds discussed the importance of conveying the principals of liberty in moral terms that show their value in all aspects of society.


Former Minister of Finance of El Salvador, Manuel Hinds, delivered the keynote address at the Latin America Liberty Awards Dinner.

“We all speak a lot about the advantages of classical liberalism but we must remember that classical liberalism is not about economics, he explained: “It’s about human dignity!”


An unforgettable performance of a traditional native dance by Ballet Folkórico Nacional a cargo de Eudy was a highlight of the awards dinner. 

An unforgettable performance of a traditional native dance by Ballet Folkórico Nacional a cargo de Eudy was a highlight of the Thursday night gala. 

The second day of the conference consisted of additional breakout sessions. Atlas Network President Matt Warner and filmmaker Charlie Fritschner hosted a screening of the videos in Atlas Network’s Doing Development Differently project, which tells the stories of people whose lives improve when Atlas Network partners get barriers to prosperity out of their way. Warner and Fritschner both explained that compelling storytelling is one of the best ways to successfully advocate for change that advances liberty, regardless of your country or culture. José Beteta of Asociación de Contribuyentes del Perú and Agustín Etchebarne of Libertad y Progreso, both of whom are featured in the video series, shared stories of how their work is changing lives. 


Attendees of the Doing Development Differently breakout session view a short film about Juana Manso elementary school in Argentina and how Libertad y Progreso helped make it possible for students to have access to computers.

“The exciting thing about storytelling is to take the ideas we are passionate about and to bring them to a wider audience by evoking emotion,” noted Fritschner. “People connect with stories of real people. It is not an abstract public policy anymore—it affects real people."


Emma García-Prieto delivers her winning pitch in the 2019 Latin America Think Tank Shark Tank competition.

The conference formally concluded with the 2019 Latin America Think Tank Shark Tank competition, a bruising battle that carries a $10,000 prize. José Beteta of Asociación de Contribuyentes del Perú, Mercedes Colombres of Libertad y Progreso in Argentina, and Emma García-Prieto of FUSADES in El Salvador pitched projects for advancing liberty in their respective countries to a panel of questioning judges. García-Prieto won the competition for her proposal to create La Libertad va al Cine (Freedom Goes to the Movies), a five-day film festival that will showcase liberty-oriented films.

“We want to communicate our principles in a way that Salvadorans can see when their freedoms are being violated,” García-Prieto explained during her pitch.

Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips closed the conference with a brief reflection on the forum: “It’s always special to be able to come to events like this, but this time has been particularly incredible,” Lips said. “We have an opportunity to build new consensus around the principles of tolerance—the principles of liberty.”

Latin America Liberty Forum 2019 has been made possible by the generosity of many donors, including the John Templeton Foundation, Smith Family Foundation, Freda Utley Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Luis Henrique Ball, Rainbow@Atlas, and the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. 


Latin America Liberty Forum 2020 will be held June 11-12 in Mexico City with local co-host México Evalúa.

Latin America Liberty Forum 2020 will be held June 11-12 in Mexico City with local co-host México Evalúa.

Photos from the event are available here.