May 29, 2020 Print

On the second and final day of the 2020 Latin America Liberty Forum Online, the conversation focused on communicating the benefits of liberalism to audiences who are frustrated with the status quo and hungry for prosperity and freedom. And as economies across Latin America begin to dig themselves out of the chaos caused by the pandemic, the ideas of a free society—which have a long and successful history of fostering democracy in the region—will be the best means of developing and sustaining lasting peace throughout Latin America. 

No discussion of illiberalism in Latin America is complete without a close examination of conditions in Venezuela, which sinks deeper into poverty and chaos on a daily basis—and yet courageous advocates of freedom continue to raise their voices against the socialist dictatorship. Maria Corina Machado, a former member of the Venezuelan national assembly and 2012 presidential candidate, kicked off a full schedule of speakers with an update on the current state of corruption and her hopes for Venezuela’s return to prosperity. Despite the outpouring of anti-capitalist propaganda coming from the government, Machado sees evidence that the private sector continues to grow. As Venezuelans realize that the source of the country’s catastrophic problems is because of the government’s failures, Machado also believes that there is real opportunity to strengthen liberal institutions nationwide. 

Following Machado’s remarks, Atlas Network’s Rómulo López led a panel discussion of liberalism in the face of uncertainty, noting that despotism rises in times when people are desperate to believe in the better future promised by their leaders. Drawing from his new book, La Neoinquisición: Persecución, censura y decadencia cultural en el siglo XXI, Axel Kaiser of Fundación para el Progreso in Chile talked about misinformation as a tool to create a prevailing narrative and shape cultural attitudes. Ricardo Gomes of Brazilian think tank Red Liberal de América Latina pointed out that the #neverneeded campaign, launched by Competitive Enterprise Institute to highlight regulatory mandates that have impeded economic recovery, is proving prescient throughout Brazil, where healthcare supplies like ventilators and respirators are in short supply. Finally, Gonzalo Schwarz of Archbridge Institute spoke of the importance of reducing regulation and bureaucracy, citing the work of México Evalúa in their recent campaigns to change public opinion. 

In the day’s second plenary session, Atlas Network’s Matt Warner led a panel on effective ways to communicate lasting solutions to poverty in a post-pandemic world, featuring José Beteta of Asociación de Contribuyentes del Peru, Mónika Melo Guerrero of Instituto OMG in Dominican Republic, and Agustín Etchebarne of Argentina’s Fundación Libertad y Progreso. The panelists share a goal of finding ways to make liberal ideas popular and accessible so that everyone can easily understand how freedom has an impact on everyday living, and have used a variety of digital tools, including videos, online calculators, and social media to reach out to growing audiences. Beteta cited the problems of growing executive power in Peru as an opportunity for ACP to connect with legislators. Etchebarne pointed to the short fable videos produced by Libertad y Progreso, which illustrate timeless stories with simple graphics and easy-to-understand narratives, as a surprisingly effective outreach mechanism. 

Two concurrent sessions gave attendees options for deep dives into questions about responding to challenges in times of crisis and building narratives that shape cultural attitudes about liberty. Dr. Gabriel Calzada of Guatemala’s Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Ricardo Neumann  of Chile’s Fundación para el Progreso, Chile, José Torra of Mexico’s Caminos de la Libertad, and Laided Salazar of Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad in Spain focused on projects that take liberalism out of academia and into the hearts and minds of storytellers, game developers, and superheroes. In the second session, “Liberal Democracy in Crisis,” Atlas Network’s Antonella Marty focused on rebuilding the rule of law throughout Latin America, as panelists Rocío Marina Guijarro of CEDICE Libertad in Venezuela, Félix Maradiaga of Nicaragua’s Fundación Libertad, and Bolivian activist Jhanisse Vaca Daza of Human Rights Foundation delineated the problems their countries face as authoritarian governments have undermined community, transparency, and prosperity. 

As the conference came to a close, Dr. Juan José Daboub spoke of the need to look ahead with both practicality and optimism as we look for workable solutions to the complex problems created by the pandemic and use our wealth of knowledge to adapt to change in smart and thoughtful ways. Speaking from El Salvador, Dr. Daboub discussed the historical roots of Latin American liberalism and noted that opportunity now before advocates of freedom is to replicate good ideas that lead to more liberal societies—and that with the support of institutions like Atlas Network, a freer, more prosperous Latin America can be achieved. 

Following Dr. Daboub’s remarks, the winner of the 2020 Latin America Liberty Award was announced. Costa Rican think tank IDEAS Labs won for their #TicosConCorona” initiative, which has successfully slashed luxury pensions in the Central American nation. México Evalúa and Instituto de Estudios Empresariais in Brazil were also recognized for their work. The Latin America Liberty Award celebrates think tanks throughout the region whose work most successfully encourages prosperity and human flourishing. Atlas Network’s Regional Liberty Awards are made possible by the generous support of the Templeton Religion Trust, which sponsors the Templeton Freedom Award prize program and other Atlas Network programming.

Inspired by Michael Reid’s “Bello: The Americas” April 16, 2020 column, “The light that flickers,” in The Economist, a bonus interactive “open conversation” was held to encourage further discussion on the fragility of liberal thought in Latin America. The conversation kicked off with Nicolás Ibáñez, President of the Board of Fundación para el Progreso, making the case that despite the optimistic tone of the conference, there is still a great deal of work to be done to make free-market ideas more accessible to general audiences throughout Latin America. Luis E. Loria from IDEAS Labs in Costa Rica presented an outline for a new project known as RISK Unit, a platform that uses a roadmap of uncertainties—such as totalitarian government and the surveillance state—to craft actionable responses. Armando Regil of Lead4 talked about a new leadership initiative devoted to transforming perceptions of liberty throughout the region, using emotional narratives to engage new audiences. Finally, the conference closed out with warm thanks and encouraging words from Roberto Salinas León, director of Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America.

More than 100 attendees participated in conference sessions during Day 2. Information about grant opportunities for allied think tanks are available at https://www.atlasnetwork.org/grants-awards/grants.