Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

POLITICS-LATIN AMERICA: Youths Air Views on Society

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Apr 8 1998 (IPS) - Latin American youth leaders, dispelling the notion that the youth of today had turned its back on politics, decided at a meeting last week the region was in desperate need of new actors, new ideas and new actions.

Some 140 leaders of youth wings of political parties and social organizations in Central America, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela attended a conference here, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Venezuelan Committee for the Reform of the State (COPRE).

Delegates were anxious to hear formulas on how to consolidate new leadership in their countries and respond to the complex needs of their societies, said Armando Vargas, 27, an UNDP official in Venezuela. COPRE commission member Heinz Soantag told the assembled youth leaders it was up to them to generate responses and become the vehicles for the creation of the new values that will rebuild democracy, in an era of globalization and post- modernity.

Aida Batista, 32, vice-president of the Panamanian political party Papa Egoro, said that what the new regional leadership has in common is the need to construct a new space in which politics takes on a dimension of service to the society in which it is inserted.

“All the realities that sustained the previous generations have changed, so our role is now to offer new answers to new situations and to societies in flux”, Batista. said. “The traditional model of the party is exhausted and we have to respond to people’s demands for a new political culture that is more participatory and more flexible, where its leaders are not just numbers, but true actors.”

According to Batista, the three-day conference agreed that, while parties continued to occupy an important place in political action and leadership, they were becoming obsolete as hierarchical structures, as they longer represented the society in which they functioned.

All the delegates “shared the same dream of a society that is more just, balanced and human, where things work and are governed by a democracy that is participatory, modern and ethical, one which integrates us into the world, but at the same time preserves our multi-ethnic identity as people”, explained Batista.

Batista and other women who participated in the meeting agreed on the need for a common identity in the attempt to become the new leaders: the double effort that they must make in order to participate in politics.

Being women, whether working within traditional parties or in new social movements, “presupposes a double or triple demand,” they said. “Men’s capacity is taken for granted; we have to prove ourselves all the time, and even then, we have to deal with visible and invisible obstacles in order to make it as leaders.”

Lourdes Salgado, 25, of the Arnulfista Party of Panama, Virginia Ceron, 28, of the Colombian Democratic Alliance M-19, Mercedes Umana, 27, of El Salvador’s former guerrilla Liberation Front, and Batista were among those who agreed that this is one of the unresolved issues of Latin American politics.

They criticized the fact that only 10 percent of the participants at the meeting were women and that the presentations – with the exception of one given by a woman – did not mention the question of gender equality as a social necessity and political participation.

Rene Aguiluz, 20, of the Salvadoran Christian Democratic Party, argued that in the private sphere, Latin American youth have an active consciousness of equality of rights and opportunities between men and women.

“But in politics, it is difficult to break the taboos that consider it a man’s thing, despite the fact that women have the same capability,” said Aguiluz, who is the secretary general for the youth section of his party.

Aguiluz also mentioned another point of consensus at the meeting: that anti-politics is only the expression of a lack of identification with the options for participation in organizations that represent the necessary change in the regions’ politics.

He said that, besides participation, youths are demanding a ethical dimension as social and political actors, which he attributed to a “new spirituality” that responds to de- humanization, corruption and widespread materialism in which “success is measured in possessions.”

For Aguiluz, people need values. In Europe, for example, materialism is yielding to a more humanistic way of thinking. “That is what we want,” he said.

Ceron stressed the importantance of community-based work, both in urban and rural areas, as a crucial step for leadership, in order to acquire an understanding of the complex and serious reality in which they will work.

Representatives of former guerrilla groups in Colombia, who recently were incorporated into legal political activity, argued that armed struggle had ceased to be a political and ideological project in the region – including Colombia – and has “degenerated into a way a life, based on crime.”

Participants agreed that in the region “there is a fervor for change,” and that some of these changes are already taking place, led by non-governmental organizations and political and social forces. They also maintained that those changes should take place from within democracy, in order to regenerate democracy.

Umana, from El Salvador, cautioned that political stability in Latin America could come at the cost of social and economic exclusion, with increasing masses of population left out of government projects. “As long as that exclusion exists, people will rebel, and they will do so with violence if they do not find a response within the system,” she said.

Mexican Esteban Zamora, 26, leader of the youth branch of the rightist National Action Party (PAN), said that the emerging leadership was aware that “in Latin America there are situations that the people can no longer bear.”

The only counterpart for that was real change through participation, political renewal and social equality, with the economy as the main vehicle and not just as a dysfunctional end in itself, he added.

Venezuelan Ronald Suarez, 21, who works in the regional section of the International Labor Organization (ILO), said that delegates to the conference were conscious that Latin America was experiencing a “critical dilemma” which required new actors, new ideas and new actions.

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