Mobilizing Youth for Democracy and Human Rights

This post is also available in: Español 

Panelist at the Event Mobilizing Youth for Democracy Young Americas Business Trust

In commemoration of Human Rights Day, the Inter-American Dialogue, together with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Embassy of Liechtenstein to the United States, spoke with Latin American youth leaders from Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, and Cuba, about civic and political participation amid democratic setbacks. 

In his opening remarks, the Ambassador of the Principality of Liechtenstein to the United States, Georg Sparber, highlighted the relevance of his country, current president of the Council of Europe, in promoting democracy and human rights. He highlighted the priority given to youth participation during its presidency and expressed his joy at extending those efforts to the region and the OAS. Sparber addressed the importance of young people being active decision-makers today, not only their responsibility for the future. 

Tamara Taraciuk Broner, director of Dialogue's Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program, highlighted that the most urgent threat to democracy in the region is no longer a military coup, but democratically elected leaders who, once in power, turn their backs on fundamental guarantees such as judicial independence and electoral integrity. Taraciuk Broner emphasized the inability of some leaders to address chronic human rights problems, such as poverty, inequality, and corruption. She pointed out the dangerous tendency of politicians to justify restrictive measures against rights to solve such problems, leading to rights violations and, ultimately, the exodus of people in search of safety and opportunity. She expressed the need to shift from a diagnostic approach to the democratic backsliding in the region toward seeking early warning signs to stop further democratic setbacks. Finally, she emphasized that youth is a key actor in this process, recognizing the active participation of young people in the region and their commitment to democracy.

Initiating the dialogue with Latin American youth leaders, Sebastián Flores, co-founder and director of the Comparlante Foundation in Ecuador, highlighted the growing political participation of young people in Latin America, describing it as viral and adapted to contemporary communications. He stressed the importance of listening to youth voices, but also the need to go beyond the search for visibility on social networks. Flores urged young people to find meeting points between generations, encourage mentoring and recognize the importance of listening to those who walked before. Likewise, he highlighted the importance of not dismissing existing formulas and proposals when introducing new ideas, emphasizing the need to listen to each other. He pointed out the need to understand the legislative and political decision-making processes, as well as anticipate the repercussions in the short-, medium-, and long-term. He advocated for conscious participation, recognizing that, while there are times for more visible measures, collective intelligence must guide actions. He emphasized the importance of being strategically intelligent in an era of support for artificial intelligence, adapting actions to the specific reality of each context. 

María del Mar Jaramillo, CEO and founder of Fundación Soy Oportunidad in Colombia, highlighted the importance of creating spaces for young people to showcase their efforts, proposing solutions in a practical and quick way. She noted the generational shift in problem solving and highlighted notable initiatives in Colombia. Jaramillo also shared her perspective as a lawyer and social entrepreneur, focusing on demonstrating practical results instead as opposed to political speech. She highlighted her decision to work for others as an example, observing a general fatigue among youth in the face of conventional practices. Jaramillo mentioned her work in Bogotá and how demonstrating results with specific projects has led her to work with the private sector and now also with the public sector. She emphasized the idea that demonstrating tangible benefits creates a multiplier effect, allowing for effective collaboration between different sectors. She expressed optimism for the future with regards to media accessibility and the media's ability to highlight concrete actions and generate change by example, not just speech.

Walter Corzo, executive director of Diálogos in El Salvador, highlighted investments in tools and skills for Guatemalan youth. He shared the unique youth mobilization in Central America, highlighting the case of Guatemala during the recent elections, as well as the crucial role of young people in supporting democracy. At the same time, he addressed the limited political participation of young people in Guatemala, a product of an electoral system designed in the 1980s that acts as a barrier. He noted that more than one and a half million young people of voting age were not registered to vote in the recent elections. He noted the lack of a national policies in addressing the needs of young people and explained that violence primarily affects young people in Central America. In turn, they often lack economic opportunities and pursue options in the United States. Corzo stressed the need to take advantage of opportunities to generate an institutional framework that resolves the immediate needs of young people, recognizing that a young person without resources cannot fully exercise their political rights.

Rosa María Payá, founder of Cuba Decide and the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, highlighted the importance of citizens determining their own destiny. She pointed out the different situations of young people in the region, who the main victims during peaceful demonstrations, with more than 200 young people murdered in Nicaragua and hundreds in political prison in Cuba. She expressed amazement at the bravery of young people who, without having experienced freedom, take to the streets in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to demand freedom. Payá shared her concern about the silence toward the Cuban dictatorship, considering it a key element in democratic instability in the region. During her remarks, Payá reported on the arrest warrant against Pedro Urruchurtu in Venezuela, part of María Corina Machado's team, underscored the seriousness of the situation, and requested international pronouncements to guarantee the security and freedom not only of Urruchurtu, but of all those politically persecuted in Venezuela. She addressed the reality of dictatorships in the region, pointing out the willingness of regimes like those of Maduro, Ortega, and the Castros to use violence against citizens. Furthermore, she questioned the lack of action by democracies in the Americas and advocated for international pressure, especially from the OAS and the Council of Europe, to stop aggression and allow democratic transitions. Payá stressed the need to force leaders in power to submit to the sovereign will of citizens through joint actions and the use of international tools.

During the Q&A section, the panelists addressed the perception of young people's participation in politics, highlighting that age does not automatically guarantee significant change. The panelists emphasized the importance of providing young people with the necessary tools, knowledge, and training to exercise their political rights effectively. In addition, the panel reflected upon the role of political parties, movements, and young leaders in decision-making and identified the need to learn, research, and understand the history and needs of each country. The emergence of governments with an anti-system discourse was also addressed, attributing them to fatigue and citizens' desires for change. 

Watch the event recording (in Spanish) here:

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