EspañolGloria Álvarez — the Guatemalan political scientist whose speech against populism has gone viral, inspiring almost a million people across social networks — visited Argentina for the first time following a trip to Uruguay. After interviews with various national media, she spoke on the theme of “The Republic versus Populism,” and met with outspoken journalist Jorge Lanata and Luis Miguel Etchevehere, president of the Argentinean Rural Society.
Álvarez, a graduate of Guatemala’s Francisco Marroquín University, spoke on Monday before more than 300 avid listeners in the auditorium of the Banco Ciudad Foundation. It was the third and most packed-out talk that the young Guatemalan had given since she came to the country on November 27, having spoken previously at the both San Andrés and CEMA University.
“Populism is fueled by corruption, and the artificial division of citizens into the people and those who are against them,” said Álvarez during her speech. She highlighted the words of Argentinean journalist Mariano Grondona: “populism loves the poor so much, it multiplies them.”
She insisted that populism is born out of the manipulation of the people, the absence of a division of powers, and a lack of impartial institutions, all contrary to what’s demanded by a constitutional republic.
For Álvarez, a republic should “promote dialogue and exchange of ideas, the balance of powers, meritocracy, citizen empowerment and the defense of liberty and individual property.”
“Populism is based on educating people to feel like victims,” she added.
“It convinces them that they’re powerless, it lowers their self-esteem, pushing people to avoid taking risks and to see the state like a father, and as a gold mine. This is how populism secures power in Latin America.”
She criticized the use of the term “the people,” arguing for the impossibility of defining who is grouped under the collective term.
“Who is ‘the people?’ Does ‘the people’ think? Does ‘the people’ understand? Does ‘the people’ choose? Can I go and knock on the front door of ‘the people?’ Christina Kirchner speaks so much about you, and Mujica, and Maduro,” she said ironically, referring to the socialist presidents of Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela respectively.
To illustrate her theme of a country where free debates can be held, and ideas are exchanged “without exchanging bullets,” she drew an analogy with football.
“The government is a referee, and the people are on the pitch exercising their fundamental rights. Whenever someone commits a foul against someone else’s rights, the government arbitrates between them. With populism, in contrast, the government wants to be referee, defender, forward, and owner of the stadium,” she explained.
In conversation with the PanAm Post, Álvarez emphasized the importance of bringing the classical liberal message “down to earth,” replacing academic formulations with simpler language which can be understood by the average person on the street.
Victoria Tartaglia, a Banco Ciudad conference attendee, agreed that it was vital to communicate ideas about liberty in an easily-understandable way. “What’s revolutionary about Gloria Álvarez is that she manages to convey the concept easily and get the public on board, with words that have positive connotations and are widely-understood in society as a whole.”
Álvarez came to Argentina under the auspices of various libertarian organizations: Freedom Network, Communicate Liberty, Freedom and Progress Foundation, and the Freedom Foundation of Rosario.
The Populist’s Handbook
“The populist politician first seeks to polarize society and engender hate,” said Álvarez, “in order to later attempt to transform parliamentary institutions into another arm of the executive power. After this, they’ll try to corrupt and manipulate the judiciary.”
“If unchecked, populists will attempt to reform the constitution to keep themselves in power, limiting private property and the freedom of the press,” she said, adding wryly that “any similarity” with the contemporary situation in Argentina was “pure coincidence.”
— Alan Schamber (@AlanSchamber) December 1, 2014
All Spain’s Fault?
Álvarez, project director of Guatemala’s National Civic Movement (MCN), rejected the thesis that all of Latin America’s woes — from the lack of human-rights safeguards to the absence of the free market — could be blamed on the former colonial power.
“Spain can’t give you what it never had,” she said. “Spain failed to bring capitalism to America, because it didn’t have it at the moment of conquest, as [Spanish liberal philosopher José] Ortega y Gasset tells us. But it suits many to blame Spain for the problems we have here. And when Spain was no longer around, they blamed the United States, or the aristocracy.”
However, she agreed that vestiges of imperial-era thought and organization still needed to be shaken off by Latin-American leaders and citizens, pointing a history of economic mercantilism, a privileged governmental elite, and a politicized legal regime, all contrary to laissez-faire principles of government.
“As [Peruvian writer Álvaro] Vargas Llosa says, we were led to believe that the independence struggle created genuine republics. But the specter of colonialism remains alive in Latin America, that we’ve inherited a statist society, with the same rules and beliefs of the colonial period,” Álvarez argued.
A Thorn in Kirchner’s Side
Before returning to Guatemala, Álvarez joined Argentinean journalist Jorge Lanata, host of YouTube news program Periodismo para Todos (Journalism for All) a few hours before his final broadcast of the year, to discuss populism, corruption, and compare their experiences in Argentina and Guatemala.
Finally, she met with Luis Miguel Etchevehere, president of the Argentinean Rural Society, an opposition group which stands against President Cristina Kirchner. He described to her the situation of agribusiness in Argentina, and the high taxes placed on exports — almost 30 percent of total profits in the case of soya. Etchevehere warned against the dangers of a government exercising control over private property “to the point where they force you to produce at a loss.”