EspañolEsLibertad, the Latin-American branch of Students for Liberty, the world’s largest organization of young libertarians, is celebrating its third anniversary with a new leadership. On July 17, 24-year-old Milica Pandžić from Ecuador became the new president of the student-led network that boasts 150 leaders in 16 countries.
In an interview with the PanAm Post, Pandžić discussed the upcoming challenges for EsLibertad, the importance of empowering student leaders to create freer and more prosperous societies in Latin America, a region where liberty is under the constant threat of authoritarian governments.
How does it feel to be the first woman president of EsLibertad? What are your goals?
I’m excited for the challenge. From what I’ve read, many people think the libertarian movement is mainly composed of men, but EsLibertad has offered plenty of space for many young women to empower themselves and become agents of change for freedom.
Not only am I the first female president of the organization, the new Executive Board is composed of 14 members, six of which are women. And this isn’t based on a quota, because libertarians don’t believe in them, but rather the result of an effort to stand out as international leaders.
The main goal during my term will be to focus efforts on reaching more students across Latin America. For instance, after holding an annual conference in previous years, we have decided to carry out six regional conferences in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru, along with the two conferences we already held in 2015 in Bolivia and Ecuador.
This has helped us to generate a larger and better impact on the Latin-American youth who are interested in building freer, more prosperous societies.
What are the major challenges that EsLibertad is facing? Do you feel threatened by the increasingly repressive socialist governments in the region?
The network is comprised of roughly 150 members in 16 countries. One of the largest challenges this year is to keep the work well organized, so we can make the most of the current exponential growth. This includes many tasks: from providing close support and follow-up with each EsLibertad leader, to securing the necessary resources to carry out group activities.
There are latent risks. We’ve seen leaders forced to leave their countries after being pressured and threatened; some have lost their job due to political pressures. Hackers have targeted our digital platforms. And, although I have no evidence, our leaders could well be under illegal surveillance.
There is evidence that Latin-American governments are spying on their citizens. There are no exceptions, especially for people like us, who promote ideas that make governments uncomfortable.
How does EsLibertad secure funding?
The EsLibertad network relies on donations from individuals interested in promoting freedom. Our resources are fully allocated to fund the activities, conferences, and training that students receive.
Bureaucracy and import barriers in several countries hinder our ability to send reference material and resources to our leaders, so we are going to focus as much as possible on securing local funding. This will also allow each group greater autonomy to carry out its activities.
At EsLibertad, we are delighted to receive any contribution to the cause of liberty, whether it be time, ideas, or cash. It’s just a matter of getting in touch with the leaders.
Libertarian ideas are not the most popular in Latin America. How is EsLibertad making a difference in the region?
EsLibertad has embraced the challenge of humanizing the language of liberty, so we can reach the widest possible audience and break down the common misconceptions against libertarians. We want to turn liberty into a popular idea, especially in repressive environments.
We are educated in the philosophy of liberty, but we are not scholars. Our main goal is to search for better ways to disseminate our ideas to diverse groups, especially young people. If the goal is to generate social change, it’s useless to know we have the right ideas if large segments of society do not support them.
EsLibertad is doing what no other libertarian organization has ever done. We are students that seek to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of liberty leaders in Latin America.
It has put a spotlight on youth who want to start a change here and now. We are providing a support network that has encouraged hundreds of young people to work together for freedom, despite distance and borders.
How can EsLibertad have a greater impact on public policies and actual results in Latin America?
Bringing more young people into the debate and empowering them to defend and advance liberty now, as students, no matter what their role in society might be in the future. If we create a society which demands freedom, politicians who want to win elections will have no choice but to reconsider their public policies.
This is a long-term model. We know it will take time, but we also know that this is the only way to achieve a real, long-lasting social change. It’s interesting to see, however, the impact that we are currently having in public debate.
For instance, some weeks ago, [Ecuadorian] President Rafael Correa spoke during his weekly TV show about libertarians and their “ultra-right” ideas. Besides demonstrating that his understanding of political ideologies is quite limited, it also shows us that our ideas are sparking debate.
This is why the president needs his state apparatus to contradict these ideas that no doubt make any repressive government uncomfortable.
Latin Americans are living in a time when governments are undermining individual rights, and we are the young people who are standing up against this abuse. This is the bravest generation of young people in the history of Latin America, and I would venture to say that — thanks to technology — it is the best-organized generation too.
We’re not waiting to become “the future” of our countries; we’re the ones who can also change the present, and we’re showing it.