By Andre Freo
EspañolOctober 17, 2015 was a day unlike the rest for Estudantes Pela Liberdade (EPL), the Brazil branch of Students for Liberty. The plan was to bring together hundreds of young Brazilian libertarian leaders in the Rebouças Convention Center in São Paulo for the organization’s National Conference.
The organizers arrived early on Saturday morning to welcome more than 400 people into the auditorium for the two-day event’s first lectures.
Professor José Luis Cordeiro, adviser at Singularity University, took the stage to talk about the future and kickstarted what would be an unforgettable event. By covering topics such as immortality and telepathy, José Luis caught the public’s attention by delivering what the organizers had promised: the conference would not just be about the philosophy of freedom, but a multidisciplinary venue for culture, science, and innovation.
Humor is one of the most effective tools to get your message across. That’s why EPL invited comedians Felipe Hamachi and Arthur Born Portella. The former offered a stand-up show and the latter delivered an impersonation of conservative Congressman Jair Bolsonaro.
The first debate, “Public versus Private Science,” featured Rehen Stevens and David Schlesinger, who explained how regulations on scientific research is stifling entrepreneurship in Brazil.
Then, Brazilian journalist Leandro Narloch and Portuguese author Joao Pereira Coutinho debated whether or not European heritage is the root cause of Brazil’s woes. The answer was simple: we always want to find another culprit for our own problems. It’s time for Brazil to admit its flaws, understand that Portugal is no longer the metropolis, and change its self-imposed colonial mentality.
The first day’s closing keynote address came with a storm of applause from start to finish. Economist and libertarian theorist David Friedman took the stage around 4:30 p.m. to offer an insightful and wide-ranging talk about environmentalism. A standing ovation ensued, both for David and the rest of the conference’s participants.
Sunday: Guns, Labor Rights, Free Speech
The final day began with a subject known to those who already hold the ideals of freedom. Bene Barbosa, head of the Viva Brazil Movement, an NGO that defends Brazilians’ right to posses firearms, expounded on mandatory citizen disarmament, using facts to dispel all the fallacies we hear in the media.
The panel continued with lawyer Ricardo Santos Gomes, who tackled labor rights and demonstrated how Brazil’s “Fight for $15” campaign, which aims to increase wages for low-paying jobs, will end up hurting the poorest.
Next, there ensued a recurring question: does politics work? Local congressman Marcel Van Hattem and former mock-candidate Paulo Batista demonstrated that aversion to politics is due to recurring corruption scandals, populism, and traditional parties’ disconnect with the population. They argued that it is possible to spread the ideas of liberty in politics; all it takes is courage.
Every organization that operates under a meritocracy should award those who most contributed to its cause. Students for Liberty is no exception, and on Sunday afternoon, it awarded three prizes named after Brazilian liberals: José Osvaldo de Meira Penna, Roberto Campos, and Joaquim Nabuco.
EPL awards the first prize to any person or organization that advances the quest for freedom in Brazil. In 2015, Beate Forbriger received the award for the work that the Friedrich Naumann Institute has done in Brazil and its international influence on the freedom movement.
Clube Farroupilha won the Roberto Campos Award, which is given to the best group linked to the Estudantes Pela Liberdade network, and Victor Pegoraro, state coordinator for São Paulo, received the Joaquim Nabuco award as Student of the Year.
Additionally, for the first time in an EPL conference, there was a live competition called Dragons of Libertarianism. Based on the popular TV show Shark Tank, the contest consisted of three different pitches made to the audience in favor of a particular project. Leadership in Schools, André Freo‘s pitch, emerged victorious and took home the R$5,000 prize to carry out the project.
A surprise event wrapped up the conference: star comedians Danilo Gentili and Criss Paiva turned what should have been a debate on freedom of speech and political correctness into a great conversation with the audience. For over an hour, both answered questions, joked, and told the public the truth behind the Brazilian media.
As much as Brazilian liberals are at a disadvantage, we are growing and gaining ground where the statist mentality used to dominate unopposed. It’s not time to give up, quite the contrary.
Four years have passed since Students for Liberty Brazil’s first National Conference in Belo Horizonte. At our first conference, we had only 100 attendees, whereas our latest event gathered 600 people over the course of the two-day conference. We also passed from 30 coordinators to almost 700 in four years.
Libertarianism is making big strides in Brazil and EPL is playing its part.
André Freo is the state and events coordinator in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, with Estudantes Pela Liberdade. Follow @andfreo.