Interview with Valentina Morales from Grupo Joven in Argentina

Image Courtesy of Valentina Morales

Can you tell me a little bit about how Grupo Joven Fundación Libertad operates, how you are structured and who the people that are active in the organization are?

The Youth Group of Fundación Libertad – that is what Grupo Joven means in Spanish – is a group that is made up of university students and recent graduates who seek to spread the ideas of freedom among Latin Americans and contribute to the formation of future leaders and intellectuals in the region. Fundación Libertad, the think tank that we are a part of, is a very well-known institution here in Argentina whose main objective is the investigation of public policy issues directed in particular to the socio-economic and business sectors, and promoting the ideas of freedom. They work as a think tank, so it is important that on the things they try to investigate, they have data to present to the policy makers. That is the main objective. The activities of the Youth Group are focused in Rosario City, which is where we are based and where Fundación Libertad is based too. Due to the quarantine, we have switched to virtual meetings, which includes debates, courses, book presentations, interviews with different professionals, such as economists, politicians and so on, always with the main objective of spreading the idea of liberalism among the youth.

Do you play any role in domestic politics, for example by working with a political party or other partners?

I would say we are friends – because that is really the way we have developed our relationship – with two political parties, but we don’t work together. We try to make the differentiation that we, as part of a think tank, are not the same as a political party. We are not trying to get votes and we don’t officially support any political party, because our members in the Youth Group are part of different ones. Here in Argentina, we have a liberal party; it is a new party that was created three or four years ago, and we became friends with them. Some of them are really young people who participated in our activities. We also have a good relationship with the party that won the elections in 2015. Last year we had elections, and now the ones that are in government are more related to Perónism and Kirschnerism, so we had a better relationship with the ones that were in power before that. Some of them are liberals, some are not. This is something that is also a bit controversial in Argentina: some say that one group is not liberal because they want state involvement or intervention, but then they say that they are more liberal than the others. That can be a little bit complicated. The main idea that I want to transmit is that we are not a political party. We sometimes work with some of them, but as I said before, our members have different ideas. Of course, all of them are liberals, but they also have individual leanings.

Following up on that, how do you see the political climate in Argentina? Are there any challenges for liberal organizations, for example from society?

Nowadays we are a bit worried, because the last elections have been won by people who are officially supporting Maduro. Actually, yesterday[the interview was held in mid-July] there was an official message from the government that they are a little bit worried about what is happening in Venezuela. But before that, they have always supported the government. Che Guevara, for example, is an icon for them, and that is the kind of government that we have right now. It is a government that wants to participate a lot in the individuals’ lives and that tries to be very present in the economy. We are worried about the consequences that that will have. Fore example, nowadays we are in an endless quarantine. It is one of the largest quarantines in the world, which of course affects the economy a lot. We have the message from the government to stay at home, because of health, but they don’t think about the economy and how that might be affected. I think that the role different actors in society play, such as think tanks, our groups or political parties, is very important in order to form a good opposition, because at the moment we don’t have a strong opposition to these ideas. That is what some people in our country are trying to change.

What are the fundamental values you are trying to transmit, and how do you work to promote these? Both before the quarantine, and now, which is probably a bit different.

I would say that our general values in the Youth Group are respect, creativity, search for the truth, transcendence and of course action, because as a youth group we want to show that we don’t just talk about these ideas. In these times, we are working more towards responsibility, freedom and individual development. Those are the things that are more at risk in this period: our freedom and our individual development. Of course, freedom comes with responsibility and that is what we want to share.

Are there any other international organizations that you work with? What does the work on the international level look like? How important is that for you?

In the Youth Group, we don’t have a lot of partners internationally. Sometimes we have worked with political parties to coordinate a specific activity, but we have to work on that area a little bit more. We are still new in this and it is something where we can grow and I think we still have a lot to do there.

Image Courtesy of Valentina Morales

What do you think the Youth Group is good at? Why do you think that is?

I think that our group is very good at sharing the ideas of liberalism and we are able to reach young kids, because sometimes they are really young, just fourteen years old. What we have, that is really important, is that people with concerns about what liberalism is, write to us daily. Sometimes they have not heard about it, or even worse, they were taught that liberalism is a bad word. In my case, I hadn’t even heard about liberalism, and Hayek or von Mises or Adam Smith when I studied at school. So, you have both cases: some people haven’t heard about it and don’t know what it is and some others were told that it is bad. I think that our main job, and what we do best, is try to tell young people that this exists and that this is the way that countries are more free and can have more prosperity. That is the most important thing. This is fundamental, especially in a country like Argentina, because I would say all – and maybe that is a strong word – credibility in our institutions have been lost, or are at least damaged. There is discontent with politics in general, because the path that most of the politicians have chosen for decades is interventionism. In Argentina, we live in this constant ‘present state’ situation, and that is what we want to attack with ideas. What we want to transmit in the Youth Group is that we know the bigger the state, the smaller the individual will be. I think that our job is important in that regard.

I’ll come back to that in a moment. But first, how do you think you could still improve?

I think we have a lot of potential to expand to other cities. As I said before, our activities are just in Rosario. Nowadays, we are doing all our activities virtually. Before the pandemic, we had the idea of also holding events in Buenos Aires. Of course, this sadly had to be postponed, but we still have this intention. So, I think we still have plenty of space to grow.

I’ll now come back to the issue of loss of trust in institutions because of previous policies. When looking at the future, are you optimistic that you can change something, and that people are becoming more receptive to liberal ideas?

As a youth group coordinator, I would say yes, because I see these young people coming to learn these ideas and embracing them and telling their friends it is important and why it is important to have these values. I would say that I am optimistic but at the same time, I am concerned. It won’t be easy. We have a lot of work to do, not only my group, but different political parties, different political leaders, people who are on the media. Some liberals are doing an excellent job at the moment, but it won’t be easy. We have a lot of structural problems in many areas. I try to be optimistic, but it depends on the day. Sometimes you wake up feeling like this is lost, but I try to be optimistic and I generally am. I know that it is not an easy task.

What was your motivation to become a part of the liberal movement, especially considering that, as you mentioned, you did not even hear about it in school or growing up?

In my last year of high school, I was participating in something like Philosophy Olympics. It is where you write a paper, and then you compete with it. A former student from my school was helping me, because that is how my school used to organize this, and he told me that I might like this group that was just two blocks away from my school. He told me that maybe I could come after school and hear what they were talking about. He told me that they were holding debates, with papers that you have to read and prepare and then discuss with each other. I thought that sounded interesting. I always liked the activities that encourage critical spirit, where you are not given just one side or viewpoint about a topic, but where you discuss something. I went to Fundación Libertad, where the Youth Group was held, and I started participating. First just as a listener because I did not have much to say. Then I realized that I was getting to know a whole new world when it comes to the intellectual field and that blew my mind. When I read Hayek, for example, I thought it was something completely different from what I used to read and I found it really great. Then I was offered the opportunity to be one of the coordinators, that was about two years after I started participating. Of course, I accepted, because I wanted to become more involved, to put in more effort and to give back to the group what it had taught me. You are, of course, still continuing to learn, sometimes from really young kids who are coming for the first time. We learn from debates and I wanted to contribute my part in that.

What are projects you are working on for the next year? Again, in light of the quarantine, how have these plans changed, and how have you adapted?

This year, we were planning to organize events in Buenos Aires, which has been postponed until next year. What is important is that the demand exists. We are often consulted on social media, because Buenos Aires is the biggest city in Argentina, so many people ask us if we could also do something there. That is one thing. I think that the most important thing that we are working on is to organize activities in public universities. In these places, there is a large part of the library that is not talked about. That is not the case in the private ones. We have this system where the public ones are administered by the state. We want to give the battle of ideas in public universities, because we know that it is very important to do it there. We consider these ideas essential for a country to grow and for the individual to develop in freedom. It is essential for future professionals to get to know them. I would say that is one of the most important things and the debates that we also enjoy the most. There you find people who think really different from yourself and that is really important, for us to gain a more rich understanding of the history of ideas.

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