Five former Latin American heads of state assessed the quality and development of democracy in Latin America and led discussions on civic education and youth engagement at a Global Peace Leadership Conference in Brasília, Brazil on November 12-13, 2015.
The former heads of state—Vinicio Cerezo (Guatemala), Carlos Mesa and Jaime Paz Zamora (Bolivia), Nicolás Ardito (Panama) and Luis Alberto Lacalle (Uruguay) —joined Brazilian government and civil society leaders on the conference theme “Brazil: Towards National Transformation: Development and Integrity through Moral and Innovative Leadership.”
The conference was hosted at the University of Brasilia (UnB) and Brazil’s Federal Congress and with the support of the Ouvidoria Parlamentar and participation of the Commission of External Affairs, Education and Human Rights.
Tackling the challenging issue of corruption in government, former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa (2003-2005) said “there is no credible republican process if there is a lack of separation of powers [among branches of government] and a generalization of corruption. Politicians don’t fall from Mars,” he added. “Corrupt politicians are a product and reflection of our societies. In order to change, blaming them is not enough.” He urged citizens to “understand that nobody is outside politics” and the future of politics is “everybody’s task.”
Speakers also advocated an expansion of dialogue with young people in response to a crisis of values in the educational system in Latin American countries. Brazilian Congressman Nelson Marquezelli said rightist and leftist democratic regimes worry a lot about ideology, forgetting character education. “But without proper human education, it is difficult to have a good politician.”
Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora (1989-1993) added some perspective on advances made in the region, saying young people “should feel privileged for living in this time, for the conflict [over political values] was settled in favor of democracy instead of militarism.” He noted the progress in Bolivian education, health and housing, which he attributed to frank and constructive dialogue among the country’s diverse political strands.
Former Guatemalan President Vinicio Cerezo (1986-1991) urged the conference to reflect on the civic education needed in Latin America. “We have to rebuild the American [continental] dream, but we don’t know how to define it,” Cerezo said, adding that it was necessary to rethink national goals through responsibilities and duties such as taxes, military service, and participation in the work force.
In a join session hosted by the Commission of External Affairs, Human Rights and Education, Brazilian Congressman and Chamber Education Commission President Saraiva Felipe said the exchanges relating to education during the seminar would be useful for future debates in the Chamber. Prominent speakers including Dr. Gerald Durley from the Martin Luther King Institute in Atlanta, USA and Dr Moura from the Commission of Peace and Justice of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Brazil, also addressed the joint session.
“I’m comparing the modern concepts each one brings in relation to education,” the congressman said. “In Brazil, we need to incorporate [new ideas], especially because if we are able to advance access to education, we may be slipping from quality when compared to the levels of development in other nations.”
GPF International President James Flynn told the conference that the most pressing challenge today is an ethical one. “Technology and globalization are impacting the lives of people everywhere, driving change at a breathtaking pace,” he said. “We’ve seen many amazing advances, yet on every continent conflict and corruption still cripple human progress.”
The financial impact alone is staggering, he said, with the global cost of violence containment at nearly $9.5 trillion according to the Institute for Economics and Peace and over $1 trillion paid in bribes each year according to the World Bank.
“Dramatically changing social norms, tensions between those of different religious or cultural backgrounds, and uncertainty about the future, can understandably lead to deep struggles about meaning, purpose, and identity,” Flynn said. “A global consensus is urgently needed that uplifts our common humanity as our most essential identity, and that affirms the universal values necessary for social cohesion in diverse societies. We at the Global Peace Foundation believe that the starting point toward that consensus is a simple yet powerful vision statement that can inspire our common effort to build a world of sustainable peace – One Family under God.
The Global Peace Leadership Conference was organized by the Global Peace Foundation and the Latin American Presidential Mission, an initiative of the Global Peace Foundation which includes some twenty former presidents and aims to advance good governance and sustainable development in the region. More infomation on the conference is available at http://gplcbrasil.org (Portuguese)