followed was characterized by unprecedented
levels of corruption, a pardoning of the military
for crimes committed under its reign, and an
ever-widening breach between those in power
and the young people interested in public affairs.
Confidence in government plunged. Argentina’s
authorities received the lowest ratings in citizen
surveys in all of Latin America.
Not much has changed in the post-Menem era
with regard to the level of public interest and participation in civil society. Trust in democratic institutions has continued its downward spiral.
Today, most young people shy away from active
engagement in politics. The common perception
among the younger population is that those who
do participate in a political party do so for personal gain. Many who worked in student movements have been co-opted by national political
parties, often leading to a loss of interest and contact with grassroots student demands. Even some
independent civil society groups have lost autonomy to political movements and leaders. These
examples and the suspicions surrounding politics make it difficult for those who really are interested to become involved.
It’s true that more young people have shown
an interest in working in the nonprofit sector.
But much of this stems from
the limited opportunities in the
public and private sectors rather
than any real commitment to
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t
conclude that the young people
of the 1980s were more committed to national aims and public
service than my generation is today. A glimpse at the comments
posted daily on the Internet (
particularly on the social networks,
blogs and forums organized by
the media) or a stray conversation
should convince even the most
skeptical observer that Argentina’s youth are still—and maybe
increasingly—seriously interested in what is happening.
But a challenge remains. To-
day’s youth don’t want to com-
mit to a cause that takes too much
time from their private inter-
ests. And many are reluctant, or
perhaps don’t know how, to ini-
tiate a movement that isn’t all-
consuming and blends their idealism with real,
In this context, any movement to attract the energies of young people appears doomed from the
start. That doesn’t need to be the case. The success
of Barack Obama in energizing apolitical American youth during the U. S. election campaign demonstrated that youth can be engaged, especially
through the effective use of new media.
New technology has replaced protests and
marches as a vehicle for youth activism. Technology provides a tool for the advancement of new
causes, including access to information and public hearings by public officials.
But perhaps most significantly, Argentine
youth are awakening to the realization that inactivity is causing them harm. Many now find themselves on the sidelines as the country becomes
caught up in the worst spiral of confrontation
since the 1983 transition to democracy.
Can the energy and potential of Argentina’s
young people (and technology) be harnessed
toward productive ends? Argentine history offers little comfort. The disconnect between the
political class and the rest of society is likely to
continue to generate short circuits that will perpetuate political and economic instability and
hinder development. And while
the success of leaders and governments in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay
at developing broad-based consensus for economic policy and social
development is an encouraging example, Argentine politics remains
too fragmented and divided.
My greatest hope is that a new
leader can emerge to build consensus around fundamental goals. I
do not refer here to the typical populist model of messianic leadership
that has punctuated Latin American history (and with it brought
Rather, we need someone who
can symbolize a new era of hope
and change and in doing so generate a new level of political engagement and commitment—yes,
someone like Alfonsín in the early
years of the transition. The generations that are currently in power
have not delivered that figure.
Quite possibly he or she is among
the youth of today.
have you visited?
Most of Latin America,
Western Europe, India,
South Africa, Turkey,
With which musician
do you most identify?
Bono from U2. I always
liked his music and
I admire his political
Where do you imagine
yourself in 20 years?
Working on public
interest law in