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Wed 17
“The problem is many people are afraid of freedom”, says antipopulist Gloria Álvarez

“The problem is many people are afraid of freedom”, says antipopulist Gloria Álvarez

Gloria is in Brazil to promote her books and for a hurried sequence of lectures in several capitals. The tour will continue in other South American countries

Helen Mendes

Guatemalan political scientist Gloria Álvarez is an important voice against populism in Latin America. A libertarian, atheist, and tree planter, as she identifies herself in her social media, Gloria launched her candidacy as president of Guatemala in this year’s elections, at 34 years of age.

She became known worldwide with her speech after her speech on the evils of populism was seen by more than 1.5 million people in 2014.

Gloria is in Brazil to promote her books and for a hurried sequence of lectures in several capitals. The tour will continue in other South American countries.

In Curitiba, Gloria Álvares spoke to Gazeta do Povo on Friday (12), during a meeting at the Commercial Association of Paraná.

Why did you decide to run for president?

First of all, to raise the level of the debate. Because the level of the debate and the political offer in Guatemala are embarrassing. We went through a period of political discontent which led us to choose a comedian [Jimmy Morales, comedian, actor, and current president of the country]. I didn’t vote for him, but they chose this comedian, who in four years did nothing. And now, if he doesn’t do anything, Guatemala will slip into a state of apathy. So it occurred to me to present my presidential campaign, so people would begin to think that yes, there is a possibility of concrete proposals, it’s just that the candidates don’t want to present them.

In Guatemala, there is a law forbidding people under the age of forty from becoming president. How is that issue?

It is exactly like that. And, indeed, at the end of my video, I say: remember that the Constitution, which has my age – it is from 1985 – says it is necessary to be 40 years old to be president. My goal is that Guatemalans question themselves why do they follow laws that have no logic whatsoever nor any scientific basis. I knew beforehand that I would not be able to run, and my intention is to leave a proposal to begin to open this questioning, and we were able to do that, and that is good.

Has the law been changed?

It can be [changed]. But this would require the will of the people. I’ve presented the candidacy 15 days before the final deadline for the inscription of candidates along with the Electoral Supreme Court. Just to make a point that, if they want, the law can be changed, but that would require people to mobilize themselves.

You are the author of the books “Cómo hablar con un progre” [“How to talk to a progressive”] and “Cómo hablar con un conservador” [“How to talk to a conservative”]. Do these two groups bother you, or do you identify with any of them?

They bother me, because one of them hinder your economic freedom, and the other wants to tell you how to live your life, because they believe there is only one moral and ethical way to live life. After all, they are groups that divide your freedom and impose limits on you.

How do you assess the recent right-wing turn in Latin American countries? First of all, do you believe there is a right-wing movement in the region?

Yes. What worries me is that the Right, when in power, governs in a mercantilist way, and not with the free market. This is what happened during the 1990s. Oligopolies, which sold the idea of free market but privatized to them and their friends. And always using protectionism, tariffs, and restricted markets. It is just like carnivore socialism or vegetarian socialism. But, in the end, in this continent there is never an absolutely free market, and, during the 1990s, the problem with restricted markets is that they create oligarchies. And the problem with oligarchies is that they create resentment among poor people. And the problem is that when poor people get tired, they run towards a populist messiah, a Chávez, a Lula, an Evo Morales. And the problem is that when these socialists govern, they do not put an end to the corruption of oligarchists, but they form their own oligarchies and lead corruption into a new level.

Take Odebrecht, for instance – which is not in the corrupt Right, it is allied with Lula and the 21st century socialist – it is the worst corruption case in the history of Latin American. And when this model collapses, people then turn to the extreme right. And when the extreme right creates oligarchies, and protectionisms, the poor get tired, and then they turn towards the socialist messiah.

What do I think about the pendulum swinging to the right? I hope they don’t repeat the 1990s.

What are the challenges for the advancement of liberal ideas in Latin America?

The biggest challenge is that people want to stand on their own feet. In other words, people want freedom, but they do not like to take responsibility. The problem in this continent is that there are too many people afraid of freedom, and they prefer the illusion that someone else should be in charge of their lives. How can you postulate your libertarian ideas which do not offer anything for free to anyone? Which do not offer a paradise on Earth, when there are so many populists? This is the biggest challenge faced by libertarian ideas. Still, I believe there is a growing interest, because people are tired, they got tired of the Right and the Left.

Will populism never end?

Humanity moves in cycles. There are cycles of misery, cycles of slavery, there are freer cycles. The problem is that Latin America, in all cycles, is not able to abandon a populist mentality: the caudillo, the dictator, the crown. It is always trying to make the individual live through a state, in all its aspects. And the Right is not able to put an end to that. I hope they do, I hope there is a truly free market. Because if there was a free market, people would not be marginalized in poverty, and then the populists wouldn’t have that breeding ground to spring back into life again.

What should be the role of the state, in your opinion?

For me, the role of the state [should be] limited to ensuring safety and justice. I believe a good state is a limited state. Strong, but limited, where its major task is making sure there is equality before the law, which is the equality no one talks about. Or the inequality no one talks about in this continent. Everyone is obsessed with material inequality, but no one talks about the worst inequality of all, which is the inequality before the law. And since there is an inequality before the law, there is no respect for life, there is no respect for private property, and there is no respect for freedom. No individual can move forward if those three human, fundamental rights, are not guaranteed.

Our governments do a lot of what they don’t have to do, and very little of what they have to do. Indeed, judicial organisms all over the continent are the least financed and the least free. This is why people are wrongfully obsessed with believing that the executive is the most important branch of government. “Who will be the next president?” We believe that by changing our president we magically change, when the most important branch of all is the judiciary. This is the one which should have the biggest budget and the most importance. Because the judiciary determines that the laws should be the same for everyone. The president is irrelevant.

It is like a company, what good is it to have a genius as a CEO if there is no vision, mission, or values? If there are no goals, if there are no measurable aims? This is what leads us into the rule of law, which we don’t have.

For me, the only task of the state is security and justice. I believe in full separation between state and economy, and state and education, as we now have the separation between state and religion. For me, these are three things that have no place in the government.

Is the judiciary the most important branch of government?

Yes. For me the order is: judiciary, legislative, and executive. Because from the Constitution, from what we established to be fair in a country, we obtain the punishments and the system of merits the country will have. From this system of merits and punishments should stem the laws – congruent laws. And these laws are the ones the president should execute.

Here we have the complete opposite. We have incongruent laws. For instance: in Guatemala, the private property is guaranteed by article 2 or 3 of the Constitution, but there is an article after the 40th which claims that the state may expropriate you every time it considers [there is an] national emergency. Who is the state? The bureaucrats who are in charge. What is a national emergency? Whatever the crazy ones believe to be a national emergency. Since we have rules of the game which become incongruent, which have a justice that is discretionary, and legislatures that legislate on incongruent issues. So people place all their hopes in the executive. The guy can’t operate by magic. So, to me, the judiciary is super important.

What do you think about the decision taken [by US president] Donald Trump of cutting aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador? First of all, do you believe this kind of help is effective in solving internal problems?

I thought it was fantastic. This help is no help. The best help is work. The system of international help, and there are excellent books about it – from African writer Dambisa Moyo, for instance, who wrote “Dead Aid”, or William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. The system of international aid, which has been going on since 1948, has already spent US$ 3 trillion since it began. And children are still dying of diarrhea, of malaria, and there is still poverty. It is obvious that this aid system has only created parasites who are not interested in ending poverty, because they live off poverty. “Lord of poverty” who live in the first world, talking about poverty in the third world.

What ends poverty is the free market. The greatest favor Trump can do to us is to cut all help and make all products from Guatemala and Central America enter freely in the US market and compete, and vice-versa. This is what ends poverty.

An estimate claims that if migration rates are maintained, until the end of the year, around one percent of the population of Guatemala and Honduras will have left the country. What are the causes of this crisis?

First of all, regarding Guatemala’s population. Everybody is speculating, because we haven’t held a census in 15 years. So, who knows how many of us there are? Who knows how many of us are poor, middle class? There is no data. We know that there are around 2 million Guatemalans in the United States, and we estimate that the country has 16 million people. What we can’t measure, we can’t know if it’s growing.

The causes of the exodus of Latin Americans: they vote for Socialist governments, ruin their countries, and then expect the United States to be a capitalist paradise. Instead of staying in their countries to try to tidy them up. And then they go to the United States and demand from gringo politicians things they never demanded from politicians in their own countries.

The best policy against migration is, once again, free market. If your country is improving, you have fewer incentives to leave. Why do people leave? Because of their inequality before the law. In Guatemala it is very difficult to be an entrepreneur. Because one must know which bureaucrat to pay all the bribes, and the corruption to legalize your company, if you do not work informally – 80 percent of the economy is informal, because it is extremely difficult to enter the formal economy.

For me, this is the biggest cause of migration. Not that Guatemala has an outrageous violence rate; it is the lack of opportunity and the lack of judicial certainty. People do not go to the United States to get things for free, but to be able to work.

Is the free market the cure for all evils?

All evils. A professor once told me that if I had a pharmacy, when someone came to me with an illness, I would hand him a piece of paper written: “don’t worry, the market heals everything.”

But it is not that one shouldn’t see the free market as a dogmatic saint. There are billions of people taking thousands of decisions every second. Each one deciding how much to sell and how much to buy. No coercion, no violence, and no one preventing them. For me, this is the best method: it is not perfect, it is not magical. But it is much better than the pretension that among all these individuals some are wiser, and that by placing them in bureaucracy they will be able to control the economy. If we distrust an individual because he is a fool, I don’t see why I should trust him in the bureaucracy to run the economy. In fact, it is better that he is scattered around somewhere, because then the costs will be absorbed by everyone. Freedom is not perfect, but at least it ensures that no one is taking decisions for another. And this is what we need in this region.

What is your opinion about the situation in Venezuela, do you believe that a transition towards democracy is possible in the short term?

I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what I wouldto do with Venezuela. First of all, I would diplomatically strangle this dictatorship. For me, it seems hypocritical from our countries, to have their embassies in our territories. What we are [doing] is to accept this dictatorship, because there are ambassadors and bureaucrats living off a salary that has costed the blood of Venezuelans. All of our countries, with the exception of Peru, which is the only country to remove their embassy, are still sitting on the fence. “Oh, poor Venezuelans,” but we still maintain embassies of the dictatorship. First of all, I would like to diplomatically strangle this dictatorship, expel their embassy.

The second step would be an emergency migration plan, so that Venezuelans could reach other countries and be welcome. Do you want to work? You can work. If you want to work for less than minimum wage, perfect. It would help these poor people to leave and have opportunities. After that, if they choose to militarily invade Venezuela or not, for me it’s irrelevant.

The problem is that we live in a continent where politicians prefer to look good than do what’s right. Why do we have these politicians? Because we, the voters, vote for them. We don’t like them to talk to us about free market, we don’t like them to talk to us about separating state from economy, we don’t like them to tell us that the state will be small, no matter how much the government robs us, we want more government. This is our reality.

All organisms have acted too late. Until 2015, the UN had Venezuela in their human rights commission. The international organisms were the last to act, when we had been screaming for years.

And all these people, Oliver Stone, Naomi Campbell, Michael Moore, where are they now? I don’t see them welcoming Venezuelan refugees in their homes, or asking for forgiveness for having supported the regime. In this region, at first, everyone [supported Hugo Chávez], and when everything went wrong, they began to take measures. But they are extremely coward measures.

Does any country in Latin America adopt the free market as you preach?

So far, no. Even Chile is trying to change its constitution, to revert the things which made that country have the best quality of life. It is very difficult, because to support a politician on this continent is to shoot one’s own foot.

Take a look at [Argentina president Mauricio] Macri. He ran on libertarian ideas and managed to get himself indebted to the IMF [International Money Fund] in US$ 30 million. Is that all the libertarianism we have?

It is very difficult for us to say that a politician is exemplary. There are measures which seem to me to be exemplary, concrete things. But, if you are asking me whether there is a regime, no. None of them are doing enough.

How do you rate the government [of Brazil’s president,] Jair Bolsonaro?

I hope he fulfills everything he promised. I hope that when he was pictured holding the book “The Law”, by Frédéric Bastiat, that it wasn’t just for a photo; I hope he reads it and put it in practice, and that he realizes that the purpose of the law is not to control the economy nor people’s individual freedoms. I hope that the social security system, which they want to reform, [is capitalized], I hope their lower taxes, and I hope they don’t apologize. Because, from what I’ve seen, and an agricultural union raised their voice and then he said “well, I’d better not speak about it, then”. I hope that, once he is in power, he doesn’t turn into a Macri Part 2.”