In his lecture titled “Challenges of Democracy in Latin America,” Carlos Mateo Balmelli, the president of the National Senate in Paraguay, presented UCSB with a glimpse of the problems facing many Latin American countries.
About 100 students attended Balmelli’s 45-minute lecture in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building on Wednesday afternoon. The university’s Political Science Dept. and Arts & Lectures invited Balmelli to give the lecture addressing the current state of democracy in Latin America. Arts & Lectures manager Roman Baratiak said the lecture was relevant because of the present state of Latin American nations.
“Democracy in Latin America is an encouraging sign,” Baratiak said. “There have been a lot of challenges [in Latin America] and there are still more to face. It has not been a smooth process.”
Balmelli spoke about globalization, class relations and democracy.
Latin American countries are now more dependent on other countries than they were 20 years ago, Balmelli said.
“We have to think global because we cannot work alone in this world,” he said. “We need to improve the quality of the ruling class. You cannot have one ruling class for 30 to 40 years. You have to have change.”
Past administrations in Latin American nations have been able to gain power, but unable to facilitate the needs of the people, Balmelli said. He said current governments are working to correct the failures and wrong decisions made by previous administrations over the last five to eight years.
“I won’t say like John Lennon, ‘Power to the People,’ but we do need to empower the politician, the government and the ruler in Latin America,” he said.
In order to establish a new political agenda that would strengthen the governments in the region, the people need to trust the leadership, Balmelli said.
“The lack of social capital is a problem,” he said. “… The society has to demand government and that government needs to be long term.”
Balmelli also said the political party system is an important contributor to the failure of democracy in Latin America.
“It’s almost impossible to work with the parties,” he said. “Let me know one country that doesn’t have party separation.”
Balmelli said that if the problem of democracy in Latin America is solved, then the nations will also overcome their social and economic problems.
Graduate student Christine Shearer said the lecture focused too much on contemporary problems and failed to mention broader Latin American troubles.
“[Balmelli] analyzed Latin American politics as an independent variable,” Shearer said. “So are we to ignore the entire history of the era? The political conquests, exploitation and current [International Monitary Fund] regulations?”
In contrast, Miguel Morton, a UCSB graduate, said he was pleased with the lecturer because of the belief that Latin American politics are usually overlooked.
“It is a subject that is not really talked about here in the United States,” Morton said. “I liked the passion he has with what he does and the passion he has for his region. I used to have a pessimistic view for the potential for leadership in Latin America, but now I see that people care about working out those problems and establishing a better society.”
Balmelli has worked as a voice of the party opposing the longtime ruling Colorado party, currently led by President Nicanor Duarte Frutos. In 2003 Balmelli presented priority bills to Paraguay’s parliament, including acts on public banking reforms, public financing, financial reforms and road infrastructure.
Balmelli has also been active in the Paraguayan Liberal Party, where he was a member of the Constitutional Assembly after the end of the dictatorship in the country. He has worked as director of Center of Real Paraguayan Studies, advised the Chamber of Banks in Paraguay and counseled the National Congress of Finance Reform and State Reform. He served as Paraguay’s Vice Secretary of State in 1999 and later continued his work as an international emissary for Paraguay, traveling to Japan and Taiwan.