Cal Berkeley Democrats host Latin American political delegates

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Cal Berkeley Democrats hosted 17 Latin American political delegates at a forum Monday afternoon to share strategies for engaging voters as part of a U.S. State Department-sponsored program.

The International Visitor Leadership Program, or IVLP, provides international political figures with the opportunity to learn more about American society and politics. The Latin American delegation is visiting the Bay Area to focus specifically on addressing accountability and transparency in government, according to Cal Berkeley Democrats Communications Director Divya Vijay.

Students present at the event included members of the Cal Berkeley Democrats executive board, as well as ASUC President Will Morrow. The Latin American delegation consisted of representatives — politicians, journalists, activists and attorneys — from countries including the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador.

Delegates at the panel asked student representatives about their strategies to encourage voter engagement in politics. Cal Berkeley Democrats students in turn asked about topics such as the cost of public education and the current presidential election.

“This is the first time we’ve had a group this large of prominent leaders in their respective countries,” Vijay said. “It’s a cool opportunity to see what kind of political structure (those countries) have now.”

The Latin American delegates were also asked to give their opinion on the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Esler Sobalvarro Leiva, political secretary of the Citizenship Action Party in Nicaragua, said at the event he considered this a “truly historical election” and noted the dilemma faced by American voters choosing between an experienced candidate and one who receives near-constant media coverage.

Describing political involvement on campus, Morrow called UC Berkeley a “hotbed of energy and political enthusiasm among young people.”

“Students as mobilizers, as advocates, as agenda-setters, can channel that into positive substantial action,” Morrow said.

Toward the end of the panel, focus shifted to the topic of public higher education, with delegates focusing on the tuition hikes. Victor Hugo Velasco Caballero, a human rights activist from Venezuela, explained that free public education did not necessarily lead to productivity.

“In my country, we have free public education system that has been growing,” Velasco Caballero said. “The infrastructure has been growing, but the production — what we yield in terms of education — has not.”

Ricardo Corona Real, general attorney for a Mexican think tank, recommended that students keep accountability as their “core issue” with political elections.

“Keep accountability central and keep your guard up,” Real said. “Because in this country, where you have such a strong system of checks and balances, you will ultimately win in terms of justice and many other issues in this country.”

Contact Revati Thatte at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @revati_thatte.