International House to host Latin American Policy Forum

Patrick Reilly
Global Voices Interviews Editor

Since 1932, International House at the University of Chicago (U. of C.) has brought students and scholars from around the world together in a diverse residential community that builds life-long qualities of leadership, respect, and friendship. Eight decades after its establishment, International House continues to fulfill the vision of its founder, Harry Edmonds, by hosting students from over 100 countries and offering over 200 wide-ranging public programs a year through the Global Voices Lecture and Performing Arts series.

On Thursday, May 5th, one of these Global Voices programs will give I-House students, other members of the university community and interested Hyde Park residents a rare opportunity to learn about current events in Latin America. On that day, International House will host the fourth annual Latin American Policy Forum, a daylong discussion of issues in the region.

The forum has been organized by Latin American Matters (LAM), an organization of students at The University of Chicago, and is co-sponsored by Global Voices and a number of organizations across U. of C., such as the Harris School, the Student Government, OLAS, Mexicans at U. of C., the Center for Latin American Studies,  and the Katz Center for Mexican Studies. Manuel Aragonés, a Harris student from Mexico City who serves as the group’s president, says that the forum gives LAM a chance to share its research and interests with a wider audience. “The objective of the Latin American Policy Forum is to try to educate individuals on issues of Latin America, tell them what has been done, what is being done, and also to allow people to learn, because there are really good policies that have been crafted in Latin America, that if applied in other countries, [those countries] could certainly benefit.”

To this end, LAM has planned three panel discussions around major trends currently at work. Each panel will last one hour and 15 minutes, and will include an audience Q&A session. The first discussion, featuring economic policy-makers from Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, will concentrate on the Pacific Alliance, a bloc of several Latin American countries that has promoted free-trade policies even after the 2008 financial crisis.  The second panel, entitled “Social Innovation and Inequality,” will focus on how Latin America can revive its stalled economic growth through new policies.

In planning this year’s forum, LAM was inspired by the creation of the Harris School’s Pearson Institute, whose focus will be data-driven conflict resolution, to plan the third panel around this theme. Current and former officials from Colombia, Mexico and Perú will discuss the challenges posed by drug gangs, guerilla armies, and other violent groups in the region. Aragonés says that this was the first seminar that LAM planned, and that “it’s a really relevant topic for Latin America.”

After these panels, the forum’s keynote speaker promises to shed further light on the challenges of conflict resolution. LAM has selected César Gaviria, former President of both Colombia and the Organization of American States. In the 1980s, Gaviria negotiated a peace agreement with Colombia’s M19 guerrilla group that led to its demobilization. After taking office as President of Colombia in 1990, he convened a National Constituent Assembly that promulgated a new constitution for the country. Later in his term, in 1993, Colombian special forces killed notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, destroying Escobar’s Medellin cartel and turning the tide in the country’s drug wars.

After stepping down 1994, Gaviria served for nine years as President of the Organization of American States (OAS). In this role, he streamlined the organization and worked to make it more effective in combatting Latin America’s major challenges, such as drug trafficking and terrorism. With experiences like these, Gaviria promises to offer valuable insights on contemporary Latin America. Aragonés explains that, “We chose him because he not only had a particular expertise on peace negotiations in conflict, but also, as president of the Organization for American States, he had a broader view of the region in general.”

Aragonés explains that securing Gaviria as keynote speaker was difficult, but believes that the insights from his remarkable career will help audiences understand the many issues discussed at the event. “Latin America is a really dynamic region,” he explains. “It’s growing, it has done enormous reforms, it’s pushing trade agreements, it’s fighting conflict, it’s pushing, innovative policies to fight poverty, so if you want to get to know individuals who have been at the forefront battle of conflict, inequality, and trade, which are big issues, you should listen to them.”
He also thinks that the event’s format will help audiences grasp these issues. “There will be a space for you to ask questions,” he says. “Here, you can question them, you can tell them, ‘Why did you do this or that?’ or, ‘How can I mimic this?’ I think it’s a great opportunity to meet people that are really planning to make change.”

Panel discussions begin at 9 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. Lunch will be included, and a reception and dinner sponsored by the Mexicans at U. of C. student group will follow. Free and open to the public. Please visit ihouse.uchicago.edu to RSVP and find more information. Persons with disabilities who need assistance should contact the Office of Programs and External Relations in advance at 773.753.2274 or e-mail mdestefa@uchicago.edu.