The Institute for Leadership in the Americas (ILA) recently held its second annual program at Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, bringing together 47 students from Latin America and the United States to learn about the philosophy of freedom as well as how Chile has become the “oasis of progress” in Latin America.
From Jan. 11-22, ILA students learned from Professor Brad Thompson of the Institute for the Study of Capitalism of Clemson University about the moral basis of capitalism. Thompson is new to the TFAS faculty and is the author and editor of several books on John Adams, including John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty. He taught students in ILA about the ideas underpinning the American system of government.
“We wanted to challenge students academically, and to expose them to ideas that they have likely never heard in a university classroom before. Dr. Thompson’s lectures were ideal for this, and motivated the students to stay after class for three hours on a Friday after their final exam just to discuss the material with him,” said ILA Director Jon Perdue.
On Wednesday of the first week, ILA students traveled to Valparaiso, home of Chile’s Congress, to hold classes and to hear lectures from people such as Congressman Dario Paya, President of the House of Deputies Rodrigo Alvarez, Health Committee Chair Marco Antonio Nunez, and Congressman Julio Dittborn, one of Chile’s famous “Chicago Boys.” The “Chicago Boys” were a group of young, Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago that implemented free market policies in Chile in the 1970s, which sparked the “Chilean Miracle” that has led Chile out of Third World status to become one of the most stable and prosperous democracies in the hemisphere.
After class, students were treated to lunch in the congressional cafeteria, and held an informal question and answer session with Congressman Paya. On a tour of the congressional building, as ILA students were entering the balcony overlooking the congressional session, the presiding congressman announced, “Please welcome The Fund for American Studies,” and the students were given a surprising ovation from the congressional members below.
This year’s ILA coincided with the Chilean presidential elections, which afforded the students multiple opportunities to witness firsthand the electoral process of one of Latin America’s most stable democracies. The week prior to the election, Dr. Angel Soto of the University of the Andes, chief external relations policy consultant to the newly elected President Sebastian Pinera, gave a briefing to the students before the final presidential debate, and took questions from students after the debate. Dr. Soto and one of his staff members volunteered to take a number of students to polling places as election observers on election day, as well as to the campaign headquarters of candidate Pinera on the night of his presidential victory.
The week following the election of President Pinera, his brother Jose Pinera, the architect of Chile’s self-directed pension system, gave a private lecture to ILA students on Chile’s popular retirement system. Pinera has been called “the world’s foremost advocate of privatizing public pension systems,” and is responsible for helping to implement similar systems not only in Latin America but throughout the world.
The second week of class, Dr. Rodrigo Fuentes and Dr. Ari Aisen, both of the Economics Department of Catholic University, taught the economics of the “Chilean Miracle,” and illustrated how Chile’s institutional structure, adherence to free market principles and constitutional rigor have taken Chile from a struggling third world economy into the most recent inductee into the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The economics portion of ILA’s two week program was well-timed, as the induction ceremony of Chile into the OECD occurred the second day of class. OECD membership is a benchmark that means that Chile is no longer considered a developing country, but now holds “developed” status. The lectures of both Dr. Fuentes as well as Congressman Dario Paya impressed upon the students the difference between Chile’s constitutional seriousness in comparison to many other countries in the region, along with what it had done differently to obtain OECD membership.
Besides the academics, the ILA program is structured to build permanent relationships among the participants. Isabella Avila, a student from El Salvador, commented, “I had expected the academic part to be something new, and a challenge. But I had no idea that we would all become close friends, especially among the other Latin American students. That’s not really the norm in Latin America. But that has been the best part of the program to me.”