From issue: Voices from the New Generation (Winter 2010)
The Civilian Defenders
“The lack of participation in defense and security discussions by today’s students reflects the prejudices of their upbringing.”
The political and ideological focus of today’s generation of Latin American youth has shifted. In the transition from military to democratic regimes, the generation of young people that came immediately afterward struggled to bridge the outdated forms of governance with the new ideas of democracy. The rewards for their struggle came in government posts, which many of them hold to this day.
But our generation has not had to experience dictatorships or political repression. The youth of Latin America today take the benefits of democracy for granted. We rarely play a role in community and political life—and often don’t speak out in defense of those freedoms when they are threatened.
One of the justifications for this lack of interest stems from the perception that politics is synonymous with dishonesty, impunity and inequality.
Another widely held perception among our generation is that the renewal of the current ruling class has been too slow in coming. Young people see political stagnation wherever they look, and their unwillingness to get involved in politics only ensures that the stagnation continues.
We have therefore chosen to redefine our participation. We have shifted our focus and attention away from political associations to civil society, which we believe has more legitimacy. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of associations that are headed by young people committed to having their voice heard in politics and society.
To the lack of interest in politics should be added the prejudice most people feel regarding defense and security-related issues. It seems to many a topic that no longer has relevance to our daily lives—one usually associated with politically conservative thinking.
We believe overcoming the stigma associated with defense and security issues is essential to building a new civilian capacity in this area. We are all researchers working in the first regional Latin American NGO dedicated to this issue. The Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina (RESDAL) was created in 2001 as a think tank that would work with academics, the public sector, civil society, and research institutes to improve understanding, research and policy on defense and security. Funded by international foundations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Institute and the Global Peace and Security Fund of Canada, our goal is to create a new generation of civilians trained and fluent in these topics...