Wright, Julio Rank, Americas Quarterly
I HAD MY first crash course in pol itics in 1989. I was 11 years old, scared and surrounded by bombs and gunfire. The city of San Salvador was under attack in what would become the last push from leftwing guerrilla forces of the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) to take the country. They failed, but the event helped me realize- and in some cases even see face to face-the multitude of fellow Salvadorans who shared convictions that I didn't entirely comprehend. In 1992, El Salvador gave the world a lesson in peacebuilding and reconciliation after the first Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) president, Alfredo Cristiani, and FMLN leadership signed a peace accord in Mexico City putting an end to the 12-year civil war This became my first lesson in democracy and institutional responsibility.
The second lesson in politics (more importantly, in democracy) came several years later in 1995 when, during a group visit to the National Assembly, I came across an ex-FMLN leader I had seen outside my house on that cruel morning in 1989. He was then serving as a freely and democratically elected congressman.
Over years of introspection, I've recognized that perhaps the combination of these two experiences is what has led me to the conviction that in Latin America, and especially El Salvador, democracy is "the only game in town," even though certain regional trends seem to indicate otherwise. I knew then and there that I would work in strengthening democracy wherever I was given the chance. As time passed, I came closer to political participation, first through activism in ARENA's youth sector. Later, upon completion of my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I became active as part of the leadership of the department of San Salvador.
Although unsuccessful as part of the roster for San Salvador's City Council in 2003, I remain active in politics. I now find myself the youngest member of ARENA's National Executive Committee. To make matters more interesting, this newly elected party leadership is tasked with managing the institutional transition from a majority party with 20 years in power to the main opposition party to the FMLN government led by President Mauricio Funes. My role is to coordinate the 122 ARENA elected mayors nationwide.
This short but intense path in political participation gave rise to many important lessons that I believe are applicable to many countries in the region. The first is that youth and political participation rarely seem to coincide. El Salvador's 2009 election was the first time that Salvadorans born in 1992, the year the war ended, were able to vote. According to the National Census and Statistical Office, 2009 would include 120,000 new voters. Only 17 percent of these new voters had bothered to register.
After several months talking to youth nationwide, the reason most frequently mentioned for political apathy is a lack of representation or identification with political leaders. This harsh reality poses one of my generation's largest challenges: reinstating credibility and true representation in a new, pragmatic political leadership. I firmly believe that politics hasn't failed. Politicians have. As long as young leaders committed to the ideals of democracy, freedom and equal access to opportunities remain on the sidelines, we'll never progress. For many years I've been told that youth is the future. I disagree. We are the here and now. Unless we decide to fill the void created by the previous generation in Latin America, we won't have anything left worth fighting for.
There's never an ideal moment to become involved in politics. …