Building bilateral relations with Latin America
The Americas Directorate has recently been very busy hosting a series of roundtable discussions for various Latin American scholar groups. I have been lucky enough to attend a few of these, including one for Argentinian scholars, another for Central American and Cuban scholars, and another for a large group of Brazilian scholars. The discussions largely focused on youth and democracy, as well as how scholars and their countries have reacted to the tumultuous events of 2016. Despite the vast range of nationalities involved, with big differences in culture, language, history, and academic backgrounds, it was reassuring to see that the scholars and their countries were willing to act in a united way.
Discussions were led by Americas Directorate staff, with some prompting questions to start the proceedings. However, further prompts were rarely needed, as conversation flowed over the one and a half hour event. Participants had a lot to say, raising interesting points and creating healthy debate around how to increase active participation in society, especially amongst young people; how social media can be a good and a bad tool in society, especially with regard to politics (the rise of fake news was a hot topic); and how the internet can democratise and mobilise society, while at the same time shedding light on inequality considering the lack of access and resources that some countries still face. The events provided a perfect platform to put what Chevening is about into practice, which is building on the bilateral relations, and encouraging continued cultural and educational exchange. The attendance of scholars and FCO staff allowed direct and real-time interaction between the countries involved and was as much of a learning opportunity for the FCO staff as it was for the scholars. The information and ideas provided by the scholars will certainly provide food for thought for the Directorate, particularly when approaching these topics with foreign embassies in London and governments in Latin America.
A personal interest
On a personal level, as an ILO with a keen interest in Latin America, this was the perfect opportunity for me to learn first-hand about these topics, especially as many of the scholars are of similar age to me, share similar viewpoints on global topics, and have similar lived experiences. I learned a lot of interesting facts about different countries and their political nuances (for example, I wasn’t aware that Argentina recently reduced the voting age to 16 in order to give young people the option to vote in national elections) which is both highly useful to my role and contributes to my understanding of the Latin American region.