Fundación Libertad: 30 Years Working For a Free Economy In Argentina And Beyond

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 2/5/18 en: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2018/05/02/fundacion-libertad-30-years-working-for-a-free-economy-in-argentina-and-beyond/#7700a78c4cb0

 

The current President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and Chile, Sebastián Piñera; the leading pro free-enterprise presidential candidates from Colombia: Iván Duque; Ecuador: Guillermo Lasso; and Uruguay: Luís Lacalle Pou; as well as a multitude of policy leaders from all over the Americas, gathered last week in Buenos Aires to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Argentinian-based, free-market think tank Fundación Libertad.

Judged by its budget, approximately $2 million US, Fundación Libertad seems small to achieve such clout and attention. However, placed in perspective and in relation to the size of their economies, their budget is similar to some of the largest organizations in the United States. Like the latter groups, Fundación Libertad is a multifaceted organization with several internal centers which have their own mission. It also has a relevant and powerful network of international connections. In addition to the talents of Gerardo Bongiovanni, its founder and leader, as well as almost 40 staff members, the national and international projection of the group is greatly enhanced by the collaboration of and hard work of Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

Vargas Llosa began cooperating with Bongiovanni soon after the founding of the think tank. He was the keynote speaker for each of the major anniversaries, beginning with its 10thanniversary in 1998, 12 years before receiving his Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa’s commitment to a free economy and a free society became more important after he launched the Fundación Internacional para la Libertad, FIL, in October 2002. Collaboration with Vargas Llosa and FIL helped expand the reach of Fundación Libertad in Spain and the Americas.

Fundación Libertad grew at arm’s length of Argentina’s capital and political power. Located almost 200 miles north of Buenos Aires, in the city of Rosario, Santa Fé province, it grew in reputation by its quality work, events and principles. They have hosted several Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winners , a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as well as numerous presidents and former presidents. Soon after the founding of the group, the late Milton Friedman sent Bongiovanni a letter of endorsement and support. Friedman, who visited Chile and Peru, never went to Argentina. I tried to negotiate his visit but he told us that there were several top Chicago trained economists in Argentina who knew what was needed. According to Friedman, if the governments were not conducting the right policies it was because the leading actors of civil society did not want reform. There was not enough agreement among them to pursue the right policies. The visit of a foreigner, no matter how clear his thought and how well-regarded his stature, was not going to change much.

That is why, in part, Fundación Libertad has been working to forge positive working consensus and has always been open to dialogue with most policymakers and government leaders of different views. Dialogue is not possible with all parties, to be sure. Some do not want it. During the Kirchner-Fernández years (2003-2015), Fundación Libertad’s influence was mostly through work at state and provincial levels as well as through the foundation’s international presence. In Santa Fé, the province where Fundación Libertad is headquartered, the governors have been mostly from Peronist or socialist backgrounds, neither particularly good friends of the free economy. They have been, however, civilized enough to accept dialogue with Fundación Libertad experts and leaders.

This 30-year old think tank puts its international and national network to good use by sharing their contacts with figures both inside and outside the government sphere. Their network has been enhanced also because staff members of Fundación Libertad have gone on to work for think tanks in Spain and the United States, and others have launched their own endeavors. A few of their young stars have joined the government, such as Antonella Marty, who works as liaison with policy groups for the Senate Block of the ruling party coalition, and Guillermo Hirschfeld, who is now a commercial counselor at the Argentine Embassy in Spain. Several former staffers are at Spanish think tanks that boast an important presence in Latin America.

North American think tanks have also served as inspiration for Fundación Libertad. The Fraser Institute, with its motto “if it matters measure it,” has been a model for the effort to produce indices such as the one that measures Provincial performance in three areas: public spending, government finances and public sector employment. Additionally, Fundación Libertad is also the oldest local partner of the network of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation from Germany.

Fundación Libertad is the driving force of a network of Argentine think tanks called the “Red Federal de Políticas Públicas,” which is similar to the U.S.-based State Policy Network. This Argentine think tank has also participated in numerous programs of the Heritage Resource Bank meetings, which have led to many collaborative programs both in its homeland and abroad. This project to help mobilize and strengthen the network of provincial Argentine think tanks receives support from the Center for International Private Enterprise, a U.S.-based organization that funds think tank efforts to promote the free economy beyond our borders.

Although the group boasts its relationship with well-regarded libertarian organizations such as Cato and Liberty Fund, it is guided by a big-tent approach. Their openness to diverse views is put in practice both with think-tank peers and government officials. Some groups that promote valuable but narrower ideological agendas often criticize Libertad for inviting policy figures who have failed to promote free-market policies. They recently hosted, for example, Mariano Rajoy, who as leader of the Spanish government has failed to return Spain to the economic freedom that it enjoyed under the government of President José María Aznar. Aznar is another good friend of Fundación Libertad and they have hosted him on numerous occasions. Aznar founded FAES, a think tank which, until January 1, 2016, was affiliated with the Popular Party. It is now independent. Until the creation and growth of FIL (Vargas Llosa’s group) FAES was the foreign think tank that collaborated more with Fundación Libertad’s efforts in Spain and Latin America.

Fundación Libertad today and tomorrow

I divide the work of think tanks into four, sometimes five main areas: research, education, advocacy, direct help (“do” tanks), and networking services. Fundación Libertad has programs in most of these areas. Its advocacy efforts are subtle but powerful. Almost all the ministers of the current Argentine government have participated in meetings, usually breakfast sessions, where the think tank invites a cross-section of the Argentine business community. The ministers and under-secretaries get to hear the concerns of the business community and the latter get to learn from the plans and constraints whether true or alleged of the government officials. I had the privilege of attending some of these meetings and despite the natural disagreements, I was able to witness the atmosphere of constructive dialogue. They sure beat nasty, snappy debates in social media, an area in which Fundación Libertad has not invested and focused much, perhaps in agreement with the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks’ observation that “social media is displacing sound debate.”

Fundación Libertad has a building comparable to the main Washington institutions, a diversified and strong donor base, and policy lines. The next decade will likely see a consolidation of its influence, especially if President Macri wins reelection in 2019. Challenges ahead? The main one will be how to transition to an organization less dependent on its founder, Gerardo Bongiovanni. He is well aware of it and has studied other think tank transitions. Independent of its future with a similar or different structure than today, I have little doubt that Fundación Libertad has already made a major contribution to Argentina. The number of dignitaries, government officials, and leading policy players and intellectuals who flew to Argentina for this celebration seems to corroborate my judgement. These three decades of unceasing work has already earned Fundación Libertad a prominent place in the history of think tanks and in the history of liberty.

 

Alejandro A. Chafuen es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), fue miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Es Managing Director del Acton Institute, International. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

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