At IAPA in Argentina

By: Mark Fitzgerald

When it comes to intellectual firepower in the presidency, the United States can be proud of it current occupant, a Harvard Law graduate who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago and needs no ghostwriter for books that were best sellers before he reached the Oval Office.

But several U.S. delegates were mightily impressed by the discourses by former Latin American presidents during the annual Inter American Press Association (IAPA) General Assembly this week in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In a luncheon talk, for instance, former Uruguay President Jose Maria Sanguinetti opened with a discussion of Thomas of Aquinas’s ideas of enlightenment contrasted with Immanuel Kant’s. Within moments, he had mentioned Mexican party politics, the colonial Spanish king Frederic, Juan Peron, British imperialism, and the ins and outs of his own Uruguayan party.

He ended with a quotation from Aristophanes, apologizing that it might not be exact.

And at a discussion by two former presidents, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia appeared to be peerless with a cogent discussion of the interplay of opinion and impartiality in the age of the Internet. “The idea of impartial information as news — I think it’s disappearing,” he said. And that’s a good thing, he added: “Quite the contrary, I think the information that is needed now will include an opinion. I don’t think freedom of the press, freedom of expression is limited only to those who give updated news.”

But then former Bolivian President Carlos D. Mesa Gilbert talked with equal sophistication about the danger to freedom of expression embedded in seemingly innocuous laws being proposed and enacted by Latin America’s new populist governments. And he warned that the foundations of freedom are imperiled by even the controversy over the legislation: “The value of a republic and of democracy are suddenly up for debate.”

And asked why his successor, the populist indigenous leader Evo Morales, had done something or other, Mesa answered with a reply you could not imagine coming from any recent U.S. president: “If you are looking for a logical, for a Cartesian reason — it’s not there.” Rene Descartes is an underquoted source in White House press conferences.

Oh, and none of these former presidents had to worry about the Tele-Prompter breaking down. There was none.

They didn’t even use notes.

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