By Felipe Estefan

Pulsante: Expanding civic space in Latin America

At a time in which Latin America needs strong, effective institutions to respond to the outsized impact of COVID-19, democracy and its institutions are under threat. Throughout the region, populist leaders from across the political spectrum are closing civic space, threatening human rights, pedaling misinformation, and dismantling the very institutions charged with ensuring the wellbeing of Latin Americans.

The citizens, activists, and journalists who have responded to these threats are far too often met with repression and violence.  In Mexico, journalists are threatened and even killed just for doing their job.  In Brazil, sophisticated digital attacks are being waged against activists. In Colombia, activists and social movement leaders are killed at a staggering rate and their murders continue to go unpunished.

In spite of citizens’ calls for more just and effective societies, the worthy promise of democracy remains unfulfilled in Latin America.

COVID-19 hit Latin America as it was already suffering from two serious pre-existing conditions: a crisis of representation and a crisis of trust. Those who govern do not represent the interests or the diversity of their constituents, and their actions have deemed them unworthy of citizens’ trust.  During the pandemic, which is already posing great challenges in a region defined by deep-rooted inequality, citizens don’t perceive those in charge to be stewards of their best interests and don’t trust leaders to do the right thing. Unfortunately many political leaders are proving these skeptical citizens right through their mismanaged responses to the coronavirus.

Citizens continue to call for more effective and inclusive democracies, even if by banging pots and pans from their homes during quarantine, and it is clear that citizen participation and democratic institutions must be protected.

As such, we are launching Pulsante – a fund to support the civic leaders and organizations fighting to defend democracy across Latin America.

Pulsante - a partnership between Luminate, Fundación Avina and Open Society Foundations – will invest $3M to protect and expand civic space and to ensure that all citizens can participate in the decisions that impact their lives.

Pulsante builds upon the efforts of ALTEC – a fund created by Luminate and Fundación Avina – which has funded more than 50 civic empowerment efforts across the region since 2012.

From 2020-2023, Pulsante will provide resources in three priority areas:

  • Rapid response campaigns focused on achieving specific, time-sensitive victories to protect civic space and human rights.
  • Civic empowerment organizations strengthening experimentation with innovative democratic practices that increase citizen power, improve the quality of democracy, and guarantee greater social justice.
  • Social movements seeking to drive reforms to make democracies more transparent, participatory, and representative.

In addition to these three funding priorities, Pulsante will work at the ecosystem level producing knowledge for the field, fostering spaces for peer learning, and hosting events to spark collective thinking on the future of Latin American democracy.

Latin America’s post-pandemic future will depend on ensuring that the promise of democracy is fulfilled, that political systems are more representative and inclusive, and that citizens are empowered to help shape the future of their communities.

We are hopeful that Pulsante will contribute to building that more just and democratic society that Latin Americans want and deserve.