Some outstanding current and aspiring leaders of Latin America are getting a better perspective on the United States and its political system, thanks to a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department. "We are young leaders and we are the present," said Raul Jimenez, economist and director of CoPlan, a non-governmental organization in Arequipa [ah-ree-KEEP-ah], Peru. He is one of twenty participants in the Grassroots Democracy for Young Leaders visitor program.
Mr. Jimenez and his fellow Latin American visitors, all community leaders, were selected by the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program to spend three weeks with their American counterparts throughout the United States.
The program is designed to provide participants with a better understanding of U.S. democracy at all levels of government, with the help of academic experts who outline the diversity of American political views and how this diversity contributes to a dynamic and pluralistic political system.
During the first week of the program, which runs from July 14 through August 1, the participants were introduced to the U.S. government and visited Washington D.C.-based civic organizations. Representatives of nongovernmental organizations from four cities in the U.S. also shared their experiences as young leaders engaged in public policy.
Participants learned about the struggles faces by many U.S. organizations that promote civic participation. Nuria Joy Dixon, executive assistant in the Nicaraguan Presidential Office for the Caribbean Coast said that hearing about these experiences motivated her to continue her hard work despite the obstacles she may confront in her local community.
Democracy success depends on active involvement from community leaders and grassroots organizations. Through exchanges like the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. seeks to better enable current and future leaders from many nations and many cultures to learn from their counterparts in the United States and to teach them about building institutions fundamental to democracy.