PARTICIPATION in politics is something which Latin American students inherited from their forebears in Europe, especially in Spain, where for centuries students have played prominent roles in the fight for human rights. In the New World, frequent tyrannical governments have made the practice more usual than it ever was in Europe. During periods of dictatorship, students have been the repositories of the ideals of the nation and they have given expression to the grievances of the people. They have often shouted from the housetops what their fathers dared say only in the privacy of the home. On other occasions when their fathers rationalized the status quo, the new generation has repudiated them as old-fashioned in their thinking.
Three conditions give special weight and direction to student political activity: (1) Latin Americans have respect for the educated; (2) an increasing number of students come from the poorer classes and are impatient for social reform; and (3) Latin American populations are young--over 70 percent of Venezuelans, for instance, being under 30 years of age. For these reasons, the counsels of the aged, the experienced and the sophisticated are less listened to, and those of the students are more listened to, than in most other parts of the world.
As the tide of democracy has swung back and forth, the students of Latin America have been constant in their support of its ideals and have been in the forefront of the revolutions against tyrannies. A tradition has grown up; the students are expected to keep alive the goals toward which the nation should be working during the dominance of dictators, whether good or bad. As the students leave the universities for other pursuits they may become aligned with special interests, they may turn to the support of dictators, they may become disillusioned and may cause disillusionment in others; but there are always new generations of students and, despite past failures, the public remains not only confident that they will keep the ideals alive but also hopeful that the millennium
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