Adrián Pérez was only 12 when former Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín came to power in 1983. But Pérez remembers it as a moment of promise for his generation, a time when the country seemed prepared to finally turn the page on its near half century of fractured politics and military rule.
Pérez has not lost his faith in that promise. In fact, he has become a leading crusader for nonpartisan reform. Now 38, he represents the province of Buenos Aires as a national deputy in the lower house of Congress. Elected in 2003 with the Affirmation for an Egalitarian Republic Party (ARI), he is the president and co-founder of the center-left Coalición Cívica (Civic Coalition), which counts 18 members of Congress among its participants.
Pérez has led initiatives to establish live TV broadcasts of all sessions of Congress and to make the National Institute for Statistics and Census (INDEC) more independent from the executive office. “The INDEC has been completely distorted in the last couple years,” he says. “We’re working to restore its independence and strengthen other institutions.” The replacement of independent technocrats with staff loyal to the government has undermined confidence in economic statistics produced by the government, scaring off investors and creating insecurity over the actual rate of inflation.
A member of Red Acción Política, a Buenos Aires-based NGO that promotes dialogue across party lines, Pérez has exploited his contacts and alliances in Argentina’s polarized politics to promote the Fondo del Ingreso Ciudadano de la Niñez (INCINI), a law similar to other countries’ conditional-cash transfer programs. First presented in Congress in 1997, the legislation would provide indigent Argentine families monthly allowances of up to 200 Argentine pesos ($65) on the condition that their children remain in school. The bill was killed in the Senate in 2004. Last year, Pérez played a key role in courting colleagues in Congress to support the bill, which will be presented again in December 2009.
Perez’ cross-party activism has won him recognition at home and abroad. In 2008 he was one of five legislators to receive a “merit diploma” (an award only given every ten years) for outstanding public service from Fundación Konex, a Buenos Aires-based organization that awards public figures for their contributions to Argentine society. The year before, he was selected by his peers to win the Premio Parlamentario for his legislative work.
One of Pérez’ primary commitments is finding ways to mobilize a new generation in Argentina’s political life. He believes that many young Argentines are disengaged from politics because they perceive politics as “…corrupt and deceptive.”
“We can show young people that politics is a noble activity, “ he says, “And that it can change people’s lives. Young people need to see that politics can be done another way.”