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Young leader elected to National Congress in Brazil

Marcel van Hattem

Marcel van Hattem was elected councilman in his city of Dois Irmão at the age of 18 in 2004. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, he often heard his parents talk about the difficulty of doing business in Brazil. Through these discussions, he believed that running for public office would give him the opportunity to change the bureaucratic policies that were hampering business. Less than a decade later, a disillusioned Marcel gave up on politics and moved to the Netherlands, with no intention of ever going back to Brazil.

Yet, in October 2018, Marcel was elected to National Congress as a pro-liberty candidate, with nearly twice the votes of his nearest competitor. His journey back to political life as a candidate who refused public funding for his campaign is a testament to the impact of the SFL community. “I’ve given many lectures and talks at SFL events over the years. This helped me to convey my ideas during the campaign. Giving lectures is not only about sharing information, but being challenged by your audience. The students who go to SFL events are diverse and curious, and they formulate good and thoughtful questions. It is valuable for me to have conversations with these students who challenge me.”

When he moved to Europe in 2011, Marcel had lost hope for Brazil, which was overrun by corruption and intrusive government policies.  Unfortunately, this move coincided with the founding of SFL Brazil in 2011, so it would seem that he left Brazil just as the ideas of liberty were starting to take hold.  As fate would have it, Marcel’s move to the Netherlands also coincided with the first European Students For Liberty Regional Conference. As he got involved in the budding ESFL community, Brazil was in its 12th consecutive year of a far-left government. The economy continued to plummet, crime was exploding, and there was little hope for the future.

In fact, people were so desperate that they started to go out and protest in the streets. The ideas of freedom were taking root because of the activism of young Brazilians in Students For Liberty network. In 2014, Marcel’s friends convinced him it was time to return to Brazil and be involved in this revolution. He started working with the founder of SFL Brazil to give lectures on liberty. He later decided to run for State Assembly in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. “My campaign was not your typical one of stump speeches and rallies,” says Marcel. “It was a campaign of lectures. I was invited to SFL clubs across the state to speak in their meetings at universities. Besides getting the chance to talk about my ideas on those occasions, I had the chance to hear students who will lead the next generation in Brazil. Most importantly, I was being assured that there was, indeed, hope in the future.

After a successful election, Marcel was the State Representative of Rio Grande do Sul from 2015 and 2018, until his recent election to Congress in October. Now that his political career has taken him to Brazilian Congress, Marcel’s biggest hope is that, “I can inspire more people. Many political parties in Brazil lack credibility, and politics are seen as dirty.  I am cutting my budget and also giving up housing allowance because I am dedicated to showing that the ideas of liberty lead to better leadership.”

Marcel believes that Students For Liberty’s biggest value is that it inspires hope during a time when the battle for freedom on campus seems lost. “Thank you, Students For Liberty. Without you, I would not have believed. And without you, I would not be back in Brazil, trying to put my state and my country back on the track toward freedom! Thank you, SFL, for reassuring me that I do not want to live in another country. I want to live in another Brazil —a prosperous, democratic, and free Brazil!”