Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

“Peace and Justice in Central and Latin America,” Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

October 28, 1987

Video: “Peace and Justice in Central and Latin America” 

1:29:56 - Abstract | Biography


George Keller: ...political and social caused Perez Esquivel to turn from a career in art to one of political activism. In 1974 he became secretary general of Servicio Paz y Justica in América Latina, an organization set up in Uruguay earlier to coordinate the activities of a number of non-violent groups in Latin America. A disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, Perez Esquivel had earlier joined an Argentinean group dedicated to the principle as militant non-violence, where one of his first projects was to organize weaving, iron-working and carpeting workshops in an urban neighborhood to achieve the Gandhian principle of self-support through craft industry.

In 1972 he carried out a hunger strike to protest the violence caused by both terrorists and police in Argentina. In 1974 he lost a campaign on behalf of the Indians in Ecuador, whose attempt to acquire land were being repressed. The next year he visited Paraguay to help stage protest against government actions on church organized agrarian lands. In the meantime, things were getting worse in his own country, especially after the 1976 coup, which brought power to a group of generals who simply crushed all opposition. Perez Esquivel condemned the junta, particularly for its actions against 10 to 20 thousand desparasitos, the disappeared citizens, kidnapped and killed by the military and police.

On April 4, 1977, he went to a local police station to renew his passport. He was arrested without warning and jailed. Never charged, Perez Esquivel was held for fourteen months, sometimes being tortured. He was released following international campaign of protest. He was kept under house arrest for another nine months. He had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize while still in prison. The award of the prize to him on October 13th, 1980, came after the committee had considered a record number of 57 individuals and 17 organizations. Observers felt the award had been clearly intended to aid his efforts on behalf of the Argentine political prisoners. In the years since, he has lectured around the world, and continued to work in his organization. It is an honor for me to present to you the sixth annual Ava Helen Pauling Lecturer, Adolfo Perez Esquivel. [5:41]

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: For me it's a great honor to be here this evening, to have these times to share together with you and to get to know each other. And it's a double pleasure for me to have a chance to be together again with my great friend and teacher Linus Pauling. A man with whom I had the pleasure and the honor of working together in a great initiative in favor of peace, which was the Peace Ship, that sailed in 1984 from Norway to Panama, and then from Panama to the Port of Corinto in Nicaragua, in an effort to aid the people of that country. And this ship took with it the solidarity of many people, a solidarity that was expressed to the suffering people of Nicaragua. For me it was a marvelous experience to be on this Peace Ship, and to share that time with Linus Pauling and George Wald, another person whose initiative it was, an initiative that took place when we were in Paris together at another meeting, at a time when the CIA was mining the ports and the harbors of Nicaragua.

And this time together this evening has a double meaning, a very special meaning, because it is a lecture being given in honor of his wife, the person who accompanied him through much of his life and his work for peace. I think this time that we have here together this evening is important for us as a time when we can really communicate. I'm going to make a presentation, and then we will have time for your questions and for responses, to a kind of dialogue. [10:09]

But before I go any further, I wanted to mention that Beverly Keen, who is helping us to communicate this evening through the translation, is a colleague who works with us in the Buenos Aires, in the Peace and Justice Service, and works with us in this endeavor. Because what you will all understand is that my English is about this much. So there's a double advantage even in the translation, despite the additional time it takes, for those of you who don't already speak Spanish, maybe this is a fine time to learn it. And those of you who are studying Spanish, this will be a time to learn a little bit more. And those of you who already speak both Spanish and English will have a chance to listen to me twice.

Logically speaking, the topics that we are going to deal with tonight are very broad. There are many different subjects we are going to touch on, but primarily I think we want to talk about the challenge, the challenge that is the construction of peace in our continent. What is going on in Latin America now. And we're going to touch on something that I think is very important for the people of the United States to know and to understand, and that is what are the policies of the US government toward Latin America, and how do we in Latin America view those policies.

I come to you this evening as a brother, from Latin America, I come to you and I speak to you from my own reality. I come from a continent that has been severely punished by hunger, by misery, by the marginalization of its people, by the many conflicts. I come from a continent that has been racked by military dictatorships, and I think we have to ask ourselves why? How did these military dictatorships come into being, how did they arise? What are the origins?

Oftentimes people think that these military dictatorships are the work of four or five crazy generals. I think almost all of the time generals tend to be crazy. But that's not the whole story. There's something more—there's something more that explains why these generals and why the military forces in so many of our countries came to be, in a sense, dictatorships, and came to be a kind of occupying power, occupying troops that were occupying their own peoples, much as happened by the Nazi forces in Germany. [15:03]

Because if we don't analyze this situation, if we don't analyze how the dictatorships came into being for example, we will tend to remain with just looking at the effects of this situation, this situation in Central America, or the effects in Peru, and Chile, and Argentina and Brazil. But we won't really discover what are the causes of this structural violence that affects the lives of our people. And if one begins to analyze in greater depth this entire situation, we will soon begin to ask ourselves about the situation of human rights that so many people talk about. Because when we talk from our perspective in Latin America about human rights, we talk about human rights as something that encompasses two major aspects: the rights of persons, the rights of human individuals, and the rights of peoples, and these we see as things that are very much interrelated.

Every person has a right to life, but a right to a dignified life, the right to a life with possibilities. But we also have to talk about the rights of peoples, because we can see that human rights are not violated just because, but rather the violation of human rights is related to the system of domination and oppression. Because oftentimes when people talk about human rights, they think about torture, or the disappearances, or the deaths, or the imprisonments, but these are really the effects, these are the effects of a kind of violence. But we also have to talk about the kind of violence that pervades our peoples' lives on a daily basis: the violence that is hunger, the violence that is the arms race, the violence of the foreign debt, a debt that is immoral, that is unjust, and that represents a system of oppression.

In very simple terms, I can mention just a few facts. How can it be, for instance, in Latin America, a country or a continent that today has a foreign debt of more than four hundred million dollars, how can it be that they say we have this amount of debt, and yet our people are poorer every day. Who took all this money? Because our people don't have it. What our people have is more misery. What we have are malnourished children, what we have are children who die from their hunger, workers who have no jobs. [19:58]

And even though we have to recognize what our own weaknesses and our own limitations, we also have to recognize, what is the system of domination that has given rise to this situation. And that is why for some time now, I have been talking about and trying to relate in a systematic fashion, three major themes: human rights, the foreign debt, and the processes of democratization in Latin America, because for us these are very much interrelated.

These are not isolated realities, and what we are going to try and do this evening is to go a bit deeper into these aspects of life in Latin America and the way in which they're interrelated. This afternoon while speaking with a group of reporters in a press conference, I talked about what happened after World War II, when the two great powers came together and divided the world as if it were an orange. The Soviet Union and the United States, dividing the world in half. And in this division of the world, Latin America was placed in a sphere of influence, or in a part of the world that belonged somehow to the United States, and countries like Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the other countries of the so-called East Bloc, were placed under the influence of the Soviet Union. Sure, it was easy for the great powers to divide the world, but they never asked us where we wanted to be. Rather, they decided for us.

And this is very serious, because we don't want to belong to either of these two blocks. And that is why we struggle for our own liberation, for our own right to self-determination. We want to live as free men and women, not as slaves. And that is why we are making this journey, why we are working toward liberation, an integral kind of liberation.

Nonetheless, we can see that in Latin America, after the signing of the Yalta Accords, we begin to see imposed on our societies this so-called national security doctrine. And we can see that according to this national security doctrine, there is a kind of division, or dividing of the world into the east and west, the creation of this bipolar conflict. And according to this vision, it placed on one side capitalism, and on the other side communism. And to capitalism they attributed the so-called western or Christian civilization, and I say it may be very western, but I don't think it's very Christian. And on the other hand, together with communism they associate anything or everything that is opposed to this other vision of capitalism, all kinds of other socialism, anything that's in opposition to this other vision. [24:59]

And then what follows is a kind of ordering of society, in all of its dimensions, the economic sphere, its social life, the political arena, in cultural and in its religious dimensions as well. And logically speaking, it is within the context or the framework of this national security ideology that military officers from throughout Latin America were then trained. They were trained at the US School of Americas in Panama, and at military academies in this country like West Point. And it's very important that you all know these things, these realities, and that you have or that you seek greater clarity with respect to what are US policies toward Latin America. Because if we don't understand this, we won't be able to understand, for instance, what's happening today in Nicaragua, why this kind of permanent aggression against Nicaragua.

I think we have to begin to relate these things, we have to begin to understand how these eighty thousand military officers from Latin America who received this kind of training in the United States, and from the United States, and then went back to their countries and were the people who carried out the coup d' états, the people who established dictatorships in our countries. And it was under these dictatorships that then the very serious human rights violations occurred in Latin America. Thousands of people disappeared, children, who were kidnapped and disappeared, children for whom we continue to search today. An enormous foreign debt - a debt that is immoral, a debt that is unpayable, and a debt that we don't think about even paying. Because it is a debt that is impossible for us to pay. It's a debt that today is creating greater tension among our people and within our societies, that is creating greater conflicts, confrontations. And I think it would be very important for the international banks to begin to review their policies, and to find ways of changing them. But after this period of dictatorships throughout most of the seventies in Latin America, we begin to see a new era begin, an era where there are now processes of democratization going on in many of our countries. [29:40]

But what kind of democracy are we talking about? Because it's one kind of thing, or it's one thing, the kind of democracy that you have in the United States, or that you think and talk about here, or another kind that people have in Europe, and it's a different kind of democracy that we have or that we talk about in Latin America. This afternoon in the press conference I was reminded and mentioned Eduardo Galeano, that well-known Uruguayan writer who wrote, among other things, The Open Veins of Latin America. And Galeano, in a recent article, writes that, "For a long time in Latin America, we suffered under the dictatorships. And today what we have is a form of 'democradura,' a word that simply does not translate into English, but is a combination of democracy and dictatorship." He says that what happened is that the military got up out of the presidential seat of power, but simply went to stand behind it. In sociological terms we'd have to refer to these kinds of democracies as controlled, or restricted democracies. A situation in which the face gets cleaned up a bit, but the situation itself doesn't really change. And here we could just very quickly look at the situation, what is happening in many countries in Latin America. We're not going to mention all of the countries, but we can mention some of them.

In Guatemala today there is a constitutional government, headed by a president, a civilian president named Benicio Curacao, who is a member of the Christian Democratic Party. But we see that today in Guatemala very serious human rights violations continue to be committed. Where is the democracy in Guatemala? I visited Guatemala earlier this year, and I went and I visited one of the so-called concentration camps, a camp that they call a model village in Guatemala, but I think rather than a model village it's really a model of concentration. They continue to destroy that very marvelous people, the people in Guatemala who are descendants of the ancient Mayan civilization. And these concentration camps are just like what was implemented earlier in Vietnam.

And we can look at Honduras, a country that today is occupied, that is occupied by foreign troops, primarily from the United States, where there are today some nine air bases that have been established in that country, yet Honduras is a very very poor country. And nonetheless they say that Honduras is a democracy, but what kind of democracy are we talking about?

And El Salvador, a country that is in the midst of a civil war, where very serious human rights violations are committed, a country where just a few days ago the president of the Salvadoran Human Rights commission was assassinated. [34:57]

And then there's a country like Peru, the government of Alan Garcia, a president who has very good intentions, but a situation in which the military of that country continued to commit very serious human rights violations. As does the guerrilla forces of Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path Guerrillas.

I often remember the words of a bishop and a good friend of mine, a Catalan who works in Brazil, a man by the name of Pedro Casaldáliga, and he says that there are two words that are most abused in all the world. One of them is "democracy," and the other is "love." What do you think? I think we have to rescue the meaning of the words that we use, because words have very particular, very deep meanings. We have to see the way in which they are used.

We have to be about the task of building, or creating a new dimension of humanity, but we have to see the way in which words are used, and to be sure they are used in their correct fashion. What does democracy really mean? Some people think that democracy means every four or every six years placing your vote in a ballot box, but that's not democracy. That's perhaps a form, or it's one way of exercising, part of what democracy can be about, but that's not democracy. For me, democracy means participation by the people. It means a kind of distribution of the goods of society, a more just, a more humane distribution of those goods. Our people cannot remain as spectators of their own lives. They must become the actors in their own lives. This means that people must begin to participate in all aspects of their lives. It means we must work together to build new forms of society, a more just, a more fraternal, a more humane life for all people.

I have been amazed to read over the last few days, that here in the United States, there are some twenty million people who are needy, people in this country who suffer hunger and who have basic needs that go unmet. And this happens in the richest country on Earth. How is this possible? What is happening in this society?

For me, democracy means that in no worker's home is food lacking, and that there are adequate resources available for all people to cover their needs and health, and education, and housing, to ensure that all workers earn a just wage. [40:06]

And I think these are some of the things that we have to change. Doesn't it seem, or wouldn't it be more logical, if instead of the billions of dollars that the Reagan administration is voting for the Contra in Nicaragua, that he took those same resources and used them to meet the needs of needy people in this country? And I think that it is the responsibility of all of us to change these situations, not that we need your aid, or that we want your aid, we simply want to be left alone. We want to be allowed to make our own decisions that affect our own lives. And I want to talk with you a bit about the situation today in Central America.

Just two days ago, Beverly and I arrived from Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We have been trying to support the process of building peace in Central America, and we're seeing to the possibility of accompanying a delegation of Miskito leaders in their return to Nicaragua. But today we see that there is considerable pressure being placed on the revolutionary process in Nicaragua to negotiate with the Contra, but I think this is something that would mean really turning the revolution over, surrendering it. But I think here that there's something we have to be very clear about, something that springs from our own experience, particularly in Argentina, a very painful experience, and one that is common to much of Latin America. We've learned many things in these difficult periods, in these difficult struggles, and one of them is that whoever negotiates with an assassin ends up being assassinated. And Nicaragua doesn't have any suicidal intentions.

I think at the present time we can see that Nicaragua is the country that has gone the furthest, that has advanced the most in the process of peace that was, or the peace agreements that were signed by the five Central American presidents. Nicaragua has declared an amnesty, and it has reopened La Prensa, the newspaper, and the Catholic radio station. Communications means that had been temporarily suspended because of the war conditions existing in the country. I think that these are clear, very important steps that the Nicaraguan government has taken that demonstrate the willingness or the disposition of the Nicaraguan government to build peace in its country and in the region. [45:07]

There are many Miskito Indians that are now returning to their homelands and their villages on the Atlantic coast in Nicaragua, who are trying to reestablish their lives and their villages. And in the Atlantic coastal zone of Nicaragua there is a whole process, ongoing, of peace and autonomy. And I think there will continue to be movement in this process of trying to negotiate, and trying to move forward, and to fulfill the obligations of Guatemala or Esquipulas to peace accords.

Nonetheless we see a situation like that in Honduras, a country which has yet even to form the National Reconciliation Commission that was stipulated in accords. And something that is simply inconceivable, the fact that the government of Honduras continues to deny that there is any Contra presence in its country at all. This despite the fact that the Contra have occupied more than five hundred square kilometers of Honduran territory, and that it is within Honduras that they have established their operational bases. And these are realities that are obviously making very difficult the peace process in Central America. But unfortunately these are the realities that most of our newspapers don't publish. We see a lot of attacks against Nicaragua, but we don't see this other kind of news. And oftentimes we see that Nicaragua is attacked, or it is said that Nicaragua is a totalitarian regime, but that's not true. Nicaragua is a democracy. It's a new form of democracy, something that perhaps doesn't look like the kind of democracy we may be accustomed to. But it's a new form of democracy that is being created for its people.

I often say that democracy is not something that can be exported like Coca Cola. Each country, each people, has to find its own way, has to build its own alternatives in this construction of a new society or a new way of life. And we can really see what are some of the differences between the revolutionary process in Nicaragua and the kind of democracy that is being created there, and what is the reality in the rest of the continent of Latin America, these kinds of democraduras that Eduardo Galeano referred to. And yet we see in Central America the tiny country of Nicaragua, whose revolutionary process I think can perhaps be delayed, but can never be held back, as the people of Nicaragua go about the process of building and constructing their own kind of society, their own democracy. [49:59]

When we talk about these kind of problems, when we look at the situation, oftentimes as I travel around many people ask me, well what can we do? What can I do about this? And I think there's much we can do about these situations.

What you can begin to do is to build solidarity with the people of Central America. You can prevent the congress from approving more aid, more support to the Contras attacking Nicaragua. And you can see to it that those resources are instead used to meet the needs of the people in this country. And logically speaking, and I think here is in a sense the most central point, but the most conflictual point, we can see that there is a whole policy today that is designed to really ensure that the Esquipulas two peace accords, or this peace process that has been put in motion, fails.

If we begin to analyze, for instance, the steps that the United States government has taken, in relation to its policy in Nicaragua, we can come out with a very clear, a very concrete conclusion. The United States interrupted the bilateral talks that were going on in Manzanillo, Mexico, between Nicaragua and the US. It was the US which declared that it would not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Here is a situation where we find a great power like the United States simply saying it will use the court when it serves its interests, and when it doesn't, it will simply ignore it. And it's the US which worked to systematically block the Contadora peace process and the activities of the group of support nations from Latin America, and is now working to block the Esquipulas two peace processes. What are you waiting for? Another Vietnam?

I'm sure that neither we nor you want to see another Vietnam in Central America. And we have to work to ensure that there are no more Vietnams anywhere in the world, not just in Central America. This is our responsibility, and it's a responsibility that we must each of us take on. This is what I'd like to express to the people here in the United States, so that we can join this effort together in building this solidarity. Because in the way that we can be in solidarity with another people, or with other peoples, we will find that we also find solidarity with ourselves and with our own people. [55:06]

Only once we become critically aware of the situation and of our own responsibility will we be able to change this reality. Oftentimes when people talk about the problems we face in Latin America, they talk about them as if they're east-west problems, but I say that's not the case. Our problems in Latin America are not east-west problems, they are north-south problems. For us the problem is not communism, the problem is hunger; the marginalization and the exploitation of our people.

We have not come with a critical attitude of the people of the United States, because one of the things that we have learned is that there is a big difference in the people of the United States and the government of the United States. We know that there are many brothers and sisters from this country who have come to Latin America, many of them who have gone to Nicaragua, and many of them who have even given their lives for our people. You may know that right now, there is one person from the United States, a member of the Witness for Peace delegation, who is being held by the Contra forces in Nicaragua. And we must ask ourselves what can we do to help free this brother? What did we do for the lives of so many brothers and sisters, for so many massacres, for so many killings in Latin America?

Perhaps some of you remember this beautiful poem that was written by Bertolt Brecht. And it goes something like this:

They took him away because he was a Jew, and I didn't care because I wasn't Jewish.
They took him because he was a student, but I didn't care because I wasn't a student.
They took him away because he was a worker, and I didn't care because I wasn't a worker.
They took him because he was Christian, but I didn't care, because I wasn't a Christian.
And then they took me. But now it was too late.

And I think that we have to work so that it will never be too late for any human being. There are obviously many other things that we could talk about, and we could obviously go much deeper into many of the things we've mentioned. And we're obviously not going to exhaust the subject tonight. But what I think we can do is begin to become more aware of the situation and of these realities. [59:57]

We've talked a lot about the pain and the anguishes of our people, but we must also be aware that our people are a people who live a lot of hope. Our peoples, despite all of their suffering, have not given up. They remain afoot, struggling, advancing. And we have a responsibility: a responsibility to help strengthen, to help build that hope. To help people believe that peace is possible. Because we have to understand that peace has nothing to do with passivity. That kind of peace in the cemeteries where the military killed so many of our people and then said that we lived in peace. Peace is, rather, a kind of permanent dynamic, a permanent dynamic of life. It has to do with the way we relate to each other, how we get on despite the kind of differences that we have, how we come to respect one another, respect ourselves as individuals and as peoples.

Today we have to meet this historic challenge that means and that has to do with the life of our people. But if we continue with a kind of individualist mentality, if we don't build this solidarity among peoples, then we'll see that this kind of violence will touch each of our lives. We see and we take with great hope for instance today in Latin America, the reality that so many of our people are growing in this kind of critical awareness of their reality and their situation. Among the base communities, within church groups, within workers organizations. And these are some of the signs of hope that we see, some of the signs of hope like that tiny Nicaragua, signs of hope such as the journey that our people are making throughout Latin America. And what we see in the reality that so many brothers and sisters from around the world are building solidarity with out people in Latin America.

I'd like to conclude now this presentation in order to give time and to open time for your questions and our dialogue with the following reflection. Oftentimes as I travel around people ask me what I expect in the future. What do I expect the future will be for our people? And I say, I often respond that I think the future is something that I don't need a crystal ball to tell. The future is something we can see and we can read in the actions people take every day. Because the future will be build with the kind of courage that people have to have to live each day. And what is important here is that each of you has correct information about these kind of things that I've been mentioning. That you seek out the truth. You must know what is the reality of US policy with respect to Latin America. What it means. And I would simply close by inviting you, each of you, to be a generator, to be someone who helps create and build this peace and this solidarity among our peoples. Thank you. [1:06:04]

Well I think it's a great shame that this is not the position that we're taking. It certainly worked in 1963 – that's the one reason we got even a partial test ban treaty was because we unilaterally announced a suspension and the Soviets joined us. It's a technique which I think we shouldn't ignore. But the answer from the Pentagon is what you always would expect from the Pentagon – "we have a lot of things we want to test right now, so why should we agree to give up testing for the moment?" Of course, this is the available answer that is constantly being given – either we're too far ahead or we're too far behind. Or we have a program that we want to achieve in order to complete the program. It's the most frustrating business in the world because it's so simple-minded and so very hard to answer. [52:06]

Bill Wilkins: Dr. Esquivel will answer some questions, and the way we'd like to work this is that there are ushers that have some pieces of paper, and perhaps some of you have pieces of paper. We'd prefer that you write the question on a piece of paper and then hold up your hand, if you need a piece of paper. Pass them to the center aisles and the ushers will bring them forward, and the interpreter will think about how to pose the question in Spanish, and it'll work much more smoothly that way, I think. So let's proceed with the questions and answers.

Audience Question: What is your suggestion for how [this situation] might improve?

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: I think there exist many alternative kinds of communication mechanisms, many organizations that produce and publish very good and very correct information about Latin America. Among those I could mention just a few, groups like WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America, or Americas Watch, or Pax Christi International. And there are many other organizations, such as here in Oregon, the Council for Human Rights and Latin America, with offices in Portland and Eugene.

Audience Question: The next question is as follows: 'I think US policy interferes in Latin America because of our government's fear of communism. Would you comment, please?'

Esquivel: I think that to follow a kind of policy like this is in fact the best or the greatest propaganda that communism can have. If we look at the situation of our peoples in Latin America, I think we have to see that communism has really not found a foothold in our continent. [1:09:53]

But communism is used throughout the continent in order to oppress our people, and to persecute those who are working to build greater life and to defend human rights.

Audience Question: A question in Spanish: 'What can we Central Americans do who are looking in a sense for the peace dove, who, in order to defend ourselves from the ferocious eagle that represents the eagle of war, how can we defend ourselves?'

Esquivel: I think one of the most important things you can do in a sense is to organize yourselves, to organize the popular sectors in your country, and this we can do, both working through international solidarity as well as within each of our countries. Our people have to begin to discover the kind of potential that they have—the kind of capacity that they have to transform these situations, to change these realities, if they come together, if they unite. What has always followed is a policy that seeks to divide, and thus conquer us, and we must seek to turn this situation around by coming together. We have in a sense translated our kind of struggle, our work in defense of human rights, into a kind of mass mobilization, a mobilization of the grass roots.

Audience Question: The question is with respect to the Nicaraguan peace process, and it is as follows: 'Does the Nicaraguan government dare trust the cardinal to be a fair mediator between the government and the Contras?'

Esquivel: Recently many of our newspapers have reported a meeting that took place between Cardinal Obando y Bravo and Contra leaders in New York. What the cardinal can tell the Contra leaders is that they should give up their armed struggle, accept the amnesty, and return to Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan government has been very clear that it will not negotiate with the Contra. But there does exist in Nicaragua an amnesty, and there are already many leaders of the Contra who have accepted the amnesty and returned. One of them is Edgar Chamorro. With respect to Cardinal Obando y Bravo, he is currently the president of the National Reconciliation Commission in Nicaragua. And frankly, I hope that the Holy Spirit will inspire him to work and to place himself at the service of his people. [1:14:45]

Audience Question: The question is, 'With respect to the political situation in Paraguay, what is it like? And with the military dictatorship in that country, what can we do to bring about peace in Paraguay?

Esquivel: You may know that Paraguay has the longest lasting dictatorship in all of Latin America. The dictatorship of Stroessner has now been in power for some 32 years in that country. And presently there are mobilizations, demonstrations, different kind of organizing going on, both within Paraguay, and in exile, outside Paraguay. And one of the ways in which you can help this process in Paraguay is by supporting the organizations, and by denouncing the very serious human rights violations that are being committed by the Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay.

Audience Question: The question is, 'What do you recommend with respect to the foreign debt in Latin America?'

Esquivel: Well I've already mentioned that I think the foreign debt in Latin America is something that is impossible to pay. You all probably know that it is the United States that has the largest foreign debt of any country. I think there are in a sense some clues that will help us understand, and therefore begin to work toward, a resolution of the debt problem. And that is first to understand that the debt is not an economic problem fundamentally but rather a political problem, and therefore we must begin to look for political solutions to the problem of the debt. Because if the foreign debt is allowed to continue in the present kind of circumstances, we can see that sooner or later it will provoke a kind of economic crash. We can see what has just been happening over recent days, what has been happening within the international bank.

We have, I think, some proposals that we can make. One of them might be to decrease or to diminish, by simply fifteen percent, the arms race, the amount of resources invested in the arms race. Those monies could then be used to absorb the foreign debt and to really promote development within our countries. For sure, I would like to see all of the arms race stopped. But just to be realistic, let's just talk about reducing the arms race by some fifteen percent. But then with those monies that could be used to absorb the foreign debt, we also need to ensure that a new national economic order is constructed. Because nobody can pay a debt through recessive kinds of policies. What must happen is that these monies must be invested in production, and the development of our countries and our people. They must be used to increase the productive capacity of our countries. [1:20:04]

Rather than the big powers continuing simply to discuss whether they are going to disarm or not, they have the opportunity to really do it. But that's a political decision. But up until now, there doesn't seem to be a political willingness to take those decisions. Recently when we were in Costa Rica, we realized that the United States banks raised the interest rate. Costa Ricans went to bed one night and they had a terrible nightmare - they woke up the next morning and were confronted by the news that suddenly they owed $16,000,000.00 more to the foreign banks. As you can see, to continue in this kind of path is simply a suicide mission. In a very short amount of time we'll reach a point where I think most countries in Latin America will simply say, 'We cannot pay.' That's the end. And what will happen then? I think the suggestion with respect to reducing the arms race is just one suggestion, it's one possibility. There will be many others. But it's important to seek out and to make workable these suggestions.

Audience Question: The question is, 'How does your work as an artist parallel your political involvement?'

Esquivel: Well I think that art is something that is not separate from, or shouldn't be separated from, life. We as artists also live, and we are therefore political beings, and so there has to be a relationship between our political involvement and our art. As artists, as human beings, we are political beings. We're not aseptic, we are part of what is going on in our reality and our [unintelligible]. And we have to recognize that every person is involved in politics. Even the person who remains silent, who keeps quiet, is involved with that silence in doing politics, or in being political.

Audience Question: I think, as the cards continue to pile up, we're just gonna take two more questions. The question is as follows, 'Just to play devil's advocate, I ask you this: does the US do anything good in Latin America?'

Esquivel: I think there was a moment in time when US policy toward Latin America was looked at with a certain amount of sympathy in Latin Americans. That was during the Carter administration, with respect to its human rights policies. [1:25:05]

I remember for instance, among others, Patricia Derian, who was a representative of the Carter administration, visited Argentina several times. She also visited other countries in Latin America, and her action, and the action of the Carter administration, was very instrumental in saving lives, and this was very important. And there was another important step - this was the Kennedy Amendment. That was an amendment that was designed to the military aid to those countries that violated human rights. But I think that the United States can do much more for understanding among our peoples.

Audience Question: The question is, 'Please comment about the present situation in Chile, and how the problems there can be resolved.'

Esquivel: You'd have to tell the Reagan administration to stop aiding the Pinochet government in Chile. In this way we could allow, or hope to allow, the people of Chile to really begin a process of democratization in their country, because we see today that there are very serious human rights violations in Chile. You may know that there are two countries in Latin America that do not presently allow me in—one is Chile (Pinochet doesn't like me), and the other is Paraguay. The two dictatorships that remain in the southern cone of Latin America. The role of the popular organizations and of the church in particular in Chile are very significant. But we hope that this dictatorship can be gotten rid of very soon.

Moderator: Well, I appreciate your asking so many questions, unfortunately we have a pile of questions left. Could keep us going until midnight, and they're very good questions, all of them, it's pretty hard to decide what questions to present to him, so...we do have one last event here, and that's the presentation of a book...

Bill Wilkins: Let me, particularly on behalf of the faculty and students of the college of liberal arts, who are pleased to manage this event for the university community, I am very pleased to present to you sir, a memo of our region and our university. The Atlas of the Pacific Northwest, edited by members of our faculty, written by members of our faculty, and printed by the OSU Press. Thank you for a momentous evening. [1:29:56]


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