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Latin America’s unrest in the eyes of Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Argentinean Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, while detained by the ruling military junta. At 88 years-old, he keeps a watchful eye on the "Great Homeland" and believes that, at this difficult time, the “prophecy” of Pope Francis is the answer to the crisis of the Continent, experiencing widespread lack of justice and equality, and of the whole world

Latin America is experiencing its most turbulent autumn in years: people taking to the streets, violence and repression, sudden changes of power and unstable dialogues. There is almost no country, from the south to Central America, to the Antilles, that has not experienced or is not experiencing street protests. Over the past few weeks alone, massive demonstrations have rocked Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia. Now, unprecedented in the history of that country, the same is happening in Colombia. Have the peoples woken up? SIR asked this question to Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a leading personality in the battles for peace and justice across the continent, awarded in 1980, while detained by Argentina’s Military Junta. Today, approaching his 88th birthday (next November 26), he keeps a watchful eye on the “Great Homeland”. He returned from Chile a few days ago, invited as guest speaker by the bishops of the apostolic vicarage of Aysén, Msgr. Luis Infanti de La Mora, and of Concepción, archbishop Fernando Chomali.

An intellectual who remains a point of reference, despite some controversial and questionable opinions on realities such as Cuba (he was a personal friend of Fidel Castro), Venezuela and now Bolivia. A great admirer of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, with whom he has very good relations, he believes that in this difficult moment the “prophecy” of Pope Francis is the answer to the crisis of the Continent experiencing widespread lack of justice and equality, and of the whole world. An urgent appeal to “non-violence”, for violence can only lead “to further, endless violence.”

Professor Esquivel, have Latin America’s peoples woken up?

It’s a difficult situation, although I have to say that in Latin America their is a state of permanent rebellion, as a result of policies that perpetuate the people’s inequality, unemployment and lack of opportunities. The peoples will no longer tolerate unfulfilled promises and the misguided policies of the International Monetary Fund. It is the failure of neoliberal policies, while some very serious developments are taking place all over the continent. The government’s repression in Chile has reached the threshold of crimes against humanity, there are reports of women being raped with the involvement of children. It’s an extremely worrying situation. Alarming incidents are happening in Bolivia, amidst violence and forcible suppression. In my opinion a coup is taking place with the backing of the Organisation of American States. Secretary Luis Almagro is no longer legitimated to remain in office, he has let himself be manipulated by US interests. Brazil is also part of the picture, starting with the ousting of Dilma Rousseff and Lula’s legal case, followed by Bolsonaro’s current policies. Or Ecuador. Above all, I would like to say a word about the very serious situation in Haiti, that everyone has forgotten, where the protests have been going on for months and people are starving.

 In your Argentina, however, there is a counter-tendency with the victory of leftist Peronists…

Argentina is facing a record debt. We shall now see how the new government intends to moves forward. I am personally convinced that what happened in Bolivia was also aimed at isolating Argentina, while the neoliberal right took the lead in Uruguay’s elections.

Considering the situation of Bolivia, as well as of other countries, don’t you think that also the left has had made some serious mistakes in the last years?

To be honest, it would seem that the greatest responsibility, in general, lies with the United States, which is once again conditioning Latin American politics and democratic governments, and does not want it to develop independently.

During the last few weeks, violence was caused by government repression, but in many cases also by protesters, especially in Chile. What is your opinion?

I would say that yes, it’ s true.

I am always in favour of non-violent protests. Violence produces more violence.

As for what happened in Chile in particular, there were some very grave incidents. But in my view they were caused by people from outside the Country, and in any case I don’t identify them as Chilean people.

Two other scourges of the Latin American countries are drug trafficking and structural corruption. What can be done to prevent them?

War is financed by drug trafficking, it happens in the Middle East and even here. Greater effort is needed to combat it, at the international level. As for corruption, control mechanisms must be put in place with regard to political leaders, with a stronger and more independent judiciary. There’s no other way.

Pope Francis has said and done a lot for peace in the Continent, from Cuba to Columbia. On several occasions he spoke out in support of people’s movements. Do you share his message?

I do believe that in these years the Pope has done everything he could for peace in Latin America, focusing in particular on the poor. I would also like to highlight the importance and impact of the encyclical Laudato Si’, the call for respect for mother earth, reiterated also in the recent Synod. In the meantime Amazonia is on fire and Brazilian President Bolsonaro pursues policies of utter disdain for the environment. Of course, the role of the popular movements is important, but it must be freed from violent groups. There is a pressing need to renew politics, to provide solutions capable of raising the level of well-being of the population at large. Unfortunately, most of the time today we are confronted with deteriorating policies, which speculate on problems rather than resolve them, removed from people’ lives.

Do the Pope’s interventions require stronger support?

Pope Francis is asking the world for a change of vision. I am thinking of the Middle East, of the migration issue, of his visits to Lampedusa and Lesbos. But European governments are also turning a blind eye. Many are trying to silence him. His is a message of evangelical radicalism, but there are some, even inside the Church, who don’t want to give up their privileges. We must continue recognizing the Pope’s efforts and support him.

Are you hoping that he will visit Argentina next year and be able to meet him?

It would make me very happy, obviously it’s not up to me. In the meantime, I hope that the new government will fulfil its promises. President Alberto Fernández will launch a vigorous campaign against hunger and I am pleased that he has called José Graziano Da Silva, former FAO Director General, he will be very helpful. The intentions are good, yet they must turn into action. I hope that in Argentina, and elsewhere, we will come together in our diversity.

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