Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Nobel Lecture


Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1980

Members of the Nobel Committee, Brothers and Sisters,

I come before you, having just received the Nobel Peace Prize from so prestigious an academy, in order to share a reflection about my continent and our struggle.

I would like to give thanks to everyone for the invitation to speak in this chamber of high learning. Not only to receive me personally, but by the mark of appreciation, recognition and esteem that this invitation implies with respect to the values and actions which sustain and are the hope and faith of our people in the struggle for justice and respect for the dignity of persons as the necessary condition for attaining true peace.

I come as a man of the people, with humility and steadfastness to share with you this reality that I live and know.

When receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, I said, from the first moment, I do not assume a personal honor, but receive it in the name of the people of Latin America, and most especially in the name of the poor, the most small and needy, the indigenous, the peasants, the workers, the young, and the many thousand members of the religious orders who work in the most inhospitable places of our continent, and of all those persons of goodwill who work and struggle to build a society free from domination.

I would like to turn my attention to the anguish and hopes of our Latin Americans, not as a politician or technocrat in regard to social problems, but as a man identifying with the cause of the people in the daily struggle in defense of human rights and the affirming of values, and as a man who shares their hopes and faith in complete liberation.

In the last decades the Church initiated a new kind of reflection and action: the consideration of faith in regard to the brother or sister who suffers, who is dispossessed, the poor.

It is the faces of our workers, peasants, young, old, indigenous, and children that are the face of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who calls us to the obligation to love our brothers and sisters.

The Latin American bishops, gathered in Puebla de los Angeles in Mexico to assess the Latin American reality, gave thought from this perspective: to assume for the Church an inescapable commitment: the first priority must be the poor.

And from all which stood in the way of reflection on the life of our peoples, there is surging forth a new active theology and way of living the faith.

Thus is assumed a reasoned understanding of faith, an intent to know and explain the desperate reality that we live. The poor will not now be seen as objects of charity, as isolated individuals, but as products of a system of structures of injustice that produce marginalisation, misery, and hunger for our people.

It was a sharing of experiences and apprehending knowledge of this reality in all its aspects and facets. For Christians, faith cannot be foreign to these problems; theology, then, was considered as a reflection of this faith and of the moral force of the Word, for the work of liberation from injustice and from sin, in its structural as well as personal dimension.

Reflection is only a partial understanding of truth if it does not translate itself in practice into commitments to the common good and justice. Truth is not mere abstraction, but something to be done; and is only apprehended when this is realized.

It is this concrete work, which Christians must undertake in great numbers, that will lead to the process of liberation of our people.

Like many other persons and Christian organizations, ours, the Service for Peace and Justice in Latin America – of which as General Coordinator I am the current voice for its work and objectives – tries to encourage and exert our efforts on the path toward achieving a society free from domination that overcomes systems of injustice and inspires the fraternal embrace between humans and the reconciliation with God.

Our voice seeks to be the voice of those who have no voice, of those who are excluded, of the humble and small.

Our hands seek to speak the language of those who labor, to add to the effort to construct a new world solidarity founded on love, justice, liberty and truth.

Our analysis is a direct consequence of this commitment; our practice is the theory and use of nonviolence based on the gospel. This is a spirit and a method, the participative power of the struggle for the needs of the most small who are the elect of our Lord, who animates them with His spirit to organize themselves and unite to accomplish their own liberation. It is thus, in this way we are facing our work in Latin America.

I would like now to speak of Latin America, this reality which was defined by the beloved Pope Paul VI as el Continente de la Esperanza, (“the Continent of Hope”).

It seems that in Latin America, as we come wanting to help, we suffer the shock of the contradictions between two models of development of our nations sustained by force and social diversity.

Our Latin American nations have said of our people: “They have taken opportunities to use their talents and to organize themselves and have shown they can succeed to obtain vindication for their just rights”.

The stifling of these rights weighs heavily on this creative capacity and also weighs down the natural economic richness and development of our countries. Latin America lives the anguish of an economically unequal growth that accompanies a development not integral to the participation of the people. This generates conflict that manifests itself in many ways in all parts of our societies.

I speak of situations like that of Bolivia where a military regime pays no heed and oppresses the will of a people.

I speak of Salvador where the general violence, product of structures of domination and injustices with the force of law, seen for decades, compromises today the practical possibility of a peaceful solution.

I speak of Cuba, its prisoners and politicians responsible for clear transgressions against human rights. I speak of Paraguay, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, countries where there exists no capacity for constitutional order nor any intent to institute such order for the openly limited and deceitful forms that will not grant to the people their authentic right to be makers of their own destiny.

I speak of my own Argentina where situations have led to systems of injustice that we share with the rest of our large Latin American fatherland. These have devolved into violence from both the Left and the Right which have resulted in the murdered, the injured, the disappeared, the tortured, prisoned, and exiled.

This situation, anguished and unjust, is shared by all responsible sectors of national life. It is felt with sorrow by the families of the disappeared, and especially the mothers, like the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo whose valorous and international action for peace is a patient witness bearing the sorrow of uncertainty about the fate of their sons.

The churches, the workers’ organizations, the political parties and the institutions for the defense of human rights have all demanded a solution of this problem that stands in the way of a real meeting of the Argentines.

I do not wish to speak more of the above mentioned injustices, since I do not believe the latter is the struggle for you here. These are things I must deal with in my own country and confront with the present government.

I want to express, with special emphasis, my total support for the Pope’s mediation regarding the boundary conflict between the Argentine republic and that of Chile, my brothers.

We know, as His Holiness John Paul II has observed, that there are no differences between our countries that cannot be overcome peacefully. We also know the unique benefits this belief could bring in a similar disaster; and already disasters are in the making from the traffickers in arms and those who want to help certain parties to divide the Latin American peoples.

The only possible solution is peace, since war means only a useless spilling of blood, and, besides, a grave violation of the dignity of both peoples, and even those who are mere spectators of the conflict.

I speak of a continent where millions of persons live who are subjected to the violence of hunger, of endemic disease, of illiteracy, of homelessness, of persecution, both for political reasons and against labor unions.

I speak, in summary, of Latin America where we experience constant violations of the human rights of the people. The violence is expressed toward the disappeared, the prisoners, the tortured, the exiles, the lack of freedom of the press, etc. … it is not only with the attacks against the rights of persons that we must deal. We must analyze also, in all the dimensions of this reality, the deep structural causes which generate these conflict situations. For that, the struggle for the dignity of the individual must consider society as much as the individual in all which has to do with the development of the rights of the people.

But this same continent and these same human beings live, besides, in the hope of making their own history. And to this immense task, where I humbly include myself, we take no more than our own hands and great faith.

To those of you also involved in this struggle on behalf of the poor, I want to bring you the image of this deeply absorbing situation and its significance for world peace.

Latin America does not see itself in the same way, but finds itself caught between an economic-political system and an international social system in profound transformation. Its image of violence reflects the violence of our contemporary world. Its injustices are bound up within an unjust international system, a system whose mechanisms, in the words of John Paul II, “are mechanisms encountered impregnated not with an authentic humanism, but with materialism producing an international standard with the rich ever richer at the expense of the poor ever poorer”.

It is necessary to create the conditions that permit displacing the mechanisms which secure the domination of one country over another. I want to affirm, together with our Latin American pastors in the meeting at Puebla, that in the ability to live together, “… all human beings hold the common good as fundamental, consistent with the ever more fraternal realization of common dignity which does not use some persons as tools for the benefit of others, and that all be disposed to sacrifice for some particular good ends”. This common dignity necessarily implies the existence of liberty.

And for us liberty is that inalienable capacity that all humans alike have at their disposal.

This is the capacity that permits the building of communion and participation which encourage human beings to relate fully with the world, with their brothers and sisters and with God.

I see with concern that this new international system, marked as it is by the existence of great multinational corporations, is far from increasing participation and improving channels of expression for the majority. What is essential are new constructs that allow political participation, eliminating the distance between the governors and the governed, that support the privileges of minorities, and do not hold on to the old, the known and worn-out structures of injustice.

The rules of the game established by the powerful and imposed on the rest of the world make possible the grand crime of our epoch, the arms race. This produces a useless diversion of resources which could be dedicated to the development of our nations. These powers produce and reproduce the conditions of injustice and domination. Such obstacles obstruct the exercise of the full rights of the people and oblige the workers of all latitudes to struggle for labor and political rights – as much in Latin America, as in Poland, in Africa and Asia.

The cause for human rights is the same, in one way or another, in the United States and the Soviet Union.

We would especially like to express our solidarity with Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1975. May he soon regain his liberty, together with Mr. Anatoly Shcharansky, both of whom are detained in the Soviet Union.

We have been speaking here of the anguish over the reality in which Latin America is living, and in particular I have referred to the situation in my country, Argentina. Also I have shown here our active preoccupation with the problems that all people of the world live with in their tireless struggle in defense of their inalienable rights.

I would like now to speak of my hope because it is that which empowers our actions and commitment.

Beginning to speak of this, I am remembering a martyr to peace, the Archbishop of Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Romero, who in his work of the gospel, shared in the way of the people even to giving his life for them. Even his martyrdom is a sign of hope.

Our hope is the benevolent notice of Christ Jesus, who in these days of the Advent and Christmas season fortifies human conscience in all latitudes. We take hope because we believe with St. Paul that love never dies, and that humankind, in the historical process, has always created enclaves of love in solidarity with the active practice of the full rights of persons.

For this, our testimony in the world cannot be limited to the exercise of critical judgement of the injustices of the social, economic, and political order or to the consequent denunciation of the sins of those responsible.

The Christian must act. Act, not based on the conviction that the Christian possesses the key to the secrets of social problems or because he knows how to extract from the Gospels infallible models to transform all situations.

The Christian must act together with all men of goodwill, bringing his humble strength to support the building of a world more just and humane.

I want to affirm with emphasis: this world is possible.

The social order we seek is not a utopia. It is a world where political life is understood in terms of active participation by the governors and the governed in the realization of the common good.

We do not believe in consensus by force. We are accustomed to hearing, wherever human rights are being violated, that it is being done in the name of higher interests. I declare that there exists no higher interest than the human being.

I point out my conviction in the maturity of the people, who are able to govern themselves without paternalistic guardians.

For this reason we have hope. We believe in the vocation and participation of our people, who day to day are awakened to their political conscience and express their desire for change and the complete democratization of society. A change based on justice, built with love, and which will bring us the most anxiously desired fruit of peace.

We must all commit ourselves to this task. And I want my voice to help build the chorus of voices so that the clamor for justice will become deafening.

I live this hope which I am sure I share with many others. I am confident that one day our daily effort will have its reward.

We are working to serve the plan of the Lord, the One whom the prophet Isaiah promised us when he said:

The Lord shall govern the nations, direct and set right the peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and quit the use of their spears. One nation will not lift its sword against another, neither shall they learn war any more.

I wish, finally, to show my deep gratitude to the members of the Nobel Committee and to all those present and to all the people of Norway for having given me such a high distinction.

I am deeply moved and commit myself to redouble my efforts in the struggle for peace.

I implore our Lord that He may, with his infinite mercy, illumine us and guide us on the road to peace and justice.

Peace and good wishes to all.


Muchas gracias. Many thanks.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1971-1980, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1980

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