Nobel Winner promotes peace

Florencia Agote

Speaking in Spanish with a translator by his side for those who could not understand him, Adolfo PÇrez Esquivel brought his message of nonviolent activism for Latin America to the University campus.
At the University’s Law School, PÇrez Esquivel, the 1980 Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner, addressed 80 people Tuesday at a conference on “The Non-violent Struggle for Human Rights & Justice Today.”
“Adolfo PÇrez Esquivel is among those Argentines who have shone a light in the darkness,” said Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, co-director of the Human Rights Center.
In 1976, the right-wing Argentine military seized power, curtailing political activity and launching a campaign that eventually crushed the militant leftist opposition. More than 30,000 people vanished during the 1970s, and many of the missing were abducted and killed by military forces.
PÇrez Esquivel took up the cause of the “desaparecidos” — the disappeared — and their families, as well as supported nonviolent demonstrations in Latin America. In this kind of action, he described himself as “a voice for those who have no voice,” following the nonviolent tactics of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King as the best way to fight for the struggles of human rights in Latin America.
“He is a modern Ghandi,” said Kathryn Sikkink, a political science professor.
In 1973, PÇrez Esquivel founded the Ecumenical Movement of Peace and Justice Service, in collaboration with Catholics, Protestants and others opposed to the violent confrontation between left- and right-wing political forces in Argentina. A year later, he became secretary general of the Peace and Justice Service, a Buenos Aires-based network of human-rights activists in Latin America.
“He champions a solution of Argentina’s grievous problems that dispenses with the use of violence and is the spokesman of a revival of respect for human rights,” said John Sannes, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in a 1980 Boston Globe article.
The organization has helped rural laborers obtain land and trade unions to protect workers’ rights through legal assistance.
In Tuesday’s conference, PÇrez Esquivel stressed the problem of economic and political interests over human rights and laws. He also focused on the causes of violent acts throughout the world.
PÇrez Esquivel is one of 12 Nobel Prize winners participating in PeaceJam 2000, an international collaboration that unites Nobel Peace Prize winners with youth in Berlin, Brazil and California, as well as Minnesota, to stress the importance of education to provide peace.
“Our first step is always to make people aware that they are human beings and deserving of dignity. Nonviolence is an act of resistance through which we seek to create a new society where the power relationships are different than they are today,” PÇrez Esquivel said.
In April 1977, he tried to get a passport to attend a human-rights conference in Europe and was arrested without being charged by the Argentine government. The arrest caught the attention of Amnesty International and other supporters in Argentina and abroad, and he was released in 1978, having spent much of his imprisonment in solitary confinement.
“A brutal repression. People were at home and military commanders would enter a house and kidnap everybody in it. Many of us were also in prison and tortured,” PÇrez Esquivel said.
PÇrez Esquivel has also created sculptures, which have been widely displayed in Argentine museums and galleries. He gave up his position as a professor of architecture in Buenos Aires to devote his life to human-rights work.