Letter from Pérez Esquivel to Obama
President of the United States of America
Dear Mr. Barack H. Obama,
A greeting of Peace and Goodwill:
We have learned in recent days that you will be undertaking a historic trip to Cuba, and that later you will be coming to Argentina, to develop closer cooperation bonds with the newly elected government.
We follow very closely the positive progress that, with the aid of Pope Francis, has allowed the doors of hope and dialogue to be opened between the people of Cuba and of the United States. You know well that there is a long road to cover until you can finally lift the embargo and close the military base that your country holds in Guantánamo, wherein human rights of prisoners are violated, absent trials and absent any possibility of achieving freedom.
We hope that you will accomplish this, in spite of the strong opposition raised by your country’s Congress.
In the letter you sent to me last year, unlike your predecessors, you have acknowledged that your country does violate human rights, and you mentioned your intention of “bringing that chapter of American history to an end”.
This is why it is important for you to know that you are not coming to Argentina on just any day. In 1976, while you were only 14 years old, and your country was celebrating two centuries of independence, we were starting the most tragic period of our history, with the implementation of a state terrorism which subjected our people to prosecution, torture, death, and forced disappearance of persons in order to deny them their rights to freedom, independence and sovereignty.
I am writing as a survivor of this horror who, like many others, was a victim of prosecution, imprisonment and torture in the defense of human rights against the Latin American military dictatorships imposed by the Doctrine of National Security and by the “Operation Condor”, with financing, training, and coordination by the United States. It was due to this collective struggle that I was given the Nobel Peace Prize, which I received in the name of the peoples of Latin America.
While the United States was training the Latin American Armed Forces at the School of the Americas (SOA) in torture and kidnapping methods, here, in league with local elites, neoliberal policies were encouraged, which destroyed the manufacturing capabilities of the country and which resulted in an illegal and illegitimate external debt. Even though we repudiate these actions, we also acknowledge the solidarity of the people of the United States, and, although they were an exception, of former President Jimmy Carter and of the Secretary of Human Rights, Patricia Derian, who called out against the actions by the dictatorship.
You will be coming to my country on the National Day for Memory, for Truth and for Justice, on the same day of the 40th anniversary of the last genocidal dictatorship in Argentina, and on the 200th anniversary of our national independence. Certainly, you cannot deny that your country has many pending debts with our country and with many others.
If your intention is to come here to acknowledge on behalf of the United States of America that your country was an accomplice of coups d’état in this region, in the past and currently; to announce that your country will sign and ratify the Statute of Rome and be subject to the International Criminal Court; and to stop being the only American country which does not ratify the American Convention on Human Rights; if you will please us with news that the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” (WHINSEC) and the“International Law Enforcement Academy” (ILEA) will be terminated in their capacity as heirs of the School of the Americas, and with news that the military bases of the United States in Latin America shall be closed, then you shall indeed be welcomed to Argentina on any day.
But if you come with the intention of forcing Free Trade Agreements on us, in the defense of privileges of transnational corporations who strip away our peoples and our mother Earth, or with the intention of endorsing the illegal claims of financial funds, or “vulture funds,” as we call them, seeking to extort us through the justice of your country; or if you intend to recommend the failed recipe of intervention by Armed Forces in matters of internal security, in order to suppress popular organizations with the excuse of fighting against drug traffic, in that case, I cannot but remind you of the words by the Liberator Simón Bolívar, who warned us that: “the United States appear to be meant by providence to plague Latin America with misery in the name of freedom.”
The world power that you represent has been and is behind all the destabilization attempts on popular governments of our continent, particularly in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Honduras, among others. 200 years after our independence, I must tell you that we do not accept either old nor new colonialisms, we do not accept any new Washington Consensus endorsing reforms for starvation and exclusion. The Latin American peoples have already defeated the imperial project of the FTAA-ALCA, and we will fight again any new attempt of similar characteristics.
If your intention is not to announce any of these reparations, nor to avoid new sufferings, regrettably your visit will be construed by most of the Argentine people as a gesture of provocation towards one of the main principles of our national identity: the defense of human rights and of the rights of peoples.
Many of us have been surprised by the fact that the official notice of your visit states that you will acknowledge the contributions of Mauricio Macri to the defense of Human Rights in the region. The first time that Macri publicly defended human rights was in reference to another country that he does not know, a political manipulation against Venezuela simplifying Human Right policies. We hope that this alleged acknowledgement does not involve a destabilizing offensive against our sister, the Bolivarian Republic.
While Venezuela has recently enacted the “Special Law for the Prevention of and Punishment against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment,” increasing sentences against those implementing said practices, in Argentina we are concerned with the fact that in the year 2014 alone we had 6,843 cases of torture in prisons, and our current President has not said a single word. Not then, nor now.
I say this because I know that it is a concern of yours in your own country, which boasts the highest number of inmates globally (one out of four inmates is in North America), and also because you know better than anybody about the torture and detention centers of the United States in other countries, as proven by the thorough report on the “CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program” by the North American Congress, of 2014. It is urgent for us to fight against these practices all over the world.
Peace is the result of Justice, and to make it real, we must continue trudging down the path of commitment with those who have hunger and thirst for Justice, to ensure the full validity of the Rights of Persons and of the Peoples, of yesterday and today. This has resulted, in Argentina, in the trial and sentencing of those who were guilty of crimes against humanity.
This is why it is important for you to know that on the day March 24, no president nor any leader represents the Argentine people, who, with all their diversity, are always representing themselves, through slogans and through peaceful demonstrations all over the streets and squares of the country.
It was well noted by Pope Francis in the Meeting of Social Movements in Bolivia: “the future of humanity is not only in the hands of the great leaders, of the great powers, and of the elites. It is mainly in the hands of the Peoples.”
Therefore, if you choose not to postpone your visit for another date, you shall hear what the Argentine people has to say to the world.
Offering my greeting of Peace and Goodwill again, and wishing strength and hope for you in the service of all the peoples,
Buenos Aires, march 2nd, 2016
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Nobel Peace Prize
Service for Peace and Justice
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