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From Nobel to Nobel: A letter to Barack Obama

Adolfo Perez Esquivel

2011-05-19, Issue 530

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‘How can you speak of human rights and the dignity of peoples when you perpetually violate them and block those who don’t share your ideology and must endure your abuses?’, asks 1980 Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel in an open letter to US President Barack Obama.

Dear Barack,

In addressing you I do so fraternally, and at the same time, to express my concern and indignation after seeing the destruction and death caused in several nations in the name of ‘freedom and democracy’, two words which have been twisted and stripped of meaning. They end up justifying murder, and is cheered on as if it were a sports event.

Indignation at the attitude of some parts of the US population, of heads of state in Europe and other countries who came out in support of the assassination of bin Laden, and by your complacency in the name of supposed justice. You didn’t look to seize and judge him for his alleged crimes, which generates more doubts. The objective was to assassinate him.

The dead are mute, and the fear of the accused who could disclose inconvenient facts for the USA, was turned into assassination, to ensure that the ‘death of the dog would end the madness’, without considering that you have only increased it.

When you were granted the Nobel Prize, of which we are holders, I sent you a letter which read: ‘Barack, I was very surprised by your having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but now that you have it, you must use it in the service of peace among peoples, you have all the possibilities of doing it, to end the wars and begin correcting the severe crisis in your own country and the world’.

Unfortunately, you have increased hatred and betrayed the principles assumed during your electoral campaign before your people, such as ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, closing the prisons in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. But on the contrary, you decided to start another war against Libya, backed up by NATO, and the shameful resolution of the UN to support you, when this high organisation, diminished and without its own mind, has lost its path and has been subjugated to the whims and interests of the dominant powers.

The foundational premise of the UN is the defence and promotion of peace and dignity among peoples. Its Preamble begins saying: ‘We, the peoples of the world...’ now absent from this organisation.

I would like to recall a mystic and teacher who has had a great influence in my life: Trapist monk Thomas Merton of the Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, who said ‘The greatest necessity of our time is to clean the enormous mass of mental and emotional garbage which blocks our minds and converts all public and social life into a disease of the masses. Without this domestic cleaning we can't begin to see. If we can’t see, we can’t think’.

Barack you were very young during the Vietnam war, perhaps you don’t remember the struggle of North American people to oppose the war. I have shared and accompanied the veterans of the Vietnam war, in particular Brian Wilson and his companions who were victims of this wars and of all wars.

Thomas Merton, analysing a stamp postmark which had just arrived saying ‘The U.S. Army, key to peace’ (‘El ejercito U.S., clave de la paz’) said: ‘No army is the key to peace. No nation has the key to anything which is not war. Power has nothing to do with peace. The more men increase military power, the more they violate peace and destroy it.’
We should protect LIFE to leave future generations a more just and fraternal society, re-establishing equilibrium with Mother Earth. If we don’t react to change the current situation of suicidal arrogance which is dragging peoples down, it will be very hard to come out and see the light. Humanity deserves a better fate.

You know, hope is like the flower which grows in the mud and blossoms in all its splendour, showing its beauty. Leopoldo Marechal, the great Argentine writer, said that: ‘You get out the maze via the top’.

I believe, Barack, that after following your erring way, you find yourself in a maze, unable to find the exit and you are burying yourself more and more in violence, devoured by the domination of power, and you think you possess all the power anyone could have, and that the world is at the feet of the USA. So large are the atrocities committed by different US governments in the world... It is a sad reality, but there is also the resistance of peoples who do not capitulate before the powerful.

Bin Laden, alleged author of the attack of the Twin Towers, has been made the devil incarnate who terrorised the world, identified as the ‘axis of evil’ and this has served you to wage the wars that the military industrial complex needs to place its products of death.

You should not ignore that researchers of the tragedy of September 11 have declared that the attacks were in many ways self-inflicted, such as the crash of a plane into the Pentagon and the prior evacuation of the Towers; an attack which provided a motive to launch the war against Iraq and Afghanistan and now against Libya; arguing based on the lie that all is done to save peoples in the name of ‘freedom and the defence of democracy’. And cynically stating that the deaths of women and children are ‘collateral damage’.

The word is devoid of values and meaning. You dub assassination ‘death’ and finally the US has ‘killed’ bin Laden. I am not in any way defending bin Laden, I am against all terrorism, by both these armed groups and the terrorism of the State which your government exercises in various parts of the world, supporting dictators, imposing military bases and armed intervention, using violence to maintain yourself via terror at the hub of world power. Is there only one ‘axis of evil’?

Peace is a practice of life in relations between persons and among peoples; it is a challenge to humanity's consciousness. Its path is difficult, daily and hopeful; where people build from their own lives and their own history. Peace can't be gifted, it is built. And this is what you're missing lad, courage to assume the historical responsibility with your people and with humanity.

You cannot live in the labyrinth of fear and control, ignoring international treaties, pacts and protocols of governments which are signed and then transgressed once and again. How can you speak of peace if you don’t want to honour anything, except in the interests of your country?

How can you talk about freedom when you keep innocent people in the prisons of Guantanamo, in the USA, in Iraq and in Afghanistan?

How can you speak of human rights and the dignity of peoples when you perpetually violate them and block those who don’t share your ideology and must endure your abuses?

How can you send military forces to Haiti after a devastating earthquake, instead of humanitarian aid to that suffering people?

How can you speak of freedom if you massacre the peoples in the Middle East and foster endless conflict which bleeds the Palestinians and Israelis?

Barack: Try to look at your maze from above; you may find the star that guides you, even knowing you can never reach it, as Eduardo Galeano said so well. Try to be consistent between what you say and do, it's the only way to not lose the path. It's a challenge of life. The Nobel Peace Prize is a tool at the service of the peoples, never for personal vanity.

I wish you much strength and hope, and we hope you will have the courage to correct your path and find wisdom and Peace.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Buenos Aires, 5 May 2011

P.S. On a day like today 34 years ago, I came back to life; I was on a flight to death during the military dictatorship in Argentina supported by the USA… Thanks to God I survived, and had to find my way out of the labyrinth above desperation, and discover in the stars the path to be able to say like the prophet: ‘the darkest hour is when the dawn begins’.


* Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an Argentine sculptor, architect and pacifist. He was the recipient of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize.
* Translated from Spanish by Bob Thomson, Ottawa, 12 May 2011.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

I was one of those that believed in the words of Obama. I campaigned for his presidency every day for months. Yet, now I understand that he is either unwilling, unable or simply to follow the path of peace and justice.

Whenever I hear of a drone attack killing another child in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya or any other region, I feel like crying.

Many years ago I was a brainwashed young man that entered the US Army to defend freedom and democracy in Vietnam. I was one of the lucky ones because I became an administrator that remained at a desk to pay those that would do the killing and be killed.

Yet I still have blood on my hands. I did not pull the trigger on a poor farmer in the jungles of Vietnam, but I was responsible for sending these young men to kill and die. Over 56,000 American troops died in that war based on lies. Millions of Vietnamese were murdered by the American Military Industrial Complex.

We did not learn our lesson. We continued to overthrow nation after nation in the name of "freedom" and "democracy". Yet in reality, we were just playing the old game of building an empire.

The USA has embarked upon a concept called full spectrum dominance. The plan is to dominate the entire land mass of our planet, the seas plus outer space.

We continue to build ever more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction while at the same time we attack nation after nation under the guise of imposing democracies.

In fact, the USA installs compliant dictators, that will serve the interests of the multinational oil and resource companies. This is an old game that was played by the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany and other western countries. The master of the game now is the USA.

The USA is the largest debtor nation of Earth, these ongoing wars are maintained by ever greater debt.

There are more people in jail in the USA per capita than any other nation on Earth.

Where is the peace and freedom in all of this.

There are those that question the status quo like prior US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney that offer us a glimpse of hope here in the USA, yet giants like her are few and far between.

The nonviolent revolutions that took place in Tunisia and Egypt and now Spain are a wake up call to the dominant military forces of the world. Nonviolence is a force much greater than weapons and bombs. When people have nothing left to loose, they decide to make their voices heard without guns. Their weapon is the truth and their strength is the love of the human family.

Let us join with efforts like the Global Civilians for Peace in Libya that supports the African Unions "Roadmap to Peace" in Libya.

The weapons being offered to the rebel forces by the US and NATO is not the way to peace. Peace is the way.

Protecting the civilian population of Libya by dropping 2,000 pound bombs from 15,000 feet is not saving civilian lives.

It is time for all peace loving people world wide to stand up against the tyranny of these neo-colonialists by following the example of Egypt and Tunisia. Nonviolence is a force more powerful than weapons of death.

Carl Rising-Moore Veterans For Peace

I am a student of peace studies at karachi university international relations department. Sir ADOLFO PEREZ ESQUIVEL highlighted the issues which are not only the concern of the people in my country pakistan but also is the main concern for those who are directly or indirectly are the victim of USA policies regarding ,countering terrorism, being a student of peace studies i also reject any idea which leads towards outbreak of any conflict.i just want to add one more question that DRONES which are not only targetting terrorist but inocent civillians including childern and women can really counter terrorism or increase social injustice and promote anti American sentiments? in last i want to thamk editor of pambazuka newspaper to publish this eye opening letter,and i think MR OBAMA should read it before declaring another war. RIFAT RAEES KARACHI UNIVERSITY INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS DEPARTMENT.


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