Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts to oppose acts of repression by the military government in his native Argentina, will give a lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium at the University of St. Thomas.
Titled “My Story, My Work and the Nonviolent Struggle for Peace and Social Justice in Latin America,” the lecture is free, and the public is invited.
Perez Esquivel’s talk is co-sponsored by Minnesota Campus Compact, a coalition of 48 colleges and universities engaged in service learning and campus-community collaboration; the Minnesota PeaceJam Center at Compass Institute, which offers the state’s youth an opportunity toearn about peacemaking from Nobel Peace Prize winners; and Macalester College and St. Thomas. The lecture is part of a three-day visit March 6-8 by Esquivel to the Twin Cities.
Born in 1931, Perez Esquivel was a successful sculptor and art teacher for 15 years before the early 1970s, when he began to take an activist role in opposing the escalating and violent civil strife in his country. In 1971 he was among the founding members of a human rights organization, Servicio de Paz y Justicia en America Latina (Service for Peace and Justice in Latin America). He gave up his teaching duties to become the general coordinator of the association and would later become its secretary-general.
Traveling throughout Central and South America he visited isolated groups of workers and indigenous people, worked with economic development programs and promoted solidarity among disparate groups on behalf of victims of oppression. He helped to found two human rights organizations in Argentina, where in 1976 a military junta took power, embarking on a campaign of repression in which thousands were jailed, tortured without legal charges or murdered by death squads. Perez Esquivel denounced the crimes and helped organize weekly demonstrations by mothers who came to Buenos Aires’ center to demand information about their “disappeared ones.” Detained by police in 1977 and imprisoned for 14 months, he was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and religious leaders protested his imprisonment. The U.S. government also interceded on his behalf. In May 1978 he was released but was required to report to the police through much of 1979. While he was still imprisoned, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
He accepted the 1980 prize “not as a personal title,” he said, but “in the name of the people of Latin America my indigenous brothers and sisters, the peasants, workers, and young people the thousands of members of religious orders and men and women of goodwill who relinquish their privileges to share the life and path of the poor, and who struggle to build a new society.”
The award embarrassed the Argentinian government, but congratulations poured in from all over the world. The Nobel Peace Prize gave Perez Esquivel a world forum in which to publicize human rights abuses. Ironically, the prize also penalized the military junta. Perez Esquivel continued to support the Service for Peace and Justice with his Nobel award and with a monthly check of $5,000 from the government. In accordance with an Argentinian law passed years before, every Nobel laureate from Argentina received a lifetime pension equivalent to the salary of a Supreme Court judge.
In today’s freer Argentina, Perez Esquivel is properly honored. His book, Christ in a Poncho (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983) includes his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and documents the nonviolent struggles with which he has been associated.
For further information, call Minnesota Campus Compact, (651) 962-4951.