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Latin America Shawn Dispatch


The Amazing Man Behind the Sweatsuit and the Nobel Prize -- Adolfo Pérez
"Non-violence is an act of resistance through which we seek to create a new society where the power relationships are different than they are today." -- Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

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For a man whose accomplishments have been recognized around the world, and who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1980, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel makes a very humble first impression. When the Trek Team arrived to meet him at his school, Aldea Niños Para la Paz (see Kavitha's article, Bringing Peace to the World, Children First!), he was surrounded by laughing children, wearing a sweat suit, and seemed just as at home making jokes with the kids as talking with us about politics. Although we were a bit nervous about meeting him since he is such a historical figure and so famous, we were immediately put at ease by his friendliness and the enthusiasm with which he greeted us.

So how do you get to be a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate? Adolfo has led a long and difficult life, but one in which he has never lost hope that people can make a better world by standing up for what they believe in non-violently.

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The Team lunches with Adolfo Perez
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Adolfo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1931. He studied fine arts in college, and then he then taught for 25 years at the primary, secondary and university levels. As a plastic artist, he has produced intensely in various mediums and has exhibited internationally. In the 1960's, Adolfo began to devote more of his time to creating change in the world, and he began working with Christian organizations promoting non-violent protest throughout Latin America. In 1974, he was elected the general coordinator of many of these organizations.

Like many other countries in Latin America, Argentina has a past which has been marked by revolutions, military dictatorships, and terrorism. The 1970's were a very violent period and it is believed that at least 30,000 people were kidnapped and murdered by government or paramilitary forces from 1970-1982. Many people in opposition to this violence turned to violence themselves, and numerous revolutionary groups sprang up, using terrorism to oppose the government. The entire nation was cast into a shadow of fear.

In response to this violence, in 1973 Adolfo founded a group that united many different religious groups including Catholics, Protestants and others, called the "Ecumenical Movement of Peace and Justice." Perez and the EMPJ were always firmly dedicated to creating change through active non-violence, and they worked with many other groups, including the mothers of the disappeared men and women of Argentina (see Abeja's article, The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo).

In 1977, Adolfo himself became the target of much of the violence and injustice he was opposing. He applied for a passport to attend a peace conference in Europe. The government responded by arresting him and keeping him in jail for 15 years without a trial. In that time he was badly abused, one time being beaten for laughing. After his release, he was still required to periodically check in with authorities and was not allowed to leave the country for many years.

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Adolfo shows off some of the spoons the youth have made in the wood shop
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He was finally allowed to leave when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 because the government was too embarrassed to block him from going. He received the Prize for his dedication to non-violence and the sacrifices he made to obtain peace throughout Latin America. Adolfo considers the prize to be an award not to himself, but recognition by the outside world of the problems faced in Latin America and of the valiant struggles of many people.

In 1983, after a short war with England over the Falkland Islands, the Military withdrew its control of the government and democracy was adopted. Today, however, many questions still remain about the thousands of disappeared and those who were responsible have never had to answer for their crimes. While Adolfo is still deeply concerned with the turbulent politics of Latin America, he spends most of time these days at Aldea Niños Para la Paz working with children. Like the Odyssey, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel believes that educating children is the best and surest way to create a peaceful future.

Shawn
 

Abeja - The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
Kavitha - Bringing Peace to the World, Children First!
Monica - The Life and Times of Eva Peron
Kevin - Will Paraguay Ever Have Justice?
Making a Difference - Save a tree, go napkin-free!
 
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