In 1980, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work exposing the excesses of Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship, which was responsible for indiscriminate violence, jailing, torture and the disappearance of 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983. Esquivel—a sculptor, architect and pacifist—helped found the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in 1975, and traveled throughout Latin America to raise awareness about the dictatorship. He was arrested in 1977 while renewing his passport and remained in detention, suffering frequent torture and beatings, until the following year. The Nation sat down with Esquivel at his office in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires to talk about the promise of Occupy Wall Street, the emptiness of the United Nations and prospects for structural reform in the United States. —Kelly Hearn
What do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?
I think it is a good thing. It’s a reaction from people who are confronting a grave social and economic crisis. It’s not just an economic crisis. It’s a socioeconomic problem. There is a strong social deterioration not only on Wall Street but also in Europe, in these countries that are based on capitalism of speculation and consumption. Logically, this is causing great difficulties.
What has the movement achieved?
At the very least it has shown there to be serious problems in societies that believe themselves to be untouchable, the poorly named first world. Right now, we don’t have a “first world,” “second world” or “third world.” We have one world that is poorly distributed. Up until now these societies didn’t realize what was happening. Now they are waking up. Their dreams lasted a long time. Now, instead of dreams, they have a nightmare. And the nightmare is affecting their lives. It is affecting their state of well-being, which they thought was unalterable. But now they see it is alterable.
Consider something curious. The United States, the premier leader of the developed world, the free world, is now the biggest debtor to China, the “Capi-Communista.” There are no static societies. All societies are subject to strong changes, and today the neoliberal model can’t withstand what’s happening. Speaking from an economic point of view, I am proposing that we develop a new social contract on a global scale. Rousseau proposed a new social contract that initiated democracy, but it’s finished. We have to create a new social contract that includes the reformation of transnational entities like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the United Nations, which no longer makes any sense.
What is your opinion of the United Nations?
The United Nations today is completely empty. We have to give it content. We have to democratize it. Consider in 1945, when the United Nations was first formed, there were something like fifty-one original member countries. Now the United Nations is made up of 193 nations, but it follows the same structure in which five nations control it. It’s an anti-democratic structure. There’s no participation from the rest and, besides, these countries only use the UN when it suits their interests. Take Libya, for example, the NATO intervention in Libya. It’s an absolute and total aberration, and it goes against all the values and positions of the UN, which was created for peace. The preamble of the UN says, “We the peoples of the United Nations…” The people of the United Nations don’t exist in the United Nations.
What is your message to the students driving the protest in Chile? What is your message to young people who want to make a change?