Adolfo Perez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace prize for human rights work in his home country of Argentina, is participating here in a prayer fast that aims to create a union of concern with the victims of the violence in El Salvador and those seeking to end it.
When he won the peace prize in October 1980, he said that the honor was not for him "but for my organization," the Latin American Service for Peace and Justice, which he founded in the early 1970s, "and for the cause of human rights and justice in Latin America."
That cause is central to the fast, which began Thursday and is designed in part to reflect the meaning of upcoming Holy Week and Easter. "It is Holy Week that the peoples of Latin America are living," said Perez Esquivel. "We live all the suffering and pain with the hope of the Resurrection."
Perez Esquivel, who is 50 and the father of three sons, came from Buenos Aires to join 11 others in the fast. He was interviewed by Colman McCarthy of The Washington Post before it began. Following are excerpts from that interview, beginning with the contribution he thinks the fast can make to the people of El Salvador:
Perez Esquivel: As Christians, we have to have faith in the force of prayer. God works through His people . . . . What we have to do is create the will and international solidarity that the war be stopped, that the arms not be shipped from any quarter and that negotiations begin. It's not just a question of solving one individual case, because we are fully aware that what's in question here is the destiny of not only Central America but all of Latin America.
What our fast is intended to do is to be a witness and a testimony to the necessity for ending the war and of letting the people of El Salvador determine their own fate. It's not just a question of El Salvador. It deals with the problems in Guatemala, the possible invasion of Nicaragua and the whole problem of interventionism.
McCarthy: Have you ever been on a water-only fast before?
A: Several times, especially in my own country. I'd like to point out the difference between a hunger strike and a fast. The two are very different, even though in both one doesn't eat. A fast carries with it the idea of a transformation, a conversion and a lifting up of the consciousness of those at whom the fast is directed.
Q: Much of what you say reflects the tradition of nonviolence as it has come down to our day through Christ, St. Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. All of them had philosophies of power. What is yours?
A: My philosophy is the same as all of theirs, really. Most people see power as the power of domination. Everyone in the tradition that you've mentioned has another idea of power, that it is not a power to dominate. It is a power that serves. If world leaders really had a true concept of power, it would eliminate many of the world's evils.
Q: Speaking of leaders and power, both you and Henry Kissinger are winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. He talks peace, you talk peace. What's the difference between you?
A: I think the difference is greater than the Atlantic Ocean. He speaks of peace from a position of domination. I speak of peace from a position of trying to understand the poor of the world and their needs . . . . What has to be done is to unite our wills in an action of solidarity . . . . We want freedom and justice not just for the American people but for all peoples, because there are no isolated cases. There are no isolated incidents.
Q: You've said that "the Third World War has already begun." I take that to mean that in the Third World, in which most Latin American people live, war is being waged on the poor and people like yourself.
A: I think that there is a war of generalized violence against the people and human dignity. It is institutionalized violence because it comes from the very structures of society. Usually we speak of violence only when the violence has reached an extreme. But it is also violence when children are dying of malnutrition, when there is no freedom of unions, when there is not enough housing, not enough health care.
Q: Are you hopeful about getting across your message of nonviolent revolution?
A: I think I've seen great progess in the last few years by way of awareness in the people of Latin America about nonviolence. And especially that nonviolence is not just a situation of nonconfrontation. Nonviolence is a whole condition of life. It's a condition of understanding the human person. Also, the youth are feeling the need to form themselves to be future men of peace. We have reflected deeply about what has gone on in our country--so many deaths, so much violence, so much blood. We have to ask ourselves, what is the alternative to all of this. The alternative is a nonviolent way of peace.