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    Peace Words

EXCERPTS OF SPEECH BY DR.OSCAR ARIAS
FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL LECTURE SERIES ON OCTOBER 30, 2001

 

Arms do not fire themselves. Those who have lost hope fire them. Those who are dominated by dogmatism fire them. We must fight for peace without dismay, and accept, without fear, the challenges of a world without hope and threatened by fanaticism.

                        - Óscar Arias.

 

On October 30, 2001, Óscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate, visited UNF on occasion of a lecture. Over six hundred people listened to Dr. Arias’s remarks in the UNF Arena, of which you will find some excerpts below.

One of the features of his speech which struck many of us the most was its realism. It is not the speech of a dreamer, but one firmly rooted in reality, that proposes only doable solutions.

After presenting, in his opening words, the necessity of peace in the XXI Century and diagnosing a world-wide crisis, he stated the steps he believes will lead to the solution of such a crisis: "These include establishing an international criminal court to try those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, putting some controls on the international arms trade, cutting military spending in favor of fully funding the health care and education needs of the poorest, opening first-world markets to third-world countries, and increasing foreign aid from wealthy countries to the developing world."

 

EXCERPTS:

On global peace:

"...we need to talk of peace now. Not because peace will be achieved immediately or easily, but because we need to have our minds set on a goal, something positive, a just and logical conclusion that lifts us out of the engulfing senselesness of war."

"My friends, I stand before you tonight as one who believes in peace, not because it is easy, but because it is necessary."

"To believe in peace, it is not necessary to believe that negotiations are infallible. In fact, we know that parties are often intransigient, that leaders may fail to live up to their obligations and responsibilities, and that violent dissenters can obstruct even the most popular commitments to peace. Despite these obstacles to establishing peace, it is clear that the alternative is far worse. [...] And when faced with the roots of violence, which so often stems from poverty, hunger, and injustice, it is far more noble to address those issues than to keep pouring money into weapons,"

"In reality, there is nothing glamorous, naïve, or idealistic about peace. Peace is not a dream; it is hard work."

On the global crisis:

"I want to tell you tonight that the world is in crisis. We who watch CNN and MSNBC are inundated with one particular crisis: that of terrorism and the developing war against it. But I want to remind everyone tonight, that there are many other crises in the world that do not capture headlines, but are equally urgent. I tell you that it is a development crisis when nearly a billion and a half people have no access to clean water, and a billion live in miserably substandard housing. It is a leadership crisis when we allow wealth to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, so that the world’s three richest people have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the poorest forty-three countries. It is a spiritual crisis when --as Gandhi said-- many people are so poor that they only see God in the form of bread, and when other individuals seem only to have faith in the capricious "invisible hand" that guides the free market. It is a moral crisis when 35,000 children die each day from malnutrition and disease. And it is a democratic crisis when 1.3 billion people live on an income of less than one dollar per day, and are effectively excluded from public decision-making because of the wrenching poverty in which they live."

On international arms trade:

"Another important international effort that is underway is the struggle to put some limits on the approximately 40 billion dollars worth of weapons that are shipped internationally each year."

"It has been proven time and time again that no sale of weapons is ‘safe’. Arms sold to today’s allies often boomerang back on the country that supplied them when that alliance no longer holds."

"Since 1997 I have been advocating for the adoption of an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers, an initiative which has now been signed onto by other 18 other Nobel Peace Laureates. The Code calls for a ban on transfers of weapons or military technology to governments that violently repress fundamental democratic rights, that are guilty of gross violations of human rights, or that commit acts of armed international aggression. The principles of this Code have now been transformed into a Framework Convention, which when ratified by the requisite number of countries, would become a legally binding piece of international law. This Framework Convention would prevent would-be human rights abusers from receiving the weapons they need to carry out their deadly deeds."

On the responsibilities of developing countries:

"Small and poor countries also have their part to play. Many of those governments that are buying weapons today are in countries that are too poor to feed, house, and educate their people."

"Those leaders who complain for lack of resources for development goals must begin by checking their arms procurement budgets. I want to quote my good friend, the late Mahbub ul-Haq, who was pioneer of the human development school of thought. In his book on human development, he notes: "Sometime back, Tanzania’s president Julius Nyerere asked in legitimate despair, ‘must we starve our children to pay our debts?’ It is at least as pertinent to ask, must we starve our children to increase our defense expenditure? . . . When our children cry for milk in the middle of the night, shall we give them guns instead?"

On opening first-world markets to third-world countries:

"In order for economic growth in the third world to become a consistent reality, I insist that the wealthy countries must open their markets to our exports. [. . .] Although virtually all leaders of industrialized countries profess to believe in free trade, almost often what they are looking for is the opening of other countries’ markets, not their own. Today, the industrialized countries provide more than $370 billion dollars in different kinds of subsidies to their own farmers. Until such first-world protectionism is ended, free trade will not live up to its promise for poor countries. The leaders of wealthy countries with large domestic markets must understand that we, in the developing world, depend on trade for our survival. We must export or die, and if we cannot export our goods, we will have no option but to continue exporting our people."

"While competition may create efficient economies, efficiency alone is not enough. Compassion and solidarity are necessary to temper the competition of our open economies, so that those who are unable to compete are not left out altogether. To the rural farmer that lacks roads on which to bring his produce to market, to the child who works instetad of learning to read and write, to the young adult for whom a university education is only a fantasy, competitiveness means only one thing: losing."

On foreign aid:

"What is needed today is a new Marshall plan for the world’s poor. [. . .] What would it take to get governments -not only that of the U.S., but all the the well-off industrialized nations-- to commit to a similar plan today, in order to re-build the world’s poorest countries, which have been devastated by centuries of colonialism, natural disasters, armed conflicts and poor governance. I propose that a group of countries such as the O.E.C.D. of the G-7 plus some others, redirect a small percentage of their defense spending for the defense of the world’s poor. We know that redirecting just 5% of what the world spends on weapons and soldiers over ten years would be sufficient to guarantee basic education, health care and nutrition, potable water, and sanitation to all of the world’s people. If we focused only on funding a mandatory minimum of nine years of education in every country, that percentage would be even less. How quickly the great powers muster the political and financial will to bail out failing economies, but how slow we have been to act to stamp out illiteracy, disease, and hunger. The resources are there, what is lacking is the sense of solidarity."

"Foreign aid in real terms has actually shrunk over the past twenty years, and the United States has lead the charge away from humanitarian and foreign aid, even as its economy has grown to unprecedented levels. I often say that the people of the United States are very generous, but your government is one of the stingiest on earth. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Denmark gives ten times what the U.S. gives: one percent of its GDP, versus a mere 0.1 percent from the U.S. In per capita aid, among the industrialized countries only Greece and Portugal, at 19 and 28 dollars per capita, respectively, give less than the U.S.’s 33 dollars per capita. Compare that with the government of Noway’s generous 300 dollars per Norwegian in foreign aid."

Final remarks:

"All of us have a contribution to make towards bringing this world into existence. Each of us must act in our own capacity, beginning in our local environment, to --as Gandhi put it-- be the change we wish to see in the world. Therefore, I tell you my friends, that when you put your talents to work for the good of your community, you are helping the world. You are letting your light shine. There is a lot of ignorance on this planet, a lot of injustice, violence, and harm --a lot of darkness. Make it your personal mission to light a candle. Any positive action you take brings more light and dispels some of the darkness. The world needs all the illumination it can get, and you, my friends, are the sparks that will light our way to a better future."

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