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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Belisario Betancur

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1983

“[...] the vast Spain of suffering and hoping [...]”.

Ortega

Overwhelmed by the successive honour of the Prince of Asturias Award, by your presence and by the commission of giving thanks on behalf of the laureates, I stand here in the awe of which Andrés Bello spoke in our Civil Code. It is audacious to accept such a commission without considering the highest qualities of the laureates chosen by the figures of the juries, to which I pay tribute. Such audacity grows on knowing the lofty Asturian and royal origins of the distinction conferred on us by Your Royal Highness Felipe de Borbón, the honourable gentlemen Mr Pedro Masaveu, Mr Graciano García and the Members of the Prince of Asturias Board of Trustees as well as its Patrons. And it becomes excessive on knowing the wonderful candidates that were at play before we were selected.

Violence and chimera

For myself I can say that I receive this honour with humility, but without false modesty, because I understand that the award encompasses the Heads of State of the Contadora Group and the government team confirmed in the purpose of peace. It also includes the Colombians that work together with us in restoring peace to a land which has been victim of long-lasting disputes and in seeking such peace in tortured Central America.

My country has received the dubious honour of front pages that speak of the “violence” that broke out in the fifties: it has been a devastating and convulsive conjunction of phenomena that irrevocably altered our profile and, accompanied by changes in economic, social and demographic structures, meant the entry of Colombia into the worst of the modern world, into the chimera of delayed well-being, injustice and poverty, that is to say, in mid-underdevelopment.

Mutual hostility

Later, this “Sweet Land” –as the Mexican poet Ramón López Velarde called his own–, has been the scene of traumas embedded in localised focal points for over thirty years, under the spell of subjective agents with contradictory, though at times explicable, motivations and of objective agents, the undeniable backdrop of our wrongs.

I shall not attempt to classify these movements or discuss their ideological underpinnings or political pretensions. I clutch my heart to recognize that when applying an amnesty to forgive and forget that is legally enforced, even against the beneficiary’s rejection, we come across beings initiated in subversion since they were teenagers, for whom the struggle is second nature and who aim not only to be forgotten, but to be transplanted into a world with which the only relationship they have had has been one of mutual hostility. A formal, rigid, unfair country, the legal country of common law structures, subverts the mind-set and behavioural patterns of beings who believe that the only thing left to them is the dialectic of subjective subversion. In more than one case, from this clash of subversions comes the hope of a new homeland woven with the leftovers/leftover threads/strands from the fray. In broad strokes, that is the arduous business to which we Colombians are committed.

To die due to imposition and poverty

Daily peace, as essential as daily bread, is the result of justice. Sometimes it seems as if we are only joined together by the subversive common denominator of being unfair with each other, under the cover of archaic institutions with unequal opportunities in order to continue being unequal, in which the ruling classes dominate but do not represent, knowing that democracy lives due to participation and dies due to imposition and poverty.

For that reason, destroying poverty must be humanity’s only war. To change the armour of soldiers for a fertile willingness towards dialogue that becomes a beacon in this new dwelling place of man, that is the image of our dream. In that we shall leave our mark, defeating the obstacles of the saga of the Buendía in One Hundred Years of Solitude by our Nobel Laureate García Márquez, when he says that “Aureliano spent his days making little gold fish during the day, only to melt them down at night”.

Similarly, contemporary man spends his time building schemes that the dementia of power undoes. On the other shore, being fair is becoming increasingly more difficult; we are full of ideas and intentions for peace, but short of actions, on a continent for which the pariah president Marco Fidel Suárez said that “the fate of humanity is to make progress suffering”.

Is man yoked to the mast of his instinct, condemned to fight tooth and nail, cruisers and missiles? The just and unjust alike, are we destined to walk the earth breathlessly making our way through the blind foliage of ideologisms?

The outcry of Contadora

Escorted by a choir of solidarity –therein the companion voice of Spain–, we seek peace in Central America, which is also our own peace. The Presidents of Contadora, the Foreign Secretaries of Panama, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia and their advisors talk on a daily bases with the Heads of State and Foreign Secretaries of Central America, as well as with the major centres of power, in the hope of an agreement.

The leading player is peace; we are its heralds and emissaries.

Consequently, not only Contadora, but the men and women of Central America cry out for the understanding and support of all; and hence our acknowledgement of the conduct of such a lucid voice as that of Spain.

A man of peace

My temperament, my beliefs, my intellectual training, my involuntary coexistence with the social violence in which I grew up and with the political violence I survived, have made me a man of peace. I do not believe, I do not want to believe, in that abhorrent equation of violence and progress; nor do I accept that history is linearly, fatally and monotonously the stage on which men are transmuted by the sword and bloodshed.

Nor am I an absolutist of peace; I cultivate the conviction that it is the highest good, but without any boastful pretence of knowing the paths leading to it. I abhor war, but I have also abjured dogmatism, to the point that when reading the elderly Tolstoy, I am disturbed by the pugnacity and rage with which he proclaims the sake of peace. And I am troubled by the ire of those who defend it with the visionary mettle of inquisitors and warlords.

There is a corner of the hemisphere of my dreams where hope dwells, in the resounding solitude of the utopia of a peace that I find daunting if imposed as a conquest or victory, like “the immense majesty of the Pax Romana, insensitive and present as the music of the spheres” of which I was told with arrogant melancholy by the Emperor Hadrian in Yourcenar's Memoirs.

I am more inclined to agree with the Austrian Karl Popper when he advised working for the extinction of concrete evils rather than for abstract realizations of good, without establishing happiness by political means; aiming at the elimination of specific misfortunes and choosing the most pressing evil to convince people that it is possible to rid themselves of it.

Neither innocent nor helpless

Such are the achievements of the peace that the Government of Colombia seeks with hopeful persistence. It is the response to injustices suffered in our own flesh; the imperative to react when faced with situations whose pestilence suffocates; the conviction that I would be remiss if I did not attempt to cut out the evils that surround my brothers and sisters in Colombia and my brothers and sisters in America.

No formula exists either for my own country or for other countries. It comforts me to use legal, administrative and moral instruments, that is, the nautical elements needed to ride the storm and remove injustices for which we are possibly not responsible, but against which we cannot declare ourselves to be innocent or helpless.

For we are all signed up for/included in the same destiny and hence we all have to be seekers of that light. A noble life is not a life of success, Ortega wrote, but a life dotted with upright attempts in favour of the great motherland of the spirit. “Sowing it in theological virtues”, he added, “we crisscross Spain, on foot if necessary, and if it were not for the urgency, on our knees”.

It is the same peace whose fullness lights the foundation and existence of the newspaper El País, Sempere seeks new ways of discovering, Julio Caro Baroja meditates, Juan Rulfo writes brilliantly about and Luis Antonio Santaló navigates in science. Indivisible and unmistakeable peace.

Partial and elusive, this peace is my revealed profession, the territory of my existence. I am obsessed with achieving it, not with dreaming about it; dreaming, Quevedo dreamily warned, is an open door to war and discord; keeping awake, a door to peace and security.



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