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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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Laureates  

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Ingrid Betancourt

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 2008

To arrive in the Principality of Asturias, to be immersed in the warmth of its people and in the splendour of its history, is for me, after so many difficult years, the expression of divine grace itself.

How else could I explain the extraordinary path that has brought me here today: a few weeks ago, my companions and I were in the humid, asphyxiating world of the jungle, where nothing was ours, not even our own dreams. There were many nights in which I tried to escape from reality by imagining a better world, a world in which those around me sought to bring happiness to others and where it was once more good to live.

I could not imagine that God would hear my call to the point of bringing me here today, together with people who brought joy to so many moments of the long period of captivity that it was mine to suffer.

I followed Rafael Nadal, for example, for six years on the courts of Roland Garros. I watched him grow via live transmissions, which Radio France International broadcast each summer, and at the same time as I shared in the joy of his ever growing success, I experienced the frustration of not being able to see his victories. To be here today, seeing him face to face, is like the closing of a circle; a wonderful way to fulfil an appointment with life.

I could also tell you of the long, empty hours which I tried to furnish by reciting the poems that I have most loved, making great efforts to extract from memory so many lost treasures, to manage to feel, once more, fortunate to be alive. To be here close to Tzvetan Todorov and Margaret Atwood is a similar sensation for me as that of one who has crossed the desert and finally comes across the oasis. I have immense admiration for them both, sculptors of words, who, via the sacred art of materializing the soul, enrich the rest of us without saving anything for themselves.

I remember the time that I discovered the marvels of Nanotechnology -also over the radio- one afternoon after a long march that lasted months. I found myself listening from my bivouac to the commentator, while I was being attacked by a swarm of microscopic ticks that had laid in waiting for me and were crawling over my skin and covering me with sores in their passing. I remember having thought then that I would have loved to have a second skin made for me, as light and strong as a spider´s web, to prevent me being attacked by my impregnable enemies during the hard trek through the jungle. Imagine finding myself here, with those who made me dream, those same people who have made this science a magic wand to change our relation with pain, with the process of healing, with our own skin.

In the jungle, I was also a victim -like so many poor people in the world- of malaria. That is why it is such a special honour to meet those who know how to alleviate those who are suffering, because I was one of them and I know that people like [these healers] are needed.

When I came out of the jungle, the first thing I did was to access the Internet. I got onto a website and entered my name to get an e-mail address. Obviously, I do not wish to do any advertising, but it is gmail.com. Many thanks.

On many occasions in the jungle, when we heard the guerrillas´ music, which is very different to other kinds of music that you can hear, I spoke with them -on some occasions I tried to do so- I tried to explain to our guards about other kinds of music, and what classical music was. I want to tell you that yesterday, for the first time since my release, I had the opportunity to attend a truly beautiful concert. A concert by my brothers and sisters from Venezuela. Many thanks to the National Network of Youth and Children Orchestras of Venezuela. Venezuela is a great country; I love them.

I must confess that this has been for me, since my release, the most wonderful of encounters. I had the great joy of speaking to His Royal Highness, Prince Felipe, when I went to visit his Father in Madrid last month. In the minutes during which we talked, I was moved by the purity of his gaze and the goodness that emanates from his person. Somehow, I already knew him a little, through the tales that my mother told me of the people who had helped her during my captivity. She always cherished the moving memory of a meeting in Argentina, where, in addition to the firm and brave commitment of President Cristina Kirchner, she sensed in the Prince of Asturias´ words of encouragement much more than purely formal support. "He feels like us," she told me, wishing to praise his great humanity. By bearing his name, this Award is doubly significant for me. Not only because it is the fruit of the most noble intentions of the Spanish people, but also because it is embodied by this young Prince and his beautiful wife, who have not ceased to surprise us with the generosity of their acts and the loftiness of their feelings. Yes indeed, if the word "Concord" exists, it belongs to them.

This contrasts with the cruel reality that my captive brothers and sisters suffer in the jungle, at the hands of dehumanized jailers. For them, today, there is no generosity, nor respect, nor family, nor affection. As has been the case for too many years now, I once more feel sadness and joy intertwining simultaneously within me, and I assert once more that I shall not feel totally free, or happy, while one of my companions remains captive in the jungle.

I therefore think that, hand in hand with all those who accompany us here today, it is necessary to reflect on what we can do for them. Not only because by doing so we can contribute to saving them, but -paradoxically- because I believe that we shall also be saving ourselves.

In the cyclical repetitions of history, I clearly see that we have the opportunity, once more, to be the ones to shatter the accursed circle. Last year, at this same ceremony, the words of the victims of the Holocaust were heard right here. Those who were here then were present at the painful questioning that these victims put to their own neighbours, those who looked on in silence as they were taken off to hell, and did nothing.

What would we have done? Would we have done as the majority did, trying to find justification for infamy, so as to be able to sleep in the tranquillity of our own indifference? We all wish to think that we would not have done so. We all wish to see ourselves portrayed on the side of the anonymous heroes who gambled their lives to save the life of this man, the life of this child who was suffering.

Life has brought us the awareness of the bitter reality of those who are imprisoned by this same infamy in the jungles of Colombia, by this same insanity dressed in a different uniform, but inhabited by the same cruelty. Today, we cannot ignore their situation or that of hundreds of human beings who suffer the arbitrariness of political, religious or cultural intolerance in any part of the world. In this global village that the world is today, we are all neighbours. Each day, we can put out our hand and we do not do so.

I want to tell you about these neighbours of mine, who never knew us, but who rallied the world over to demand our freedom. People who could have remained in their homes wrapped up in their own concerns, people who did not have any means to help us apart from their voice. They did not have fortunes or power either, and even less influence. They only had the unbearable weight of our pain.

These neighbours of ours broke the vicious circle of indifference and stood on the same side of the street as the few who, years ago, did not accept the Holocaust. What came later, the world already knows: a network of human beings gathering together in their neighbourhood, their town, their country, joining together on marches, wearing white t-shirts and waving flags to save us from oblivion.

From there, an extraordinary phenomenon arose. Those we did have power and influence heard and acted. Not all. But some did, some who also made the difference, who also crossed the street and stood on the side of those who were not resigned. I am speaking of the Heads of State of Spain, France and Switzerland. H.M. King Juan Carlos, Mr. Rodríguez Zapatero and his Foreign Secretary, Mr. Moratinos, were always at our families and France´s side in facilitating our freedom. Their decision to help us was first an intimate decision, from the heart, which then became government policy. There were hundreds of meetings, hundreds of contacts, many risks and difficulties to seek and achieve contact with the guerrillas, venturing deep into the jungle. I am convinced that their decision to not sponsor military rescue operations with the aim of respecting our lives was the starting out point for devising an unarmed operation, in which the only ones to run risks were those who saved us. If some of us escaped captivity alive, it was because all these people placed their voice at the service of our freedom.

Today, when the blessing fall on those who receive as well as on those who give, how good it is to become aware of the power of the word that Providence has granted us.

It is clear that our world must change and that each one of us must break the misfortune of his or her own indifference. This transformation that drives us, at times in which the skyscrapers of world finance seem to crash down upon us, when the fragility of our civilization is more clearly manifest, this transformation, which we feel to be essential, starts deep down in our heart.

Because what is collapsing in this world is irresponsibility and selfishness. How do we think we are going to save the planet from global warming if we do not agree to consume in a different way and, therefore, if we do not agree to change our habits and our pleasures?

How do we believe we can survive the flood of human beings that are migrating towards Europe or the United States if we do not agree to recognise their right to desire the same as what we desire?

With each word we can reclaim other relationships, other commitments, other solutions... We can accept trade agreements that are not so good for us, but which are fairer. We can seek to invest with a greater sense of solidarity and less speculative yields. We can offer more dialogue and less imposition by force.

Above all, we can not resign ourselves. Because to resign oneself is to die a little, it means not making use of the possibility to choose, it means accepting silence. The word, however, precedes actions, prepares the path, opens doors... Today, more than ever, we must use our voices to shatter chains.

I have the profound conviction that when we talk, we are changing the world. The great transformations in our history were always announced previously. That is how Man reached the Moon, the Berlin Wall fell... that is how apartheid fell. I hope that that is how terrorism has to disappear, too.

The guerrilla forces in Colombia must hear from here the voices of those of us who reclaim the Freedom of all Columbians. This call sums up the great demands of humanity as a whole. No one can sacrifice a human being on the altar of their ideology, their religion or their culture. If the FARC do not wish to be considered terrorists by the rest of the world, they have to rectify their actions, renouncing kidnapping for ever. The dehumanisation of their troops, guerrilla troops -necessary to be able to keep human beings chained up for many long years- is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of their commanders. The members of the Secretariat know that the world is severely pointing the finger at them. I call for dialogue, but I also ask that there to be no impunity.

Christmas approaches. But Christmas is the worst time for someone who is kidnapped. That is why I feel obliged to share a wish with you. Some friends in Colombia are calling for the whole world to march, a day some time before Christmas, on November 28th, to call for the freedom of all those kidnapped in Colombia. From here, from this world in which we have everything, I ask you to help us extend a hand to those who lost everything.

I would like to think that all the people of Columbia will come out to march. Rivers of people calling for the freedom of our brothers and sisters. I consider that those who stay at home that day and do not march -to give a deserving Christmas present to so many lost souls- cannot celebrate their own Christmas with a clear conscience.

From Asturias, we make a heartrending call to our sister peoples, in all of Latin America, to prevent kidnapping from becoming commonplace on our continent. We ask that the drugs which are produced in Colombia and in other regions should not be allowed to transit through the territories of our geography, because the wealth that they generate feeds terrorism and adds to kidnapping. We ask all our peoples to put a stop to arms trafficking, because these same arms are used against our population, to take away the lives and freedom of our loved ones. We ask that, in the conscience of each home, in each one of our homes, in the innermost core of our families, corruption be punished, because it means that those whose acts foster crime do not have to face the law.

I know that the peoples of Latin America are listening to us. To traffic with drugs, arms and consciences requires the silence of neighbours. Let each one of us cross the street and stand on the side of those who make a difference, of those who do not accept holocausts. Ordinary people, with the shield of their convictions and the sword of their own voice, can achieve great actions: what we have seen here this evening is proof that it is possible to change the reality that outrages us when we decide not to silence the voice of our hearts.

I invite you all to imagine a world in which Man fulfils his destiny, where the values of the soul dictate decisions and love rules over the different peoples. I want to believe that this ritual that takes place here in Oviedo -today and every year- is a lofty portent of the profound transformations that are being produced in our hearts and in our nations. Let us seek together the treasures that are hidden deep down in our soul and in the origins of our civilizations. Let us trust that everything is possible, if God so wishes, and that from the contradictions that we experience today may arise a new world, the one we continue to seek long after Columbus, the one that we reclaim from Oviedo, the world of Concord.

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