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Óscar Arias

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 1988

A call that harks back to time immemorial.

A heartfelt call that harks back to time immemorial - a call emanating from both our life-blood and our souls - unites us this afternoon in the illustrious presence of His Royal Highness the Prince. Asturias summons our small group of men and women to receive its honours at this table. We can hear the heartbeat of Spain in the call; it is that same heartbeat that has inspired all the Latin American peoples throughout time and across space. There is a common thread linking those of us here today with the taciturn peasant of the Andes, the erudite scholar who forges ideas in city solitude, and the Central American mother anguished at the lack of food for her children.

A history of democracy, peace and freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for the award Spain bestows upon me today. Once again I feel that such laurels are recognition of Costa Rica's history of struggle, of fraternity, and of peaceful coexistence. I feel that my country's long history of democracy, peace and freedom are being recognised.

Costa Rica is a democratic, peace-loving and free country - a sanctuary for human rights and of faith in mankind. Many events have contributed to forging our national identity: democratic elections, which we have been accustomed to since 1812 and the Constitution drawn up in Cádiz; the Republican spirit of our national heroes and our first heads of state; my country's fierce commitment to education since the nineteenth century; the interest of our liberal thinkers in freedom, democracy and civil and political rights, demonstrated from the beginning of the last century; the concepts of social justice that gradually became a reality from the beginning of this century onwards. Many such factors are common to the histories of several Latin American countries. However, one of them, possibly the one that is of supreme importance for democracy, is unique to my country - the abolition of an army. The decision to abolish the army was taken in the aftermath of victory by a man who overcame the temptation to convert the army into a means of hanging on to power indefinitely- José Figueres. This unexpected act by this extraordinary man epitomised the peace-loving, democratic vocation of our people. The Costa Rican character also explains our tradition of democracy. Over the centuries, our valleys slowly forged a man who had faith in dialogue, who was respectful of others' ideas, who was prepared to negotiate rather than fight; he was a citizen ready to live in freedom, and a man - the artifice of his own destiny - starting out on the road to democracy.

At the heart of the people of Costa Rica.

We are proud of the fact that scarcely three months after peacefully annexing Costa Rica from the Spanish monarchy we already had our own Constitution and a democratically elected government. But we are even prouder of the fact that the principles of democracy have become enshrined in the hearts of the people of Costa Rica. Constitutions and laws do not in themselves forge democracies; first, there has to be a freedom-loving, democratic spirit within the people.

This spirit of democracy has made Costa Rica a peace-loving country. This spirit has led us to understand that different beliefs and the debate of ideas dignify mankind, whilst intransigency engenders violence. This spirit inspires us to defend every man's right to express his opinions without fear. By abolishing the army we have been able to channel more resources towards the health service, housing and education. The goals that we have achieved in these fields are on a par with those of developed nations. The people of Costa Rica have become accustomed to using their vote as a crucible of democracy, and our leaders to respecting the sovereign will of the people. Our arms are the ballot box and the ballot paper, not the gun or the bayonet.

We are privileged.

Costa Rica still faces major problems of poverty and severe economic difficulties. But it aspires to resolve these problems in a climate of peace and freedom. However, abject poverty can become the breeding ground for dictatorship, the seed for totalitarianism. This is why it must be eradicated from smaller and larger countries alike, regardless of whether it affects a single human being or a million of them. Abundance, not shortage, should be the norm in the four corners of the world for the world's entire population in Mankind's third millennium.

Those of us who are here today are privileged not only because of the enormous honour bestowed upon us in the guise of the Prince of Asturias Awards but also because fate has given each of us the chance to serve our people in one way or another. Whilst millions of people who share the same language as us struggle to survive, we have had the opportunity to fight for ideals, at the frontiers of thought, imagination and political action. We have fought for the ideas of freedom, democracy and peace and joint progress.

Progress and Freedom.

Whichever way one looks at it, progress has always been an affair of the heart. Inspired by great concepts and noble dreams, as men and women we strive to scale ever-greater heights to the benefit of society. Being an affair of the heart, progress can have no truck with captivity. Freedom is its inseparable companion. The men who set sail over the vast ocean in their fragile boats alongside Christopher Columbus were on a quest for freedom, writing the opening chapter of the second millennium's greatest quest for progress along the way. The valiant settlers who braved the mountains of my country were on a quest for freedom, as were the natives who opposed them, and the Creole soldiers who fought for our nations' independence. The desire for freedom is deeply entrenched in each and every one of us.

Western civilization managed to reconcile personal freedom and social order. This ideal has been called democracy since Classical Greek times. As it is a libertarian concept, it has inspired profound democratic convictions in Latin Americans. The principle institution of Spanish local government, which was taken by the Conquistadors to South America, was the seed of modern democracy. Municipality, town council, city hall are a community's incarnation of the wishes of the people that have survived in Spain and America even under the jackboot of dictatorship.

The sturdy seed of democracy, sown four centuries ago and jealously guarded in small villages and cities alike, is now sprouting and multiplying in Spain and almost the whole of the continent of South America. We all triumph whenever popular will prevails in South America or in our Mother Country, whenever a man freely expresses his ideas, whenever a soldier puts down his arms or whenever a political prisoner is set free; moreover, El Cid Campeador, Bartolomé de Las Casas, Agustina de Aragón, Miguel Hidalgo, Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín.all triumph alongside us.

Time-honoured memories of our identity.

Democracy stirs time-honoured memories of our identity: voices that rang out in the Cortes de Cádiz; ideas and sentiments that live on in the poems of José Martí, Rubén Darío and Miguel Hernández; deep-seated aspirations echoed in popular music. We aspire to democracy in line with our particular Latin American concept of mankind and progress. We aspire to democracy and progress that maintains the essential facets of the way we are; close family ties, the life of the soul, love of beauty, a balance between man and his environment. The blind forces of the past continue to resist these ideals tooth and nail. In some of our nations, those who believe themselves to hold the absolute truth, or those who hold absolute power, still prevail. But we are winning the fight. Throughout Latin America, we are winning the fight for freedom and democracy, using our own arms, our own concepts, supported by the will and determination of our peoples.

In some countries, this fight goes hand in hand with the struggle for peace. Sadly, we must accept that regimes that oppress the people and deny them their rightful aspirations for peace and freedom still persist in our continent. Democracy, long-term peace, progress and human rights are inseparable in reality. Central America is ringed by threats and by aggression; it lives with a machete in its hand, with hunger in its belly and with hatred in its heart. We cannot react to this situation by placing yet more arms in the hands of innocent youngsters and children. We must react to this Central America with the spirit of peace, justice and democracy.

Contrasting realities.

Some people tar all of Central America with the same brush. They think that uniformity marks the five countries between Mexico and Panama. This is a misconception. The reality of Central America is one of contrast, and of co-existence of diverse realities. There are long-standing and new democracies in Central America; but there are places where democracy still has not flourished. In Central America there are nations who exercise their civil and political rights and who strive to improve their economies; there are also nations where freedom is oppressed and abject poverty reigns. In Central America there is academic brilliance; but there is also ignorance and illiteracy. In Central America there is both health and disease. Nevertheless, in the five countries of the isthmus, there are men and women who yearn for a better future, men and women who want democracy and peace, progress and justice for the whole region.

Central America, bleeding and martyred.

It is difficult to comprehend why the spirit of peaceful co-existence still has not come to our bloodstained, martyred Central America. I have often wondered why wounds remain open when the pain is so great, why intransigence reigns when dialogue is so fervently desired, why wars do not end when reconciliation can no longer be avoided. In short, why are those who clamour for peace the very same people who are beating the drums of war? Why is there such haste to take part in exercises in death, and such sloth in negotiation?

My reflections come full circle. There is no peace because there is no reconciliation. There is no reconciliation because there is no justice. There is no justice because there is no compassion. There is no compassion because there is no love.

A land of hope.

And yet Central America has always been a land of hope. This hope led the Presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica to sign a Peace Plan fourteen months ago now. The Plan is our peoples' decision to silence the call to arms, to undertake brotherly dialogue and to set out again firmly on the road to democracy. It is the will of thousands upon thousands of victims of years of terror and death, crying out for the day when the whistling of birds imposes itself over the whistle of bullets.

The difficult road to peace.

The road so far has not been an easy one; nor will the road still to be covered in the future be easy. There are many who hope that the Peace Plan fails. Yet we become more convinced daily that there will be no progress without democracy and peace. War will only bring more devastation, more hatred, more ill feeling, and more deaths. War distances the solutions that the people of our nations yearn for.

It is paradoxical that democracy should be reborn in Latin America at the very moment when the region most feels the burden of foreign debt, and when the conditions for international trade are worsening most. The greatest threat to the fragile, emerging democracies in our nations comes not only from the forces of subversion but also from the difficult conditions imposed by creditors whose sole interest is a return on their capital. Settlement of this debt should be adjusted to allow our economies to grow. This is imperative for the survival of the political regime that we have always aspired to. Justice and understanding are the only ways to achieve lasting peace, not only within the bosom of each individual society but also within the communion of nations. The injustice of economic relations is the bastion stopping states from becoming closer to each other.

The unfair treatment meted out to us when we try to acquire the financial resources and materials needed for development should cease as soon as possible. Many industrialized countries succeeded in their development precisely because of the ease with which they extracted their raw materials from our continent in the not so distant past. In all fairness, we demand fair play in pricing our exports, fair play in managing our foreign debt, and fair play in transferring capital and technology.

Linked by culture.

A wealthy country will never find peace of mind whilst there is a poor country whose people are dying of hunger or as a result of war. This is why we cannot afford to waste a single opportunity to establish dialogue, to lay out our interests and to better understand one another. In this respect, might I quote the words of an illustrious Costa Rican who enlightened Latin America's finest minds for over forty years in a review called the Repertorio Americano. This great compatriot, Jorge García Monje, said:

"Men only bear each other ill will when they do not know each other, or when they only know each other's weak points. But when they have managed to pierce the heart and understand each other's thoughts, when they perceive their virtues, finer points and talents, admiration gives way to affection and friendship. This is why friendship is born out of mutual knowledge between men and between nations. This mutual knowledge of everything that we are, coupled - to a great extent - with the generous aspiration to face our common fate together will make us invincible. We are united by a culture that has been moulded from blood and soul". If one thing can be said about the peoples of Latin America it is that we are linked by a culture moulded from blood and soul. The upcoming Fifth Centenary of the meeting of two worlds, Montezuma's and Charles I of Spain's, Atahualpa's world and Philip II of Spain's, is a marvellous opportunity for Spaniards and Latin Americans alike to highlight our common destiny.

Encouraging signs.

Up to and beyond 1992 we should concentrate on uniting what has been divided. The doors to the future will swing open to us in this way. Like the Great Admiral in 1492, there are encouraging signs on the horizon. The progress of democracy in Latin America and the development of new forms of Latin American cooperation in the fields of science and technology, in trade, in culture and also in politics, all point to a new era. It is a new era in which the democratic, hard-working, creative community will speak forth to the nations of the World as a whole in the glorious language of Cervantes, united in word and belief.

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