Oscar Arias at the Nobel Awards Ceremony

| Published on

By George Weigel

Print Friendly


Your Majesty, my fellow Nobel Laureates, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me this evening. I accept it in the name of all those brave people of Central America—indeed, in the name of all those throughout the world—who struggle nonviolently for peace, freedom, and justice. In honoring me, you honor them. In honoring them, you acknowledge the great truth, which they have learned: that peace is more than the absence of violent conflict. Peace is a matter of freedom and of institutions of freedom. Peace is a matter of democracy, self-determination, and the pursuit of justice through law and politics rather than through slaughter and oppression. That is the truth upon which we are trying to act in Central America today.

It is a truth that has been learned through pain and suffering. Many of the countries of Central America have not, until this past decade, begun to fulfill the promise of the revolutions by which they cast off the yoke of colonial power and assumed their station among the independent states of the world. That is the promise we now seek to keep.

We are not alone in this quest: throughout the world today, there is a great social ferment. It comes from the realization that men and women need not be serfs and slaves, need not live in conditions of gross deprivation, need not watch their children die in infancy or childhood from easily preventable diseases. Self-determination, a decent standard of living, and a life free from the threat of political terror are not unimaginable dreams; they are possible human achievements. But their accomplishment requires more than a great act of social will.

That is the lesson that many of us in Central America have learned from our great neighbor to the north, the United States of America, which is celebrating the bicentennial of its Constitution this year. Our relations with the United States have not, historically, been without their trials. But we now choose to look to the future. And from the United States we have learned that peace is built on a triad of institutions: a pluralistic culture, free for human creativity and expression; a liberal polity, in which all men and women share the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship under law; and an economy in which individuals may prosper according to their talents, initiative, and hard work.

We have learned that true liberty means shared responsibility for the common good. We have learned that the building blocks of peace and freedom are such institutions as a free press, an independent judiciary, corporations in which entrepreneurs can freely associate, trade unions in which workers join in solidarity for the protection of their rights, and religious bodies in which men and women may worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.

The plan for peace in Central America with which I have been associated is built on these understandings. Peace in Central America—that true peace which includes freedom, security, prosperity, and justice for all—is threatened on many fronts. It is threatened by apathy. It is threatened by narrow self-interest and greed. We in Central America must build a culture of freedom as well as institutions of freedom. We know that, and brave spirits among us are at work on that essential task of civic reconstruction. But I would be less than frank, ladies and gentlemen, if I did not acknowledge before you that peace with freedom and justice in Central America is also threatened by the present government of my neighbor, Nicaragua, and by those armed guerilla forces in the region which, like the Sandinista regime, carry a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

It is often said, in this latter part of the twentieth century, that communism is a spent force. And that is true in this sense: who, today, looks to Moscow or Havana or Hanoi or Addis Ababa for the model of a humane future? The romantic allure of communism, so attractive to Western and Third World intellectuals during the middle part of this century, has exhausted itself. One of the greatest tragedies of this tragic century is the fact that it has taken literally tens of millions of broken lives to prove that point. When one thinks of those victims who otherwise might have lived creative lives, one begins to comprehend the ugliness of the scars which will forever be borne by the phrase, the twentieth century.

But there is another sense in which Marxism-Leninism is not a spent force: and that is as an instrument for seizing and holding political power. That is what has happened in Nicaragua, where the people’s revolution of 1979 has been betrayed by the Leninist leadership of the Sandinista front. And that is what must change in Nicaragua, if there is to be peace with freedom, prosperity, and justice in Central America.

And thus I take the occasion of this Nobel awards ceremony to call on the people of Nicaragua, my neighbors, to stand up against their betrayal: to stand up and claim the rights that are theirs, and to which President Ortega pledged himself in August at the Guatemala summit of Central American presidents.

Let there be religious liberty, an uncensored press, free trade unions, legally sanctioned opposition political parties, and a truly open process of presidential and legislative elections in Nicaragua.

Let there be an end to political prisoners, revolutionary tribunals, block committees to enforce political conformity through control of food and medicine, and “divine mobs” to harass churchmen.

Nicaraguans, stand up and claim the rights that are yours by reason of your human dignity, rights that are enshrined in the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights, rights to which your government has solemnly and publicly pledged itself.

I also call upon the free peoples of the world to stand beside their brothers and sisters in Nicaragua who wish to claim their basic human rights. The Sandinista regime is dependent on the support of forces located beyond our troubled region: it is dependent on the economic and military support of the Soviet bloc; but it is also dependent on the moral support and political power exercised by men and women in the free world who cannot seem to understand the nature of the Sandinista front, or who cannot comprehend the historic pathos of a Central American country in which East Germans design the internal security service and Bulgarians build the new airport runway. We in Central America have had enough of imperialism. But the imperialism by which we are now threatened is not located in Washington, but in Moscow and Havana.

Ladies and gentlemen, you honor me as a peacemaker. My task, and yours, is not done. There can be no peace without freedom in Central America. There can be no peace without democracy in Central America. Many Central Americans know that. But our future in this kind of a world rests in more hands than ours. We shall not be found wanting in meeting our responsibilities. But will you? If you will stand with us for peace and freedom, we may yet be able to set an example that is worthy of this prize with which tonight you honor all the world’s democrats.

Thank you.

As imagined by George Weigel

Your Majesty, my fellow Nobel Laureates, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me this evening. I accept it in the name of all those brave people of Central America—indeed, in the name of all those throughout the world—who struggle nonviolently for peace, freedom, and justice. In honoring me, you honor them. In honoring them, you acknowledge the great truth, which they have learned: that peace is more than the absence of violent conflict. Peace is a matter of freedom and of institutions of freedom. Peace is a matter of democracy, self-determination, and the pursuit of justice through law and politics rather than through slaughter and oppression. That is the truth upon which we are trying to act in Central America today.

It is a truth that has been learned through pain and suffering. Many of the countries of Central America have not, until this past decade, begun to fulfill the promise of the revolutions by which they cast off the yoke of colonial power and assumed their station among the independent states of the world. That is the promise we now seek to keep.

We are not alone in this quest: throughout the world today, there is a great social ferment. It comes from the realization that men and women need not be serfs and slaves, need not live in conditions of gross deprivation, need not watch their children die in infancy or childhood from easily preventable diseases. Self-determination, a decent standard of living, and a life free from the threat of political terror are not unimaginable dreams; they are possible human achievements. But their accomplishment requires more than a great act of social will.

That is the lesson that many of us in Central America have learned from our great neighbor to the north, the United States of America, which is celebrating the bicentennial of its Constitution this year. Our relations with the United States have not, historically, been without their trials. But we now choose to look to the future. And from the United States we have learned that peace is built on a triad of institutions: a pluralistic culture, free for human creativity and expression; a liberal polity, in which all men and women share the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship under law; and an economy in which individuals may prosper according to their talents, initiative, and hard work.

We have learned that true liberty means shared responsibility for the common good. We have learned that the building blocks of peace and freedom are such institutions as a free press, an independent judiciary, corporations in which entrepreneurs can freely associate, trade unions in which workers join in solidarity for the protection of their rights, and religious bodies in which men and women may worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.

The plan for peace in Central America with which I have been associated is built on these understandings. Peace in Central America—that true peace which includes freedom, security, prosperity, and justice for all—is threatened on many fronts. It is threatened by apathy. It is threatened by narrow self-interest and greed. We in Central America must build a culture of freedom as well as institutions of freedom. We know that, and brave spirits among us are at work on that essential task of civic reconstruction. But I would be less than frank, ladies and gentlemen, if I did not acknowledge before you that peace with freedom and justice in Central America is also threatened by the present government of my neighbor, Nicaragua, and by those armed guerilla forces in the region which, like the Sandinista regime, carry a Marxist-Leninist ideology.

It is often said, in this latter part of the twentieth century, that communism is a spent force. And that is true in this sense: who, today, looks to Moscow or Havana or Hanoi or Addis Ababa for the model of a humane future? The romantic allure of communism, so attractive to Western and Third World intellectuals during the middle part of this century, has exhausted itself. One of the greatest tragedies of this tragic century is the fact that it has taken literally tens of millions of broken lives to prove that point. When one thinks of those victims who otherwise might have lived creative lives, one begins to comprehend the ugliness of the scars which will forever be borne by the phrase, the twentieth century.

But there is another sense in which Marxism-Leninism is not a spent force: and that is as an instrument for seizing and holding political power. That is what has happened in Nicaragua, where the people’s revolution of 1979 has been betrayed by the Leninist leadership of the Sandinista front. And that is what must change in Nicaragua, if there is to be peace with freedom, prosperity, and justice in Central America.

And thus I take the occasion of this Nobel awards ceremony to call on the people of Nicaragua, my neighbors, to stand up against their betrayal: to stand up and claim the rights that are theirs, and to which President Ortega pledged himself in August at the Guatemala summit of Central American presidents.

Let there be religious liberty, an uncensored press, free trade unions, legally sanctioned opposition political parties, and a truly open process of presidential and legislative elections in Nicaragua.

Let there be an end to political prisoners, revolutionary tribunals, block committees to enforce political conformity through control of food and medicine, and “divine mobs” to harass churchmen.

Nicaraguans, stand up and claim the rights that are yours by reason of your human dignity, rights that are enshrined in the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights, rights to which your government has solemnly and publicly pledged itself.

I also call upon the free peoples of the world to stand beside their brothers and sisters in Nicaragua who wish to claim their basic human rights. The Sandinista regime is dependent on the support of forces located beyond our troubled region: it is dependent on the economic and military support of the Soviet bloc; but it is also dependent on the moral support and political power exercised by men and women in the free world who cannot seem to understand the nature of the Sandinista front, or who cannot comprehend the historic pathos of a Central American country in which East Germans design the internal security service and Bulgarians build the new airport runway. We in Central America have had enough of imperialism. But the imperialism by which we are now threatened is not located in Washington, but in Moscow and Havana.

Ladies and gentlemen, you honor me as a peacemaker. My task, and yours, is not done. There can be no peace without freedom in Central America. There can be no peace without democracy in Central America. Many Central Americans know that. But our future in this kind of a world rests in more hands than ours. We shall not be found wanting in meeting our responsibilities. But will you? If you will stand with us for peace and freedom, we may yet be able to set an example that is worthy of this prize with which tonight you honor all the world’s democrats.

Thank you.

As imagined by George Weigel

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.