Long ago, after finishing my graduate work, I had a very naive view of the world. I guess spending years sweating in a lab to complete a thesis limits the time that you can devote to the world. And if you dominate your field, you think history or politics has to be much simpler than something involving technological know how.
At the time, I innocently believed the world was divided into two groups: Sensible and fairly educated people, on both the right and the left, who cared about human rights and a small legion of uneducated thugs, mostly with a military background who found human rights annoying and an obstacle to their goals. It was simple, I had never personally met anyone in the first group who did not spouse or defend human rights.
Then, it was maybe 1983, when I went to a conference in Argentina, Mar de Plata to be more specific. There, in the peace and quite of an academic coference and the refreshing ocean air of that city, I heard of the horrors of the military regimes in that country. I met 20 year old kids who had been jailed, tortured. I heard of their friends, dissapeared. I heard of the story of Antonio Misetich, the famous Argentinean scientist, arrested, fired and despite assurances to the US Government that he would be well treated, dissapeared. His crime? He had a sister involved with groups actvely opposing the Government.
But if the stories shocked me, what absolutely blew my mind was a speaker, name forgotten, describing the horrors, the dissapearances and the tortures, closing his talk by addressing those in the audience who collaborated with the regime, those that held official positions, passed information to the Government and were quiet in the face of the most abominal human right abuses Latin America had seen in decades. He asked them openly and loudly: How do you expect me to say hello to you in the halls of the university? How do you expect me to support your promotion? How do you expect me to support your funding?
Afterwards, talking to people, they even pointed out some of their colleagues who knew, who helped, who participated. It was truly shocking and an eye opener.
Later, I came to see more clearly, that in the end human rights tend to be mostly secondary. Everywhere. The end tends to always justify the means. Ideology also tends to prevail in the face of the tough choices that come with political responsibility and choosing between success or the respect of the most basic rights that people deserve to have.
And then came Chavez, who revealed to me how marginal human rights can be across our Continent. I saw how despite the most overt and absurd violations of human rights in Venezuela, it did not matter in the end. Foreign politicians care more abour their future than about principles. Foreign Governments care more about commerce than about rights. Diplomats are educated to walk the middle ground, not stepping on anyone’s toes, no matter how bad things might get.
Things like the Holocaust became easier to understand, as well as my own country’s history, recent and long past. Respect for human rights turns out to be a rarity, not the norm. Most people, given the chance, will look the other way, be silenced, justify the unjustifiable.
And as we have fewer and fewer rights in Venezuela today, while Lula and many others laugh and joke with Hugo Chavez, and Insulza says little about everything that has been going on in Venezuela, I see the cynical nature of Governments, politicians and people in general. Not only do they stay quiet in the face of the obvious, but the OAS, an organization representing mostly democratically elected countries, decides to suspend Cuba’s ban from that organization, revoking the resolution from 1962 that expelled Cuba from that organization.
Little has changed in terms of human rights since 1962 in Cuba. people are still shot for crimes against the state which do not involve even injuries to other human beings, people can’t freely leave the country, people are repressed. But these political geniuses, now collaborators in my mind, decide to give Raul Castro a chance. And he accepts it and in his own words, says there are no conditions attached, laughing at the fools that revoked the resolution.
It is indeed a terrible and sad day, when supposedly educated men and women, are capable of leaving their principles and most basic human nature aside in order to achieve their political goals or make a gesture to satisfy the crowds watching your every movement or gain an electoral advantage.
The message sent to Latin American politicians, present and future is quite clear: You don’t have to worry. The OAS democratic charter is just a piece of paper. We will look the other way as far as human rights is concerned. We have no morals. Anything goes in Latin America. We are not ready to defend and respect the human rights of our people.Human rights be damned
It is a terrible day. They should all be ashamed.