Interview with Marta Benavides: “Human Rights and 23rd Century Movement”

 Marta Benavides, GCAP, Siglo XXIII, Global Education Magazine, interview Javier Collado Ruano, UNESCO, ACNUR

Javier Collado Ruano: Today, 10thDecember 2013, we celebrate the 65º anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For this reason, we have a special person with us to commemorate it. Allow me to introduce Ms. Marta Benavides, a good friend from El Salvador and an international activist working on culture of peace, sustainability, inclusiveness, human rights and women equality. Marta, thank you very much to open us your heart one more time.

Marta Benavides: Gracias, the pleasure is mine. I see UNESCO as a key instrument to work for culture of peace, which is the real expression of real development and real security. I have just returned from visiting and working with rural and coastal communities, 6 hours trip, from the coast to the mountains and the valleys. Also to share with you that in the context of this year’s International Day of Human Rights, we are launching the Free University for Peace for Knowledge and Practices for Sustainability.

JCR: I wanted to start by remembering Latin America in the 1970s, at that time, El Salvador and other countries of the region were under dictatorships. A context which Mr. Eduardo Galeano expresses very well in his book “Open Veins of Latin America”, and a period that you lived with intensity, vehemence and passion. How do you remember those years? What do you feel it has changed since then?

MB: The reality is that the 70’s are the result of the national security doctrine, which was imposed by fire all over the world, and in particular in Latin America and the Caribbean. This was a way to keep law and order so those military regimes, which were imposed as dictatorships earlier in the 20th century could keep in power, and allow the national oligarchies to continue their enrichment, while in collusion with international enterprises which were established in each country. The dictatorships, some were family dynasties, were awarded loans by foreign industrialized governments to train and arm the military and police, to keep law and order by force, so labor would work at low wages, with no rights, and to stop the demands of peasant movements for land and water rights. This was a time of terrible repression and oppression against the leaders and members of those movements: students, journalists, artists, and any thinking person who dared think different, and expressed it. I recommend that people do read Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America”, and better yet, read all his books. They are a great gift to humanity’s search for truth and enlightenment. It is important to see that the 70’s are the direct expression and result of the extractive paradigm that was forced in the whole of the continent of the Americas, by the colonial enterprise, and the slavery system, which has continued in various forms since 1492 to this date. Impoverishment, hunger, inequalities became the life of the peoples of the continent, and so was also the destruction of Mother Earth. This is still the reality in the continent, which includes the Caribbean.

In terms of changes… for me it is problematic to say that much has changed. It is only the ways in which the extraction continues. Just recently, late November 2013, we have witnessed a presidential fraud in Honduras, which comes to legitimize a previous coup d’etat, and all the human rights violations and violence being suffered by the peoples of Honduras, in particular against the first nations and Garifuna peoples, and in favor of the rule of organized crime in the region.

JCR: And what do you think it remains to be done yet in this region?

MB: The violence that affects almost all nations from Mexico to Colombia must be resolved. This is mostly linked to organized crime that is related to drug trafficking, with its related human and arms traffic. All these is related to the ever increasing demand and drug consumption of citizens in industrialized nations. The problem is that now we see that some of the countries in the route are now becoming consumers. The issue of inequalities is major too, as the continent is seen as the one which is most unequal. These discriminations and lack of opportunities affect the most impoverished, in particular youth/children, first nations, afro descendants, women, rural and coastal peoples, older adults, persons with special situations and challenges. The case of youth is difficult in particular, and in the Central American region it is notable the presence of very dangerous and violent gangs. These gangs now seem to be also relating to organized crime. Because of this situation, there is serious talk to increment the numbers of policemen. However this can be a major problem, given the traditional corruption and repression practices of those forces. To work on these concerns is urgent, but it is dangerous to adopt the militarization “solution”. Another aspect that is urgent is the migration of large percentage of the populations seeking work and opportunities in industrialized nations of the north, not only because of trans culturization, but also because of the disruption of the social fiber in each nation and families.

JCR: In this sense, what is your opinion about the economical and political organizations of SICA (Central American Integration System), with headquarter in El Salvador, and Mercosur? What should it be their geopolitical role for the coming years?

MB: I think they and other related counterparts, like the regional parliaments are very good instruments that have not played as yet, the real roles that they must. Most citizens do not see their added value, and feel that it is a waste of economic and political resources, but in this age of globalization, and given the internationalization of major situations and problems, such as water, energy, migration, trade, employment, professionalization of careers, pollution/climate change, and sustainability in particular, such bodies are important and must fulfill their charge the sooner the better. The citizenry must be educated to participate for the effective use of these entities and processes.

Marta Benavides, Siglo XXIII, GCAP, Global Education MagazineJCR: Doing a parallelism of those reflections, when we were attending the conference “Building a Global Citizens Movement”, co-organised by DEEEP / CONCORD in collaboration with CIVICUS and GCAP, we talked about the future of world-society in so many ways. We dialogued about the role of current technological revolutions as greatest transition in human history, with the creation of an emergent planetary civilization. I commented to you that quantum computers, Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology applied in health, alternative energy and space travels will change radically the human life in coming decades. Then, you replied with a big smile, inviting me to be part of your project “23rd Century Movement for Sustainable Peace”. But, what is this project and why you are working in? Could you remind it to all the readers of Global Education Magazine, please?

MB: I think that what you were talking about, is here, and more is coming… it is like saying that by the year 2030 there will be travel to Mars… forget the moon, no? technology is moving very fast, and it changes society quantitatively and especially qualitatively… people and societies are driven by each new invention, innovation…at this point I really wonder, who or what is moving what? I see that people run and even sleep at the door, regardless of how cold or hot it is, just to get the new gadget, that seems to be giving direction and meaning to their lives. The poems and delight on stars seem to be absent in their lives, oblivious just the same to what is going on in the world, financial bubbles, drones, wars, and COPs (Conferences of the Gov Parties) no matter what number it is, but usually ending with no effective results, it does not matter, but getting the new gadget does. I worry and ask, where is friendship, care for quality, community, justice, peace, integrity of “creation”?, where is the soul and character, critical thinking, integrity and commitment to a world for all and a planet that is well?

The “23rd Century Movement for Sustainable Peace” is a movement to practice culture of peace, which is based on sustainability principles, the mindfulness of who we are, and the power we are. In this practice we are to understand that each action is a seed, which creates the future that is to come. We must remember that we reap what we plant. We are the creators of present and future, thus, it is important that we educate ourselves to be about intentional being-ness, as persons and collectively. For the future will not come to us by decree, but it can be justified by a decree. For example we can affirm that trade is the motor of change, development and progress, and this is true. But be mindful, what kind of change, development and progress?, where would it lead?, who will benefit or profit?, does it take into account the quality of life of peoples up to the seventh generation, and the care of Mother Earth? This acknowledgment and practice, purposely choosing each action mindful of the seventh generation, is the real use of what is called quantum physics: to create the world of justice and peace that are needed for all to be well, living in a healthy planet. Now, every person practices quantum physics, regardless, for we see the world that we have created and continue to create: we are ready to go to Mars, and not to heal the planet, right?! but this is not necessarily mindful, intentional practice and the best use of quantum physics. We are here on Mother Earth as humans, and our purpose is to become truly humane, as we make our choices and decide the purpose of our existence, for we are already in Mars, in the universe, in the moon, but we are still looking for our soul… human rights, and the economic, social and cultural rights of peoples, and the practices for the care of the planet are the ways to be about the exercise of our full humanity.

JCR: Talking about all that, what is your opinion about the role of Global Citizenship Education to achieve a transnational and transcultural consciousness about glocal problems? How could future generations build a transpolitical and transhumanist democracy based in rights to freedom, equity and fraternity emanated from Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

MB: As I see it, the UN plays a most important role in the discernment of what is going on in the world, the whys and how of that, and on what can and must be done to guarantee quality of life for all present and future generations and for the care of Mother Earth. The way negotiations come about is a key aspect to this, generally speaking, governments do not have as central concerns the aspects that the UN must be about, thus the politics of that result in great shortcomings in benefits for peoples and nature. The colonial paradigm continues to weigh strongly in the direction and decision making in the negotiations and agreements. We need to be about real education, at this moment more than ever. We must decolonize our minds and practices, and know what is of value, and what must be valued. At this moment we must educate on the side of life, that is, prioritizing all aspects to the care of the planet and nature, and the care of peoples. The Declaration of Human Rights, the convention on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Peoples, (as well as conventions such as the right to live in peace, the right to development, right to self determination-and the right to free, previous, informed to proceed to any consent.Agenda 21 in all its aspects, must be at the center of quality education for sustainable practices at the personal as well as collective levels. These are formative aspects of education. However they have not been at the core of education, rather pragmatism has been, people are not educated to think critically, but usually learn to choose for profit, not quality, and least quality of life, not understanding at all the web of life, of how all is related, and the oneness we all are, thus how the local is global and vice versa. UNESCO is the entity that can, and must be about this, yet for the very historical, economic, political and pragmatic reasons I have already pointed out, most countries, do not see it in this way, and do not apply it to the educational programs. In my country for example, it has been easier to save money by having fewer hours for public education, and to train for employment in low wage factories or call centers, and short contract jobs.

JCR: All those humanitarian and visionary ideas remind me of the UN Millennium Development Goals- MDGs. In 2015 there will be an opportunity to reflect on future steps for the common life of world-society. What would your suggestions be for civil society? And for local and international governments?

MB: The 2015 development process, to review the MDGs has been going on for a few months now. And there are some results already. It is clear that eradication of poverty continues to be a key aspect that has not been fulfilled, as well as the intentionality in the care of the planet. It is clear also that the very people who suffer impoverishment, discriminations and inequalities were never properly integrated into the MDG processes, nor in the creation of them. So, it is important to create ways to actually remediate such weakness, and now there is talk about making sure that the New Development Agenda Post 2015 must guarantee that NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND. This New Development Agenda Post 2015–the merger of the MDGs and the resulting Sustainable Development Goals- SDGs– is to take us to 2030. The UN process on Financing for Development/FfD, works to understand and map out the present financial architecture, and what the needed architecture for sustainability must look like. I think that people the world over should learn about these processes. Universities, education in general, the information society must be about this. UNESCO must play an important leading role to bring about this new culture, which is the concrete expression of Culture of Peace. This is really urgent and important because we are in a new era, not an era of changes, but a new era, of global and planetary citizenship, for personal, local, and collective fulfillment, thus the personal and local must play an important and determining role.

JCR: What structural changes are necessary to introduce in glocal panorama to achieve the eradication of poverty?

MB: On this point is necessary to understand that poverty is the result of wrong priorities, that there are structural conditions that create impoverishment, that there are still colonial practices, and an international division of labor, that are expressed at all levels that depend on inequalities, discrimination, extraction for exploitation of humans and planet. These must be dealt with intentionally, again, besides the political will, education is a major factor.

JCR: In a pragmatic awareness framework, how is Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) working in nowadays and what is your role as co-chair?

MB: GCAP is about development of peoples movements to accompany the peoples who challenge the systems of injustice and exploitation, and the structures that cannot but result on impoverishment and lack of peace. In this context, we also monitor the UN and related programs so it be about its real purpose, that of promoting and guaranteeing real peace and real security. We can accompany the UN as it works with governments on the MDGs and SDGs, but it is our position to assure that the voices of those who suffer the impoverishment, discrimination and inequalities, together with the care of the planet, are at the center of that work, as well as its results.  In this sense, the voice of the peoples of the Least Developed Countries-LDCs, Least Industrialized Countries- LICs, Small Island States-SISs, Land Locked States-LLSs must be heard as a priority for the goals to be properly created. It is also our call to work with any other actors in the world, at government and civil society levels, who commit to this call and the challenge for the eradication of poverty, for justice, liberation and human fulfillment. My role as GCAP global co chair is precisely to propitiate and be about that.

JCR: In this sense, and looking to some of your trajectory recognitions, we see that you were one of the 33 Laureates of the Women´s World Summit Foundation Prize for Women´s Creativity in Rural Life in 2003. You were also nominated to Nobel Peace Prize among 1,000 women in 2005 and you were awarded with the Woman Peacemaker Prize from the Institute of Joan B. Kroc for Peace and Justice in the University of San Diego in the year 2009. What is your secret to be full of energy and develop all that hard work? Where did you get that “biology of love and solidarity”?

MB: I am glad that you ask this question, because here again is about how do we go at the personal and local level to bring about the culture of peace, and the call for justice, liberation and human fulfillment, the education began at home, in childhood, from my mother and father. My sisters and I, of whom I am the oldest, were taught and raised in the indigenous principles of sustain- ability, and on the importance of community building for that purpose. There is a spiritual principle that guides these practices: that we are born to live a useful and meaningful existence. And we were taught every day, and in every action to reflect and manifest that. I do not think that families and mothers and fathers are now about that as a priority. And this is at the root of the present mindless society.

JCR: I can see this reply is in the same frequency of love that Nelson Mandela described “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” He died almost at 95 years of age, 20 years after he received the Peace Nobel Award along with FW de Klerk. What could our children learn from him? What kind of lessons you think he leaves for the humanity?

MB: In his life we see the affirmation that people are born in kindness, and that we can and must be about the creation of societies that allow for these principles to be manifested in the most natural way. Kindness is not our second nature, rather it is our nature, thus it is all about committing to bring that practice out in an effective way.

JCR: As you know, 2013 is the 50thanniversary of Martin Luther Kings´ dream. What should it be yours?

MB: My dream is just as Martin’s dream, which is also the dream of Nelson Mandela, of Mgr Oscar Romero, Chief Seattle, of Simon Bolivar, Jose Marti, of el Che, of the countless women who were burned alive, because of their wisdom and solidarious practices. They were all subversives, but you know what?, all of us who want justice and peace to prevail, in a world of colonial inequalities and injustices, where women are made to be invisible, and can be raped in all kinds of ways, a world where the rights, all of them, of the first nations of the world can be denied and this be considered normal, where slavery and now human trafficking is acceptable, where massive forced migrations takes peoples away from their homes and countries, to then go suffer discrimination and exploitations, and it is ok, where apartheid based on racial or economic exploitation is the rule, any of us that want all this to end are SUBVERSIVES, for we work to bring above the negated version, the SUB VERSION, from below, to change it. These are not mere dreams, this is for sure humanity’s destiny—the real enjoyment of life.

JCR: Finally, just to finish, what should it be your message to all the readers of Global Education Magazine in the Human Rights Day?

MB: Work with UNESCO, make sure that it is well known and that all levels of education make it central to the studies, experiences and work. All institutions of higher learning, in particular universities, and for that matter, state universities, should, must make it a high priority and central to their programs at all levels in all aspects. And the national and regional legislators must learn and use the principles of culture of peace.

JCR: Thank you very much for your time Marta, I hope to see you soon again in the near future to carry on with our labor together. I also hope this is the beginning of a long friendship!

MB: Gracias a ti Javier for such a good effort, you can count with my work, and for sure my friendship as we continue to carry on. I will make sure to keep you and the work of the magazine in mind.  Abrazos.

This article was published on 10th December: Human Rights Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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