Who is Adolfo Pérez Esquivel?
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is an Argentine human rights activist who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. He is a painter, architect, and sculptor by profession. He is a champion of human rights and nonviolent reforms in Latin America, and his efforts to coordinate human rights activities throughout Latin America earned him several prestigious awards and accolades. Born in Buenos Aires to a Spanish fisherman who emigrated to Argentina, he had a very difficult childhood. He lost his mother when he was three and grew up in abject poverty. Hard working and resilient, he bravely faced the challenges of his youth to emerge a good student and went on to study at the Manuel Belgrano School of Fine Arts and the National University of La Plata where he was trained as a painter and sculptor. He embarked on a career as a professor of architecture and taught at all levels from primary to university over a teaching career spanning over two decades. He became involved with pacifist groups in the 1960s and relinquished his teaching post to devote his efforts towards working for the cause of peace. He became a coordinator general for a network of Latin America-based communities promoting liberation of the poor through non-violent means and has also served as president of the Honorary Council of Service, Latin American Peace and Justice Foundation.
Childhood & Early Life
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was born on November 26, 1931 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a Spanish fisherman from Poio, Galicia, who emigrated to Argentina. His mother died when he was three and he grew up in poverty.
Despite the hardships he faced, he performed well at school and furthered his education at the Manuel Belgrano School of Fine Arts and the National University of La Plata, where he was trained as a painter and sculptor.
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Adolfo Pérez Esquivel embarked on a successful career as a sculptor and became quite well-known. An equally successful teaching career followed and over a span of 25 years he taught in all levels from primary to university, and worked with a variety of sculptural media.
He began working with Latin American Christian pacifist groups during the 1960s, and with time his involvement with the cause intensified. In 1968, it was decided to set up a joint organization covering all non-violent elements throughout Latin America.
The organization was given a more permanent form in 1974 and Pérez Esquivel was made the coordinator general for the network of Latin America-based communities promoting liberation of the poor through non-violent means. Working as a professor at the Argentine National School of Fine Arts during that time, he left his teaching post to focus entirely on the peace movement.
The country found itself in great political turmoil following the military coup in 1976. It was reeling under a violent dictatorship and it was during this period that Adolfo Pérez Esquivel emerged as a relentless champion of human rights and opponent of all violence.
The NGO Servicio Paz y Justicia ("Service, Peace and Justice Foundation", or SERPAJ), which he co-founded in 1974 played an instrumental role in promoting an international campaign to denounce the atrocities committed by the military regime. SERPAJ is a member of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR).
Outspoken and courageous, he earned many enemies. He was detained by the Brazilian Military Police in 1975, jailed in 1976 in Ecuador, along with Latin American and North American bishops, and detained in Buenos Aires in 1977 by the Argentine Federal Police, and tortured. He was finally released after 14 months due to mounting pressures.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1980, for his efforts in the defense of human rights. He continued his stance as an outspoken advocate of human rights and traveled and lectured extensively in the ensuing years.
In his years as a human rights activist, he also served as president of the Honorary Council of Service, Latin American Peace and Justice Foundation and of the International League for Human Rights and Liberation of Peoples (based in Milan), and as a member of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal.
In 1995, he published a book ‘Caminando Junto al Pueblo’ ("Walking Together with the People"), in which he detailed his experiences with non-violence in Latin America. He was appointed Professor of Peace and Human Rights Studies at the University of Buenos Aires in 1998.
As a sculptor and artist he is the creator of several murals and monuments. One of his best known architectural works is the 15 station Latin American Via Crucis, made in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the conquest of America.
An outspoken human rights activist, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel is the co-founder of Servicio Paz y Justicia ("Service, Peace and Justice Foundation", or SERPAJ), a Human Rights Non Governmental Organization in Latin America which is a Christian based nonviolent organization committed for the defense of political prisoners in the different South American dictatorships during the Dirty War in the 1970-80s.
Awards & Achievements
The 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams nominated Pérez Esquivel for the Nobel Peace Prize which he won on December 10, 1980, for his efforts in the defense of human rights. He donated the prize money to charity.
He was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award in 1999.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1956, he married Amanda Pérez, a pianist and composer. The couple has three sons.