28/03/2019

Acceptance speech – Iván Velásquez

Corruption is a crime against humanity, against human dignity.

We have been awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize because, quoting the jury, we have managed to “expose the abuse of power and prosecuting corruption – in Guatemala – thus rebuilding people’s trust in public institutions.”

To award a human rights prize for fighting corruption is not, certainly, a confusion. On the contrary, it confirms that the fight against corruption is – as it has to be! – the fight for a dignified life for all people, but, especially, for those who are excluded, discriminated, vilified, marginalised from the benefits of the civilisation we boast about having achieved.

Corruption is a crime against humanity, against human dignity, which was able to develop in Guatemala because the State became loot for those in power of any kind, and lost its way – if it ever had any – as the producer of collective welfare.

Millions of dollars, as a result of the bribes paid by local and multinational entrepreneurs, are added annually to the millions of dollars which are appropriated by officers, whose wealth increase astronomically, in a country in which almost 50% of children under 5 years old – among them 8 out of 10 children are indigenous – suffer from chronic malnutrition; 4,240 young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old became mothers in 2017; 92% of those who cultivate the land to barely survive, occupy 21.9% of the surface, whereas 2% of the farmers who export have 65.4% of the land which, by the way, is the most fertile; 67% of the general population – 80% of the indigenous population – live in poverty; 34% live in utter poverty; not to mention the access to healthcare services, employment, housing and the semi-illiteracy.

Fighting against corruption, is not just the search for a dignified life in the material conditions of the population’s existence. To the extent that those in power see their impunity privileges limited and must yield to the rule of the law, the fight against corruption is also the fight for a justice that reaches all the wrongdoers of the coexistence, regardless of their economic, political or social standing.

However, in order for this to be possible, a strong and independent judicial power, respected by all the other public powers, is necessary. Justice, as one of the fundamental pillars of democracy. Then, fighting corruption is also fighting for a State of Law in which, just as nobody is above the law, the State doesn’t belong to anybody in particular, and all citizens have the real possibility to participate in public affairs and to exercise the accountability and control of the authorities which act on their behalf.

This was the path Guatemala started to follow in 2015, when people confirmed that corruption had taken control of all their institutions, that the State didn’t belong to them, and took the streets, fervent and confident in being able to conquer the future. A history of submission, silence and fear fostered by everlasting military dictatorships and an extended armed internal conflict which lasted more than 36 years, leaving thousands of missing persons and innocent victims, especially among its indigenous population which suffered from the scorched earth policy. Thousands of children, young people, adults and elderly; women and men; sons, daughters, fathers and grandfathers, entire families took to the streets, happy and determined, full of hope and enthusiasm, to demand justice because they understood that the fight against impunity was possible, as it was possible to live in dignity.

However, those in power, always cunning, always powerful, managed to resist and, after the initial surprise of the spring that caught them unaware, they regrouped and went on the offensive. They couldn’t lose their privileges, they couldn’t lose the monopoly of impunity which they have always possessed, they couldn’t lose their State. So, they funded aggressive campaigns of misinformation, discredit and defamation; they called themselves victims of the politicisation of justice; they complained of being victims of political persecution or the threat of international communism which still survives in their feverish minds; they performed demonstrations of force and dusted off the symbols of repression, and it seems they have regained control. Moreover, for that there is enough money.

But it only looks that way, because Guatemala is no longer the same. They saw the light of the truth and they know that that truth exists. It is in front of them, and they will continue its fight for human dignity. They recovered the memory of justice that was lost in their world of submission, helplessness and pessimism; that world where they want that justice to return.

Ladies and gentlemen:

This Award, which is now granted to us is, undoubtedly, a recognition of the work carried out by our workmates of the Public Ministry and of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala; to their commitment and their bravery, but, especially, it is the way the world congratulates a nation that will keep on dreaming of a future of peace, justice and prosperity for everyone, until it’s achieved.

As the beautiful poem written by Julia Esquivel says: “They can cut all the flowers, but spring will always return. You will flourish Guatemala!”