Frei Betto wins UNESCO José Martí Prize 2013: "It is a credit to all those in Latin America who struggle for justice, peace and human rights"
In recognition of his contribution to building a universal culture of peace, social justice and human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Brazilian Dominican friar, Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo, better known as Frei Betto, has been designated as the laureate of the UNESCO José Martí Prize for 2013. Moments before receiving the distinction during the opening ceremony of the Third International Conference for World Balance, held in Havana (Cuba) from 28 to 30 January, the well-known Latin American educator, writer and theologian answers our questions.
What does it mean to you to receive the UNESCO José Martí Prize?
First, I believe that the credit is not mine. It is a credit to all those in Latin America who struggle for justice, peace and human rights. And it is a credit, above all, for the poorest people, the social, indigenous and black movements, who have historically fought for emancipation, independence and sovereignty in Latin America. It is an honour and a great responsibility, especially because I am in the company of great fighters like Oswaldo Guayasamín, Atilio Boron, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and Commander Chavez.
As you know, the mandate of UNESCO is based on building peace in the minds of men through education, science and culture. What suggestions would you give to future generations to move forward?
As the prophet Isaiah said: seven centuries before Christ did not come from the balance of forces, but from justice. Through the arts, culture and education, we have to increase the fight to end all arms races, wars and nuclear arsenals. Instead we must attempt to impose peace by a balance of forces. You have to implement justice, that is to say lift 4 billion people out of poverty and misery, from the total of seven billion who inhabit this planet, before you can actually say that capitalism has been a success. A success for one third of humanity, but a complete failure for the other two thirds.
What gives force to Martí’s thought today?
I would say that Martí is a prophet in two senses of the term. A prophet because he is a man who, from his experience of the struggle for independence of Cuba, and from his experience in the United States, has wisely sensed the future of his continent. And a prophet because the most important result of Martí’s whole trajectory has been the Cuban Revolution. You cannot understand the Cuban Revolution, with its elements from the Age of Enlightenment and modern thought, only from the perspective of Marxist thought, or from the European revolutionary thought. To understand Cuba, and why Cuba is the only Western country that has still preserved its socialism, you must understand Martí.
The International Conference for World Balance is now being held for the third time. Why is the celebration of this event in Havana important?
I hope that UNESCO will continue to support this conference. Lectures on Martí's thoughts are held in universities all over the world. This reinforces the need to support the many events happening in Latin America and the Caribbean related to the identity and thoughts of Martí. Anyway, I hope that this third conference, celebrated a decade after the first, will be followed by the thirtieth, fortieth, and so on... because this conference promotes the mobilization of intelligence within Latin America and the Caribbean towards a better future for us all.