Thursday, October 16, 2014

Agenda Latinoamericana 2015: Human Rights - Introduction

By Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil (English translation by Richard Renshaw)

Dom Pedro Casaldaliga and José María Vigil have published their introduction to the 2015 edition of the Agenda Latinoamericana, which addresses the issue of human rights. The current edition is available for purchase in hard copy and in multiple languages and previous editions are available free in electronic format on Servicios Koinonia. The Agenda also has a Facebook page.

Human Rights: A Pending (R)evolution

Perhaps, from the time when homo (man) and mulier (woman) became sapiens this Utopia began to be apprehended. However, for tens of thousands of years it was an impossible dream. For too long there was no other law than that of the jungle (or of the African savannah from which we came, the law of force, of a pyramidal and patriarchal society, in which the poor, slaves and others had to resign themselves to the cruel reality of having been born "inferior," without rights or citizenship. As humanity, we have been backward for too long in our own absence of awareness of dignity.

However, a mysterious dynamic that operates at a deeper dimension, the same one that drew us out of the African savannahs and from the bands of hunters-gatherers, allowed its Utopia to be sensed by prophetic spirits and visionary minds. These have touched the hearts of the poor, of utopian militants, of a struggling people... Successive historical evolutions gradually brought forth a new awareness of humanity. It took thousands of years to eradicate slavery. Certainly, many religions were complicit with that institution in stark contrast with their deepest Utopia. Less than three centuries have passed since various revolutions have given us the rights of "citizenship." We are no longer subjects, but rather human beings with full dignity, with the "right to have rights" (according to the formula that Hanna Arendt gave birth to with such suffering)... even though that citizenship is still quite limited, reserved to males, landowners, Whites....

Utopia has been recognized at the heart of humanity as a passionately humane society. It has stepped forward, lifting us up, leading us in the evolution of our own humanizing. New "generations of human rights" have appeared in the historic rhythm of the growth of our human consciousness. And we can well believe that there are other generations as well still to be uncovered. We have not yet arrived; we are journeying still and our journey is not ended.

But, today, what holds our attention is more the strategy for the application of rights already recognized. Filled with hope for other concrete applications of Utopia -- in alternative economic and political systems -- more than once in the past we thought that human rights was something already achieved, something perhaps "bourgeois" even, like the neo-liberal evolutions in which in fact those rights first saw light. The utopias that should be drawing out our commitment ought to be more advanced, more engaging. We can advance to the future utopia by many paths. There is not just one. Theory can trace a path and perhaps be brilliant in its conception. But practice is capricious -- even contradictory and chaotic -- and allows us to advance only where it permits, not where we put our energy as militants.

In this historic moment, no sort of social or economic revolution is within our grasp. But the Utopia of Human Rights is there, readily at hand, with all its various generations:" those already realized and those still to come. It is a Utopia that does not have theoretical enemies, that spills out its presence wherever you look. And everyone accepts it. There is no "bourgeois" Utopia. The rights of the first generation that proclaimed them were bourgeois. The "inhabitants of the burgs are its main defenders. But various subsequent generations of human rights lead to many other new developments of the Utopia of human dignity; every imaginable right can be derived from this fundamental dignity and is implied in it. A full and achieved realization of human rights, all of them, would be equivalent to an integral revolution: democratic, socialist, feminist, popular, ecological... It would be the "topia" [place] of Utopia, the fulfillment of all our desires. That is why a renewed social awareness of these rights and their implementation in the corresponding juridical-social framework is something more revolutionarily effective than many of the socio-political struggles in other fields.

Of course, we have to include everyone; all humanity and also the non-human that also have their rights: the rights of animals, plants, nature, the environment and Mother Earth. We need to take the human away from the center of "human" rights in order to center them rather on ecology, to develop them... A fully achieved revolution of human rights would be the sum of all the utopias for which we have been struggling historically. Speaking in a revolutionary context, human rights are a valid path and perhaps the short cut most available to us. Without forgetting about or undervaluing other struggles -- for they are all necessary! -- we do want to call attention to the fact that human rights are a struggle that opens the way for all the others and deserves special attention. The people who are writing the articles in this edition of the Agenda present aspects of that path that are really and truly partial revolutions, practical ones that can be achieved through our militancy.

"Every right ... for everyone," the Mexican Zapatistas said by way of an emblematic formulation of their total Utopia. As long as there are people whose human rights are not being met, we will feel, in this new evolutionary stage of our human consciousness, that we are also being neglected in our rights because "their rights" are also ours. "Their rights are ours." We have to demand those "rights that are both theirs and ours" as a duty as much as a right. This is an evolution already underway that we need to welcome, support and complete. And for our part, it is also a (r)evolution, that of human rights. We are not speaking of rights as understood in the 18th century, nor of those in the Declaration of 1948, but rather of that profound Utopia that transcends itself and is rediscovered, reinvented and (r)evolutionized by every generation.

The Agenda reminds us: this is our moment, the hour to change the world, a revolutionary moment to demand and to fully realize all our human rights: for everyone! Jesus himself would also do it in his Nazareth that is, at this point, globalized.

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