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Inter Press Service

San Juan Hosts "Peace In Peacetime" International Conference: Vieques On The Agenda

By Nefer Munoz

August 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Global Information Network. All rights reserved.

SAN JOSE -- Renowned artists, scientists, Nobel laureates, athletes and activists will gather in Puerto Rico later this month to explore the links between peace and development and the impacts of continued militarism on quality of life and human dignity, announced the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.

The "Peace in Peacetime: International Conference on Peace and Development" will take place Aug. 12-14 in San Juan with the participation of more than 20 international personalities who are to sign a manifesto expressing their rejection of militarism, poverty, terrorism and injustice.

Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato, Ireland's Nobel Peace laureate Betty Williams, U.S. Democratic Party and human rights activist Jesse Jackson, and Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin are just some of the "notables" slated to take part in the panel discussions.

The declaration signed in Puerto Rico will be presented to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to begin Aug. 26 in the South African city of Johannesburg.

"I consider it very important that people of different latitudes and ages gather and talk about peace," said Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica (1986-1990), Nobel Peace laureate and founder of the Arias Foundation for Peace, which is organizing the conference jointly with the Senate of Puerto Rico , a free associate state of the United States.

The purpose is to draw international attention to the need to combat the true enemies of humanity, which are the intransigence, injustice, selfishness, intolerance, cynicism and hypocrisy of the powerful, Arias said in a conversation with IPS.

"The fact that the world spends $800 billion on arms each year and that there are billions of poor people tells us that the ethics with which we are beginning the 21st century are as perverse as those of the 20th," Arias told a press conference this week in which he called for global reflection on a change of values.

He questioned the United States for "arming itself to the teeth" to fight terrorism, because to effectively fight that scourge requires investment in intelligence and espionage in order to dismantle terrorist groups, he said.

"To combat terrorism one doesn't need nuclear shields or submarines. Those are unnecessary expenses that enrich the manufacturers" of weapons, said the former president.

The San Juan conference is based on three thematic pillars. In the first, "Peace in Peacetime", the participants will explore the need for an ethics of globalization and "the impact of the arms race on quality of life and sustainable development."

The second theme, "The Makers of Illusion", will focus on the effect of stereotypes and messages transmitted through different mass media and "the need to create alternative models that are sensitive to human dignity and diversity."

The third, "War in Peacetime", will delve deeper into the relativity of international peace, as it is currently marked by violence, whether increased insecurity in urban centers or terrorism.

"One of our greatest concerns is the unilateral attitude of Washington, which wants to confront problems in isolation when the sign of the times is multilateralism," said Arias.

Sabato, 91, a winner of the prestigious Cervantes Prize for fiction, will participate in the Puerto Rico conference by reading a text he has prepared especially for the event.

Also planning to take part in the encounter are Roberto Savio, secretary-general of the Society for International Development and founder of IPS, Costa Rican-born astronaut Franklin Chang, physician and mystical thinker Deepak Chopra, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon and Colombian singer Carlos Vives.

U.S. economist Theresa Chastain, Puerto Rican comedian Silverio Perez, Colombian television writer Fernando Gaitan, Indian lawmaker Maneka Gandhi, co-director of the Arab-Israeli Peace Centre, Sara Ozacky-Lazar, Pakistani economist Ayesha Siddiqqa-Agha, Puerto Rican painter Antonio Martorell are also to take part in the three-day event.

"The main objective of this gathering is to attract a group of people to the peace debate who are not traditionally involved in discussing this topic," Lara Blanco, director of the Arias Foundation for Peace.

The declaration of Puerto Rico , to be signed by the participants, will urge the heads of state at the Johannesburg summit to make greater efforts to reduce the gap separating the industrialized North from the developing South.

It is an appeal from the depths of the human heart for good sense, an invocation for sanity, says one of the initiative's official documents.

The world is succumbing to a stereotyped mentality of good and evil, and is shifting its attention to creating villains and scapegoats, which is consuming international energy and deepening fear, intolerance, vengeance and separatism, states the text.

The conference will include time for discussion of the problems surrounding the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , the issue that led to the conference, said the president of the Puerto Rican Senate, Antonio Fas Alzamora, organizer of the event.

The U.S. navy has been using Vieques for military manoeuvres and training for more than 60 years and considers the island, located south of Puerto Rico , ideal for this purpose due to its topography and because it is a long distance from commercial airline routes.

Washington decided to authorize military activity there until next year, in spite of protests by the island's residents, which have grown more intense since an errant missile killed a civil guard in 1999. A referendum was held in 2001 in which 68 percent of the population voted for the withdrawal of the U.S. navy.

After signing the "Peace in Peacetime" declaration, the conference participants will visit Vieques to offer their support to island's residents. The U.S. forces are to recommence their activities there on Aug. 19.

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