Cnuasach aitheasc ó Chuairt Stáit Uachtarán na hÉireann, Micheál D. Ó hUigínn chuig an Poblacht na Peiriú, Poblacht na Colóime, agus Poblacht Chúba 8–17 Feabhra 2017
Collected Speeches from the visits by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins to the Republic of Peru, the Republic of Colombia, and the Republic of Cuba 8 - 17 February 2017 1
President Higgins attends the Official Welcome Ceremony at Casa de NariĂąo (Presidential Palace)
Clár an Ábhair Contents Peru
“When the Gaze Must Not Be Averted: The testament for humanity in the universality of Roger Casement’s humanitarian vision”
“From a Past of Conflict to a Future of Peace – the Making of the Colombian Peace Accord”
Address at the Launch of the Cuban version of ‘Star of the Sea’ by Joseph O’Connor 31
“Ireland and Cuba: From a Past of Complex Struggles and Solidarities to a Future of Shared Possibilities”
Speech at the opening of the ‘Irish In Latin America’ exhibition
“When the gaze must not be averted: The testament for humanity in the universality of Roger Casement’s humanitarian vision”
Keynote Address by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lima, Peru Thursday, 9th February, 2017
Canciller Luna Mendoza, Embajadoras, Embajadores, Distinguidos invitados, Amigos y amigas, Es para mí un honor y un placer estar aquí en Perú, en esta hermosa e histórica ciudad de Lima. Quiero agradecer al Canciller Ricardo Luna Mendoza sus amables palabras de presentación, a la Doctora Scarlett O’Phelan Godoy por su valiosa presentación histórica, y a todos ustedes por su calurosa acogida. Esta es la primera visita de un Presidente irlandés a Perú, y espero que esta visita contribuya a profundizar los lazos de amistad entre nuestros dos países. It is my great pleasure to start what is my third visit to Latin America as Irish President, here in Lima, the capital of Peru, a country which harbours so many expressions of civilisations, so many cultural and natural treasures. The struggles, aspirations and achievements of the peoples of this continent are ones that are connected to so many of the Irish in exile and their descendants. I remember vividly my own first visit to Peru, in 1988. I was one of a small group of Irish parliamentarians who were on our way home from Santiago de Chile, where we had observed the historic Chilean referendum of 1988 that put an end to the military regime of Augusto Pinochet. As the first international observer to arrive in Chile, I became known as “Observador Uno”, and Ricardo Lagos who had organised APAINDE, allocated me to Punta Arenas, where I witnessed the Plebiscito. In Lima I stayed in “El Monton” with the Columban fathers, an Irish missionary society who have been present in Peru since 1951 and who, in those years of the late 1980s, were doing their best to support communities of the poor and those families affected by the economic policies of the day. Three decades on, so much has changed in Peru, and across the continent. As the pendulum has swung away from military dictatorships towards different forms of democratic inclusion and participation, millions of women, children and men have been lifted out of poverty. Literacy rates for both men and women have increased. Latin American countries have led the way in introducing in their respective national Constitutions innovative provisions to protect the natural environment. Those three decades have also witnessed a progressive increase of political, cultural, academic, scientific and commercial exchanges between our two countries, Ireland and Peru. I was delighted to learn from His Excellency Claudio de la Puente Ribeyro, as he presented his credentials to me in November of last year, that Peru will soon open an embassy in Dublin. Today it is for me an honour to be the first President of Ireland to visit the Republic of Peru. I very much hope that such expressions of political goodwill can contribute to strengthening the warm
President Higgins attends an Official Welcoming Ceremony at Government Palace 5
friendship that exists between our two nations. I hope that we will, together, open meaningful avenues for cooperation, and build novel, and much needed, solidarities - of a global, regional and bilateral kind – for the shared future of our peoples on what is our beautiful but fragile planet. It is, of course, on this continent that careful, and peer reviewed research, has told us of an old wisdom that existed built on the connection between ecology, social existence, modes of economic subsistence, music and belief systems. The recent international commitments on climate change and sustainability will thus represent for many South Americans, and especially in Peru, a recall of an old symmetry upon which an insatiable colonisation was destructively visited. Los Irlandeses somos parte de esta historia, como víctimas y también como participantes del sistema colonial, que tejió muchos de los lazos transatlánticos entre Irlanda y América Latina. Nuestros antepasados a su vez participaron en el proceso de descolonización del continente, y las huellas de estos vínculos históricos se encuentran en todas partes de América Latina, también aquí en Perú.
President Higgins visits O’Higgins Tomb
It is always very moving for Irish visitors to this beautiful continent to encounter monuments, buildings and streets with names that bear testimony to the past experiences and contributions of Irish people in these lands. Those names are often those of Irish people, who, after the conquest of Ireland by Britain, came to Latin America through the transatlantic networks of Europe’s Catholic monarchies, and notably through the Irish brigades in the Spanish army. Many of those Irish people spent their lives soldiering or trading abroad on behalf of the Catholic powers of continental Europe, perhaps harbouring the hope that those powers would, one day, intervene to free their homeland from British rule, or, for some, that the military experience they had gained would prove useful in undoing colonising dispossession and achieving independence. For most it was, too, an exercise in achieving self-worth and recognition in an atmosphere where they were not perceived as lesser. One such man was Ambrosio (Ambrose) O’Higgins, to whose burial site I had the opportunity of paying my respects on my way here this afternoon. Born in Ireland’s County Sligo, Ambrosio O’Higgins arrived to the Spanish Americas in 1756. After several years spent as an itinerant trader, enrolled in the Spanish Imperial Service and he undertook what was a huge achievement at the time, namely the crossing of the Andes Mountains on a mission to establish a reliable postal service between the colony of La Plata on the East and the “Capitanía General de Chile.”
This was a harrowing journey for the Irishman, carried out in the midst of winter. Having courageously and successfully completed his mission, Ambrosio O’Higgins exercised various eminent administrative and military functions in subsequent years, before he eventually became Viceroy of Peru. Ambrosio O’Higgins’ contributions to Peruvian life included a number of decrees which, although they stopped well short of adequate recognition of indigenous rights, or did not envisage full independence, were, in the context of their times, innovative and progressive. Many of the fellow Irishmen of Ambrosio O’Higgins and their descendants would of course become involved with a host of uprisings and nationalist movements throughout Latin America and the Caribbean – in Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Cuba and, of course, Peru – as thousands of Irish men enlisted in the patriot armies campaigning against Spanish rule between 1817 and 1824. Ambrosio’s own son – Bernardo O’Higgins – did not just play a prominent role in the Chilean independence movement, he also participated in the liberation of Peru. The story of Bernardo’s youth, travails and achievements, of how he did, in his turn, undertake an incredible crossing of the Andes from Mendoza into Central Chile, and of his life ended in exile on the Peruvian side of the Andes, is one of immense courage and endurance. We can think, too, of John Thomond O’Brien, from County Wicklow, who fought alongside General José de San Martín, or of Daniel Florence O’Leary, a native of Cork who was aide-de-camp to Simón Bolivar and has remained an important figure in the national memory of Venezuela and Colombia. Importantly, Irish and Latin American people were also united by bonds of imagination, a mutual sympathy for their respective struggles for freedom. Indeed, at the same time that a sense of distinctive nationhood was taking shape in Spain’s American possessions, in the early 19th century, Irish patriots were challenging the colonial relationship between Ireland and Britain, thus allowing for multiple solidarities to be forged between Irish and South American nationalists.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Luna Mendoza welcoming President Higgins to Peru 7
Those manifold bonds of solidarity between our peoples – both experienced and imagined – are documented in a fine exhibition entitled “The Irish in Latin America”, which I had the pleasure of opening two weeks ago in Ireland, and which will be displayed next week in Cuba, and later in the year here in Peru. Such reminders of our past links are important. They provide a well of potent memories: memories of joint struggles and aspirations, of hopes shared and dreams waiting to be taken up again – a well from which we can draw as we seek to respond to the challenges of our own times. Indeed, I believe that the best part of our past lies in those emancipatory promises whose trajectory was interrupted, but which continue to offer themselves to our present, are as it were begging to be realised. The sediment of possibilities imagined, but not realised, remains after the water of memory has been drawn. We must seize moments of illumination and do new things, seek new possibilities, including urging regional and global action to prevent destruction so that we can make appropriate use of the lungs of the world to the benefit of humanity now, and in the future. The man whose memory I want to evoke for you this afternoon, Roger Casement, was the bearer of such a promise of a better world, with its necessary accompanying human rights and the recognition of human dignity as the source of those rights. His vision, built on experiences in Africa, Latin America and Connemara, led to a view of indigeneity that produced a vision that was one of a non-exploitative civilisation, in which the abuses tolerated by the law of the strongest would have no place, in which each nation would be enabled to shape its own destiny, according to its particular history and culture – and a civilisation in which the dignity and the rights of indigenous peoples, including their right to live peaceful and harmonious lives in their ancestral lands, would be respected. Roger Casement’s voice is one that continues to echo today with Irish and Peruvian people, and beyond, with all of us who inhabit this fragile and profoundly interdependent world – a world in which the issue of indigeneity must come to the fore again, in a context marked, once again, by the destructive activities of extractive industries but also encouraged by the new hopes offered by the recent agreements on climate change and sustainable development, and we must not delay on the initiatives needed for their realisation. Roger Casement’s voice is the voice of an Irishman whose awareness of his own identity as a member of a people itself marked by colonisation comes slow but even in its formative stages, enables him to forge bonds of empathy, first with the enslaved rubber workers of the Belgian Congo, and then with the brutalised Indigenes of the Putumayo region. It is also the voice of a sensitive observer whose deep regard for the particularities of small cultures and indigenous ways of life became the wellspring for his defence of the universal values of justice, freedom and human dignity. This combination of influences, and deep instincts of the heart too, in Roger Casement’s gaze, its universalism and concern for the particular in the space and time of peoples is what continues to speak to our humanity, across the decades and the distances between continents. This engaged gaze and this courageous, uninhibited voice are a compass for all of us, academics, activists, administrators, diplomats and policy makers as we endeavour to craft in our respective countries development paths that will enable all of our citizens to flourish. My hope is that this evocation of the life and work of Roger Casement may also become a grounding inspiration for energetic and deepened relations between Ireland and Peru, become a driver for the expanding spheres of our cooperation and mutual interest.
Indeed, the figure of Roger Casement has already been a source of inspiration for the great Peruvian writer and Nobel Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, as evidenced in his El Sueño del Celta, a captivating fictional biography that retraces the complex journey of a man who was at once an Irish revolutionary, an outstanding but contrarian diplomat in the British Foreign Office, and one of the great humanitarians of the turn of the last century. In 2012, I had the pleasure of welcoming Mario Vargas Llosa to Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland, to mark the translation of his novel into English, as The Dream of the Celt. In December 2015, as we, in Ireland, were getting ready to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916, a milestone on the road to Irish independence, I presented Mario Vargas Llosa with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, a distinction usually reserved to people of Irish descent, in recognition of his contribution to casting light on Roger Casement’s courageous campaigns in defence of human life and the rights of the disenfranchised. If Roger Casement’s voice continues to call out to us, it is probably in part because the times he lived through were ones that have profound resonance with our own. Often referred to as the “first globalisation”, it was an era when an insatiable capital moved freely across the globe, when vast territorial expanses were opened up to industrial exploitation, with devastating impact on what had been complex civilisations, and when the flow of goods circulating within and between Europe’s huge colonial empires increased dramatically. It was a time, too, of great migration, which saw tens of millions of Europeans leave the old continent to seek their fortunes in other hemispheres.1 The turn of the twentieth century was also marked by Europe’s rapid industrial boom and a race for extractive rubber resources that resulted in the violent transformation of extensive swathes of latex-bearing tropical forest in the interior regions of Africa and Latin America.
President Higgins attends a reception hosted by the Peruvian Minister for Foreign Affairs
This was most intensely felt by the indigenous people living along the basins of the two largest rivers feeding into the Atlantic: The Congo and the Amazon. Indeed, the globalised networks of European commercial expansionism, and the associated process of internal colonisation in the new South American Republics, were predicated upon a system of enslavement and exploitation of the local populations, of which the socalled “Congo Free State” and the frontier region of the north-west Amazon, became two hubs. As Angus Mitchell, whose research on Casement’s notebooks and photographic record has been an invaluable contribution, has put it:
President Higgins attends a Ceremony of Conferral of the “Gran Collar del Orden del Sol” 9
“Market demand for rubber resulted in the violent invasions and transformation of extensive regions of tropical forest, which were quickly turned into slave kingdoms.” Angus Mitchell identifies three struggles in Roger Casement’s formation, one in Africa, one in South America and one in Connemara, the Typhus epidemic, and it is the connection of these three experiences that gives him his concept of, and commitment to, indigeneity. Roger Casement was a witness to the crimes perpetrated in both regions. But in neither was he a passive witness. He did not avert his gaze from those atrocities committed in the pursuit of profit and greed, atrocities that would come for some to be rationalised in the name of progress and civilisation. It is important, today, that we recall the detail of those sombre aisles of global history, a history in which we all share. Having worked for the British Foreign Service in Africa for just over a decade, Roger Casement embarked, in 1903, on a journey by steamboat to remote areas of the Upper Congo, where he gathered convincing evidence that the collection of rubber in the territory under the direct control of King Leopold of Belgium was widely associated with extortions of taxes, forced labour, murder and mutilation of the enslaved natives, and it led to an overall depopulation of the area. It was a system of cruelty and oppression that worked for the personal benefit of King Leopold and his favourite concessionaires. Casement’s report on his findings, published as a White Paper in 1904, provided a “formidable indictment” of a colonial architecture that allowed for the crudest violations of human rights. This report, combined with Casement’s influence with key opinion makers of his day, contributed to a galvanising of international pressures that eventually led to a reform of the administration of the Congo. A few short years later, still working for the British Foreign Office, Roger Casement arrived in Brazil where he was appointed to the position of Consul. In 1910, he embarked on a voyage to officially investigate allegations of crimes being committed by a large rubber company operating in the Putumayo area, on the border between Brazil, Peru and Colombia. Headed by Julio César Arana, this company, which was originally called “Casa Arana”, had by then been transformed into the “Peruvian Amazon Company”, partly funded by British capital and with headquarters in London. According to Colombian anthropologist Juan Alvaro Echeverri, the impact of the Casa Arana regime on the Putumayo Indians, whom it coerced into collecting wild rubber and running the rubber stations, was enormous.2 The region’s Indigenes population was reduced to perhaps less than a tenth of its size between 1900 and 1930, and the Indigenes’ social, political and ceremonial organisation was very severely shattered. This raises an immense issue in terms of the ethics of memory. How are, and by what means, with what intentions, with what preparations should descendants of such indigenous peoples remember, recall, seek to heal themselves, and prepare for a future not crippled by the past? Dr. Alvaro Echeverri’s work is a real contribution on such an issue.
President Higgins visits Museo Larco in Lima 10
Once again, as in the Congo, Roger Casement was a witness to those crimes committed in the mouth of another great river of the world. Once again, he chose not to avert his gaze from the exploited, mutilated, tortured, raped and starved bodies of the Indigenes. He mobilised all the means at his disposal to document and seek to put a halt to those atrocities – not just by using his pen and influence, but also by pain-stakingly compiling witness statements, writing letters, organising hearings in London, and arranging meetings in Washington, but also by taking photos and producing them, annotated by his own hand, to people of influence around the world. Those photos, of which some of us have just seen a sample in the exhibition currently on display in the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso, contributed to ensuring that the Putumayo would not remain a “sealed book” for Casement’s contemporaries, or indeed for us today. There is, by now in his maturing moral vision, in a consciousless that has turned to a demand for action, not just determination in Roger Casement’s letters. If I may quote from Roger Casement’s own words - words that indicate not merely the profoundly empathetic interest he took in the Indigenes of the Putumayo but the righteous rage he sent: “All that was once [the Indian’s] has been taken away from him - his forest, his home, his domestic affections even - nothing that God and Nature gave him is indeed left to him, save his fine, healthy body capable of supporting terrible fatigue, his shapely limbs and fair, clear skin - marred by the lash and scarred by execrable blows. His manhood has been lashed and branded out of him. I look at the big, soft-eyed faces, averted and downcast, and I wonder where that Heavenly Power can be that for so long allowed these beautiful images of Himself to be thus defaced and shamed.” Roger Casement continúa describiendo a los caucheros y sus acólitos: “One looks then at the oppressors - vile cut-throat faces; grim, cruel lips and sensual mouths, bulging eyes and lustful . . . and it is this handful of murderers who, in the name of civilisation and of a great association of English gentlemen, are the possessors of so much gentler and better flesh and blood.” The report which Roger Casement completed for the Foreign Office was published as a parliamentary Blue Book in March 1911 and contributed, once again, as he had done before, to exposing the brutal oppression of rubber workers in the depths and darkness of the ransacked tropical forest. This publication stirred diplomatic circles and public opinion worldwide, causing the collapse of Arana’s Peruvian Amazon Company the following year. Roger Casement’s official reports on the Congo and the Putumayo are not the only written sources in which he registered the sinister underpinnings of the global capitalist system of his day. The journal kept by Casement during his time in the Amazon is a further, more directly-written account of what he was witnessing, and thus provides an invaluable source from which to grasp the workings of a predatory system rooted in the appropriation of natural resources without any regard for the rights and life of the indigenous people within that ecosystem. Angus Mitchell, who edited Roger Casement’s Amazon Journal3 - and to whom, I repeat again, we owe a huge debt of gratitude for his research on many crucial aspects of Roger Casement’s work – has shown how this journal throws further light onto the mechanisms of colonial exploitation, “showing the criminal 11
interdependencies which facilitate the instruments of fear, violence, secrecy and intimidation to subjugate and divide indigenous society.”4 According to Angus Mitchell, not only does this Amazon Journal express Roger Casement’s uncompromising interrogation of colonial reality, his outrage at the atrocities committed by the local taskmasters and, by association, their commercial accomplices back in London, but it also demonstrates a deep-seated interest in indigenous culture that was rooted in Casement’s own, and somewhat idealised, conception of Irish native culture. In 1913, Roger Casement began to establish a connection between the fate of the Amazon Indigenes and the plight of Connemara islanders who were suffering from an outbreak of typhus. Such identification of “Irishness” with indigeneity can be interpreted as integral to the formation of a wider anti-colonial awareness in the revolutionary Ireland of the early 20th century. That wider anti-colonial awareness had found expression, for example, in the establishment by historian Alice Stopford Green, Douglas Hyde, and a few others, of an Irish African Society, and it also expressed itself during the first decades of Irish independence, through Ireland’s advocacy on behalf of colonised peoples in such fora as the League of Nations or the United Nations. To this day, the defence of human rights, the fight against global hunger, and a commitment to disarmament and international peace remain cornerstones of Ireland’s foreign policy. President Higgins attends the inauguration of Roger Casement exhibition
The significance of Roger Casement’s observations is recognised by contemporary anthropological writing. For example, Michael Taussig, Professor of Anthropology at Colombia University, in his now classic study of the “culture of terror” and “space of death” created by the rubber barons in the Putumayo river area of present-day Colombia5, has referred to Casement’s tendency to equate the sufferings of the Irish with those of the Indigenes, and to see in the pre-imperialist history of both a culture more humane than that of their “civilising” masters. After all, Casement himself had written of how his insight into the sufferings of the Congo’s enslaved rubber workers stemmed from his own capacity to look at their tragedy – I quote: “with the eyes of another race - of a people once hunted themselves, whose ... estimate of life was not of something eternally to be praised at its market ‘price’.” Roger Casement’s sensitivity to the plight of the Indigenes – a sensitivity rarely found indeed in a person of his epoch and upbringing – was thus unquestionably informed by his sense of his own identity as an Irishman. This experience of the inhumanity of the colonial periphery did, in turn, reinforce Roger Casement’s commitment to Ireland’s ancient Gaelic culture and the cause of Irish freedom. This complex set of experiences, moral convictions and emancipatory aspirations finally drove him to articulate a full-blown rejection of the values and assumptions of a free-trading empire he had willingly and diligently served for many years. Roger Casement was at the peak of his career and reputation, having been knighted by King George V, when he resigned from the British Consular service, in 1913. His involvement with the plans for an armed rebellion 12
in Ireland, in the midst of World War 1, led to his eventual capture, trial for high treason, and execution by hanging in the early morning of 3rd August, 1916, in London’s Pentonville Prison.
Queridos Amigos, Roger Casement has rightly been described as one of the founders of the modern human rights discourse. A worthy successor to outstanding figures from previous centuries, such as Bartolomé de Las Casas or Antonio Vieira, he championed the rights of indigenous peoples and the principle of the irreducibility of human dignity before such concepts came into widespread usage. Those are the figures History remembers – compelling voices who dared to speak up against the misery generated by the ruthless commercial practices of their time. Voices that still speak to us, across the centuries. For me, it is the capacity to go to the root of assumptions that justified the system that distinguishes Roger Casement. ‘Assumptions testing’ must be the core of pluralist scholarship in any progressive system, not to speak of democracy. At this beginning of a new century, the fundamental questions Roger Casement raised about power and human rights, about the rights of indigenous communities, and about the rules guiding foreign policy, development strategies and international trade – those questions are ones which should continue to challenge and unsettle, us but to which for too many people if I might borrow Pope Francis’ phrase “we have become anaesthetised”. I will, if I may, quote one last time Casement’s own words – words he couched on his way back from the Putumayo, and words that resound powerfully, I believe, with our present ensnarement within a distorted, hyper-financialised version of capitalism. Roger Casement asked: “Has our modern commercialism, our latter-day company promoting - whose motto would seem to be that a Director may pocket the proceeds without perceiving the process – no part in this enterprise of horror and shame? [The Aranas] found English men and English finance prepared without question to accept their Putumayo ‘estates’ and their numerous native ‘labourers’ at a glance, a glance at the annually increasing output of rubber. Nothing beyond that was needed. The rubber was there. How it was produced, out of what hell of human suffering, no one knew, no one asked, no one suspected. Can it be that no one cared?” Can it be that, nowadays, no one cares about that most dangerous of all immunities, the immunity sought once again by morally irresponsible, but powerful, commercial interests in sectors of the extractive industries such as mining, oil drilling and logging? Can it be that no one objects to industrial strategies predicated upon the seizure of land and the appropriation of natural resources, notwithstanding the rights of those whose ancestors were caretakers of the forests and the great rivers, those who are dependent today on those resources to preserve their particular ways of life? Can it be that no one wishes to recall the names of those environmentalists and indigenous activists who are murdered year after year in the name of greed and a new rush to the forest, this time for gold, and oil, and gas, and exotic timber? We must not, dear friends, avert our gaze from sites of plunder, exploitation and degradation. Let us not abandon any of our communities, however remote they may be from centres of power, to raw economic forces. Let us draw, instead, on the best of our scholarship, on the best of our science and technology, and on our citizens’ abiding capacity for mobilisation to imagine, defend, and implement new solutions for the future of 13
the forest and its indigenous communities. Let us build on the real possibilities that exist for new forms of international and regional cooperation, so as to craft, together, a more just international order. I am not suggesting that this is an easy task. Issues of development are extremely complicated matters, requiring complex balancing of choices between the generation of material wealth, the urgency of the needs of poorer citizens, and the long-term imperatives of environmental sustainability and the rights of indigenous people. We know, however, that the current patterns of distorted trade, insatiable consumption and inordinate extraction of natural resources in a non-sustainable, and for workers, dangerous way are a threat to indigenous peoples and us all. Not only is it urgent, but it is necessary, and possible, to devise alternative models of development. There are places where such companies should not be! It is possible for governments to demand of companies that they respect their ethical and legal obligations. It is possible, and crucial, to protect the rights to land of indigenous peoples and subsistence farmers, including the women among them. As the great Peruvian poet, César Vallejo, said: “Hay, hermanos, muchísimo que hacer.” Yes, there is, brothers and sisters of this vulnerable planet, very much to do. And there are, also, many reasons to be hopeful. In pursuing our immense task of reconstruction for this new century, we are fortunate to have allies among the public, that we can call on an informed public for their support for a rich framework of human rights to which Roger Casement made a pioneering contribution. Further, in their efforts to protect the rights of indigenous people, governments can rely on a robust national, regional and international legal corpus, from the emblematic 1972 Study of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur, José Martínez Cobo, to the important consultation mechanisms enshrined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, down to the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the tenth anniversary of which we will celebrate this year. These are instruments we must all work to see put in action.
President Michael D. Higgins meets Irish missionaries working in Peru 14
Much can be achieved too, within the new framework for Global Sustainable Development, which comprises several targets specifically dedicated to indigenous people, and on the recent advancements secured by the global climate talks. The Peruvian government has led the way in that regard, by reiterating, at several junctures during those negotiations, its commitment to preserving a total of 54 million hectares of forest and to reducing its rate of net deforestation to zero by 2021, while also committing to increasing the area of land titled to indigenous groups. There are so many promising initiatives in-the-making on this continent. I am thinking, for example, of the suggestion of creating a vast protected area of biological and cultural diversity connecting the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic, a corridor for humanity now, and in the future, in which the indigenous people and their traditional knowledge would play an important role. Leaders from all over the world can draw inspiration from such a suggested example of cooperation between eight countries, that builds on existing projects, programmes and transboundary agreements and re-articulates them within the wider framework of the new Sustainable Development Goals and its related climate agenda. I believe that the global discussion underway on climate and the environment presents indigenous communities with a historic opportunity to make their voices heard. As Eduardo Galeano put it in an interview from 2001: “[Indigenous people] have suffered the seven plagues of Egypt, and many more. But they have perpetuated traditions coming from their ancient times; and these voices from the past speak to the future of all humankind.” Beyond the indigenous communities who, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, find themselves on the frontline of global climate change and I do want to extend, on behalf of the people of Ireland, my sympathy to all those who have suffered in Peru from the recent floods. The ongoing discussions on the future of our planet present all of us have been given an important opportunity, and a responsibility, to rethink our relation to our natural environment. These invitations constitute a challenge to the dualist and insufficient intellectual constructs bequeathed to us by Western philosophy, that might have led to the separation between culture and nature, between mind and matter, between the spiritual and the bodily. Old patterns of wisdom, embodied skills, and vernacular knowledges, if recovered, can offer some healing of those harmful separations as we seek to return the human to a meaningful place within nature, and to articulate a new ethic of responsibility binding together all those, human and non-human, who dwell on earth. Finally, much hope and inspiration can be derived from the processes of memory healing that are currently underway amongst Indigenous communities who are the descendants of those who were brutalised by the Arana regime. Colombian anthropologist Juan Alvarro Echeverri, to whose work I have referred earlier, related the story of a group of Muinane Indians, comprising both elders and youths who, in 1993, undertook a journey back to their ancestral lands in what is now called the district of Matanzas, but used to be known to the Indians as “Hill of the Wild Cacao Tree.” This region has been part of Colombia ever since the 1920s, when Peru ceded to Colombia the territories north of the Putumayo River. In the early 1990s, most of the Muinane elders were the children of those who had directly suffered slavery and slaughter, and they had never been back to that area where the malocas [longhouses] of their forbears rested abandoned.
What comes across in the words and invocations addressed by the Muinane elders to the spirits of their murdered ancestors believed to be still inhabiting the area are not thoughts of revenge, not even a willingness to recall the detail of the unspeakable crimes they suffered, but a generous and forward-looking desire to heal amputated memories by introducing the ancestors to their beautiful descendants – “the bones of their bones” – and focusing on the immense potential for life embodied in that generation of educated, resourceful and interested young people. As one of our most valued Irish poets, Derek Mahon, put it just a few years ago: “It’s now time to go back at last Beyond irony and slick depreciation, Past hedge and fencing to a clearer vision, Time to create a future from the past.” Amigos, may we, like the Muinane, discard for all time the “basket of darkness” encountered by Roger Casement in the Putumayo, like the Muinane take from ‘the basket of life’ and sow, together, the seeds of a new ethics for our times – the ethics of caring, nurturing work carried out in responsibility and joyous celebration for the sake of future generations. Muchísimas gracias.
President Higgins and Mr. Carlos Heeren on a tour of UTEC University, housed in a building designed by Irish Architecture firm Grafton Architects.
It is estimated that roughly 60 million people left Europe during the period 1860-1914.
Juan Alvaro Echeverri. 2010. “To Heal or to Remember: Indian Memory of the Rubber Boom and Roger Casement’s ‘Basket of Life’.” In ABEI. The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies, Number 12, Nov. 2010, pp.49-64.
Angus Mitchell (ed.). 2000. The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. Anaconda Editions.
Angus Mitchell. 2010. “‘Indians, you had life – your white destroyers only possess things’: Situating Networks of Indigeneity in the Anti-Colonial Activism of Revolutionary Ireland”. In ABEI. The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies, Number 12, Nov. 2010, pp.13-21.
Michael Taussig. 1984. “Culture of Terror, Space of Death. Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture.” Comparative Studies in Society and History. 26(3), pp. 467-497.
“From a Past of Conflict to a Future of Peace: The making of a peace process - the importance of the Colombian Peace Accord.”
Keynote Address by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá Monday, 13th February, 2017
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Yesterday, coming back from one of the zonas verdales at Anorí I was making a reflection on what sentiment, what notion, or music of the heart produces an instinct between protagonists that recognises a shared unquenchable sense of the importance of the human dignity of the other, be it victor or vanquished. I remain convinced that poets are best at attempting such a task. One of our greatest poets, Michael Longley, has given us a poem to record his feelings on the occasion of a ceasefire being declared in our conflict in Northern Ireland. His background was one that embraced the history and tradition of our neighbour and ourselves on the island of Ireland, and thus he was very conscious of murders and woundings that had taken place very close to him in his community. The words in Michael Longley’s poem Ceasefire, written in 1994, but published in 1998, occur to me so often when in some speech given in proximity to the events of conflict, reference has to be made to the immensity of the sacrifice that is required in the call to remember, the inevitable pain which is recalled, and yet the profound humanity that is revealed by the gestures of respect, and in time that may allow for forgiveness too. May I begin my remarks, then, with Michael Longley’s poem: CEASEFIRE I Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and Wept with him until their sadness filled the building. II Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake, Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak. III When they had eaten together, it pleased them both To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might, Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed: IV ‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’ And in Spanish it might read like this, and please excuse any mistakes I might make! ALTO EL FUEGO I Recuerda a su propio padre y conmovido hasta el llanto Aquiles le cogió de la mano y empujó al viejo rey Suavemente lejos, pero Príamo acurrucado a sus pies y Llorando con él hasta que su tristeza llenó el pabellón. 18
II Tomando el cadáver de Héctor con sus propias manos Aquiles se aseguró de que fuera lavado y, por el amor del viejo rey, colocado con el uniforme, listo para que Príamo lo llevara envuelto como un regalo a su hogar en Troya al amanecer. III Después de que hubieran comido juntos, les agradó a los dos contemplar su respectiva belleza como podrían hacer los amantes, Aquiles, construido como un dios, Príamo todavía hermoso y lleno de conversación, que antes había suspirado: IV “Me arrodillo y hago lo que debe hacerse: beso la mano de Aquiles, el asesino de mi hijo”. © Traducción ANTONIO LINARES FAMILIAR
It is a very significant time to be making this first visit by an Irish President to a country with which Ireland has had warm diplomatic relations since 1999, but with which we have also enjoyed much older connections. The establishment of formal diplomatic relations between our two countries, in 1999, has done much to foster the reciprocal friendship between the Irish and the Colombians. Our relationships have widened and deepened through productive and mutually beneficial co-operation, particularly through academic and cultural exchanges, and, of course, through our support and commitment for the Colombian peace process which has intensified in recent times, and to which we remain committed. Yet there exists a long history of cultural engagement of the Irish with Colombia, which predates our formal diplomatic relations. Although geography, scale, and our respective historical journeys differ in some respects,
President Higgins attends the Official Welcome Ceremony at Casa de Nariño (Presidential Palace) 19
there are significant aspects of the collective experience of the Irish and Colombian peoples which we share – for example, the continuity of land as an issue in our pre-independence and post-independence history and struggles. The movement from a precarious society of tenant farmers to a smallholder’s rural economy, albeit deeply influenced by emigration, and in recent decades urbanisation, is the source of the deep changes in Irish political and social life. As an old European country, however one without colonies, we Irish have always recognised the global significance of the ancient civilisations of this continent, civilisations that came to such a high point of sophistication and symmetry with nature before the contact and degradation of colonising aggrandisements, with their insatiable extraction of minerals. Then of course, in the 18th century, a generation of Irish Catholics, exiles and their children who had been denied political and economic opportunity in their homeland, and who had sought a life for themselves in commerce, the military and administration in Spain and its far-flung colonies, looked to the Latin Americas. The children and grandchildren of these emigrants went on to become key figures in the political development of Latin America. The Irish in Colombia first came to prominence when up to 2,000 Irish volunteers travelled here in the early 19th century to fight in the patriot army commanded by Simón Bolivar. Two of the most celebrated figures, Francis Burdett O’Connor and Daniel Florence O’Leary served with distinction during those campaigns that transformed Colombia from a Spanish colony to an independent republic. O’Connor and O’Leary subsequently wrote memoirs that became important sources for historians researching the revolutionary period. O’Leary, who was appointed as aide-de-camp to Bolivar after the Battle of Boyaca, compiled a monumental 32-volume account of the wars of independence, which was published between 1879 and 1888. The Memorias del General O’Leary was used by Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez for his fictionalised account of Bolivar’s last days in El General en su Laberinto. The last time I visited Colombia, in 2010, was as part of an Irish parliamentary delegation facilitated by the Irish charity, Trócaire. We Irish Parliamentarians were seeking to understand the reality of the Colombian armed conflict on the ground, and their impact on communities, so as to inform Irish and EU responses to the gravity of the human rights and humanitarian situation. We endeavoured to understand from the perspectives of Colombians that we interviewed and who came forward to us in differing circumstances, the root causes of the armed conflict, the extent of poverty and inequality, and the linkages between forced displacement, illegal appropriation of land, and the conflict as to how natural resources might be developed, in what conditions, and for whose benefit. We hoped, too, by our visit to increase our own and international awareness of the situation of the victims and their campaigns for access to truth, justice and reparation. We were also eager to express support to, and solidarity with, organisations that were working with great courage on the ground, including the Church and the communities with which they were working in their struggle to defend human rights, and their search for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict. We took the opportunity of speaking with the Colombian authorities on behalf of the victims of the armed conflict who had asked us to raise protracted issues. We visited communities in the region of Buenaventura, where we heard many distressing stories directly from relatives, particularly from Afro-Colombian families, of those who had disappeared or were living under serious levels of threat, as well as many disturbing accounts of mistreatment and displacement. These stories spoke not only of the events of what were then recent times, including the revulsion of families at the practice of ‘false positives’ where authorities dressed the corpses of those executed in the uniform of 20
guerrillas, thus not only executing a killing, but disrespecting a body and seeking to discredit a family in its community. They also spoke of the terrible realities, through the generations, of a country structured on deep inequalities; a nation where 0.4% of landowners owned 61% of rural land, and indeed one in which 1% of people owned 58% of urban property. The centrality of land to conflicts across the generations resonated with us Irish. Land is at the centre of the worst atrocities and the most violent acts of confrontation in the 18th and 19th centuries in our own country right up to our independence and beyond. Despite the many challenges at that time, and the difficulties they faced, I was deeply impressed by the initiatives undertaken by civil society organisations, religious groups, NGOs, trade unions, human rights defenders, indeed all those seeking peace and justice and providing humanitarian accompaniment to those who have suffered as a consequence of the conflict. In our report we called at that time for greater Irish and EU involvement and for the appointment of a European Union Special Representative for Peace in Colombia. There has been very significant change in the six years since I was last here. Peace, which at that time seemed far out of reach is now within Colombia’s grasp. It deserves support from within Colombia and from the global community. From the perspective of an outsider the conflict seemed intractable for so many decades. Its roots were so deep and the country’s pain so intense that one wondered if it would ever be possible for a new spirit to emerge with 220,000 people killed, 6.4 million people displaced, over 11,000 people maimed or killed by landmines, 7 million people registered with the Colombian Government’s Victim’s Unit, what a mountain to climb; and yet, as in my own country, hope and the desire for a better future have asserted themselves. We in Ireland understand the difficult and painful choices that peace and reconciliation can entail and we also understand and were grateful for support that came to us from our friends at critical junctures on the path to peace. It is for this reason that Irish people have been so pleased to support Colombia in its ongoing journey. We recognise the differences in our two processes, but we believe we can make a contribution by making available our own experience of peacebuilding over the last 20 years and more. I know that many groups and individuals have travelled between Colombia and Ireland in recent months to discuss lessons and parallels from our respective journeys. We will continue to provide that assistance in the coming, critical, years, including through the Trust Fund which we have helped to establish together with our friends in the European Union. This Trust fund is just one element of the broader support which the EU has been providing to many hundreds of projects all over Colombia, with hundreds of millions of Euro in funding. Ireland has been pleased to contribute to this effort over many years and will, may I say it again, continue to do so.
President Higgins arrives in Bogota 21
My friend Eamon Gilmore, our former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is today the EU’s “Special Envoy for the Peace Process in Colombia”, will continue to play an important role in representing the friendship of Europe’s member states towards the people of this country, and we in Ireland are proud of his contribution. As a people, the Irish have a deep commitment to human rights and this has been at the centre of our foreign policy for decades. Through Irish Aid, our overseas development cooperation programme, and through our bilateral and multilateral relationships we have consistently championed the cause of human rights and those advocating on behalf of human rights. We have introduced initiatives at the Human Rights Council of the U.N., for example, for the protection of human rights defenders. Our involvement in Colombia is no exception to this and it is precisely for such reasons that our relationship with the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights is at the centre of Ireland’s activity here in Colombia. We have been pleased to provide them with financial support for their work with human rights defenders and victims in the province of Nariño as well as in drawing lessons from the peace process in Northern Ireland. Similarly, we support NGOs such as Christian Aid with significant amounts of funding to support Colombian civil society on human rights issues. Again, you can be assured of our continued support in these areas. Like all peace processes, Colombia’s has had its own unique and difficult challenges. President Santos, delivering his Nobel lecture last December spoke of how: “Like life itself, peace is a process with many surprises”. Having seen many setbacks in the peace process over decades from the 1970s, Ireland understands only too well that these matters cannot and will not be resolved overnight or through any simple linear process. However, we also understand the importance of all sides continuing to engage because the ultimate prize of peace is worth any and every effort. Following the announcement of the result of the plebiscite, on 3rd October 2016, we were reassured to see that the negotiations for a revision were initiated immediately and that a revised text was approved by Congress as early as the end of November. On the very evening when the results of the plebiscite were published, President Santos went on air to accept the outcome, and he restated his intention to proceed to work for peace. He called for a “national dialogue” and he invited those who opposed the deal to engage constructively with that dialogue. We in Ireland have experienced similar circumstances in our peace process. The intensity and positivity with which both sides have engaged with any setbacks we have had along the way resulted, each time, in a new approach, with a renewed determination to build a lasting peace. Nobody, however, is underestimating the scale of the challenges which remain in relation to the implementation of the new agreement, including the transitional justice framework, disarmament, and the establishment of a safe and secure environment for all of Colombia’s citizens. It goes without saying that Ireland remains available to support the people of Colombia in any way which furthers the goal of peace in this country. We are, for example, willing partners in discussing and building the new forms of global economy that are necessary if we are to achieve an adequate response to the global challenges of climate change and sustainable development.
At a time of great global humanitarian crisis, there is so much the world can learn from Colombia’s peace process. The issues under discussion in this country, issues of displacement, disarmament, post-conflict reconciliation, are ones that have significance for communities across this continent and elsewhere in the world, as well as for Colombians. Over two hundred peace agreements have been concluded internationally in the years since conflict first began in Colombia; and while we must be careful President Higgins being welcomed to Colombia by Ms. María Ángela not to draw simplistic parallels between Holguín Cuéllar, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Sonja Hyland, Ambassador of Ireland to Colombia and Mr. Néstor Osorio Londoño, distinct regions and their particular Ambassador of Colombia to Ireland conflicts, there can be no doubting that peace processes from different regions can provide important blueprints for conflict resolutions in different contexts. Indeed, it was greatly moving to read that President Santos spoke, on the eve of the signing of the historic peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC, of how our own long struggle for peace and reconciliation in Ireland so inspired him. Nations and regions across the world can learn much from sharing their experiences, both those that have failed to end conflict permanently and those that have been more successful. While every conflict is different, the challenges and obstacles facing those who work to craft solutions are similar. There is so much that can be learned from the efforts of others to promote truth, forgiveness and reconciliation following long periods of bitter conflict. Yet, while every peace process learns from what has gone before, they will only be successful if they also respond to the particular challenges of their own context, history and situation. Colombia’s peace negotiations thus has drawn on lessons learned from successful peace processes, including those which took place in Northern Ireland and South Africa, and from processes too which did not have a successful outcome, while also assessing failures from their own previous attempts to negotiate together a peace agreement. Let me express my admiration for all of those who have played their role in negotiating this extraordinary moment of hope and possibility for Colombia at which you have arrived, and in your achievements in creating mutual understanding from the devastation wrought by bitter conflict. It has been a long and difficult struggle, calling for a real spirit of generosity, a will to create solid foundations for a shared, peaceful future, and the courage to look to the past in a way that is emancipatory. Indeed, it has required from the parties to the conflict the ability to look beyond their incompatibilities and replace armed battle with attempts to move forward in a spirit of peace and reconciliation. It has also been a challenge which has required the development of innovative frameworks, leading to Colombia’s peace process becoming a globally admired example of how to negotiate a path to sustainable solutions to apparently unyielding conflict. Lasting peace will never be achieved if we ignore, deny or fail to address the underlying causes of conflict. That is a process which calls for an honest engagement with the past. The Colombian writer, William Ospina, has spoken about the critical importance for all writers to try to make sense of the events of the past in Colombia in order to capture them as intelligible memory: 23
“Hay muchos relatos, muchas narraciones y muchos testimonios. Lo más importante será que todos tratemos de convertir en algo asimilable y en memoria lo que ha sido solamente tragedia, dolor y asombro” [There are many stories, many narratives and many testimonies. The most important thing will be that we should try to transform that which has been only tragic, painful and shocking into something intelligible and into memory.] From a multitude of personal, and communal, tragic events such a collective recall of memory must not affect any false or accommodating amnesia; it must be ethical, it must be moral, and enabling, rather than disabling this effort at remembering, that might enable future possibilities, not be disabled by past events for present of future achievements, emancipations. A genuine engagement with the past is never an easy task for an individual, a community, or indeed a nation, involving as it does a complex negotiation of the many memories, pains, legacies and emotions of those affected by struggle and conflict. How we remember, forgive, and even forget, are not merely academic questions, divorced from the business of crafting solutions to the challenge of building peace, of being able to live together. What we ensure that we must remember, what we must strive to forget, and what is open to reconsideration, are questions whose answers are fundamental to the achievement of a peaceful, and truly reconciled society. All societies emerging from conflict struggle face that legacy of the past: challenged to decide what to remember, and how to remember it, as they strive to transact an understanding that may lead, in time, to such a forgiveness as will release them from the weight of past wrongs. The goal, as I have already suggested, is to ensure that an ethically remembered wrong does not disable one from the possibilities of the present or the future. The announcement, in June 2014, by the various sides in the Colombian conflict of a Declaration of Principles outlining a commitment to ensure the victims’ rights to truth and full justice was a landmark one at the time, as was the agreement in Havana on a Special Jurisdiction for Peace. For the first time, victims of armed conflict had the opportunity to speak with both the FARC and Government negotiating teams, who listened in detail to the experiences of the victims and the overarching desire of victims
President Higgins and Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, Sergio Jaramillo, visiting a FARC demobilisation camp 24
from all sides for truth and clarification of what had happened and who would take responsibility for what had happened. It was also the first time a transitional justice architecture was attempted and framed, one which might directly respond to the right of victims to clarification of the truth, as well as articulating the principles of a rights based approach, reparation and a guarantee of non-recurrence. The decision to listen to the testimonies of sixty victims of human rights violations was as significant as it was unprecedented. As those victims in Colombia spoke to the negotiating panels of the abuses of their human rights and the suffering they had endured, they were also speaking to the world about the need to place victims at the very heart of peace negotiations – the need to listen and to ensure that their stories are not met with indifference or disbelief. The peace process in Colombia thus brought to international attention a gap that will be inherent in any negotiation process if the voices of the victims are not granted their rightful place at that table. Colombia’s peace-building process has shown the world that there can be no false dichotomy between justice and peace, that there must exist an understanding of the mutual relationship between both goals. If peace is to endure we must look beyond the immediate aim of ending conflict and ensure that its root causes are addressed, and that victims’ calls for justice are heard. Neither should we forget that it is such testimony from first hand witnesses and survivors of conflict that will allow future generations to understand the truth of what has gone before, enabling them, as an old culture has put it, to deal with “the basket of darkness” without losing capacity for “the basket of life”. Indeed, the importance of accessing truth was a key issue that was raised by victims during the negotiation process. They were correct to assert their right to such truth and to declare its importance in achieving a prospect of real forgiveness and an ability to move forward in a spirit of hope. In negotiating peace, we must understand that true reconciliation requires much more than political agreement; it has to be worked through, in the lived experiences of all those affected by the conflict, and who are considering or who are undergoing a process of change.
President Higgins delivers keynote address on Irish and Colombian Peace Processes 25
Reconciliation is an essential part of any sustainable peace. It involves recognising that while the hurts of the past cannot, and must never be, forgotten, we must also recognise that the future is alive with possibilities not yet born, from which no version of past conflicts should preclude us. While a terrible and heinous act cannot, for the most moral of reasons, be dissolved or forgotten, it is only through an act of imagination and creativity that we can prevent that tragic memory from colonising the future. The act of forgiveness, however, is not an easy one; it requires a great generosity of vision capable of transcending revenge or bitterness in the interests of achieving a truly reconciled discussion. It was greatly inspiring for us in the international community to hear that support for the peace process was so strong in areas of the greatest number of victims, but further that many direct victims of the Colombian conflict have accepted the need for a delicately balanced transitional justice architecture which allows for potentially significant reduction in sentences in return for a commitment to truth and guarantees of non-repetition. Colombia’s peace process has been rightly commended for its wide, at times heated, but yet well informed, discussions which have re-invigorated international debate around peace and justice. It has been a generous and encompassing process that does not, and I hope will never, shirk from examining the core root causes of the long and bitter conflict, including issues of income poverty, land poverty, that call out for land reform and rural development. Indeed, Colombia’s fifty-year long bitter struggle was deeply grounded in the issue of unequal land distribution. It is a conflict that, let us not ever forget, has seen almost 6 million people forced out of their homes, creating a legacy of enormous internal displacement, and many more forced to flee their homeland and seek refuge elsewhere. The issue of land has been central to Irish conflicts, and we in Ireland can understand its importance in Colombia, indeed in Latin America in general. Indeed, during my parliamentary visit of 2010, we were briefed on what was then forthcoming legislation, it was before the peace negotiations had got underway, but the Colombian government had commenced the complex but vital process of land reform, notably through the Victims and Land Restitution Law of 2011. That legislation aimed to return land to all those displaced by the conflict. The Peace Accord approved last November, however, goes much further. It is ambitious and it deserves international support. It speaks not only of land restitution but of integral rural reform and, vitally, of a structural transformation of rural areas. In doing so, it seeks not only to right specific wrongs and to restore to the victims of the conflict what is rightfully theirs, but it also seeks a radical renewal of the social and economic conditions in which more than 11 million Colombians live. The aim, as the Agreement puts it, to “transform the reality of rural life, with equity, equality and democracy,” may be an extraordinarily ambitious one, but it should never be discussed as utopian. It is necessary, and with help, is achievable. It is what is necessary for future Colombians but also for all of us on the planet. It is the kind of step we need as we set to the task of crafting new models of connection between ecology, economics and ethics for our new century. Coming from Ireland, with our 1 million hectares of arable land, the scale of the ambition in the Colombian Accord, with its commitment to restitution or formalisation of title of 10 million hectares over 12 years is very impressive. What is envisaged is not simply a legal process of land reform but a sustained social and economic investment in land and in people, based on the principles of equality, sustainability, environmental protection and dignity. 26
My wish for Colombians is that all the externalities that serve as context to this Plan also be addressed by your international partners positively. We in Ireland wish you every success in giving life to your inspiring vision for a future Colombia. As to mechanisms â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the formation of a special Agricultural Tribunal to deal with conflicts over land can provide for an independent and transparent system, based on the rule of law, to deal comprehensively and fairly with an issue that has driven so much of the conflict in Colombia. This was an issue that, as I have already said, caused division during and after our own War of Independence in Ireland, a hundred years ago. We may often think about conflict prevention as an activity involving international peace-keeping troops; bluehelmeted UN battalions keeping warring sides apart. In fact, conflict prevention is often something much more complex than a peace keeping mission. It requires the building of institutions; fair and transparent institutions, operating under rules that all can access and all can understand. Institutions that aim to deal with the sources and legacies of conflict, openly and impartially. The challenge of comprehensive rural reform is immense. It is something we continue to face in Ireland, nearly a century after our independence. Vibrant, equal and economically sustainable rural societies are not easy to nourish and sustain anywhere and the legacy of conflict, both psychological and physical, makes this a particular challenge in Colombia. I believe that the vision set out in the Agreement is one that can inspire not just the Colombian people but people everywhere who are struggling with unfair and unsustainable systems of land ownership and production. Finally, but very importantly, as in so many conflicts around the world, women have been disproportionately affected by the five decades of armed conflict in Colombia. Flavia Pansiera, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in acknowledging that women have been one of the groups most impacted by the armed conflict in Colombia, put it very succinctly:
President Higgins meeting with President Santos 27
“In view of this, but also because they constitute one half of the population, it is of the utmost priority to include them in decision making, and to listen and adopt their positions on peace, the country’s development and public policy on human rights.” It is, unfortunately, too rare an occurrence for females to be granted a place and a voice at the negotiation table. In Colombia women bore much of the burden of the conflict as victims, and also as key participants in the reconstructing of communities shattered by the atrocities of war. For a sustainable agreement to be achieved, their presence at the negotiation table was critical. The agreement, in 2014, to create a gender sub-commission challenged the historic exclusion of women from peace building; and was key to the achievement of a final accord that would lay the foundations for the building of a new and inclusive society that would respect the voices of all its members. We should also acknowledge and commend the establishment of the sub-commission on indigenous and Afro-Colombian issues, the importance of which stays in my mind from my visit to Buenaventura in 2010. I understand the subcommission is unique, but in its potential, an important innovation that others will draw from in future processes. I commend the efforts by all those organisations that seek to empower women as agents of change. Women experience conflict and migration in a special way as accounts tell us, taking into themselves the pain and insecurity of family members, and can therefore bring a unique set of skills and expertise to the negotiating table, and particularly in post-conflict reconstruction, and in the use of resources that may have been previously a source of conflict. It is, in other words, greatly important that we recognise that any failure to integrate the female population of Colombia into the building process would have seriously diminished hopes for any successful and viable outcome. In Ireland, the memory of our own long walk towards peaceful accord is a very recent one. The achievement of the momentous Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was a milestone in our history, and the deep and enduring friendship we now enjoy with Great Britain is an achievement of which we are immensely proud. We remain deeply aware, however, that there is still a road to be travelled, and that our journey will not be completed until the destination of lasting and creative reconciliation has been reached. It would be naïve to think that the signing of a peace agreement will bring an automatic cessation of violence, prejudice or bitter hatred. It is in itself, of course, a great achievement, signifying the culmination of prolonged discussion, conversation and negotiation, much of it difficult and painful. It is a critical moment of transition, a historical moment of change. More importantly, however, it is the beginning of a new stage in the journey towards renewed, sustained and stable peace. That distinction between termination and transformation is critical. It is a distinction which Colombians have recognised and been at pains to emphasise throughout the process which has brought them to this juncture – an understanding that peace will only become a powerful reality when it transcends the negotiation tables and the pages of agreements and treaties, and is invited to inhabit the shared spaces of a nation. Underpinning the Colombian peace agreement is a fundamental understanding of the causes and the drivers of conflict and the clear knowledge that it is these causes that must be addressed if the Agreement is to be 28
President Higgins supervising the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UCC and UNAL, Colsciencias and COLFUTURO.
successful and to transform the day-to-day lives of the Colombian people. I see in this understanding both the deep commitment of the negotiators on both sides who spent four years crafting this deeply complex, deeply ambitious, deeply intelligent, text but also the indelible mark of Colombian civil society groups. Women’s organisations, organisations representing indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, victims’ groups, peasant organizations – all contributed not just to the Agreement but to the architecture of the negotiation process itself. To my knowledge, this iterative engagement by civil society with the negotiating teams was also unique. Unique not only in its contribution to what was considered as part of the negotiations and how it was considered – and I spoke earlier of my particular admiration for the establishment of subCommissions on gender – but it has created a baseline for future peace negotiations around the globe. The Colombian process demonstrated that civil society must be considered an integral part of negotiating processes. Ireland’s work at the Human Rights Council included such a perspective during our 2013 - 2015 term and presented a Resolution on Civil Society Space for the first time ever at the Council. We prioritised this issue because we ourselves have lived the experience of how a vibrant and robust civil society can transform societies and political and economic cultures. In my own experience of over 40 years as a legislator, Senator, Minister and now President, I have witnessed how many of the most positive transformations in Ireland have their origin in civil society activism. Examples include the peace process in Northern Ireland, the full legal equality of men and women, the protection of our environment and cultural heritage, marriage equality and the advancement of LGBT rights, our anticorruption and transparency legislation. What Colombia has taught us – and taught the world – through its approach to the negotiation process is that creating a “safe and enabling” environment for civil society, as the Human Rights Council (HRC)Resolution puts it, is only a starting point. The real transformation becomes possible when we sit at the table as equals – discussing, arguing, achieving consensus. 29
Dear friends, such is the nature of the warm relationship that exists between our two countries, that I know can deepen, and enable us not only to recall our past or current lives, but can offer us an opportunity of building and sharing a rich future in peace and sustainable prosperity. All of us Irish would like to see Ireland act as a bridge for Colombia to the European Union, a bridge that would contribute to advancing the development of your connections to the European region, and we would, in turn, welcome the opportunity for the further development of the bonds between us so that Colombia can act as a bridge for us to Latin America. At this very important time in its modern history I want to convey to all Colombians Ireland’s very best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and inclusive future. We are so pleased, in Ireland, that we have been able, bilaterally and through the European Union, to make our contribution to your peace process. Global leaders and peoples across the world have much to learn from Colombia’s journey towards peace and reconciliation. As you begin a new phase of that journey I am confident that you will continue to inspire, to innovate and to show the world all that can be achieved when generosity, courage and a real will to craft a lasting and sustainable peace prevails. Ireland is privileged indeed that you have allowed us to share in your journey from darkness to light. Muchísimas gracias.
Address at the Launch of Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
Morro Cabaña, Havana, Cuba Thursday, 16th February, 2017
Joseph OConnors famous novel Star of the Sea is I believe the first Irish novel to be published in Cuba since James Joyces Ulysses. This makes today a great occasion, and of course it is a great accolade for Joseph, and a well-deserved one. Es un placer estar aquí en la Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana, y tener esta oportunidad de asistir al lanzamiento de la edición cubana del libro del autor irlandés Joseph O’Connor, Star of the Sea [El crimen del Estrella del Mar] [I am delighted to be here today at the Havana International Book Fair, at the launch of the Cuban edition of ‘Star of the Sea’ by Irish author Joseph O’Connor.] I am also delighted that Irish and Irish-linked writers Colm Toíbín, Michael McCaughan, Lisa McInerney, Dermot Keogh and Purs Lopez Colomé are participating in this most important event in Cuba’s literary calendar, and by their presence deepening cultural links between our two countries. Some writers of recent times have told us of centuries old connections, such as Tim Fanning whose ‘Los Paisanos, the Forgotten Irish of Latin America’ will shortly be available in Spanish and the wonderful Dervla Murphy whose ‘The Island that Dared’ was published in 2008, and gives details of Cuban life as experienced by a visiting family travelling through mountains, by the sea, in the swamps or the city. Joseph O’Connor’s famous novel Star of the Sea is I believe the first Irish novel to be published in Cuba since James Joyce’s Ulysses. This makes today a great occasion, and of course it is a great accolade for Joseph, and a well-deserved one. Tá súil agam go mbeidh i bhfad níos mó aistriúcháin déanta amach anseo, de leabhair Chúbaigh agus leabhair Éireannaigh. [May there be many more translations and in both directions.] From its first publication, Star of the Sea has justifiably received international acclaim and has won many awards including the Prix Littéraire Européen Madeleine Zepter for European Novel of the Year, Italy’s Premio Giuseppe Acerbi for New Literature, The Hennessy/Sunday Tribune ‘Hall of Fame’ Award, and the Prix Millepages for Foreign Fiction. It has also been a number one bestseller in both Britain and Ireland and has been published in many languages. As to the author - six years ago, I had the privilege of presenting Joseph with the Irish PEN Award for literature. I spoke, on that occasion, of how it was an accolade from his peers that recognised Joseph as one of the most important and influential voices of contemporary Irish literature, at a time that is experiencing little less than a golden period of the novel. Today, Joseph O’Connor continues to be one of the great Irish diplomats of literature, renowned abroad and loved at home for the elegance of his prose and the disciplined acuity of his themes. Star of the Sea, as a novel, is set in 1847 against the backdrop of the Irish Famine. The reader is brought aboard a famine ship making the journey from Ireland to New York, a vessel on which hundreds of desperate refugees are disposed in their different locations according to class and circumstances. First published in 2004 the novel brought Joseph O’Connor’s name as a novelist to the attention of a very wide and international readership and he has gone from strength to strength in his work. The Great Irish Famine of the 1840s was the greatest social catastrophe of 19th century Europe. Yet while the historiography of the period between Cecil Woodham Smith’s The Great Hunger and John Kelly’s The Graves are Walking’ has been vastly explored, An Gorta Mór, the Great Irish Famine has inspired surprisingly little creative writing. Addressing this gap, described, by PJ Mathews in the Irish Times as ‘a missing link in the Irish literary tradition Star of the Sea is one of the most important creative works to emerge from Ireland in recent years. 32
President Higgins attends the launch of a translation of ‘Star of the Sea’ by Joseph O’Connor
La tristeza de la emigración forzada, así como la injusticia histórica en la cual se enraízan muchas comunidades en exilio, son temas que tienen una fuerte resonancia aquí en Cuba. [The sadness of forced emigration, and the historic injustice in which so many diasporic communities are rooted are themes which will have strong resonance in Cuba.] In chronicling the lives, backgrounds and motivations of its characters, fleeing the devastation not just of famine but of a tiered, but collapsing system of exploitation and the grinding poverty it created but chose to ignore Star of the Sea provides us with what is a harrowing, brave and imaginative confrontation of that bleakest of bleak moments in our past. Ach ní hé tragóid an Ghorta Mhóir, a íosphártaigh nó a theithigh, a chum an leabhar seo “Star of the Sea”. Is scríobhnóir ard-chumasach a rinne é sin. [The events of that tragedy of the Great Famine victims and exiles themselves did not produce Star of the Sea. A brilliant novelist did.] It is a work that brilliantly and unflinchingly allows the searing reality of this critical event in our ancestors’ lives to unfold for us - a disaster that, between 1845 and 1855, saw the Irish population of almost 8.2 million shrink by a third: starvation and disease killing 1.1 million; emigration claiming another 2 million; and slow deaths from hunger, typhus, exhaustion. The great Irish Famine left a legacy which understandably remained embedded in the Irish psyche. Yet we too easily engage with it, and when we do at all, it is often in terms of its general features, often thus missing the personal experiences, family tragedies, of which it is composed. As a novel Star of the Sea is ambitious in structure and the stark, austere and greatly honest writing, and the 33
complex mix of verbal forms through which the story is told - including first person narratives, letters, the Captain’s log, newspaper clippings, and historical documentation – give a profound authenticity to this great novel, and is a wonderful achievement which I know will be appreciated by a Spanish-speaking readership. For a rapidly growing number of Irish at home and abroad interested in social history, Star of the Sea presents us with a microcosm of the working through of class in Irish society as it was at the time; the despair of the landlord classes who have lost the source of both their privileges and their abuse, including the number of repentant landlords in their number, the struggle of the poor and destitute as they seek a future, and the many personal stories that characters bring with them as they attempt to flee from the past towards hope in exile. This novel, Star of the Sea, joins with other works on breaking a silence on an event so deeply tragic as to be too traumatic to recall, and the consequences too which would follow. Silence for others was profoundly ideological. Among the many moving lines that will remain with the reader are lines given to the musing of Grantley Dixon, the American journalist who is the chronicler for the ship’s passage who considering the significance of the evasion of what happened says: “To remain silent, in fact, was to say something powerful: that it never happened: that these people did not matter.” These moral reflections should remind us too of the Quaker contribution to famine relief. Such sacrifices made and solidarity offered by families such as the Ellises in Letterfrack, and the Tuke family, father and son in Connemara, who died delivering that relief, and the exceptional, warm estimation they held of those they helped. Their words of kindness, and their actions, speak to us across centuries, decades and generations. Theirs were words such as the moving words of the ship’s captain in the novel: “as certain as I know that the dawn must come, the people of Ireland would welcome the frightened stranger with that gentleness and friendship which so ennobles their character.” Star of the Sea defies any narrow categorisation, being part historical novel, part Victorian epic, and part intriguing mystery. It reminds us of Joseph O’Connor’s great capacity to break new ground in his writing, and of his deserved reputation for being both a brilliant writer and an accessible one; a realist who also delves courageously and imaginatively into a past that leans so much on our national character. There can be no doubt that, as a country, we are fortunate to have contemporary writers of his calibre and the brilliant translators who deliver it for us in Spanish, writers who so beautifully and often so poignantly capture those important moments in our history, parts of our past that surely are key to our understanding of the society we live in, and are challenged to change. This is a great occasion for Irish Cuban literary exchange for writers and translators and, as President of Ireland, I am privileged to share it with you all.
“Ireland and Cuba: From a past of complex struggles and solidarities to a future of shared possibilities”
Keynote Address by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Colegio Universitario San Géronimo, University of Havana, Cuba Friday, 17th February, 2017
Señor Rector de esta insigne casa de studios, Doctor Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez, Doctor Eusebio Leal Spengler, Historiador de la Ciudad, Dr. Felix Julio Alfonso López, Vicerrector del Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo, Queridos estudiantes y profesores, Distinguidos invitados, Amigos y amigas, Es para mí un honor y un placer estar aquí en Cuba, en el precioso Colegio Universitario San Gerónimo, en el sitio original de la Universidad de La Habana. Quiero agradecer al Presidente Raúl Castro, a las autoridades cubanas, y a todos ustedes, por su calurosa acogida. Permítanme comenzar expresando mis más sentidas condolencias al Presidente Castro, su familia, y al pueblo de Cuba, por el fallecimiento del Comandante Fidel Castro. It is an honour to be the first President of Ireland to visit Cuba. Our two peoples – el pueblo irlandés, muintir na hÉireann, in our ancient Celtic language, y el pueblo cubano, muintir Chúba – have enjoyed deep bonds of friendship and solidarity over the centuries, a friendship and a solidarity which, I hope, my visit to Cuba will contribute to rekindle and strengthen. Latin America at large, its social, cultural and economic development, its struggles for freedom and for human rights, and above all, the generous heart of this continent, have occupied a special place in my own heart for over fifty years. As patron of the Society for Irish Latin American Studies (SILAS), I am delighted to have this opportunity, today, of speaking at a conference that gives evidence of the deep and extensive scholarship that currently exists on the relations between Ireland, Cuba, and Latin America in general. The fruitful collaborations we have been witnessing in recent years, between researchers, between various schools of Irish studies, between archival institutions, are so welcome. Indeed, it is so important that we recall and celebrate the manifold historical links that bind our nations together, across the Atlantic Ocean. An awareness of history, of the circumstances which led our ancestors to cross paths along the trails of Empire and transatlantic networks. That a valuable compass as we apply ourselves to crafting our shared responses to contemporary challenges and get about creating new futures together. Such an awareness can unlock for us a rich repertoire of experiences and political meanings, of solidarities lived and imagined, that do not only illuminate our present, but also open up new horizons for cooperation between our countries, calling for new solidarities to be forged, of a global, regional and bilateral kind. There is so much that unites Ireland and Cuba. Tenemos tanto en común. Irish and Cuban people have in common a proud sense of their national identity, a passion for freedom, as well as remarkable achievements in the boxing ring! In the past, both of our people have shared an experience of living in the shadow of a powerful neighbour. We are two island nations who have been marked by colonisation and that have had to wrestle their freedom from the grip of empires. This morning I want to reflect with you upon the meaning of that freedom at the turn of the 21st century, in a context of profound change, instability and uncertainty. I also want to affirm my belief in the possibilities that exist for our people to respond creatively to those changing conditions and to create new models of development. Reflecting on the wide range of papers presented at this conference, it is obvious that Ireland and Cuba’s shared experiences unfolded through the prism of competing empires, a particular set of historical events that 36
included repressive laws implemented against the Irish people on the grounds of religion and were used as an instrument of economic policy within the colonising project. This history of colonisation and emigration is the background to the many traces of Irish presence that can be found everywhere in Cuba today, and notably here, in Havana. It is also a history that has led Irish and Cuban people to forge many bonds of sympathy and imagination, and to exchange stories, dreams and aspirations of freedom. We can think, for example, of the great interest that one of the past Professors at this University of Havana, the distinguished social anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, took in the fate of James J. O’Kelly, the Irish nationalist who, in the early 1870s, reported on Cuba’s War of Independence for The New York Herald1. James O’Kelly’s chronicles of his perilous journey to Cuba’s Eastern provinces in search for the camps of the insurgents – to whom he refers by the criollo term of “Mambí” – the story of his capture, court-martial and near execution by the Spanish Cuban authorities, were followed by an international readership at the time. Published in 1874 as La Tierra del Mambí, James O’Kelly’s account made its formal entry into the Cuban canon when it was re-published in 1930 with a lengthy biographical introduction by Fernando Ortiz2, and then re-printed once again in 1968, to mark the centenary of Cuba’s Ten Years’ War.3 It is interesting to note how, in his Prologue, Fernando Ortiz glosses over James O’Kelly’s role as the New York Herald correspondent and chooses, instead, to emphasise O’Kelly’s identity as an Irishman, tied to Cuba through the bonds of a sympathetic nationalism.4 In doing so, Ortiz situates the Cuban question within a transnational political geography and he also makes a place for Irish nationalism in the Cuban vernacular, describing the Irishman as a “mambí del separatismo antibritánico.” Fernando Ortiz also traces precedents of Irish participation in the Cuban separatist cause, offering examples that range from the abolitionist Richard Robert Madden to the Irish members of the mid-19th century filibustering expeditions of Narciso López. Ortiz’s Prologue is but one expression of the fascinating economy of sympathy that has linked together Irish and Cuban nationalists throughout the long struggle for freedom in their respective countries. Indeed, at the same time that Irish patriots were challenging the colonial relationship between Ireland and Britain in the early 19th century, an emerging sense of nationhood was taking shape in Spain’s American possessions, allowing for multiple transfers of identification between Irish and South American nationalists. A number of the papers presented at this conference examine this involvement of Irish people, and people of Irish descent, with a host of uprisings and nationalist movements, in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Puerto Rico, and of course Cuba. A striking example of the mutual sympathy between Irish and Cuban people can be found in the work of the great José Martí, who devoted a significant number of his New York Chronicles, dated between July 1882 and May 1891, to
President Higgins attends official Welcome Ceremony at the Palace of the Revolution 37
a socio-anthropological study of the immigrant Irish community there. In those Chronicles, José Martí also wrote at length on prominent figures of the Irish independence movement, such as Daniel O’Connell, who successfully campaigned for the rights of Catholic people in Ireland, Michael Davitt, a prominent Republican and agrarian agitator in the 19th century, as well as Charles Stewart Parnell and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. José Marti’s writings also illustrate the different definitions that were given within nationalism to issues of freedom, emancipation, relations between races, gender and classes. Such mixture of motives with nationalism is something that Irish and Cubans share in their history, and it points to contradictions that an adequate historiography cannot avoid. Another, particularly compelling, instance of transnational identification between Irish and Cuban people, was that studied by the President of SILAS, Dr. Margaret Brehony, in the PhD thesis she presented in 2012 under the title “Irish Migration to Cuba, 1835-1845. Empire, Ethnicity, ‘Free’ and Slavery”. Drawing on Spanish and Cuban archival records, Margaret Brehony related in that thesis the experience of a group of Irish labourers who were contracted in New York in 1835 and brought to Cuba to lay the tracks of what was to be the first stretch of railroad in Latin America. Forced into a brutal work regime under Spanish military rule in Cuba, those Irish railroad workers came to identify with the subaltern position of the bonded labourers from the Canary Islands alongside whom they were working. This led to some of the first strikes recorded on the island of Cuba and to the repudiation of the Irish workers by the authorities within months of their arrival. A few years later, some more Irish workers were imprisoned, accused of conspiring with people of colour in what is known as the Escalera slave uprising of 1844. Dr. Margaret Brehony’s work is an important contribution to both Irish and Caribbean historiography, one that enables us to come to terms with the impact of an ideology of empire, the values that drove it, and the human price paid for the transition from tobacco to sugar in Cuba, after slavery was formally abolished in other parts of the Caribbean.
President Higgins meeting with President Castro at the Palace of the Revolution 38
According to Margaret Brehony, the resistance of Irish workers to coercive labour practices on the Cuban railroad, as well as their identification with the abolitionist cause in Cuba must be construed, not as sporadic phenomena, but, rather, as the manifestations of a deeper structural struggle. That struggle emerged at the intersection of the British and Iberian systems of colonial exploitation and it had its roots both in the creation of a landless proletariat in 19th century Ireland, and in the Irish migrants’ experience of organised labour in the USA. The story of Irish railway workers in Cuba also shows us that culture and the defence strategies deployed by human imagination can never be entirely quenched by colonisation. The memory of those events on the Cuban railroads, and of so many other past links of solidarity and friendship between the Irish and the people of Latin America, has been kept alive, not just by later generations of revolutionaries, but also in the stories of our writers and poets. Those of you who attended this conference yesterday thus heard of the Irish connection in the work of Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges, and they also heard of the Latin American mother of Molly Bloom, who was given the beautiful name of Lunita Laredo by her literary creator, James Joyce. It was in fact this literary thread between our two parts of the world which determined the timing of my present visit to Cuba. I was indeed delighted to accept the invitation to attend the Havana International Book Fair, which celebrates, this year, the Cuban edition of Star of the Sea by Irish author Joseph O’Connor – which was published by Letras Cubanas under the title El crimen del Estrella del Mar. I had the pleasure of taking part, yesterday in the launch of this captivating book which recalls for us the great odyssey of Irish migrants across the Atlantic Ocean. It would, however, be a misconstruction to portray all those of Irish ascendancy who reached these shores as men and women who were driven by their forefathers’ dreams of liberty and who automatically identified with the downtrodden and powerless. While 19th century Irish immigration to the Caribbean was often mediated through the United States and comprised people of lower socio-economic status, the earlier waves of Irish migrants to this region were numerically smaller and often came through the Catholic courts of Europe and the Irish Brigades in the Spanish army. Thus in the Cuba of the 19th century, “ordinary” Irish workers co-existed with a population of Irish-Cuban merchants, planters, slaveholders and high-ranking military men – people who had contributed to building a plantation economy dependent on forced African labour, and who were often committed to both free trade and the formation of a separatist Creole identity. Those people played a part in “importing” Irish labour to Cuba, as part of a project of ‘whitening’ the population of an island which comprised many black slaves and their descendants. Amongst that older Irish-Cuban population, we find families who were firmly placed at the heart of SpanishCuban aristocracy, such as the O’Donnell, the O’Gaban or the O’Farrill. This latter family, the O’Farrill, made their fortune as slave and sugar traders, and their imposing palace can still be seen on Cuba street, only turned into a hotel [Hotel Palicio O’Farrill]. But the best known representative of that class of Irish colonial elite is, perhaps, Alexander (Alejandro) O’Reilly, who grew up in Ireland’s County Meath before he was sent by his father, at a very tender age, to become a cadet in the army of the King of Spain. Known in his time as one of the shrewdest military brains in Spain, Alejandro O’Reilly is remembered on this island as the man who established Cuba’s modern fortifications, after the Seven Years’ War against Britain. The O’Reilly street, Calle O’Reilly, which is just outside this Colegio, is marked by a plaque in three languages – Spanish, English and Irish Gaelic – with the inscription:
“Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope: Cuba and Ireland.” The hope which animated Alexander O’Reilly and those like him who spent their lives soldiering abroad, was that Ireland would be freed from British rule thanks to the military intervention of the Catholic powers of continental Europe. This, of course, never materialised – the people of Ireland had to take the struggle for freedom in their own hands, eventually winning the battle for independence in the early 1920s. ¿Dónde nos deja todo esto? Where does all of this leave us? Why, you may ask, is it important to salvage the full complexity of the Irish experience on this continent? The first reason has to do with our understanding of the notion of freedom. Today as yesterday, there are huge variations, even contradictions, between different definitions of freedom, within different projects of nationalism. In pre-independence Cuba, for example, there were those who would have been content with Cuba joining the Union as a slave state, like Texas did, so that their system of trade would persist. In Ireland, there was a class of ‘native’ landowners, not dissimilar to the Creole elite, who were satisfied with the prospect of Home Rule, that is, limited autonomy within the Union with Britain, and for whom the notion of freedom did not entail the egalitarian social transformation upheld by what was indeed a minority within the Irish Republican and separatist movement. What about today? ¿A qué nos referimos cuando hablamos de libertad? Is the freedom we most value that from fear and oppression – freedom from the control of President Higgins attends the inauguration of the Irish in Latin America Exhibition, Palacio Segundo human minds and bodies? Or is freedom simply to be defined by the freedom of the market, by the right to unlimited consumption on the island of Cuba as on that of Ireland? If we share in Amartya Sen’s moderate, and yet substantial, definition of freedom as the enhancement of “human capabilities,” the ability for people to lead lives that they have reason to value, then what balance should we endeavour to strike, in our societies, between the “mechanism of the free market” on the one hand and, on the other hand, regulation, planning, redistribution and public service provision by the state? There are, moreover, in the Americas as in Europe, those for whom freedom is primarily understood as sovereignty, or “national freedom.” Is it possible to preserve national independence and character, while at the same time establishing open relations with the rest of the world and substantial co-operative relations with other states? I personally see no contradiction between a proud national feeling and the ability to engage in regional and international co-operation. I believe too that it is necessary and possible to craft a new universalism for our times – a model of international co-operation grounded, not in the supremacy of any one model of civilisation, but in a respect for the distinctive history and aspirations of each nation, and in all that which, in those aspirations, allows for bridges and dialogues to be built with other nations. Indeed, as José Martí put it: “Patria es humanidad, es aquella porción de la humanidad que vemos más cerca, y en que nos tocó nacer.” 40
The other reason why it is worthwhile, I believe, to reflect back on the history of Irish presence in the Caribbean is because it illuminates a chapter in the history of global capitalism that invites us to assess critically our present condition in relation to global capital flows. Irish and Cubans operated within transatlantic networks of migration and trade that included forced migrants from African and indentured labourers from the Canary Islands. The story of the Irish railway workers described by Margaret Brehony unfolded at a critical juncture in the transformation of modern capitalism, at the dawn of what is widely described as “the first globalisation”, a time of formidable commercial expansion before the cataclysm of the First World War. That period was marked by a boom, not just in sugar trade, but also in the rubber industry, with its associated cortege of atrocities inflicted onto the indigenous people who were forced to extract the rubber in the tropical forests of Africa and Latin America. The abominable practices then current in the Putumayo region of the Amazon were documented by another Irish revolutionary of the last century, Roger Casement, in what is widely held as an early masterpiece of humanitarian reporting. Bringing to light, as Roger Casement did, the foundational assumptions, and the human consequences of the dominant ideology of the time – consequences which, in the past as today, were presented as ‘natural’ and an upshot of ‘progress’ – is essential for our democratic life. Slave trade, that most ugly of breaches to human dignity, has been formally abolished, yet our advanced capitalist system, in its distorted, hyper-financialised, version is the source of many other injustices, unsustainable forms of trade and investment, not to mention ecological destruction. Literacy was a powerful tool for emancipation from slavery, a powerful buttress to democracy. Can we, nowadays, invent a new form of informed literacy, of an economic and fiscal kind, to avoid the drift to a rule of financialised capitalism without democracy? All of us can with much benefit, I believe, reflect on the wise words of Eduardo Galeano, when he said: “The capitalist system, the so-called ‘market economy’, has sacrificed justice in the name of freedom, and the so-called ‘real socialism’ has sacrificed freedom in the name of justice. Beginning the new millennium, this is the challenge: we want justice and freedom, Siamese twins, living and walking together.” As external pressure on this island is decreasing, as Cuba is enabled to re-open onto the world at this juncture of a new era, can we imagine new relations between freedom and justice?
President Higgins lays a wreath at the José Martí Monument
Can we imagine, too, new relations between Ireland and Cuba – relations that would not, this time, be mediated through the prism of Empire, but that would enable the sharing of opportunities and the enhancement and mobility of skills? Can we conceive of an alternative future for co-operation in food, science, nutrition, biotechnology, between our universities, our cities, and our ports? Can the new port of Mariel, whose draught were made deep enough to accommodate the giant ‘post-Panamax’ container ships, become a hub of equitable trade, along whose networks will travel, not men in arms and predatory dealers, but merchants 41
and investors, as well as doctors, academics and scientists committed to work for our common welfare in a sustainable international economy that seeks to secure our planet from destructive climate change? Such vision should not be dismissed as any mere utopia. As I have just suggested through Eduardo Galeano’s words, neither the collectivised, authoritarian state systems of the twentieth century nor the financialised version of global capitalism that has become hegemonic since the fall of the Berlin Wall are appropriate to our needs, or adequate for the civilisation of sustainable sufficiency our humanity so urgently needs. We have arrived at a critical juncture in the history of humanity. In no way is the extent of this systemic crisis most striking, perhaps, than in its environmental dimension. The speeches of Fidel Castro5 to international audiences throughout the decades were particularly unambiguous in establishing the link between the ecological crisis and the international economic system. The urgency of our position was expressed most powerfully, for example, in his speech at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, where I heard him conclude with these words: “Si se quiere salvar a la humanidad de esa autodestrucción, hay que distribuir mejor las riquezas y tecnologías disponibles en el planeta. Menos lujo y menos despilfarro en unos pocos países para que haya menos pobreza y menos hambre en gran parte de la Tierra. No más transferencias al Tercer Mundo de estilos de vida y hábitos de consumo que arruinan el medio ambiente … Aplíquese un orden económico internacional justo. Utilícese toda la ciencia necesaria para un desarrollo sostenido sin contaminación. Páguese la deuda ecológica y no la deuda externa. Desaparezca el hambre y no el hombre.” Yes, the current patterns of distorted trade, speculative investment, proliferating inequality, debilitating debt, unbridled consumption and destructive extraction of natural resources are unsustainable. We have moved to a point of crisis – political, social, cultural and ecological – that calls for the articulation of new models of coexistence, development and international co-operation. The two international agreements signed in 2015, on sustainable development in New York, and on climate change in Paris, are certainly milestones in that regard. Yet those agreed frameworks for international cooperation need all of our help and persistence if they are to capture public discourse and imagination, and, crucially, if they are to be effectively translated into regional and national action plans. The extreme volatility and uncertainty, not to say at times the irrationality and the cynicism, that currently characterise political life in too many countries across the world calls on those who support those seminal agreements to be vocal in ensuring that words become deeds and that aspirations become policies. There is so much that remains to be invented: so many forms of co-operation to experiment, so many uncharted avenues to explore for a balanced co-existence between all those, human and non-human, who dwell together on this vulnerable planet. We know now that there is not just one path to social, cultural, ecological and economic harmony, no single formula for successful socio-economic development. It is not a case of imitation of a previous practice. It is a time for creating new models – a time for mustering the necessary courage to depart from old and failing models. And this is beginning to be recognised. In his short but compelling book entitled Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective, Professor Ha-Joon Chang, who reads in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge, draws our attention to the fact that “Now Developed Countries” (NDC) did not get where they are through the narrow set of reputedly “good policies” and “good institutions” that they now recommend to developing countries. Many of those countries, including supposed bastions of liberalism and economic laissez-faire such as the US and Britain, did in fact for many decades consolidate their own economic development by 42
President Higgins and Minister David Stanton, on a tour of Old Havana with Dr. Eusebio Leal
using policies and instruments of state intervention – such as infant industry protection or export subsidies – that are nowadays frowned upon by mainstream international institutions that advocate free trade. Kicking Away the Ladder is but one study in a rich body of scholarship that convincingly challenges the wisdom of the “development recipes” that have been prescribed to developing countries. The specific value of Professor Ha Joon Chang’s work lies, in my view, in his historical approach to economics – a concrete and inductive method that contrasts strongly with some currently dominant derivatives of the neo-classical approach, based on abstract and deductive methods, and a reductive vision of human behaviour. Professor Chang’s approach also has the merit of exposing the highly ideological nature of a dominant economic discourse that often presents itself under the guise of neutrality and objectivity. No more than there is one single path of development, recent history also teaches us that there is no singular or simple model of “transition” to a free market economy. Indeed, to posit “the free market” as the inexorable endpoint for both individual and social happiness is to fall into an interpretative linearity that is reminiscence of the worst days of modernisation theory. On this subject, and in particular on the dramatic failures of what is commonly referred to as “the Washington Consensus”, there is an abundance of fine critical scholarship. In one such work, Latin America: Development and Democracy Beyond the Washington Consensus, Professor Francisco Panizza traces the emergence, implementation and legacy of what was no less than a narrow and rather dogmatic model, described by its main author, British economist John Williamson, as – I quote – “the 43
common core wisdom embraced by all serious economists of the time.” Such a remark would surely get a nomination for the Mont Pelerin Academy. Professor Panizza starts his analysis at the time of the demise of Latin America’s dictatorial rightwing regimes, which were widely associated with a free market agenda. He goes on to show how the failure of the new democratic administrations of the 1980s to live up to the promises of a better life did, however, bring with it crisis narratives that shifted the terms of the political discourse of the day and enabled the shift from a previously President Higgins and Minister David Stanton, on a tour of dominant model of policy-making known Old Havana with Dr. Eusebio Leal as Import Substitution Industrialisation to a model of radical neo-liberal reform. Interestingly, Professor Panizza concludes his book by saying that the blatant failures of this neo-liberal agenda have, in turn, paved the way for new crisis narratives, based on an acknowledgment of the crucial role of the state in steering economic development and a recognition that no development policies are ever right independently of context, culture and history. Let me offer tentatively, just one further observation on a scholarly matter. It is critical, I believe, that we not lose the capacity to use abstract models of capital to help us all see how capital in its different and changing forms can still lean on particular settings in different ways, in different periods. I side with Vivek Chibber’s critique when he warns of subaltern studies being in danger of serving as distraction from the necessary critique of capital. The work on capital is unfinished work, not a project to be abandoned. Surely the present circumstances show how a universalised capital can cast a shadow over the variety of social forms that are the substance of subaltern studies. There is, in the end, no reason to be governed by unnecessary binary choices between macro and middle range theories or simply descriptive ethnography, and I do not doubt that a fruitful dialogue can be established between the valuable perspectives of such as Dipesh Chakerabaty and Vivek Chibber6, even one leading to reconciliation, at least as to fact.
Queridos Amigos, All of us are invited to meditate on the tragic consequences of the extreme version of repressive, and even oppressive, statism which developed in the twentieth century, that age of totalitarianism. Yet we should be wary of avoiding any ideological confusion. Hay que separar el trigo de la paja, or, as we say in English, we must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. The dramatic failures of the Washington Consensus on this continent, the very continent for which this programme of reforms was devised in the first place, and its equally dramatic failure in the other countries where it was applied, has demonstrated (by default) the fundamental importance of the state in providing basic services, such as education, healthcare and housing, as well as in planning, steering and delivering socioeconomic development. Cuba provides an illuminating example in that regard, an example of a state which has proved its ability to consistently deliver such fundamental social goods as education and healthcare, including at times of economic hardship such as those experienced by your people during the “período especial.” Today Cuba stands at a threshold, and it is positioned at a very interesting place. This island has already contradicted the expectations and predictions of so many foreign-based “Cubanologists”, as was shown by 44
Emily Morris in a series of excellent papers, including one published just last month in the prestigious NorthAmerican journal, Foreign Affairs.7 The Cuban people should not be required to conform to a predefined model of development; they must remain free to shape their own path of development – su camino propio. We are facing, may I say it again, a world of extreme instability. Old certainties are crumbling; previous models are shaken. For all the perils inherent to such a volatile world, we must, together, seize upon the real opportunities that exist to create new forms of co-operation, drawing on the capacity of our states to plan for the long-term, building on the best of our scholarship, but also drawing on our citizens’ sense of ethical responsibility and on their great capacity for scientific and technological innovation. There is so much that can be achieved by trusting our citizens’ creativity and encouraging the free and open exchange of ideas, so as to foster a vibrant culture of innovative, critical and independent thinking. May Ireland and Cuba explore together many possible paths for positive social transformation; may we reopen, together, the question of the alternative development strategies that exist for small countries in a highly interdependent world and build up our citizens’ capacity to respond creatively, and with a true solidarity, to our changing conditions. That is the globalisation we need to construct. My hope is that our two countries can make a meaningful contribution to the construction of a multi-polar and peaceful world – a world in which the benefits of science and technology are used to serve humanity rather than squandered in armaments industries – and that Cuba and Ireland will make this contribution, not just as individual nations, but also through their respective structures of regional co-operation. Regional co-operation is, indeed, an area in which we, Irish and Cubans, citizens of Europe and citizens of Latin America, have so much to learn from one another. I am delighted that the relations between the European Union and Cuba are no longer governed by the so-called “Common Position”, and I very much welcome the signing, last December in Brussels, of the first ever bilateral agreement of political dialogue and co-operation between the EU and the Republic of Cuba – el Acuerdo de Diálogo Político y de Cooperación entre la UE y Cuba. I also welcome, like so many heads of state across the world, the progressive warming up of relations between the United States and Cuba. As President Obama said on 22nd March 2016, during his historic visit here: “Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States.” This statement finds deep resonance with us Irish, who have understood, with the passing of years, but also through our common membership of the European Union since 1973, that Ireland did not have to be defined by being against Britain. The recent agreements signed between Cuba and the United States show that mutually beneficial co-operation is possible between former enemies. Those agreements make it easier for your two countries to work together on tracking hurricane, protecting biodiversity, sharing information on pollution and undertaking joint maritime geological exploration. Cuba and the United States now also work together on cancer research, a field in which Cuban scientists excel, and on the prevention and cure of infectious diseases, including the devastating Zika epidemic, which Cuba has been combating with outstanding effectiveness. Finally, and most importantly, Latin America’s regional institutions bear great potential for articulating alternative development models. I am thinking of course, of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC), but also of such regional development agencies as the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, or CEPAL in Spanish), both of which have evolved over the last few years towards a strong critique of the narrow approach to development propounded by the Washington Consensus. This 45
move represents, for ECLAC, a welcome return to the generous spirit of its first executive director, Raúl Prebsich, who was also the founding Secretary General, in the mid-1960s, of a very important, although too often marginalised, organ of the United Nations: The Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD. In her acceptance speech of the Doctorate Honoris Causa she received from this University of Havana last year, the current Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena, described in clear and compelling terms the role of her institution in shaping distinctive development paths for its member countries. Dijo: “La CEPAL es una voz del sur que intenta construir desde nuestra historia, desde nuestra cultura, nuestras insuficiencias y potencialidades, un pensamiento y un camino propio para la construcción de sociedades más justas” Yes, indeed, made stronger by an awareness of both its limitations and its possibilities, wiser from its experience of both dictatorship and democracy, and rich of the caring relation to nature that her indigenous peoples carry, this Latin American space can be the cradle of a new civilisation of sufficiency – a civilisation grounded in the unique history and aspirations of its constituent peoples. Here new life might be breathed into the aesthetic, yet profoundly ethical, vision of José Martí, who reminded us that: “la naturaleza es hermosa, que la vida es un deber, que la muerte no es fea, que nadie debe estar triste ni acobardarse mientras haya libros en las librerías, y luz en el cielo, y amigos, y madres.” Long live the friendship between Ireland and Cuba! Gur fada buan an cairdeas idir mhuintir na hÉireann agus muintir Chúba! Viva la amistad entre el pueblo irlandés y el pueblo cubano!
President delivers keynote address to Society for Irish Latin American Studies 46
James J. O’Kelly had travelled to New York in 1871 in large part to meet with John Devoy and embarked for Cuba the following year as The New York Herald correspondent.
James J. O’Kelly, La Tierra del Mambí, Ciudad de la Habana: Colección de Libros Cubanos, 1930. See: Jennifer Brittan. A foreign correspondent in the Mambi-Land. Studies in Travel Writing. Vol. 15, No.4, December 2011, 377392.
According to Jennifer Brittan, this publication was part of a larger effort to articulate the narrative of a long Cuban Revolution, or the ‘one hundred years of struggle’, which connected the anti-colonial uprising of 1868 to the revolutionary present of the 1960s. See: Jennifer Brittan. A foreign correspondent in the Mambi-Land. Studies in Travel Writing. Vol. 15, No.4, December 2011, 377-392.
In reality, some chapters in O’Kelly’s biography, in particular his support for French Republican imperialism does, as Manus O’Riordan notes, cast a shadow on O’Kelly’s broader engagement with anti-colonial movements.
An anthology of those speeches, translated into English, was published in 2008 by David Deutschmann.
Chibber, Vivek. 2013. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. Verso Books.
Emily Morris. “Cuba’s Road Ahead. Havana Faces a Challenge, Not a Crisis.” Foreign Affairs, January 2017. See also Emily Morris. “Unexpected Cuba.” New Left Review, 88, July-August 2014.
Speech by President Michael D. Higgins At the Opening of an Exhibition on the Irish in Latin America
Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Havana, Cuba Thursday, 16th February, 2017
Doctor Abel Prieto Jiménez, Ministro de Cultura de Cuba, Maestra Onedys Calvo, Directora del Palacio de Segundo Cabo, Embajadoras, Embajadores Miembros de la comunidad irlandesa en Cuba, A mhuintir na hÉireann i gCúba, Amigas y amigos, A cháirde Es un placer inmenso para mí estar aquí, en el Palacio del Segundo Cabo. Tengo entendido que lo están renovando ahora para crear un centro cultural y un museo enfocado al intercambio cultural entre Cuba y Europa. I am delighted to join you all here today, as we celebrate this important exhibition, which has a particular focus on the contribution of Irish men and women in Latin America from the 17th to the 20th century, including their engagement in independence and revolutionary movements across the region. The exhibition is a remarkable achievement, bringing together as it does the diverse strands of our joint story in a way which respects the complexities of that story, and the varied experiences it comprises. May I commence by commending Margaret Brehony, the curator of this exhibition, which I understand will be displayed in its Spanish language version throughout Latin America, and may I also pay tribute to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for commissioning it. The development of some of the modern the political and economic landscape of Latin America is one I have been privileged to witness during my political and academic career and I have had the pleasure of visiting the region twice before as President of Ireland, from Chile at the southern tip, through Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico. I am delighted to have the opportunity at the invitation of the Irish Government to make this visit to Cuba, Peru, and Colombia, whose histories were marked by the contributions of Irish migrants. For so many reasons it has been a privilege as President of Ireland to have had the opportunity of meeting the Presidents, peoples, and the elected representatives of these three countries and of discussing with them the bilateral, regional and global issues that we face together. Surrounding us here in Cuba are indelible reminders of the deep and durable historical links which unite two islands physically separated by some seven thousand kilometres. Immortalised in many of this nation’s streets
President Higgins receives a tour of Escuela Nacional de Danza 49
and buildings are names which recall the many Irish who, across the centuries, have made their homes in Latin America. I think, for instance, of Juan Duany, who travelled to Santiago de Cuba in the 17th century to take part in the city’s fortification works. The name Duany is now eternalised in streets and neighbourhoods of Santiago de Cuba, reminding us of the many citizens of that name who, throughout the 18th century, held office as council members and mayors of its City Hall. I think of The Hotel Palacio O’Farrill, named for a family whose lineage can be traced back to County Longford; I think of Calle O’Reilly, named in recognition of the achievements of Meath born General Alejandro O’Reilly, who organised the military forces on this island and particularly the Black and Mulatto Militias, and of the inspiring words on that street’s wall plaque: “Two island peoples in the same sea of struggle and hope: Cuba and Ireland.” The refrain of this exhibition, ‘Exile’, provides an important reminder of the positive contribution of Irish exiles to world history. There can, indeed, be no doubting the profound role played by Irish men and women in the development of the modern and independent republics that exist today in Latin America. There is also, however, no value in ever seeking to evade the complexity of that connection or different forms of the historic relationship between Ireland and Latin America. For example, while many of the Irish exiles from the 17th century, the ‘Wild Geese’, as they are known, and their descendants had a significant presence in the histories of Spain and Latin America well into the 19th and 20th centuries. They gave military service in the name of empires that were often competing for advantages sought in slavery or the other forms of coerced labour of indigenous peoples. They themselves, or more likely their children, would go on of course to play a part, with military skill and statecraft in the work for independence movements all over Latin America, and indeed, for those who sought a Pan-American Union that would be diverse and free; such as in the vision of Simón Bolívar or José Martí. One of the great merits of this exhibition is to cast a light on lesser-known experiences of Irish migration. It allows for the celebration of the history that is shared between Ireland and Latin America but, critically, it also recalls the full range of experiences that were those of Irish migrants in Latin America. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish men and women, were often seeking to escape a ravaged Ireland under British colonisation, and from participation in which they were excluded on grounds of religion. They often found sanctuary in France, Spain and other countries of continental Europe. Many flourished, and were appointed to prestigious positions as colonial administrators or officers in the imperial armies. Arriving at the time when empires were declining and the impulse for national independence was emerging, some of the second generation exilic Irish and their descendants have been immortalised in the history books of Latin America as key players in the struggle for independence – men such as Admiral William Browne the father of the Argentine Navy, and General Bernardo O’Higgins, Liberator of Chile, and whose father Ambrosio O’Higgins was the last Viceroy of Peru in the period of Spanish empire. They are historic figures of whose achievements we, in Ireland, are justifiably proud, and who represent the profound contribution of the Irish to the crafting of modern Latin America. How moving it always is to know that they are remembered annually at ceremonial services such as graduation services for naval officers in Argentina. We must also recall, especially today, the many stories which highlight the enriching effects of migration and 50
the cross-pollination of ideas engendered by it. José Martí, for example, writer, intellectual, Professor and poet was an admirer of Walt Whitman’s mould-breaking modernism, and is warmly accepted by all as a founding father of Cuban independence, he came into contact with Irish leaders such as Michael Davitt, Diarmuid O’Donovan Rossa and Charles Stewart Parnell during his exile in New York and wrote of the parallels between Irish and Cuban colonial histories and the shared issue of land distribution. Then, of course, Daniel O’Connell and Simón Bolívar shared in the title of “The Liberator” and indeed Daniel O’Connell sent his 16 year old son and his nephew to fight in Bolívar’s Irish legion. These were indeed some significant emancipatory gestures within a deeply held humanitarian nationalism. Nor should we ever forget O’Connell’s unambiguous opposition to slavery, a view not always shared by all of the exiled Irish in the Americas. We are all indebted to Angus Mitchell’s fine scholarship. Some of the descendants of the survivors of the Putumayo atrocity came to see me in Bogotá, having travelled a vast distance. We can think, too, of Roger Casement, whose revolutionary patriotism was rooted in human rights and awakened on his witnessing of the brutality of colonialism in the Congo and in the Putumayo region of Latin America. While the distinguished Peruvian writer and Nobel, Mario Vargas Llosa, brought Casement to the attention of recent global audiences with his book El sueño del celta, translated into English as The Dream of the Celt. I was delighted also to hear that Tim Fanning’s Paisanos is being prepared for a Spanish language edition. Then there are also the lesser known stories, the quiet narratives that are part of Ireland, and Latin America’s, shared history.
President delivers keynote address to Society for Irish Latin American Studies
At the conference which is underway this week we will be reminded of the hundreds of Irish railroad workers who were brought from New York to Cuba in the mid-19th century to work as bonded labourers, building the Havana-Güines [Gwee-nes] railroad. The conditions under which those Irish labourers worked were ones of coerced labour and attempts to escape resulted in incarceration or execution. Seen as an attractive contribution to a project of “whitening” the population of an island with an emerging black majority sourced in the children of slave labour, the truculence of the Irish labourers, and their insistence on the rights of labour, be it from a remembered land agitation background or the exploration of trade union militancy in the coastal stations, brought them to see some common cause with the other coerced labourers, notably from the Canary Islands, alongside whom they were working. Forced to bear the cost of their own passage to Cuba, these Irish men and women who had also various other debts, incurred as part of that undertaking, meant that many of them owed significant sums before they had 51
even commenced work on the railways, and they often did not receive any pay for several months. They were unfree, coerced labourers. Any honest overview then of the Irish influence on Latin America seeking to be complete must acknowledge that some Irish exiles, even some who had suffered the realities of colonialism in Ireland, became themselves the agents of colonialism in Spanish-ruled Latin America. We know that, alongside those Irish who were exploited as railroad workers in Cuba, were families of Irish origin who operated large sugar plantations worked by slaves. The O’Ferril plantation came from an early slave ownership on the island of Montserrat. Indeed, the Spanish General Leopoldo O’Donnell, a descendent of Hugh O’Donnell was a staunch defender of slavery and one of the largest holders of African slaves in the world, and has a deserved infamous reputation. But then again he was opposed by a doctor in British service who was Irish. We can also acknowledge and welcome, however, the dramatic shift in allegiance which saw, in the space of one or two generations, the children and grandchildren of many of the original ‘Wild Geese’ go on to play influential roles in the revolutionary campaigns against Spanish rule, leading to the establishment of independent Republics in Latin America from the early 1800s onwards. The life of Bernardo O’ Higgins, for example, is one of sustained courage that moved on beyond the legacy of his father Ambrosio who, in his own fashion, had tried to introduce reforms, as the last Viceroy of Peru, with the Congress of the Spanish empire. As we recall the profound and powerful roots that connect Ireland and Latin America, we are also invited, here in Cuba, to reflect further on the particular similarities that unite our two nations. Cuba and Ireland have both experienced the complexities that are encountered in any struggle for liberation and independence. Both of our peoples have lived in the shadow of a powerful neighbour, a shadow which has, for much of the time, darkened and starved of opportunity the lives of generations. We understand the true length cast by such a shadow, the profound legacy it leaves on a nation, even as it moves out of the darkness of oppression and begins to look to the future with optimism and hope, as Cuba now does. There is a class dimension to this in both Irish and Cuban history. In the Cuba of the turn of the 19th century, commercial expansion and the development of sugar production had become the centre of the island’s economy. The Creole elite who ran those benefits delayed the development of what would later be a nationalist Creole rebellion against Spanish rule. Many separatist conservatives, viewing Spanish power as essential to the maintenance of slavery and fearing slave rebellion, stayed loyal to Spain during the Spanish American Wars of Independence. However, by the latter half of the 19th century affluent Cubans had become resentful of Spanish officialdom and became increasingly dependent on the United States as a market for their products. Some conservative Creole planters, far from seeking full independence, sought annexation to the United States as a means of gaining political and economic freedom while preserving slavery. Of course, it is simply a fact of history that conflicting motivations also defined Ireland’s struggle for independence, with republicanism in any egalitarian sense, or indeed genuine sense, not always being a prominent ideology. Many who fought in the Easter Rising were seeking national freedom rather than equality achieved within a Republic. Some were motivated more by a desire to counter the unionist threat to Home Rule and to secure recent and invaluable gains in relation to land tenure. Again too, contrary to the popular idea of rural Ireland in the early 20th century being mainly inhabited by peasant farmers, certain areas had, particularly in the post famine years, also been populated by a rural cohort 52
of native predators known as graziers. Those were very often sons of tenant farmers who had gradually accumulated land acquired by bidding to the landlords for farm after farm.
President Higgins with Liam Ó Maonlaí at Teatro Marti, Havana, Cuba
The Ranch War of 1906 –1910 had effectively isolated from the rest of the community these graziers who refused to participate in the system of mutual aid and assistance which lay at the heart of peasant farming. Seen as been eager to ape the manners and habits of the English landlords, they would come to be seen as an aloof but upwardly mobile group, constituting little less than a new native predatory class who wished to adopt a limited form of national independence, rather than becoming equal citisens in a Republic. Theirs would come to be a deep influence on the new Irish state.
Thus there can be no doubt that the Ireland which gave rise to the Easter Rising was a project within which a dynamic mixture of ideologists dreamt, in their different ways, of a new Ireland. In a similar way, the organized pro-independence movement in Cuba ignited by the Ten Year War was a multi-racial and multiclass movement with a strong grass-roots character. Its leaders were no longer members of the Creole elite, but citizens whose social origins were modest. Then, too, just as the Irish revolutionary generation were inspired, in so many ways, by a yearning for a cultural revival, including those such as Pádraig Pearse, a major inspiration behind Cuba’s bid for independence was the middle class poet and journalist José Martí, often referred to as the “Apostle of the Cuban Revolution.” Sometime in 1894, Martí determined that conditions on the island were ripe for a renewed bid for independence. The economic situation was critical as a consequence of the cancellation of a trade agreement with the United States. It had also become clear that Spain’s much heralded plans for ruling Cuba as just another Spanish province were, as José Martí put it mere “traps for the gullible.” Fighting broke out again on 24th February 1895 with several uprisings in the east of the island. Much of Martí’s adult life was spent in exile, and it was during his years in New York that he encountered Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell. He was struck by the parallels between Irish and Cuban history, rooted in a shared experience of colonialism. Ireland and the Irish became a regular subject of his journalistic works, including the struggle for Irish independence and the contribution to that independence of those such as Daniel O’Connell, Michael Davitt, Charles Stewart Parnell and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Indeed, José Martí’s contribution to our understanding of a foundational and complex decade in our history has been significant. In reflecting on the nature of freedom, I think that it is fair to say that both Ireland and Cuba have experienced the great desire for a true freedom that can only be achieved when a nation is allowed to develop upon its own national lines, enabled to become, once again, true to its identity and to the distinctive aspirations of its people.
In Ireland, as in Cuba, the reclaiming of our distinctive cultural identity – including, for the Irish people, the preservation of our national language – was central to our new found independence. Much of the idealism at the heart of 1916 was inspired by a vibrant cultural revival which sought to craft a new Ireland continuous with a distinct Irish culture and heritage, but also, for some, such as James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army, an Ireland in which true freedom would be understood as achieving equality. Such a generous vision lies at the heart of the coming together, here in Cuba, of the African, European and Indian cultures which have created such a vibrant national identity. Indeed, it is no surprise that the concept of transculturation was created by a son of Cuba, the distinguished anthropologist Fernando Ortiz. Fernando Ortiz’s concept of transculturation is a Cuban contribution which today allows for the diverse elements which have interacted to produce this nation’s distinctive music, dance and oral culture celebrate a great understanding of the importance of culture being enabled to evolve in accordance with time, place and history, no one strand being asked to cede its identity to another. This understanding has been critical in asserting Cuba as a space with its own culture and history, independent of their status as a Spanish colony, and allowing them their own place in the world. Dear friends, Today, the history of the Irish in Latin America is the subject of an emerging area of scholarship, not just in Ireland but across Europe and the Americas. This exhibition, which includes twenty-six panels covering the exploits of notable Irish and Irish-linked figures such as William Lamport, Eliza Lynch, and Roger Casement, and has resonance across the entire Latin American continent, will greatly support that scholarship. También nos recordará, espero, las sólidas fundaciones sobre los cuales podemos seguir construyendo las relaciones entre Irlanda y América Latina. De hecho, no sólo estamos mirando hacia un futuro enraizado en una historia común, sino también fundado en una conciencia renovada de nuestra solidaridad. Indeed, this exhibition will contribute to reminding us of the strong foundations on which we can continue to build and strengthen Ireland’s relationships with Latin America, as we look to a future rooted not only in a shared history, but in a world that respects its interdependency. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir. Muchísimas gracias.
President Higgins attends a meeting with Cardinal Jaime Ortega 54