Martín Almada

(2002, Paraguay)

...for his outstanding courage in bringing torturers to justice, and promoting democracy, human rights and sustainable development.

About

Martín Almada was born in 1937 to a poor family in the Chaco Region of Paraguay. Although obliged to work from an early age, he completed a law degree in 1968 and a doctoral degree in educational science in 1972.

His doctoral thesis, Paraguay, Education and Dependency, branded him an 'intellectual terrorist' by the authorities. He spent three years in a concentration camp, where he was regularly tortured. He was released in 1977, following a sustained campaign by Amnesty International and went into exile. He joined UNESCO in Paris, working in the environmental education division where he had responsibility for rural development projects in Africa and Latin America.

During his exile he campaigned relentlessly on human rights issues. In 1992 he left his job in UNESCO and returned definitively to Paraguay. His major concern at this time was to secure the release into the public domain of the papers of the dictatorship concerning repression and torture, which the police were denying existed. The breakthrough came when the archive was actually discovered by Almada and a judge ordered that it should be made public.

Contact Details

Martín Almada
Avda Carlos Antonio Lopez 2273
Asuncion
PARAGUAY

Website

Biography

Martín Almada was born in 1937 to a poor family in the Chaco Region of Paraguay. Although obliged to work from an early age, he completed a law degree in 1968 and a doctoral degree in educational science in 1972.

Together with his first wife, Professor Celestina Perez de Almada, he founded the Instituto 'Juan Baptista Alberdi' in his home town of San Lorenzo. This became an important institution of conscientisation and cooperative development, which was violently suppressed under the dictatorship of General Stroessner in 1974. This was also the year in which Almada finished his doctoral thesis, Paraguay, Education and Dependency, for which he was branded an 'intellectual terrorist' by the authorities.

He spent three years in a concentration camp, where he was regularly tortured. During this time his wife died (Almada says 'psychologically murdered' by the police). He was released in 1977, following a sustained campaign by Amnesty International and went into exile, with his mother and three children.

He wrote his book, Paraguay: la Carcel Olvidada, el Pais Exiliado, about his experiences in prison, which was published in 1978, having an enormous impact in international human rights circles. In 1986 he published a book of poems, largely written in prison. He joined UNESCO in Paris, working in the environmental education division where he had responsibility for rural development projects in Africa and Latin America.

During his exile he campaigned relentlessly on human rights issues. After the fall of the Argentinean Junta following the Falklands War, he made several visits to Argentina to speak about human rights and his educational theories. When in 1989 Stroessner was overthrown, he immediately returned to Paraguay and began to play a leading role in the new human rights movement there, and in the transition to democracy.

An early focus of his activities was to seek to bring the torturers to justice and get compensation for the victims, and he filed an action in the courts against Stroessner and his accomplices for the murder of his wife, his wrongful imprisonment and the confiscation of his goods. In 1991 he also published his book Paraguay: Proyecto National, as a contribution towards the foundation of a new constitution.

In 1992 he left his job in UNESCO and returned definitively to Paraguay. His major concern at this time was to secure the release into the public domain of the papers of the dictatorship concerning repression and torture, which the police were denying existed. The breakthrough came when the archive was actually discovered by Almada and a judge ordered that it should be made public.

This 'Archives of Terror' has proved the most important collection of documents of state terror ever recovered. It is important not just for Paraguay but for the whole of Latin America and, indeed, for the world. In the Archive Almada found his file, detailing his imprisonment and torture, which the Paraguayan Government had always denied. Within a week he had convened a national commission to protect the Archive.

Within a month the government had ratified a convention that had been passed by the Congreso National two years before. Further archives were found (some buried) in police stations.

However, the government continued to drag its feet over the bringing of human rights violators to justice. In 1994 Almada set up the Paraguayan branch of the American Association of Jurists and began to organise a series of Tribunals against the leading criminals, starting with General Ramon Duarte Vera, who had been Stroessner's Chief of Police and who was considered the regime's chief torturer.

Duarte was then living comfortably as Paraguay's ambassador to Bolivia. After hearing many witnesses of torture and assassination, the Tribunal convicted him - and though this judgment had no legal force, the evidence was so overwhelming that he was subsequently recalled by the government, put on trial and sentenced to 16 years in prison. In 1996 Almada was the prime mover in the establishment of a Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in collaboration with the International Centre in Denmark (which received a Right Livelihood Award in 1988).

This activity in the human rights area was by no means the only application of Almada's formidable energy. Immediately on his return to Paraguay he had set up, with his second wife, Maria Stella Caceres, the Fundación Celestina Perez de Almada, in memory of his first wife. The aim of this foundation was "to struggle against poverty and for the protection of the environment", and its principal programme, UNIBANCOOP, has four areas of work: Economy and Solidarity, Environmentally Appropriate Science and Technology, Alternative Education and Human Rights. The human rights division has occupied most of the foundation's time, but the other dimensions have always been present and are now coming more to the fore.

Almada put at the disposal of his foundation much of his savings from his years working for UNESCO, and used some of his contacts to set up a joint project with a French and African NGO. The education work is carried out through two projects: one on literacy through a national network which was set up by the foundation and a project of Education with Production in Rural Areas.

The technology and environment project work is carried out through a project for the use of solar energy for alternative development and has so far focused on the use of parabolic mirrors for solar cooking.

External sources of funds for the foundation's annual budget of about USD 70,000 have so far included UNESCO and foundations in Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany.

Almada has received a number of national awards, including 'Man of the Year, 1992' from the National Television, and the Human Rights Prize in 1997 from the French Government, in recognition of his discovery of the Archives of Terror.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Martín Almada

December 9th, 2002

Mr Speaker, Dear Friends, 

As a defender of Human Rights and a survivor of the State Terrorism practiced by the countries that took part in Operation Condor during the seventies, I am thrilled and grateful to come to the generous country of Sweden to receive this award.

I accept it as a show of support from the international community, to the survivors of the crimes committed in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay by Operation Condor, a genocide plan that was carried out in accordance with the ideology of a doctrine that claimed to preserve "National Security".

I am aware that by granting me this award, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation continues to stimulate the Defence and Protection of Human Rights around the world, so that their work will continue to be the cornerstone for all actions carried out by members of the United Nations.

I've lived with this ambition through most of my life in my country, Paraguay - located in the heart of South America. I was born there and I grew up on the streets. The hard life on the streets convinced me that education was definitely the way towards a better world.

First during my studies to become a teacher, with my martyr wife, Celestina Almada, at the Juan Bautista Auberdi Institute, with a mission based on the motto "The school as an ante-chamber to democracy". Later on a union fight for better professional and life conditions. Out of this idea was born the "Teachers' Village", a residential project achieved with the co-operation of teachers.

Then at the University of La Plata in Argentina. With my doctoral thesis "Paraguay: education and dependence", I brought a denunciation and a proposal. An educational and political proposal organised from my increasing consciousness of the integral nature of the Human Rights. The result was persecution and imprisonment, in other words: my "Combative Survival".

After that came the exile, and my fight got a bigger dimension with many colleagues from Europe joining the cause against the tyranny of Operation Condor.

In 1989, with the fall of the Stroessner regime, I reaffirmed my option for justice and not revenge. I started the juridical enquiry and all the projects to consolidate democracy from convergent perspectives: development of rural communities, fight against poverty and protection of the environment. I also took part in experiences of "Alternative Rights" like the Ethical Tribunal against impunity, the law of compensation for the victims and a proposition for a National Commission of Truth and Justice.

Moreover, I denounced grave violations of Human Rights to global juridical institutions, where the oppressors can be properly judged. I also thought about education: the enlightening dialogues with young people in any little village's school or university forum.

This award gives me and all those who share my fight, a motivating impulse to take care of an urgent task that cannot be postponed: the protection of the "Forbidden Memory". I am referring to the Secret Archives of the Political Police during the military dictatorship in Paraguay, which lasted 35 years. These archives contain documents related to Operation Condor. With this purpose, we have applied for and took steps to have these documents declared "cultural patrimony" so that they can become part of the World Memory promoted by UNESCO.

I have been given the honour of discovering these "Forbidden Memories", also known as the Archives of Terror in Asuncion on the 22nd of December, 1992. Tons of documents that give access to detailed history, registered day by day, are now accessible to juridical authorities.

All the inhumane prose of the ideologists, the oppressors, all this information is there to be studied. A space for analysis and meditation - a laboratory that shows the origin and strategy of daily violence throughout the continent. 

Ladies and gentlemen, after 30 years, this international recognition represents to me the responsibility to claim the deep sense of Ethics and to face the powers that intend to impose on humanity the logics of war, of environmental destruction and the empire of grand transactional capital.

We believe that the answer will not come from the big powers of the world, but from the active population. The actions of an organised civilian society who will force the governments and the financial international organizations to put an end to what causes the perpetration of poverty in each one of our third world countries.

This reality leads us to state, with deep conviction, the urge of promoting a global awareness of Human Rights. It is clear for us that no people, nation, international organisation or political leader has the right to assume the role of "Saviour of humanity and benefactor" because this takes us back to times in history in which the preponderance of a "unique thought" led to death, war and destruction of greater values.

Defending Human Rights implies giving power to social groups that are excluded from society, both on national and international levels. Generate multiple forms of dialogue and negotiation to re-create a field democracy that is not only representative but also promotes participation of the people. This participation should be done from everyday life in the local neighbourhood to the parliament, from the local councils to the TV news and digital networks.

Hope is made of FAITH and WORK. For this reason, in the SOUTH, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, different movements and NGOs from different countries converged a few years ago at the World Social Forum. They defend a deep conviction: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.

The course of international politics and the impact of recent events with countries that are broken by their external debts, and the growth of the weapon industries has led me to call for a large mobilisation in favour of Human Rights. For this purpose, I bring with me a piece of an article taken from the constitution of UNESCO. It says the following:

Having said that wars are born in the minds of men, it is in the same way from their minds that the structures for peace shall come.

I speak from this privileged position in this privileged occasion, to point out and warn as a survivor and protector of Human Rights against State terrorism.

The fragility of our democracies causes in many Paraguayans a nostalgia of the so called "times of order, peace, progress and security..."; these were the same times in which Operation Condor eliminated millions of people in front of the passive and accomplice silence of the neighbours.

There is in my country a search for "saviour messiahs" that impose their own recipe for "an organised, efficient and successful world."

Every social conflict that emerges is a call for attention. This is why I reiterate the need to fortify the State of Common Good and the Civil Society to control the excesses of both the political powers and the market through local participation, so that our dream of going from a PATERNALISTIC STATE to a PROTAGONIST SOCIETY and from a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY to a PARTICIPATIVE DEMOCRACY may come true.

In this society the young people from the cities and from the countryside, professionals or not, often unemployed, have all means to join and reinforce our efforts to raise the brave torch of Human Rights that illuminates the way in which the future of us all is decided.

Thank you very much.

  Pictures
 Videos

Portrait of Martín Almada

Dr. Martín Almada describing Condor Operation in the region

Produced by EcoCultura TV Comunitaria - Paraguay (September 2014)

Interviews

FAQ about Martín Almada

asked in 2005

1. Based on what allegations did the government detain and torture you? 

I was accused of being an intellectual terrorist: a) for having promoted democracy in the class rooms of the primary school where I was headmaster, b) for having supported the teachers' cooperative and c) for having defended a doctoral thesis at the National University of la Plata in Argentina in 1974. I made a criticism in the thesis of the educational system that the military government had imposed. 

2. What relation is there between your human rights work and your environmental work, especially for the promotion of solar energy? 

I'm the president of the Celestina Pérez de Almada Foundation (1990-2005). Our work is concentrated in two fields: a) protection of human rights and b) protection of the environment. We work with the idea that protecting the ecosystem is a way of defending the human rights.  

3. How did international support help you? 

In 1989 I presented the criminal charges against the dictator and his accomplices. In 1992 I discovered the archives of the secret police. These two acts triggered a response from the dictator's followers, but fortunately the international press had already found out about my work.

4. How did you discover the archives of the secret police which contain the archives of the Operation Condor?

It was the result of a seventeen years long investigation (1974-1992) in Asunción. A great deal of information was taken from the Police Review of Paraguay. In 1992 I made use of the judicial resources of Habeas Data in order to find out what the accusations of intellectual terrorist were based on.

5. What effect has the Right Livelihood Award had on your work?

The Right Livelihood Award has been VERY important in my life. The award represented a strong moral support. For example, the death threats that we were receiving by phone stopped. Furthermore, since the award I receive much more support and recognition from the diplomatic corps.

Publications

M. Almada. Snowden y yo, vidas paralelas - published in several outlets - December 2014. Original text available in Spanish here.

Snowden and me

On September 24, 2014 Edward Snowden was awarded, in the locale of the Swedish parliament, the ALTERNATIVE NOBEL AWARD. The award was given in recognition of his work in defense of "an open and liberal society, and also for having not repented of uncovering the massive web of Internet and telephone communications espionage conducted in the United States of America "(Ultima Hora. Asunción, November 25, 2014).

Edward Snowden became known worldwide for having leaked, in June 2013 via the Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers, numerous classified documents on global cyber-surveillance programs of the Secret Services of the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

Due to fears for his own personal safety and fear of persecution by the US justice system -- which did later accuse him of committing a serious crime against the state -- Snowden traveled first to Hong Kong and then to Moscow. In the Russian capital he received refuge and it is there he still remains.

With this narrative line as background, I want to convey to Edward Snowden my appreciation for his courageous attitude, and add my voice to those who struggle for a free and open society, one in which the fear of being spied upon, manipulated, or intervened upon shall have no place.

The reasons which have motivated giving to Snowden the ALTERNATIVE NOBEL PRIZE also demonstrate the growing dangers which threaten the freedoms of our societies.

We are becoming ever more vulnerable to unscrupulous uses of advanced technologies placed at the service of an imperial power, ignoring all laws, establishing through espionage a control over governments, citizens, businesses .... control over everything.

These secret practices of control, of intervention in the personal and civic lives of citizens, of social intelligence, are not themselves new; they have been underway for a long time. New, however, are the current and future technologies whose increasingly advanced techniques allow us to perform them with levels of effectiveness difficult to imagine not long ago. We have records showing that for many years there have been actions developed to control and espionage.

The United States, for example, in 1965 (almost fifty years ago!) implemented a plan of espionage in Chile, "CAMELOT" by name. Through an apparent scientific survey, the plan was to conduct a socio-political study to detect possible social reactions to an intervention of the armed forces during a moment of crisis or chaos. The first attempt showed a total rejection of the plan by academics called to collaborate. They saw the plan as a violation of professional ethics incompatible with the world of science. In response, the Chilean government, then headed by Eduardo Frei Montalva, was forced to prohibit USAID (US Agency for Development) from continuing the experiment.

But the US did not renounce the plan, it simply moved on to Paraguay, where his faithful ally, General Stroessner, the "champion of anti-communism in Latin America," welcomed him warmly. In my doctoral thesis at the University of La Plata (Argentina) I criticized this socio-political espionage as a method to assess the causes of social unrest, whose results would then be used by Stroessner to take measures to smother possible riots and to prevent his own overthrow. The plan was thus developed in Paraguay and was the starting point for the creation of the Armed Forces Intelligence Services.

However, it did not prevent the dictator from being ousted by his own in-law, General Andrés Rodríguez, with the support of the Embassy American, in February 1989.

The manner in which I discovered the CAMELOT plan was surprising.  During 1972 and 1974 the Argentine government gave me a grant to conduct my PhD in Educational Sciences at the prestigious University of La Plata.  Before traveling to Argentina I requested official documents regarding education in Paraguay. I was authorized to take the appropriate documentation itself by Dr. Federico Mandelburger, the Secretary of Technical Planning to the President of the Republics.

Reviewing the material, I was struck by the title of one document: "PARAGUAY: EDUCATION, FAMILY, AND SOCIETY ". In the first meeting with my advisor, Professor Ricardo Nassif, Faculty of Humanities, we jointly analyzed the document and found that "PARAGUAY: EDUCATION, FAMILY AND SOCIETY” had been prepared by the Institute for Integrated and Harmonious Development (IDIA), where known national activists experts of the Christian Democrats of Paraguay worked. Supposedly the document was developed, as it stated, "to serve the country in this time of reflection, providing some objective support to study the prospect of national development."

It was clear that the document was intended to identify potential subversives through "confidential surveys". The views of thousands of Paraguayans from all sectors of society, their religious beliefs, their political choices, their "commitment to democracy" and other personal information were reflected in it. It had been conceived by the Office for Social Research at American University in Washington at the request of the CIA and the Pentagon.

I could never imagine that the government of Stroessner would authorize me to take a document of such importance to be studied at the University of La Plata. A document that, although not stamped with the proverbial phrase "Secret" or "official document" much less the acronym CIA or the word Pentagon, was inspired no doubt by the US and developed by the progressive wing of the Paraguayan Christian Democrats. Subsequently, the military dictatorships of the Southern Cone, very angry about the dissemination of the document, accused me of acquiring it thanks to "my comrades" in either Moscow, Havana or Beijing! This fabrication was added to the "political sin" that my thesis work represented, a work that was inspired by the methodology of liberation educator Paulo Freire and his pedagogy of liberation. All this increasingly placed me in the crosshairs of the military dictatorship.

To these events were added my union organizing in the field of teaching, demanding a living wage and decent housing for all educators. I was eventually arrested and tortured. Forty years ago my crime was described as "intellectual terrorism" and it cost me 1000 days of imprisonment, the torture and death of my wife, Celestina Pérez, like myself an educator, and the confiscation of our goods. Thanks to the energetic intervention of Amnesty International, the Committee of Churches (Catholic and Protestant) and many noble human rights organizations, I recovered my freedom in February 1978, after mounting a 30 day hunger strike, followed by 15 years in exile in Paris.

In December 2002 I was awarded, at a ceremony in the Swedish parliament, the ALTERNATIVE NOBEL AWARD, having been nominated by Amnesty International. The prize was awarded to me "for... courage in defense of Human Rights in Paraguay and Latin America". In this description I would include the discovery of that US socio-political espionage for early detection of any serious social conflicts which could damage its policy.

Ironically, twelve years later on September 24, 2014, Edward Snowden, a US citizen, was also awarded, the ALTERNATIVE NOBEL AWARD "... for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.". Although he could not collect the award personally, his figure has become an international benchmark for advocates of a world free of secrets.

In conclusion, the purported "GLOBAL SECRET MONITORING" by the US government, supposedly a defender of Western Christian civilization, is at odds with the basic principle of Scripture that says: "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."(Matthew 10:26).

Asuncion, December 6, 2014 - Translation by Theresa Cameranesi.

Contact

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