Commemoration of 200th Anniversary of Peruvian Independence Message from President Michael D. Higgins
Monday, 5 July 2021
It is with real warmth and the greatest feeling for the history and people of the Andes and all of Peru that I welcome the opportunity to speak at this important event marking, as it does, 200 years since Peru won its independence from Spain. I thank Peru’s Ambassador to Ireland, and former Foreign Minister, Ana María Sánchez, for the kind invitation to participate with you.
I remember vividly my first visit to Peru in 1988 when I was one of a small group of Irish parliamentarians who were travelling in South America having observed the historic Chilean referendum of 1988, at the invitation of APINDE, a referendum that put an end to the perpetration of the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.
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.
More than 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, men and children have been lifted out of poverty. Literacy rates for both men and women have increased. Much may remain to be achieved, yet 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 exchanges, be they political, cultural, academic, scientific and commercial, between our two countries, Ireland and Peru.
My more recent visit to Peru in 2017 has been one of the highlights of my time as President. Peru has influenced the lives of so many through its history, its food, its literature and its culture. The opportunity to return to Lima was so welcome, and to do so as President of Ireland – the first ever such visit by an Irish Head of State – also reinforced for me how much our countries have come to share perspectives on so many important matters that our two countries face. It was a great honour to be presented with the Gran Collar del Orden del Sol.
This connection between Ireland and the people of Peru should be no surprise: Irish people, or people of Irish background, such as Bernardo O’Higgins and John O’Brien, were central to the success of the 1820 Expedición Libertadora and the events that culminated in Lima’s Plaza Mayor in July of the following year. However, it also reflects how Peru, like Ireland, has sought to distil critical ingredients from its own experiences of colonisation and great hardship to develop and share a vision of our world today, one that is rooted in empathy and defined by a spirit of partnership and cooperation.
In the uncertain world of 2021, we need these values, and the inherent commitment to multilateralism that they invoke, more than ever before to help us tackle our greatest challenges, be they climate change, rising inequality, falling social cohesion or global hunger.
Irish and Peruvian people are also united by bonds of imagination, people of long memory and a deep respect for myth and indigenous wisdom; a mutual sympathy is what we share for our 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 same century Irish patriots were challenging the colonial relationship between Ireland and Britain, thus allowing for multiple solidarities and symbioses to be forged between Irish and South American nationalists.
I often think of this when I see the garish manifestation in Europe of resources looted, treasures taken, displayed most insensitively in churches and museums. The people of South America are asked to forgive so much.
One of our greatest Irish heroes, Roger Casement, a leader in the 1916 Rising, was of course hugely influenced in his beliefs and outlooks by his experiences in Peru and what he witnessed in terms of the exploitation of indigenous peoples by Western commercial interests.
In the inhumane treatment of so many indigenous workers in Putumayo, Casement saw and heard echoes of the suffering inflicted on so many Irish women and men in his own native land. Thus, he drew from our common experiences and shared humanity in his findings, just as the impact of his work would inspire so many Peruvians and Irish people to articulate, and argue for, our shared perspectives on the centrality of human rights in understanding and anchoring the quality of our lived experiences today.
It was so moving for me to receive a delegation from Putumayo during my 2017 visit. They had been travelling, by different methods, to Lima. We discussed Roger Casement and how the ‘basket of sorrow’, of memory, was being handled by them.
The Peru of 2021 retains the astonishing natural beauty that has fascinated thousands of Irish visitors through the years. Even in this period of curtailed international travel, we can appreciate from a distance your regional significance in South America, the global role you play at the United Nations and across international institutions to impart the wisdom of your experiences, and the warmth, humanity and cultural creativity of your peoples, all of which has enriched all of our lives.
On my own behalf, and on behalf of the people of Ireland, I extend a warm welcome to this bicentenary commemoration and share our best wishes to the valued Peruvian community in Ireland, as we come together to mark this historic milestone. You will be celebrating the people of the Andes and those who came to make their lives with them – indigeneity is a powerful source of wisdom that can so enrich the better instincts of modernity.
May we continue to work together, strengthening the warm friendship that exists between our two nations, cooperating on a new ethics for our times, informed by active and participative society, ecology and sustainable economy, and building novel, and much needed, solidarities of a global, regional and bilateral kind for the shared future of our peoples and our vulnerable planet.
El condor pasa.