Celebration of Roger Casement symbolises Ireland’s relationship with Peru, says Higgins

President is making first State visit to the fast-growing Latin American country

 

President Michael D Higgins said he hoped a shared celebration of Roger Casement’s contribution to human rights would become a basis for renewed relations between Ireland and Peru.

Speaking on Thursday at Lima’s historic Torre Tagle Palace, the President said he was honoured to be the first Irish leader to visit Peru.

The visit aims to develop relations with one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, also celebrated the historic role played by the many Irish in the independence struggles and nationalist movements in Peru and other Latin American countries.

The focus of Mr Higgins’s hour-long speech was the legacy of Irish independence hero Casement, who denounced human rights abuses in the Peruvian Amazon and the Belgian Congo as a British foreign consul setting a benchmark for modern human rights and the treatment of indigenous people.

Earlier Mr Higgins opened an exhibition in the palace dedicated to Casement’s life.

Mr Higgins also pointed out that this was not his first to Latin America, or even Peru. He passed through the country returning from Chile in 1988, where as part of a group of Irish parliamentarians, he observed the historic referendum which ended the military regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“So much has changed in Peru and so much has changed in this continent, he told the audience sitting in the courtyard of the colonial-era mansion.

“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,” he added.

Earlier on Thursday, on the first day of his 10-day official visit to Peru, Colombia and Cuba, Mr Higgins visited a plaque commemorating Ambrose O’Higgins in the Jesuit church of San Pedro, where his body was interred.

O’Higgins was an Irishman who famously became the last Viceroy of Peru in the 18th century.

His son Bernardo O’Higgins, played a prominent role in the campaign for the liberation of Peru from Spanish rule and subsequently became one of Chile’s independence leaders. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the country.

Mr Higgins also mentioned other Irishmen who played a notable role in the fight for Peruvian independence including John Thomond O’Brien from Co Wicklow, Francis Burdett O’Connor from Co Cork, Arthur Sandes from Co Kerry, William Owens Ferguson from Co Antrim and Thomas Charles Wright from Co Louth.

Returning to Casement, the President mentioned his life had already been celebrated in a fictional biography written by the man many consider to be Latin America’s greatest living author, Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

Fascinated by Casement’s life, Vargas Llosa painstaking researched and wrote El Sueño del Celta or The Dream of the Celt which was published in 2012.

“My hope is that this evocation of the life and work of Roger Casement may also become a grounding inspiration for renewed relations between Ireland and Peru, a driver for the expanding spheres of our cooperation and mutual interest,” Mr Higgins said.

In a speech that went on to rail against the plunder of natural resources, the destruction of the environment and oppression of indigenous peoples, Higgins quoted another Peruvian luminary, the poet Cesar Vallejo:

“Hay, hermanos, muchísimo que hacer.”

“Yes, there is, brothers, 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 be able to rely on a rich framework of human rights which Roger Casement contributed to pioneering.”

Reacting to the official visit Adrian O’Mahony (38), an Irishman living in Peru, said he felt there was now a “better connection” between the two countries.

“We have hopes of a better future here. Only good can come out of this visit,” added O’Mahony, from Co Limerick, who has lived in Lima for five years with his Peruvian wife and two children.

Peru’s foreign minister Ricardo Luna announced Peru would be opening an embassy in Dublin. The President is being accompanied on the visit by Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar.

On Friday the President will meet Peru’s leader Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (78) at Lima’s presidential palace.

The Irish leader will later be bestowed the Order of the Sun, or el Orden del Sol, Peru’s highest honour and the oldest civilian award in the Americas dating back to 1821.