Judge Griesa: It is just not to pay an illegitimate and immoral debt

An open letter from Nobel Peace Laureate, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, to Thomas Griesa, the US judge presiding over the ‘debt trial of the century’ between Argentina and two vulture funds in New York.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr. / Agência Brasil
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights work under the Argentine military junta in the 1980, has written an open letter to Judge Thomas Griesa of the Southern District Court of New York about Argentina’s debt. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr. / Agência Brasil

Mr. Thomas Griesa
Judge of the United States District Court
Southern District of New York, USA

Receive my fraternal greetings of Peace and Goodwill.

Rather than address you as the judge involved in a case that has for some time been holding the people of Argentina in suspense, I want to address you as a person. I would like to contribute more openly to the reflection on the situation that has arisen in our country, as a result of the pretensions of a small group of financiers who hold a few bonds of the foreign debt claimed of Argentina. They seek to collect 100% of their face value, in a way that will have a serious impact on the lives of our people, having purchased them for pennies and without ever having invested in our well-being.

I hope, Mr. Griesa, that you understand the situation of the Argentine people and the social, economic, and political implications of the payment of this immoral and unjust debt for the people and communities most in need.

You should be aware that the bonds whose payment is now being discussed are stained with the blood of the victims of the military dictatorship. They are part of a debt that was generated behind the backs of the people and that was never used for their wellbeing. They are part of the debt that was then imposed in the ’90s, renouncing sovereignty and unconstitutionally ceding jurisdiction to foreign courts like yours, supposedly to pay off the previous debts.

That is why we affirm that it is an illegitimate, immoral, and unjust debt. Behind the numbers are faces that question and challenge us; faces of children, of youth, of men and women who are victims of the social and structural injustice, impoverishment, misery and social exclusion that affect millions of people in our country as well as in Latin America and the world.

I’m sure you are aware of this, as well, too, of the weight of financial speculation in giving rise to these situations. More than an external debt, it has become an eternal debt:  mathematically unpayable notwithstanding all the effort to do so with its high cost in human lives and the sacrificing of the country’s development. It can never be just that financial capital is privileged over the life of entire peoples.

This is also why we, together with many others, have long struggled against the payment of these illegitimate debts, demanding an official audit of the claims, the application of existing Argentine law, the nullification of the jurisdictional waiver, and that new bonds, contracts and treaties not be signed that continue these same unacceptable practices.

Mr. Griesa, it is not my intent to call into question your action as a judge, but I do worry about blind justice. You well know that not every law is just, and that what is legal is often confused with being right, or that the situation of a people is not taken into account and it is treated as something abstract and distant. You are surely familiar with the work of Henry Thoreau, when he writes that the law must be obeyed, but that it is equally necessary to resist any unjust law until it is overturned. I think this is a particularly relevant reflection in regard to these powerful financiers who, in order to carry out their policies of veritable plunder and prey, look for support where they should not be able to find it.

Certainly, this leaves aside the omissions and mistakes made by successive governments of Argentina, including Parliament and our judiciary, in taking on their responsibilities with respect to the management of these bonds and indeed, the entire debt. Even though from the time of the dictatorship over thirty years ago until now, most have recognized the illegitimacy and illegality of the debt accumulated, none of them have undertaken the necessary steps, including for example an audit, to separate what is legitimate from the illegitimate, what is legal from that which is illegal, so as to prevent the Argentine people from continually being forced to pay the tremendous cost of a debt they do not owe.

I do not know if you are aware that in Argentina, there was a judicial ruling in the year 2000, establishing the fraudulence and arbitrariness of much of the debt that gave rise to the bonds now held by these hedge funds that are seeking to collect what in justice, does not belong to them. There are also complaints whose judicial investigation is still open, regarding those very bonds. According to the laws of our republic and international law, these debts should be considered null and void. The Guiding Principles on Debt and Human Rights remind us that it is the responsibility of all lenders and borrowers, to investigate and not pay unfair debts.

This debt is a heavy and unwanted legacy, carrying with it a heavy load of pain and sacrifice. Indeed, this debt has become a mechanism that carries with it the domination and subjugation of an entire people.

Our country wants to and should fulfill its responsibilities and obligations. It is necessary to enforce the law, but in order to do so it is necessary first to distinguish between what is legal and what is legitimate, between the law and justice. It is also necessary to recognize that under the law, paying the “internal debt” to the people must take priority: the fight against hunger, impoverishment, and the social marginalization of large sectors; the challenges of education and health; ensuring that children do not die of hunger and preventable diseases and that our youth are able to lead a decent life without being robbed of their hope.

I’m sure, Mr. Griesa, that you understand what an important opportunity is in your hands to ensure that justice is served, and not merely the application of laws that some have more power than others to impose. These laws need to be changed, in the U.S., in Argentina, and elsewere, to avoid situations of this nature. Meanwhile, we still hope that justice might prevail and that the rights of those who have not yet been heard in court are given the priority they deserve.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you these reflections. If you would find it helpful to elaborate further on any of the above elements, I am at your disposal.


Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and
President, Dialogue 2000-Jubilee South Argentina and the Service for Peace and Justice SERPAJ

-Buenos Aires, June 26 2014

This article is reproduced with permission from the Diálogo 2000 website.

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