In 1974, a group of Latin America activists braved an increasingly repressive political climate to found Servicio Paz y Justicia (Service for Peace and Justice or SERPAJ). This gospel-inspired movement is dedicated to building "a just and fraternal society,...rooted in an option for the marginalized and impoverished" through active nonviolence.
Today, the network includes national chapters in 11 Latin American countries. SERPAJ has consultative status at the United Nations, and one of its leaders, Luis Prez Aguirre, is special adviser on human rights to U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Increasingly it is recognized as a key Latin American organization in the ongoing struggle to promote and defend human rights.
In a post-Cold War era, with military dictatorships replaced by struggling democracies, SERPAJ faces a new set of challenges. The "disappearance" of political activists at the hands of security forces is no longer a daily occurrence. Today the key threat is the increasing disappearance-right off the economic map-of the region's poor majority.
Structural adjustment programs imposed by international lending institutions and other elements of the "free market" model pushed by the United States and other countries are robbing the marginalized of the opportunity to participate as either producers or consumers. In numerous countries, more than half of the population lacks stable employment. And access to such basic services as health care and education is being reduced as government budgets shrink in accordance with International Monetary Fund dictums.
Denouncing existing wrongs is easier than proposing viable economic alternatives. However, SERPAJ points (without offering pat models) to several elements of such alternatives that have emerged from the struggle of the poor. Basic human needs must be prioritized and the promotion of consumer desires that can only be fulfilled