Tribute to Roberto Leal Ocampo

Roberto Leal Ocampo
March 9, 1950 – January 25, 2016

Click here to read the Spanish version

Dr. Roberto Leal Ocampo, who became a Life member of Inclusion International in October 2012, died at home in Managua after a debilitating illness. He is survived by his wife Mayu, his four sons, three daughters-in law, and 6 grandchildren.

Roberto was a revolutionary, a diplomat, a father, a leader. He left his diplomatic career to focus on supporting families of children like his son Gabriel. Gabriel’s disabilities resulted from a lack of medical attention at birth when the hospital where he was born was being attacked by government forces. He mobilized families in Nicaragua, then Central America and throughout the Americas who often referred to him as their “father”.

He was one of the founders of Los Pipitos and ASNIC in Nicaragua, CONCAPAD, the federation of associations of families in Central America, and Inclusion Inter-Americana. He served as Executive Director of Inclusion Inter-Americana and chair of the Program committee for the Inclusion International World Congress in Acapulco Mexico in 2006.

Roberto was the key architect of the 1993 Declaration of Managua which set the direction of Inclusion Inter-Americana and influenced thinking about disability as a matter of human rights in the Americas and beyond.

“To ensure social well-being for all people, societies have to be based on justice, equality, equity, inclusion and interdependence, and recognize and accept diversity. Societies must also consider their members, above all, as persons, and assure their dignity, rights, self-determination, full access to social resources and the opportunity to contribute to community life.”

The Declaration of Managua did not mention disability, but described a vision of society where every individual would be valued and supported to participate. He influenced associations of people with intellectual disabilities and their families to change communities and systems rather than provide separate and segregated services.

Roberto was a dreamer and philosopher but also a brilliant strategist. He opened doors to the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and countless national presidents and multi-lateral agencies and helped build partnerships for Inclusion Inter-Americana and Inclusion International. He was invited to speak at the United Nations, prestigious universities and countless conferences. He was an unparalleled leader and inspiration to families around the world struggling for the inclusion of their sons and daughters.

In recent years Roberto returned to his career as a diplomat. His funeral was a testament to the role he played in the lives of family, friends and his country. A funeral mass was celebrated by the Pope’s nuncio in Nicaragua who spoke about his friendship with Roberto and how Roberto had been the one to explain the complexity of Nicaragua to him and to share his contagious love of his country.

The funeral ended with a tribute from the Nicaraguan singer Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy who mentioned how Roberto had taught him about people with disabilities through his work in Nicaragua and with Inclusion International. He ended the service singing, Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, his famous tribute to Nicaragua’s freedom.   Roberto had inspired Luis Enrique to write and dedicate the song Atreveté – Dare—to Inclusion International.

Following the funeral, all diplomatic life in Managua came to a standstill as Roberto was honoured at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The staff of the Ministry lined the route from the entrance and his coffin was brought to a room filled with dignitaries and ambassadors. The Minister of Foreign Relations spoke of how as a young man Roberto had been instrumental in creating the ministry and designing its structures and how he continued to represent his country well both as an ambassador and senior official.

Roberto’s funeral demonstrated Roberto’s connection to people from all walks of life. Floral tributes came from Inclusion International, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, several embassies, and his “compañeros” of the 80’s, the group of 20 people with whom he worked after the Sandinista revolution to design a new form of government to replace the previous regime.   But he was also mourned by countless families who had been supported by him and helped by his counsel and actions.

The birth of his son Gabriel broadened his perspective on human rights from a focus on civil and political rights to a recognition of the indivisibility of all rights and the need to respect and support diversity. His work both in professional and volunteer capacities was committed to advancing a vision of inclusion of diversity in democratic processes to contribute to lasting peace.