the rise of fascism

the recognition of human rights

excerpted from the book

Cry of the People

The struggle for human rights in Latin America
and the Catholic Church in conflict with US policy

by Penny Lernoux

Penguin Books, 1980, paper

However ineptly applied, President Carter's human rights policy did save lives, placing the U.S. Government on record against torture and murder.


Return to the Catacombs

Torture - the Rise of Fascism - the Agony of the Church

Pastor Martin Niemoller, a Protestant minister imprisoned by the Third Reich
In Germany they first came for the communists; I did not speak because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews; I did not speak because I was not a Jew. Then they came to fetch the workers, members of trade unions; I did not speak because I was not a trade unionist. Afterward, they came for the Catholics; I did not say anything because I was a Protestant. Eventually they came for me, and there was no one left to speak. .

Beneath the surface of Buenos Aires' opulence, behind the steak houses, nightclubs, theaters, and opera houses, are the same malignant forces responsible for still-cruder forms of repression in Bolivia, Paraguay, and a dozen other, poorer Latin-American countries. Though Latin America looks to be the most industrialized- of the Third World areas, two thirds of its 320 million people still live in a Dark Ages, ruled by petty warlords ambitious only for power and money. The medieval torture chamber has been updated with sophisticated technology, though Uruguay and other countries still rely on such ancient methods as burning at the stake.

As under Hitler, organizations that might have protested the brutality have been eliminated, one by one. The communists were the first to go; then the liberal and conservative political parties. Student federations and unions were banned, their leaders imprisoned or killed. Congress was abolished, civil courts were replaced the Church has a hemisphere-wide base and, in the Vatican, an international forum. More important, it still has the authority and organization to command the loyalty of a majority of Latin Americans. (Even today, 90 percent of the people are baptized Catholics.) Like the Spanish and Portuguese languages, Catholicism is so deeply embedded in the Latin-American cultures that a government can no more ignore or destroy it than an Arab ruler can outlaw Islam. Thus the Catholic Church was and is the only body in Latin America powerful enough both to criticize dictatorship and to sustain a formal dialogue with the military leaders in government. It is also the only organization able to encourage alternatives to totalitarianism in the ongoing atmosphere of terror. Unions, student groups, political parties, all seek the protection of the Church: it alone can withstand the repression.

[According to a report by Amnesty International, one of seventeen commonly used torture methods in Uruguay included burning the prisoner alive in a barbecue pit or grill. "When the smell of roasting meat is emitted, the victim is-taken away," reported Amnesty International. (Human Rights in Uruguay and Paraguay, Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, U. S. House of Representatives, June 17, July 27 and 28, and Aug. 4, 1976, p. 50.]

However, not everyone in the Catholic Church agrees that a commitment to social causes is necessary or desirable. There are serious divisions between traditionalists who want to preserve the old ways and progressives who envision a new Latin-American Church similar in spirit and organization to the primitive Christian communities. The split cuts right across the Church, from cardinal to layperson. But the trend dearly favors the progressives, at least in the concept of Vatican II.

One of the most important contributions of Vatican II was its image of the Church as a community of equals instead of a hierarchy of laity, clergy, and bishops. This concept of a "People of God" found quick acceptance in Latin America, where the mass of the people were starved for the Word of God. Although hitherto the Church had dealt with the poor as an afterthought, these Latin Americans cling to a deep sense of religiosity. Indeed, in many cultures it is the only means whereby the poor can express themselves. Unlike the secular societies of industrialized countries, community life in Latin America is still deeply colored by religion. Wherever bishops and clergy have reached out to these people, they have found an immediate response. But this is no longer the traditional Catholicism of pomp and circumstance, of rigid divisions separating the princes of the Church from the people. Bishops, priests, and nuns have come to look upon themselves as brothers and sisters of the people, at the service of the poor. And because almost everyone is poor in Latin America, this

Church will endure, even as the Church of the wealthy and middle classes is succumbing to the same materialism that has infected religious institutions in the United States and Europe.

By any historical measure the price of commitment to the poor has been enormous. Persecution of the Catholic Church. m Latin America, and of the Protestants, too, is unparalleled m modern history, even in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Since 1968, when Latin America's Catholic Church began to question the miserable conditions in which two thirds of the people live, over 850 priests, nuns, and bishops have been arrested, tortured, murdered, or expelled, and thousands of the Catholic laity have been jailed and killed.


Repression - the Recognition of Human Rights

One of the jokes repeated everywhere in Latin America, despite cultural and language differences, tells of how the Angel Gabriel complained to God about his excessive generosity to Argentina (or Brazil or Venezuela, depending on the nationality of the storyteller). Why, demanded Gabriel, had God given this country so many natural resources, so many lakes and rivers, such fertile land and fine weather, when other nations did not get half so much? Ah, said God, but wait till you see the kind of people I'm going to put there!

The idea that the people's shortcomings somehow balance nature's generosity almost always comes up in conversation with foreigners when comparisons are made between the development of the United States and that of Latin America. Educated Latin Americans are forever bemoaning their past: "If only our ancestors had been white Europeans," they will say, "we would be just as developed as you Americans." Yet the facts tell another story. Argentina, the "whitest," most European nation in Latin America, with many cultural characteristics similar to those of the United States, wiped out its Indian and black population in the nineteenth century. But observe Argentina today-three decades of military dictatorship, a perpetually unstable economy, public services that make New York City look like a model of efficiency, and the largest concentration camps in Latin America. So what ails these white Europeans?

Actually, there's nothing ethnically wrong with any of the Latin American people, Andean Indians, Brazilian blacks, or white Argentines. The problem was created not by God but by the Spanish and Portuguese empires, with their methods of colonization and land settlement and a legal code twisted to venality and corruption. And neither land tenure nor the legal system has changed much since the eighteenth century.

Unlike the United States and "white" Argentina, much of Latin America was already occupied by culturally advanced Indian civilizations when the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors arrived. Although the Europeans managed to slaughter several million Indians, enough survived to provide the manual labor and the women for the basis of a colonial society. Many of Latin America's cities are built on the ruins of Indian settlements. Where the aboriginal source died out, as in coastal Brazil, the Europeans imported African slave labor.

From the very beginning, Latin-American society was constructed like a pyramid, with a few European settlers enjoying all the privileges of empire and a mass of Indians, blacks, and half-castes having no rights at all. The pyramid survived because the mass at the bottom was repeatedly told that it was stupid, lazy, and inferior. Foreign missionaries helped drum these ideas into the natives' heads by claiming that it was God's will that they should be poor and ignorant. As the archbishop of Lima told his Indians, "Poverty is the most certain road to felicity.' Any Indian or African who had the temerity to doubt such wisdom by rebelling against the system was promptly killed.

The law, to be sure, was written in a way to protect the poor and the Indians, but it never worked that way, for Spanish and Portuguese legislation could be enforced only on the rare occasions when the Crown threatened to send troops to discipline the settlers. "The law is to be observed but not obeyed," claims an old Spanish saying still in vogue today. Put another way, the only law respected was-and is-the law of the fist.

Latin America's independence movement from Spain in the first part of the nineteenth century did not in the least alter the social pyramid, nor did twentieth-century industrialization. The only difference is that those at the top are now white Latin Americans instead of white Europeans and can count industries as well as ranches in their inheritance. The overwhelming majority of the people remains uneducated and fatalistic. All initiative was stamped out of the people's collective conscience over the centuries because it was not intended that they should think or react. Para yue? (Why bother?) has been the universal response in Latin America, whether in a Caribbean black community or an Indian village in the Bolivian highlands.

As anthropologists have amply proved, there is an enormous difference between a culture that is poor and a culture of poverty. In the former the people may have only a rudimentary economy and learning but they are proud of their traditions. In the latter the people are ashamed of their color and origins because they have been taught to feel inferior. That is the culture of poverty studied by Oscar Lewis in Mexico and Puerto Rico, and the culture of two thirds of the Latin-American population. They are the "kind of people" God put on the continent to balance the Angel Gabriel's uneven score.

The Catholic Church must accept a lot of the blame for this situation. Like the conquistadors, most of the European missionaries who came to Latin America saw themselves as bearers of cultures vastly superior to those of the natives. The missionaries were less interested in integrating the Indians or Africans than in subjugating them to the European religious structures. Little attempt was made to understand or appreciate the cultural heritage of the people, and most of the missionaries remained a group apart, European colonists on the American continent, right up to the twentieth century. Although the mass of the people accepted the white man's God, either under physical duress or because he seemed more powerful than their own gods, they never really assimilated the ideas of Christianity, but merely changed the names of their gods and rites for those of the Europeans. (The orixas, or deities of the Brazilian Africans' Macumba religion, for example, took on the names and characteristics of Christian saints.) Baptism, which in its biblical sense is a sign of conversion and hope, became a rite to ward off evil spirits, and in some countries, such as Brazil, a ceremony of the dying.

Blinded by their own cultural limitations, the missionaries never saw how superficial was the religious conversion. Nor did they think it strange that two cultures should coexist-one belonging to the masses with their syncretic religion, the other to the rich, educated elites. The Indian- artisans who built the churches of marble and gold were not expected to understand the mysteries of the faith; it was enough that they submitted to its superiority. If there was any doubt about their ethnic inferiority in this religious hierarchy, they had only to observe the statues and pictures they were ordered to carve and paint-not one of these light-colored effigies looked like them.

At its best, Catholicism was a benevolent paternalism that protected the Indians and the Africans from the settlers' atrocities while it reinforced the colonial system through praise of patience, obedience, and the virtue of suffering. The people believed the missionaries when they said that it was God's will, or destiny, that they should be poor, wealth and poverty being conditions of birth and color. As Brazilian theologian Eduardo Hoornaert points out, "Colonizers show the colonized that there is wealth to be had, and even luxury, but they don't show them how to obtain it. Obviously, they tell them that wealth comes from work, but the people aren't convinced, because they can see it isn't so: a 'good' situation in society comes from a diploma, from position, from education, ultimately from belonging to the dominant culture."

The Jesuit reductions, or missions, in Paraguay, southern Brazil, and northern Argentina are often cited by Church historians as examples of the good done by the colonial Church, and it is true that for 150 years these missions protected and sustained some 150,000 Guarani Indians. When they were closed by order of the Spanish Crown in 1767, there was a dramatic decrease in the Guarani population, which was slaughtered or enslaved by the settlers. Many of the Jesuits gave their lives for the Indians, caring for them during smallpox plagues and physically interposing themselves between the bloodtnirsty settlers and the natives. The weather was hot and unhealthy. The woods and swamps were places of mosquito swarms, brackish waters, floods, jaguars, reptiles, and vermin. Frequently living alone or with a single companion, the typical Jesuit missionary was carpenter, farmer, physician, nurse, and one-man defense of the stockade. There is no doubt that these men were heroes, but to what avail?

Contrary to the claim that they were an advanced form of religious socialism, an Arcadian democracy in which the Indians enjoyed equal rights, the reductions were medieval estates where everyone lived under the grip of the Jesuits, a caste apart. The priests decided when and what the Indians should eat, how they should organize the workday, who should be punished or rewarded, where they should live, everything down to the last detail. True, this was a vast improvement over the wretched treatment meted out on the Spanish haciendas, but it was nevertheless a form of slavery. Even the Jesuits realized that they were destroying a millenary culture, but they could do no better because of the language block, the cultural gap, and the colonial mentality itself. Thus they continued to treat `'those people" as children. Except for a few churches and religious carvings, nothing survived of this Jesuit empire of thirty cities and towns, for when Spain removed the Jesuits there was no one to lead or even think.

As an experiment in benevolent paternalism, the reductions were an example of the best aspects of the colonial Church-and the worst. When the Guarani Indians were dispersed, they carried with them two centuries of fatalism. They had lost many of their cultural traditions and could find none to replace them in a white society whose name for Indian to this day is chancho, or "pig." Their descendants live in the festering slums of Asuncion or on the Iarge Paraguayan cattle ranches where, says a Paraguayan bishop, "they have less value than a horse or a cow."

"No one listens to the cry of the poor...."

Over the past decade the Latin-American Catholic Church has consciously tried to rid itself of such paternalistic traditions and colonial attitudes in order to rebuild Christianity on the cultural heritage of the people and to encourage the emergence of a more mature and democratic Church. By doing so, it moves in direct opposition to the ruling classes and their governments, still mired in the prejudices of the eighteenth century. Whether the country is Brazil or Guatemala, more or less industrialized, in South or Central America, the statistics are always the same: a tiny minority, usually 1 to 4 percent of the population, owns the majority of the arable land and takes an overwhelming share of the nation's agricultural and industrial wealth. The great majority, in the slums or impoverished rural villages, owns little or no land, is undernourished, illiterate or semiliterate, and unemployed or underemployed. One third of Latin America's 320 million people earn less in a year than a U.S. housewife spends on groceries in a week. Conversely, the well-to-do in Latin America usually live better than do the upper classes in the United States; they have platoons of servants, enormous estates, limousines, private airplanes, and yachts, and pay practically no taxes.

This baronial style of life is still possible because the cornerstone of the colonial system remains intact-the law of the strongest. Typical of conditions in much of rural Latin America are the cattle haciendas of Paraguay. Enormous spreads that stretch for miles over the undulating red hills, with a few head of cattle here and there, they look like something out of the wild West, with a cluster of shacks for the peon cowboys, a slightly better house for the ranch administrator, and almost no evidence of agricultural machinery. Because manual labor is plentiful and cheap, less than fifty cents per worker per day, the large landowners are under no pressure to modernize. As a result only 1 percent of the country's arable land is efficiently cultivated.

Few of the peasants who serve these primitive estates ever learn to read or write, see a doctor, or know the luxury of running water or electricity. Malnutrition causes nine tenths of the deaths. Submissive, with intense feelings of inferiority, these peasants ex. plain their tragedy by quoting an old Guarani Indian saying: "No one listens to the cry of the poor or the sound of a wooden bell." Three fifths of Paraguay's 2.6 million people live this way.

Such conditions would be impossible if Paraguay's farm labor were sufficiently organized to demand better wages and a more equitable distribution of land, but whenever an attempt is made to establish cooperatives or unions, the government suddenly discovers a "communist conspiracy" and sends troops into the countryside to destroy the cooperatives, burn the peasants' huts, rape the women, and kill or imprison the men. During the last outbreak of terror, in 1976 in southeastern Paraguay, some three thousand people were arrested and several cooperative leaders murdered. The Catholic Church was also severely punished for sponsoring some of the cooperatives: twenty-four priests were jailed, tortured, and expelled.

Governed by the longest-ruling dictator in the hemisphere, General Alfredo Stroessner, Paraguay is dismissed by the more advanced Latin-American countries as a cowboy backwater, its President a crude throwback to the nineteenth-century caudillo. But whatever may be said of Stroessner, he has the courage of his convictions. Unlike the military regimes in Chile and Brazil, which dressed up dictatorship with ideological or technological trimmings, Stroessner has never pretended that there is any reason for power except corruption. Brazil's wealthy generals might talk about technology and efficiency in government, while privately enjoying such perquisites of office as butlers, lakeside chalets, and unlimited expense accounts. Paraguay's military and police make no such excuses: they support Stroessner for what they can get, and in addition to land, which is the foundation of Paraguayan wealth, this includes government graft, contraband, and revenue from narcotics and prostitution.

Stroessner encourages ... illegal activities in the belief that the more people are compromised and corrupted, the more beholden they will be to his system of government. On the basis of this simple logic, his undoubted machismo, and shrewd understanding of the weaknesses of potential rivals, whether they be drugs or little girls, the burly, red-haired general has ruled unchallenged since 1954.

While considerably less savage than the military dictatorships, Latin America's few formal democracies are hardly models of good government. Corruption and government graft are as wide spread in Mexico and Colombia as in Paraguay. Mexico's rural poor are as oppressed as the peasants on Paraguay's cattle ranches, and the entire Caribbean coast of Colombia is dominated by the local cocaine and marijuana Mafia.

For years the Catholic Church, though supposedly the moral teacher and guardian of virtually all the Latin-American people, chose to ignore this lawless situation. Often it publicly collaborated with corrupt dictatorships for what it could extract in power and material privilege, and even as late as the 1940s churchmen were identified with the most reactionary sectors in Latin America, particularly the large landowners. In Colombia, for example, the Church sided with the country's Conservative Party in a civil war that lasted from 1948 until the early 1960s, parish priests and bishops encouraging and even personally leading the Conservatives in their slaughter of peasants.

Why did the Church suddenly regret and reject its traditional alliance with the conservative rich? In the beginning, at least, it was fear of communism, and for this Fidel Castro must be thanked. The Catholic Church's experience in Cuba after Castro took power, when 70 percent of the clergy fled the island, profoundly shocked Latin America's bishops, many of whom were jolted out of their complacency to see clearly for the first time the extremes of Latin America's poverty and wealth. The seeds of violent revolution lay everywhere, they came to believe-in the teeming slums, the impoverished countryside, the universities. Religion no longer served as the opium of the people, and the upper-class youth who had once formed the Church's intellectual backbone were rallying to Marxism. Church leaders had only to look at the sharp decline in religious vocations and church attendance to realize that Latin-American Catholicism was in trouble. So the Church launched a great anti-communist crusade.

Like the Kennedy administration with its Alliance for Progress, the Catholic Church believed that the only way to stop the spread of communism in Latin America was to reform its social and economic structures. The Church had a ready-made vehicle to promote such programs in the Catholic Action groups that had been organized in various countries during the 1930s and 1940s. Originally formed to spread the Church's social teachings in Latin America, Catholic Action spawned numerous youth organizations, the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions, and the Christian Democratic parties of Chile, Venezuela, Peru, and Central America. In addition, it sponsored such innovative Church programs as radio schools and agrarian reform of diocese lands. In the early 1960s these programs were greatly expanded and modernized with foreign personnel and money, following the Vatican's worldwide appeal for aid to shore up the Latin-American Church.

But these reforms were badly timed, coming as they did at the end of the cold war and the beginning of the conflict in Vietnam when success was still measured in simplistic military and political terms with no consideration for complex social issues (that is anyone who did not agree with U.S. foreign policy obviously had to be a Red). Both the Church and the U. S. Government saw the primary goal of reform as the defeat of left-wing political movements and guerrilla groups. Reform was a means, not an end, and therefore it failed. Everybody was so busy devising strategies to defeat communism that all completely overlooked the real cause of the people's misery: nearly five centuries of social and economic oppression. As long as the dictators, Stroessner and the others, proclaimed their fealty to the United States and their abhorrence of communism, Washington was prepared to support them with military and economic aid. Unions, political parties, housing developments, and agrarian reform were all designed to advance the anti-communist crusade; as a result they soon became political tools instead of vehicles for genuine reform.

U.S. writer Thomas Sanders
"Latin America is underdeveloped not just because it does not produce enough but because the people do not participate in national life."

Brazil's Archbishop Helder Camara
"People with no reasons for living will not find causes to die for."

A Colombian priest from a well-to-do family, [Camilo] Torres was revolutionized by his study of sociology at Louvain. Sociology not only gave him a scientific tool with which to measure the degree of Christian commitment in his country (he found it sadly wanting) but also allowed him to see Latin America's economic and political predicament without the rose-colored glasses supplied by Alliance for Progress salesmen. Unlike his classmate Gutierrez, Torres was a doer, not a thinker, and when all his attempts at peaceful persuasion failed, he shed his cassock to take up arms with the Colombian guerrillas. He died in his first encounter with the Army, on February 15, 1966, in the central Colombian Andes.

Camilo Torres' death sent tremors through the Latin-American Church, which was unprepared for the phenomenon of the guerrilla-priest, and of all places in conservative Colombia, supposedly the continent's most Catholic country. The thirty-seven-year-old priest instantly became a martyr for the Latin-American Left, particularly high school and university students, and bishops everywhere worried about his influence on their own young clergy. In retrospect, however, it can be seen that Torres was less a model for the future than a symptom of the frustrated times. For while it is true that a few priests, mostly in Colombia, followed his path, the vast majority rejected the idea that, in order to love, it is necessary to kill. One such was Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian intellectual who has emerged as Latin America's principal spokesman for a Third World theology. Although the two men shared similar viewpoints on basic social problems, Gutierrez did not support Torres' decision to join the guerrillas.

Like other young religious who were disappointed in Christian Democracy, Gutierrez turned to Marxism as an analytical guide to the causes of economic and social underdevelopment. These Latin Americans believed that Christian theology had grown stagnant from its emphasis on the Greek deductive process of thought, because "deductive theology imposes its own, prior idea of God on Christ, and if he does not fit it, he is twisted and deformed to achieve that purpose." The inductive process, on the other hand, moves from reality to idea, from experience to theory. And it was one of the original tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Thus "the whole Bible, Old and New Testament, is really the history of Israel and of Jesus, set forth in the most varied literary genres. The Event always preceded the Word."

Although the language of the gospels has changed little since Christ's death, cultural interpretations have tended to alter its significance. Encumbered by bureaucracies and traditions that grew out of different historical circumstances, Roman Catholicism evolved over the centuries into a conservative institution that lost touch with the poor. It also became Church-centered instead of Christ-centered, bound up in rituals and rules that have little, if anything, to do with the original tenets of Christianity. By emphasizing an inductive process of thought, by starting from the reality of poverty and injustice in Latin America, the new theologians hoped to bring the Church back to earth, to face the facts and to do something about them. Nine out of ten Latin Americans are baptized Catholics, and eight of those ten are poor. Not only are they still deprived of the liberation promised by Christ, they don't even know of his promise.

What the Latin-American theologians find particularly attractive in Marx is his suggestion of the relationship between experience and theory-that if man has sufficient understanding of his reality he can improve that reality and himself, and that this new situation in turn influences, changes, and educates him. The study of Marxism nourished the seeds that had been planted in Louvain: namely, that scientific knowledge is necessary to interpret reality. Sociology, in its own area, was given importance equal to that of theology. Thus equipped, Gutierrez and other theologians developed a series of new religious and sociological insights based on Latin America's historical condition as an economically and politically dependent continent. Appropriately, their work was called the theology of liberation.

It is not surprising that Marxism was used to decipher capitalism in Latin America, since Marx, a respected sociologist in many parts of the developing world, makes sense to a people who have suffered both imperialism and colonialism. But an acceptance of Marx the sociologist need not imply support for a Marxist ideology, much less communism, which the liberation theologians reject as a political system incompatible with Christianity

Although many of their conclusions are now taken for granted by Latin-American economists and sociologists, these theologians were pioneers, for they used the social sciences as guides to theological development. Moreover, it was a development based on the realities of Latin America and not on the Church's traditional colonial mentality or the political rationalizations of men like Vekemans.

Vatican II

The formulation of so radical a theology would have been impossible in Latin America without the Vatican's Second Ecumenical Council (1962-65), which sought to modify institutional rigidity and anachronistic liturgy. But even before Vatican II had announced its conclusions, Pope John XXIII had set the Church on a new path with his encyclicals Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terres (1963), which emphasized the human right to a decent standard of living, education, and political participation. John also questioned the absolute right to private property and the Church's unswerving allegiance to capitalist individualism in the cold war against socialist collectivism. Vatican II widened the floodgates by establishing two radically new principles: that the Church is of and with this world, not composed of some otherworldly body of eclestical advocates, and that it is a community of equals, whether they be laity, priest, or bishop, each with some gift to contribute and responsibility to share.

Among the participants at Vatican II was a highly vocal minority of Third World bishops who lobbied for a "Church of the Poor." This idea was further developed in a 1966 declaration by fifteen bishops from the developing countries that went far beyond Vatican II in committing the Church to the Third World poor. The majority of the signers came from the impoverished northeast of Brazil; their leader was Dom Helder Camara.

A slight, soft-spoken Brazilian with an iron will, Dom Helder was one of a small group of men responsible for carrying the ideas of Vatican II to Latin America. Although John XXIII had placed the Church firmly on the side of human rights, it fell to Camara to put words into action in Latin America by denouncing the torture, imprisonment, and murder of political dissidents in Brazil in 1967. For daring to speak out, Camara "was treated by the authorities and the media as no bishop has been treated in the Western world in this century," said Father Jose Comblin, a Belgian theologian who worked with the archbishop. "Only he knows the details of the round-the-clock persecution that went on for two years. The assassination of his associate, Father Enrique Pereira Neto, on May 26, 1969, was part of the campaign.''

Back in Rome, meanwhile, Pope Paul VI was writing Populorum Progressio, by far the most advanced of his encyclicals, with its emphasis on the economic, social, and political rights of mankind. Directed specifically at Latin America, Populorum Progressio encouraged the Latin-American bishops to hold a hemispheric conference to examine the conclusions of Vatican II in light of Latin America's own particular situation.

Camara might have been a voice crying in the wilderness and Paul a wishful thinker had it not been for a third prophet, and superb organizer, Manuel Larrain, the bishop of Talca, Chile. Larrain was always an advanced thinker even in as politically advanced a nation as Chile. As early as the 1950s, when everyone else was worrying about communism, he was warning the Church that it would lose the masses if Catholicism remained a minority religion of the wealthy elites.

Larrain was instrumental in founding the Latin-American Episcopal Conference (CELAM), which in 1955 brought together the region's highly heterogeneous national bishops' conferences into a single organization. Not only did CELAM provide the first regular means of communication throughout the Latin-American hierarchy; Larrain and a like-minded minority of progressive bishops also saw to it that CELAM spread the conciliar word of Vatican II through a series of CELAM-sponsored institutes, which were really think tanks for the theologians of liberation and sociologists and economists trained at Louvain and other European and U.S. universities.

Many factors influenced these young Latin Americans' thinking, including Camilo Torres' desertion to the guerrillas, but the most decisive were Chile's sorry experiment in Christian Democracy and the overthrow of the populist administration of President Joao Goulart by the Brazilian military in 1964. Both experiences pointed to the same conclusion: whether you called it a populist government or a third way between capitalism and communism (the claim of Chile's Christian Democrats), such reformist governments were halfway measures that would never succeed because they started from the wrong base, namely capitalist "development."

While a number of prominent U.S. and Latin-American historians and economists are gradually coming to understand and accept the "dependency" theory of underdevelopment, Goulart's Planning Minister, Celso Furtado, was among the first to put his finger on the problem by insisting that "development" was a myth invented by the industrialized nations to con the Third World into footing the bill for the American (and European) way of life. He J based his assertion on Latin America's experience in the 1960s, when development meant essentially a series of foreign, mostly U.S., Ioans for industrial infrastructure and large inputs of foreign investment. The loans have so burdened the Latin-American countries that many are now spending an average 25 percent of their foreign earnings just to service the debt. As for foreign investment, far from creating the millions of new jobs promised by the advance publicity, nearly half this money went to take over existing Latin-American industries. By the end of the "decade of development," 99 percent of the loans made by AID to Latin American countries were being spent in the United States for products costing 30 to 40 percent more than the going world price.

True, U.S. Ioans also supported educational programs, low-cost housing, and the like, but these were politically oriented and in any case peripheral to the main thrust of development: foreign control of the most dynamic Latin-American industries and co-optation of the small upper and middle classes that wield the economic and political power and can afford the consumer goods produced by the foreign subsidiaries. Even the "green revolution," which promised such lavish grain yields for the small farmer, was part of the myth of development; it soon became a technological device whereby the large landowners might "agroindustrialize" the small, inefficient plots of the peasants, who were forced off their land in the name of progress to swell the cities' slums.

Naturally enough, development programs like the Alliance for Progress were not presented in this light. American taxpayers were told that foreign aid would help their poorer neighbors. The Latins were sold the idea that U.S. Ioans and private investment were essential for economic takeoff. Neither allegation was true, and the fact is that Latin America would have been better off had the United States left it alone. In contrast to its poor economic performance during the 1960s, when U. S. Government and business interests became deeply involved in the region's economies, Latin America did better during the depression and World War II when the export of U.S. goods and capital was sharply curtailed. In those earlier years Brazil and some of the other countries began to produce their own capital equipment instead of importing it. Had they continued to do so, the Latin-American economies might have taken off; but once the war was over, Latin America reverted to the old patterns of dependency-the habit was too old and too strong.

Long before the Americans appeared on the scene, Latin America was an economic colony of Europe, specifically of Victorian Britain. Before the British, it had been a colony of the Spaniards and the Portuguese. For three centuries after Columbus, it had served primarily to enrich the Iberian states through the export of precious metals, taxes, the import of European goods, and the African slave trade. After the wars of independence, outright imperialism was replaced by a more sophisticated arrangement when the British introduced mercantile capitalism, trading manufactured goods for raw materials. The United States followed a similar pattern at the beginning of this century, its interest being primarily minerals, and U.S. investors gradually replaced the British as the most important foreign influence in the region. The dependency relationship also changed, for now Latin America [after WWII] was no longer the Indian come to barter his skins at the trading post. It was an important source of income for corporations in the United States, of cheap labor for U.S. export subsidiaries, and of small but extremely lucrative markets, particularly for arms and capital equipment.

During these centuries economic colonialism ran in tandem with political dependence, first on the Spanish and Portuguese crowns, then on the nineteenth-century European powers, and finally on Washington. Even Latin-American leaders who wanted to take an independent course-and they were few-found themselves boxed in by an international economic system and the terms of trade. Though more sophisticated than the nineteenth century European rulers who sent gunboats to collect money from Latin-American governments, the International Monetary Fund serves substantially the same purpose today. Any Latin-American government that ignores its dictates does so at the risk of bankruptcy, as Peru's nationalistic generals learned-to their cost in 1977. Not that many countries want to object-most Latin Americans in government belong to a wealthy minority, often the nouveau riche military, and such people are perfectly content with their junior partnership in U.S. corporate industry.

But the region's increasing economic dependence on the United States has paid no social dividends, propaganda notwithstanding. The rich got richer; the middle class got poorer; and the poor, that unregarded majority, got nothing. There was no trickle-down of wealth, but rather a substantial upward redistribution. Those who suffered most from this "trickle-up" process were the workers, whose real wages plummeted during the sixties and seventies. That was the second stage of "development"; not only were the people deprived of the benefits of economic progress, they also lost many of their earlier gains.

Workers whose buying power is sharply reduced can be counted on to protest, so the next and final step had to be military dictatorship. Without repression, it is impossible for the rich to increase their income indefinitely at the expense of the mass of the people who, for all their ignorance and lack of political organization, have the advantage in numbers. These millions will not stay quietly on the farms or in the slums unless they are terribly afraid. As in Stroessner's Paraguay, the rich get richer only because they have the guns.

A child born in the United States will consume thirty to fifty times more goods of all descriptions in his or her lifetime than one born in the impoverished highlands of Bolivia. A child born to wealthy parents in the Bolivian capital of La Paz will equal the consumption of the American. Consciously or not, both owe their life-styles in some degree to the poverty of the highland peasant child. A similar relationship exists between the economies of Latin America and the United States. And that is what the "dependency" theory of underdevelopment is all about-a mass of poor peasants and slum dwellers supply the wants of a few rich people, and they in turn satisfy the U.S. demand for raw materials and profit remittances.

As Panama's Archbishop Marcos McGrath points out, "Great doubt has been cast on the possibility of achieving the necessary reforms for the integral development of our people within the capitalist structure of the international, and particularly the inter-American economy," when the terms of trade and foreign investment are still colonialist in structure and thus contribute "to the continuing impoverishment of the poorer nations." "Ironically," adds McGrath, "the efforts of the prime producers-for instance, of crude oil-to exact a higher price from buyers to the north have roused pious cries of protest: 'Extortion!' Suddenly Northerners fear that they may have to 'depend' on foreign producers. Do they ignore the extortion and economic dependence they exercise upon the poorer lands? This is 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' in international economics. But who set the rules for ~ game? The Christian nations to the north."

A Magna Carta

Whatever their thoughts about socialism, by the end of the 1960s a good many Latin-American bishops were prepared to agree with McGrath's criticisms of capitalism. In fact it began to appear that U.S. capitalism, not Karl Marx, was Public Enemy No. 1. Unlike the theologians, sociologists, and economists in CELAM's think tanks, few bishops had sufficient training to define capitalism's failings in scientific terms, but they could see ample moral reasons to condemn the obsession with profit as selfishness, particularly in the repressive, right-wing military regimes spreading across the continent.

Thus Latin America was approaching a religious-political turning point, where the ideas of the theologians of liberation, of Camara, Larrain, and Pope Paul, would be approved by the Latin American hierarchy. The name of that turning point was Medellin, the Colombian city where in 1968 the bishops of Latin America met in an extraordinary assembly for the second time in their history. Medellin produced the Magna Carta of today's persecuted, socially committed Church, and as such rates as one of the major political events of the century: it shattered the centuries-old alliance of Church, military, and the rich elites.

Paul himself traveled to Colombia to inaugurate the meeting, the first Pope in history to visit Latin America. He set the tone of the conference by telling a huge crowd in Bogota, "We wish to personify the Christ of a poor and hungry people." But he also appealed to the rich:

What can I say to you, men of the ruling class? What is required of you is generosity. This means the ability to detach yourselves from the stability of your position which is, or seems to be, a position of privilege, in order to serve those who need your wealth, your culture, your authority.... You, lords of this world and sons of the Church, you must have the genius for virtue that society needs. Your ears and your hearts must be sensitive to the voices crying out for bread, concern, justice, and a more active participation in the direction of society.

... there is no financial or educational justification for the low levels of literacy. The real cause is political: as long as people remain uneducated, they cannot wish or hope to participate in a democracy. Many members of the radical Right in Latin America will point out, candidly enough, that educated people expect higher wages and more efficient public services, so it's better to keep the masses in darkness. Government officials are not nearly that blunt, but it is easy to surmise their opinion by looking at the national budget: in most cases education is at the bottom of the list, along with public health. The largest outlays are earmarked for the armed forces and internal security. One of the few exceptions is Costa Rica, where there are more teachers than policemen. Costa Rica is also a Central American rarity-an established democracy.

Like the governments, the Catholic Church used to disregard the poor. Most of its schools were oriented to children of the wealthy upper classes. The Jesuits specialized in universities for the rich. The values and structures on which Latin America's society of privilege was built were reinforced in the Catholic school room.

Cry of the People

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