Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 267 | Octubre 2003


Latin America

The Legacy of a Life Intensely Lived

Jesuit economist Xabier Gorostiaga passed away on September 14, 2003. Among his many tireless activities on behalf of transforming the world into a more just place, he had written for envío since its first edition in June 1981. We celebrate his life by offering the following presentation he prepared for the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2002.

Xabier Gorostiaga

It has been very hard for me to write this, as my memory has been filled with contradictory experiences and recollections, a profound sense of joy and passion at the same time infused with suffering hope and recently hardened pain. I think that my intense involvement as a priest in the Panama crisis [in the 1970s] and in the Nicaraguan revolution may perhaps help other Christians understand the ambiguities and contradictions of this kind of commitment.

Before starting to write, I felt overwhelmed, unable to be brief. What should I do? Analyze the political economy of the thirty years in question, or recount my best experiences and my disappointments, attempting to synthesize certain personal lessons that could help other Christians on their own journey? I decided on the latter, which implies an element of personal biography and an effort of discernment and search in response to a 21st century that is confusing, uncertain and perplexing, yet full of possibilities. The changes taking place and the still directionless speed attained by history makes the 21st century a fascinating one. The change of era and the civilizing transition we are experiencing require an epistemological rupture in both social praxis and theology. And this rupture implies a profound and radical change in our way of understanding, feeling and responding to the reality that is our lot.

I will unveil memories and experiences that I’ve never written about before. But before I do, I would like to use the biographical and personal nature of this account to express a great truth in my life: the Christian commitment to the poor and excluded produces great happiness. The face of the oppressed must always be present in our actions. That face helps preserve coherence and honesty and fills our lives with a sense of fraternity. Sharing the suffering and hope of the poor, their sadness and their joy, reveals the face of God as the only absolute.

My Latin American baptism was in Cuba

I am a Basque-Nicaraguan born in 1937 in the sweet and beloved Galicia, where my Basque nationalist parents had gone to escape Franco’s repression. From my first year as a Jesuit novice, I asked to be sent to Central America. I first touched Latin American soil in Havana on July 18, 1958, where I lived through the last months of the Batista regime and the first year of the Cuban Revolution. That Latin American baptism at the beginning of Cuba’s process of changes—which had such profound repercussions on Central America—marked my life with the commitment to fight for social transformation and for the right of our countries to win autonomy and dignity in the face of the Empire. These commitments would later manifest themselves in my political participation in Panama, Nicaragua and Central America as a whole.

Witnessing that initial social effervescence in Cuba, the hope and joyous smiles of the poorest, showed me that opting for the poor and their cause is not just an evangelical option. It is also the greatest cause of happiness. I discovered then that there can be no personal happiness if it does not imply and is not the fruit of shared happiness. That brief Cuban experience also marked my life as a Christian and a priest: I never again wanted to see the Catholic Church acting as it did in Cuba in response to the needed social changes, repeating the role it played during the Spanish Civil War and the pernicious “pro-Franco Crusade.”
From 1961 to 1962 I studied philosophy in Ecuador and Mexico, where the situation of the indigenous cultures reconnected me with the roots of my Basque identity. Resisting and defending cultural diversity to find meaning in identity itself is a very topical task. I particularly remember the summers in Tarahumara, with Father Branvila, that great apostle of the Rarámuris, who helped me identify with the indigenous cause. While in Mexico, I also met Sergio Méndez Arceo, Samuel Ruiz, Ernesto Cardenal and Ivan Illich in Cuernavaca, as well as discovering Abad Lemercier and his experience of rethinking Christianity based on liberty and human subjectivity. My life has been constantly marked by meeting exemplary humans along the way who acted as splendid inspirers of the sense of life and of Christian humanism.

I was deeply disappointed when I was unable to continue the economics studies I had started in Mexico and was sent very reluctantly to Panama. God writes the destiny of our lives in broken lines and in a language that can only be properly translated with experience and time.

I studied teacher training in the Javier College of the Panamanian bourgeoisie at the same time as César Jerez and Juan Hernández Pico, two of the Jesuits who were to make history in Central and Latin America with the Research and Social Action Centers (CIAS), were there. I also met and worked with the Jesuit priest Manuel Aguirre, founder of the Social Training Courses that were the origin of the Christian Left that split off from Christian Democracy in Venezuela, Colombia and Central America.

I dedicated most of my three years of teaching to working in those courses, preparing a generation of Panamanians and Central Americans who would later play important roles in Central America’s revolutionary political movements. Several people who attended the courses were killed or wounded on January 9, 1964, while carrying the Panamanian flag in the Canal Zone, demanding fulfillment of agreements President Kennedy had signed with Panama but US residents in the Zone refused to accept. My commitment to Panama and the struggle to recover the canal is sealed with the blood of those friends. It was also in Panama that, through the Chilean magazine Mensaje, I started to make links to the experience of Chilean Christians that would lead to the creation of Christians for Socialism in the seventies.

The Basque problem marked my life

I did my theology studies at the University of Deusto, in the Basque Country, from 1965 to 1969, a time that the Basque crisis and Spain were passing through the roughest moments of the anti-Franco struggle. I joined the Worker Mission* and actively participated in the big strikes of that era. I held various meetings with the JOC and the HOAC,** which increased my social vocation. Two Jesuits left a profound mark on me in that regard: worker priest David Armentia and sociologist José María Díaz Alegría. Both later had to leave the Society of Jesus. The Worker Mission’s painful clash with the Catholic Church, brought about by its faithfulness to the cause of the poor in Europe, taught me to persevere in similar crises we experienced years later with the ecclesiastical hierarchy as liberation theologians and social scientists, particularly in Nicaragua.

The creation of the Center for Research and Social Action for Central America (CIASCA) is key to understanding the Jesuit contribution to the Christian experience in Central America. Based on L´Action Populaire of Paris, CIASCA was created in 1965 by a dozen Jesuit students trained in social sciences, working as a team and with a vision that was precursor of Central America as an integrated region. We were advised in this process by a group of French Jesuits and social scientists, including Jean-Yves Calvez, Pierre Bigo and Henri Chambre. That was when it was confirmed that I would study economics at Cambridge University, and the others would study in important universities in the United States, such as Chicago, Texas and Yale. At the end of the sixties and during the seventies, the option of preparation in the social sciences was fundamental in consolidating the role that the Society of Jesus would play in Central America.

Another experience that marked my life while I was studying theology was the problem in the Basque Country, that enclave located at the industrial heart of the Iberian peninsula on both sides of a border linking it to the rest of Europe. This experience was particularly related to the Basque clergy, which was demanding the organization of a Basque Church to accompany a people attempting to recover its identity. The group of priests that created the Gogortasun received a serious canonical punishment in November 1968, when over 60 priests were suspended a divinis for protesting the torture of Basques by Franco’s police and starting a hunger strike aimed at forcing the church to denounce such practices. Four months after being ordained in Loyola, I was also temporarily punished and forbidden from exercising my priesthood due to my part in the struggle against the torture.

The search for justice brings us into conflict with the Church

My experience in the Basque crisis helped me develop the idea of priesthood as the decision “to love and serve in everything” inspired by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, even if this involved entering into conflict with other ecclesiastical duties and obligations. One cannot escape from religious conflicts in the search for justice and unity, as demonstrated by Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities of his time. Ecclesiastical conflict over the cause of the poor always provides a moment for revelation and discernment that, while complex and ambiguous, is necessary to purify the temptations of power. In my experience, the search for power in the name of justice and the poor has been the worst form of corruption among those in the Left and the Church.

Experiencing my Basque roots helped me identify more with Latin America. And it helped me begin to understand that violence, particularly that which employs terrorist methods, does nothing more than opaque a cause’s dignity and justice, be it the Basque cause, the Central American cause or the movement currently seeking an alternative form of globalization. Violence fragments and generates groups devoid of a project.

My involvement in the worker and Basque question speeded up my departure from the Basque Country in 1968 to start studying economics at Cambridge. Those studies (1969-71 and 1975-76) responded to the strategic plan of preparing a new generation of Latin American Jesuits in the social sciences to consolidate the option for the poor through quality analysis and research. Cambridge’s influence on my life came through the rigor of the economic studies and through learning about Marxist economics under extraordinary professors such as Joan Robinson, Maurice Dodd and Piero Srafa. I also met British intellectuals—Julian Filochowsky and Valpy Fitzgerald—and important Latin American intellectuals studying in England, with whom I have maintained a close friendship. In my second period at Cambridge, in 1975, I met Chileans exiled in Europe, several of whom came to Nicaragua years later and cooperated in my work in the revolutionary government.

I also had the opportunity at Cambridge to make contact with both British and European development NGOs (CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam from Britain; NOVIB, IICO and CEBEMO from Holland; CCFD from France; Diaconía from Sweden, etc.). I closely collaborated with all of them for many years and they all provided both economic and political support for the social transformation experiences underway in the Central American countries. These institutions were partners in our work in the region during the eighties and members of these agencies dedicated many years of their lives to helping find solutions to the Central American crisis. The work of these solidarity networks in the seventies and eighties anticipated the current global solidarity networks that are so indispensable in constructing an alternative globalization in the 21st century.

Cambridge University barely touched my heart

Cambridge helped shape my university career, but it barely touched my heart. Big universities run the risk of desensitizing their students to suffering and injustice because of the predominance of a magnified, but narrow, rationality. Nonetheless, my prolonged university experience—important for its quality but limited in its profoundly vital meaning—helped me in the nineties when I was rector of Managua’s Central American University (UCA) and since 1999 in my work in the Association of Universities of the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL).

Cambridge University accepted my proposed doctoral thesis on the Panama Canal and the transnational services platform in Panama. My return to Panama in 1971, following the assassination of Héctor Gallego, the first of that era’s Central American martyr priests and one of the first great “disappeared” in Latin America, brought me face to face with another serious conflict. On the one hand was my friendship with Héctor and the conflict that his death created between the Catholic Church the government of Omar Torrijos, which was involved in the crime. Although Torrijos was sympathetic to and admired Héctor Gallego, he covered up his murder, possibly because some of his close relatives had a hand in it. On the other hand, Panamanian Foreign Minister Juan Antonio Tack had invited me to be economic advisor in the negotiations over the Panama Canal Treaty.

Following negotiations that included the intervention of Archbishop of Panama Marcos McGrath, we decided to accept both that post, in support of the just Panamanian cause, and the religious mission of helping diffuse tensions between the Catholic Church and the Torrijos government. A joint letter by US and Panamanian bishops in support of Panama’s recovery of the Canal helped resolve this complex dilemma. It became an historic document in the struggle since the joint position of the two episcopacies helped President Carter surmount the opposition of Senator Jesse Helms and the recalcitrant US Right, which still today hopes to recover the Canal’s military bases under the pretext of Plan Colombia.

We will always have to deal with the ambiguity of politics

I was in Panama from 1971 to 1974 and then again from 1976 to 1979. The Torrijos experience helped me understand the contradiction involved between a just cause and the less than just means employed to defend it. Torrijismo employed very ambiguous means to defend its project, including cooptation of the peasant movement, with its “district mayors”; attempts to control the Panamanian Christian base communities, particularly in San Miguelito; and manipulation of the indigenous cause regarding the Cerro Colorado Mines. The practice of buying off grassroots and political leaders generated an atmosphere of growing corruption that culminated after Torrijos’ death (was it accident or assassination?) in the shameful and pathetic figure of General Manuel Antonio Noriega. The corruption, authoritarianism and drug trafficking that characterized Noriega, a CIA agent for many years, was rooted in the corruption allowed by the Torrijos government. In 1989, the Noriega case served as justification for the US invasion of Panama, which flattened the populous Chorrillo neighborhood and caused the death of some 3,000 civilians. The ultimate objective was not just Noriega, but maintenance of effective control over the transfer of the Canal to Panamanian hands in December 1999.

Despite all of his ambiguities, Omar Torrijos took an historical step in the consolidation of the Panamanian nation. The ambiguity that always exists in politics and politicians will be a factor that Christians—above all the most committed ones—will always have to deal with ethically. There is no “clean” social commitment, free of ethical and political ambiguities.

The Panamanian and Canal experiences allowed me to observe the US Empire’s naked pretension to dominate Panama and the Panamanian people at close range. It was something I had previously experienced in Cuba and would subsequently see in Nicaragua and Guatemala. US figures as lamentable as Senator Jesse Helms and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger crossed paths in the Canal negotiating process with others who have earned the sympathy and respect of Latin Americans, such as President Carter and Sol Linowitz, the Canal negotiator who years later would be involved in the Inter-American Dialogue.

Understanding Central America implies
understanding constant US interference

A lot could be said about the US role in Central America. The generated—and degenerated—reality in our countries, turned into “banana republics” in the Empire’s backyard, has been amply documented. It is not for a lack of information that this shameful history continues in the 21st century, albeit with more subtle and disguised forms of intervention. It is impossible to understand Central America without taking the United States’ constant interference in the region into account. President George W. Bush and the officials he has chosen to direct the country’s current Latin American policy—Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich, John Negroponte and Lino Gutiérrez, fundamental actors in Central America in past decades—do not offer any better prospects for the 21st century.

But there are other faces. The honesty of US academics like William LaFeber, (Inevitable Revolutions), was an enriching element in my Christian and intellectual experience in Panama and during the Sandinista Revolution. Years later we established a joint effort with many of these intellectuals to found Policy Alternatives for the Caribbean and Central America (PACCA) in Nicaragua and Canadian Policy Alternatives (CAPA) in Canada, an information and analysis network for academic solidarity that started in Panama in the seventies and lasted for several decades. Such shared “gloncal” (global-national-local) proposals could represent one of the most promising and urgent aspects of the struggle for more humane and democratic alternatives to the globalization process in the 21st century. They are a fundamental requirement in overcoming the current form of globalization, which is exclusionary, unjust, ungovernable and therefore un-universalizable for most of humanity.

At the end of 1976, when I returned to Panama after my second round of studies at Cambridge University, I again took up the work I had started in the mid-seventies with Panamanian civil society, this time with the Social Training Center and the magazine Diálogo Social. This work was complemented in 1977 with the creation of the Panamanian Studies and Social Action Center (CEASPA). I was the Center’s first director up until the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. From Diálogo Social and CEASPA we created a platform for Latin American—particularly Central American—solidarity and the fight against the Somoza dictatorship. Those were also very rich years of linking up with the experiences of committed Christians that were flourishing all over Latin America.

The coming together of two cultural traditions

Another important moment during my time in Panama was the exile of the Latin American Left triggered by the Pinochet military coup in Chile in 1973. Dozens of Latin American intellectuals and political leaders who had taken refuge in the Panamanian embassy in Santiago, Chile, arrived in Panama as exiles. As economic advisor to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, I requested that they be attended and given refuge. They reinforced my commitment with the whole of Latin America. My close friends Hebert de Souza, Theotonio Dos Santos, Vania Banbirra, Rui Mauro Marini, Tomás Vasconi, Pablo Richard and Franz Hinkelammert, several of them agnostics, had their first contact with a church committed to the poor in Panama and later in Nicaragua. The coming together of Christian believers and agnostics all opposed to injustice, poverty and lack of democracy created a new relationship between Latin American Christians and intellectuals and a friendly ecumenicalism with our brothers from the Protestant churches.
The commitment to oppressed peoples and their causes led us to share very profound human experiences that started to transcend a long history of conflicts between Christianity and a good part of Latin America’s intellectual community. Thus for two decades, little Central America, which had been on the margins of similar initiatives that were already being developed in Chile, Brazil and Colombia, became a place of meeting and solidarity, linking two cultural traditions that mutually needed each other: Christian theology and the social sciences. The future of an integrated Latin America demands such convergences; it requires a project for a more endogenous and integrated citizenry.

We were able to share similar experiences with some 60 bishops in 1979 during the Latin American Bishops’ Conference in Puebla, Mexico. Although not admitted into the seminary where the bishops were meeting with Pope John Paul II, we theologians and social scientists held a brotherly reflection with bishops who left the seminary at dusk to meet with us. The book Para entender América Latina (To Understand Latin America) records this unforgettable experience of brotherhood that forged close friendships. Everybody involved was seeking a better future for the poor in the region, who by that time represented 120 million people, almost double the figures at the time of the Medellín Latin American Bishops’ Conference in 1968. By the next Bishops’ Conference, held in Santo Domingo in 1992, the figure had almost doubled again.

I fell in love with Nicaragua right from the start

I was intensely and passionately involved in that epic event that was the Popular Sandinista Revolution for 20 years. I also experienced its demoralizing ethical hara-kiri. I had become a Nicaraguan national almost by instinct in 1963. I fell in love with Nicaragua right from the start and will always remain linked to my new homeland wherever God’s erratic designs may take me. In 1972, the Somoza government refused to renew my Nicaraguan passport and years later the Panamanian government offered me Panamanian nationality for services rendered during the Canal negotiations. In 1990, I recovered my Nicaraguan nationality, and this double—Nicaraguan and Panamanian—nationality turned Central America into my “regional identity,” something further accentuated when I worked in Guatemala years later.

My work with exiled Nicaraguans in Panama had led to the creation of an economic planning team for when the revolution triumphed. When this happened on July 19, 1979, these Sandinista friends invited me to set up the Planning Ministry (MIPLAN). I arrived in Nicaragua on July 23 with the intention of staying for just a few months to help incorporate the economic planning team into MIPLAN, which was based in an old dilapidated office block in front of the luxurious Intercontinental Hotel. I was named Overall Planning Director—as my post was called—and for two years until my resignation in June 1981, I had what was possibly one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

Seeking to lift up a country ruined by the dictatorship, the insurrectionary war and then immediately afterward by the US military aggression and boycott was a passionate task to which I dedicated almost 20 years, first in MIPLAN and subsequently, with more critical autonomy, in the Nicaraguan Social Research and Studies Institute (INIES) and the Regional Social and Economic Research Coordinator (CRIES).

As the ministry’s planning director, I invited economists from Chile, Peru, Central America and Mexico and a notable group of English, US, Spanish and Swedish university professors. The aim was to learn from the different Latin American experiences in order to devise a new model of transition towards a mixed economy, political pluralism and the diversification of Nicaragua’s and Central America’s political and economic dependence. I consider that we produced a novel theoretical effort aimed at overcoming ideological dogmatisms. The 1980 Program for Economic Reactivation in Benefit of the People still reflects that attempt at mental freshness and technical quality that was obstructed as a valid endogenous project for small peripheral countries by the US aggression and embargo as the Cold War was drawing to an end.

The Sandinista project failed because of ethical inconsistency

External factors were an objective limitation in revolutionary Nicaragua. The country was destroyed by war and by Somocista decapitalization. Nevertheless, I consider that the failure to act in line with the ethical values promulgated by the revolution was what led to the project’s definitive failure. This ethical inconsistency was reflected in the internal power struggles within the Sandinista Front’s National Directorate; the personal ambition of the leaders, who sought the success of their own particular projects rather than the consolidation of an alternative model; increased distancing from the people and middle-level cadres due to the “bourgeoisi-fication” of the top revolutionary leadership; the ideologi-zing of an outdated form of Marxism by certain leadership cadres; and a lack of respect for the identities of women, peasants and indigenous peoples, for grassroots religiousness and for ecclesiastical institutionality.

The embryonic crises generated by these errors grew more acute from 1981 onwards due to the rigidity provoked by US military aggression and the international media’s demonization of the Sandinista project. Regrettably, this was also aided by the aggressiveness of the Nicaraguan Catholic hierarchy, which caused unnecessary confrontations, particularly during Pope John Paul II’s visit in March 1983, despite the efforts of the base communities and priests involved with the Sandinista project, who used all means possible to avoid the self-fulfilled prophesy of a confrontation between church and revolution.

Why I resigned in 1981

My decision to resign from the Planning Ministry in 1981 was one of the most traumatic and difficult I have ever had to make. In the middle of the US war of aggression, the resignation of a Jesuit priest from an important revolutionary government post could have been used in the campaign to delegitimize Sandinismo. It was obvious to me, however, that the power struggles within the National Directorate; the personal ambition of certain comandantes, financed by the limited resources available; the “gigantism” of modernizing projects that were not adapted to Nicaragua’s real economy and the US aggression were leading the country towards a financial crisis that made not only planning but also basic economic programming impossible.

The inorganic issuing of córdobas [those not backed by production] to finance the war, the internal security and the mammoth agricultural projects—the Chiltepe dairy cattle ranches, the Timal sugar refinery and the Sébaco agroindustrial projects, for example—upset the macroeconomic balances and undermined the economic foundations. In this context—in which the nine comandantes [of the FSLN National Directorate] also failed to respect the autonomy of middle-ranking officials like myself—I had no possibility of programming, let alone of planning any kind of logic or other practical alternatives. I would only end up being responsible for irresponsible developments that I did not want to be a party to.

In a few years, the army and security would consume over half of Nicaragua’s budget, affecting the social areas of education and health, impoverishing doctors, nurses and teachers with starvation salaries and asphyxiating cooperatives and small businesses due to a lack of credits and technical support. In the mid-eighties, the inorganic credits issued to maintain these sectors, who were unable to repay them because of the war; the anti-economic financial paternalism reflected in the ongoing cancellation of internal debts; and the freezing of resources by the international banking sector generated an acute foreign currency shortage that led to the collapse of the córdoba and to runaway inflation rates that reached as high as 30,000% a year.

The initial symptoms of internal erosion could already be detected in 1981, but it was trusted that they would be corrected. For that reason my resignation and many of our criticisms were announced internally, to avoid fueling the international campaign waged by the United States and the national and international Right to discredit the revolution. I continued cooperating from a more autonomous position, following the line of “critical support” suggested to Jesuits in Nicaragua by the Jesuit Father General, Pedro Arrupe.

I somewhat ingenuously intended my resignation to provoke some kind of reflection, because in the early years of the revolution it was unprecedented to resign without the nod from the National Directorate. Unlike some other priests, I was never an FSLN member, although my close relationship with Sandinismo had been evident since my years in Panama. Following my resignation, I kept a low profile for a few months, then presented the revolutionary government with a project to set up CRIES as a way to continue collaborating with the revolutionary process from a more autonomous position. The government accepted the idea. At that time, there was a great need for a committed but more autonomous reflection process. We founded CRIES with a group of Central American and Caribbean intellectuals in 1982 to accompany the Sandinista process and other social change processes in Central America and the Caribbean. CRIES managed to maintain a reasonable degree of academic and administrative independence, but its attempt to influence a change in economic and social policy had limited results.

Were we critical enough?

The revolutionary government did not pay enough attention to the different evaluations and analyses we presented during those years or to the international seminars we organized through CRIES, despite the strong debate they sparked on the economic and social situation. The critical support we provided to CRIES’ magazine Pensamiento Propio and to envío—the only print media with a notable degree of independence during those years—generated international solidarity and sympathy, but had no significant effects within Nicaragua. The international experts we invited to evaluate the Nicaraguan situation agreed that it was building up to an economic collapse. It was hard for international solidarity to maintain an unsustainable situation for very long.

I directed CRIES and Pensamiento Propio for ten years. During this period of regional crisis we incorporated or founded around 30 similar research centers in all of the Central American countries and in six Caribbean countries, including Cuba and Puerto Rico, with the aim of coming up with a regional alternative for the small peripheral countries located in the Empire’s back yard. In the eighties and beginning of the nineties we shared and analyzed the epic moments of the Central American social and economic transformation, the US boycott and aggression, Nicaragua’s isolation by the multilateral organizations and the incredible international solidarity in Latin America, Europe and the United States itself with the processes of change in the region.

Exiled Central American and Caribbean intellectuals concentrated in the network of CRIES centers, turning us into a focal point for international solidarity, which was perhaps insufficiently critical of the problems and tendencies that were accumulating in Nicaragua. Although it may seem today that we weren’t critical enough, during those times it was perhaps the best we could do given the limited internal margins imposed by the vertical leadership—with its “National Directorate, give us your orders” ideology—and without being used by the international campaign to discredit Nicaragua. The dominant tension at the end of the eighties was generated by our attempts to maintain a balance between critical support and constructive proposals for improving the situation in Nicaragua. Perhaps our most critical situation came in February 1988, when we publicly and openly started to criticize the structural adjustment measures that the FSLN was forced to impose to deal with the inflationary crisis, the collapse of the national currency and the drastic reduction in international cooperation. While economically necessary, the adjustment was socially regressive and affected the most impoverished sectors, but had a lesser effect on the middle classes and the new Sandinista bourgeoisie in particular. Nor was the adjustment applied to eliminate the growing expressions of corruption that were emerging among the top Sandinista leadership.

The Sandinista Revolution: that popular exploit

The economic and social contradictions experienced in Nicaragua from the mid-eighties increased the rigidity towards indigenous, women’s and peasant issues, while the grassroots organizations were increasingly exploited as mouthpieces of the FSLN’s National Directorate. There was also subtle and utilitarian religious manipulations to ensure the support of Christians, carried out without respect for either ethics or values. The leaders’ personal lives were increasingly removed from their declarations. The basic coherence that could have maintained the political leadership’s legitimacy and credibility when calling for resistance and shared austerity faded away.

The intensification of the war of aggression and the US embargo to suffocate the Sandinista Revolution were counteracted by solidarity from Cuba, the Scandinavian countries and a collection of solidarity groups from the United States, Europe and even Japan. The ideologizing of the process and the lack of historical realism at a time when a crisis was developing in the Soviet Bloc (although we did not anticipate it), coincided with the growing “bourgeoisification” of the Sandinista leadership, increasing its isolation from the people’s needs and urgencies. There was an increasing duality between Sandinista grassroots activists and the top revolutionary leaders, weakening the spirit required to win the 1990 elections. The continuation of the military draft and the feeling that the contra war and the confrontation with the United States would continue if Daniel Ortega won the elections were the internal factors that contributed to Violeta Chamorro’s triumph in 1990. The unconditional support provided to her campaign by the US government was another fundamental factor. But even so, we were still all surprised by the FLSN’s defeat.

Much has been written about the legacy of that popular exploit that was the Sandinista Revolution, but it still needs to be constructively critiqued and evaluated for the future, without the ideological distortions imposed by the Cold War geopolitical era and without the embarrassing accommodations made during the nineties in response to the avalanche of neoliberal orthodoxy. The one-track thinking and the advance of an electoral democracy that neither wanted to nor could tackle the underlying causes of Central America’s underdevelopment and social disintegration also require further analysis.

I had a determining intellectual
and religious experience in Nicaragua

My experience in Nicaragua of a committed praxis based on social scientific analysis and Christian discernment, along with a closeness to the social actors that were making the decisions, has been the most determining experience of my Central American life.

Sharing the joy and enthusiasm of a people who for the first time felt they were playing a determining role in their own history was one of the happiest and most beautiful periods of my life, although also one of the most painful. That experience demonstrates the existence of the possibility and capacity to change. The hope-charged suffering of the oppressed as a “theological place” (a place from where theology should be reflected upon) and the intellectual spur of that effective closeness cannot be provided by any academic institution or university. If my personal experience has any value for others, I would like to state that combining intellectual rigor and quality with solidarity-based commitment to the poor and permanent ethical discernment is a determining and strategic pillar on which to build the future.

The loss of popularity, the exhaustion of the people after two decades of confrontation against first Somoza and then the US-supported contras consumed the energy reserves of much of the Nicaraguan population. And although the pre-electoral polls increasingly showed that de-animation, we still trusted that the Sandinista Front would win the February 1990 elections, despite the anti-Sandinista campaign unleashed by the United States and the massive influx of resources for the parties organized in the National Opposition Union.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that an FSLN victory in those elections would have maintained the tension with the United States, the internal confrontation, the country’s decapitalization and international donor fatigue. Violeta Chamorro represented peace, a chance to normalize relations with the United States and the international banking sector and what turned out to be a center-right government that would respect the social advances achieved during the Sandinista decade.

The FSLN’s ethical suicide was its real defeat

Following the electoral defeat, the May 1990 Sandinista Assembly again raised expectations of a critical review of the errors made, a commitment to grassroots needs and a renovation of Sandinismo. This process of party criticism and restructuring was necessary in order to respond to the new world that was developing, totally hegemonized by the United States, with no longer any counterbalance from the socialist bloc. Many of us Sandinista Christians even trusted that the electoral defeat would allow the necessary time and reflection for a truly revolutionary conversion of the FSLN after ten years in power.

Unfortunately, the pro-change Sandinista forces were eclipsed by the National Directorate and by the “piñata” of certain top-level leaders who pillaged state goods, not to create economic capital for the FSLN’s conversion, as they initially argued, but for obscene personal enrichment. The FSLN’s real defeat was not suffered in the 1990 elections. What caused its division and progressive disintegration was personal ambition and hunger for power. The moral and human attraction of this great historical epic of a small people in the Empire’s backyard was splintered by corruption and ethical suicide.

The Empire is as dirty inside as it appears from the outsideChristians were intensely involved in the Central American peace process. The martyrs from the UCA in El Salvador, and above all Monsignor Romero, were martyrs for peace. Years later, in Guatemala, Monsignor Gerardi has become another genuine martyr for peace following the signing of the Peace Accords in the Central American country most massacred by conflicts. We have learned that the signing of peace accords and ceasing of military hostilities do not consolidate peace unless the truth is cleared up, impunity is overcome and society is reconciled, particularly in relation to the identity and rights of indigenous peoples.

I got involved in the peace processes in more structural, less heroic and possibly less effective work. In 1984, I was invited to participate as a Nicaraguan representative in the Inter-American Dialogue, along with Monsignor Marcos McGrath from Panama. We held meetings in the US Senate, the House of Representatives, the State Department and many different media offices, universities and churches. I also met with George Bush, Sr., who was Vice President of the Reagan administration at the time. On that occasion, he strongly criticized liberation theology, addressing himself directly at me.

I found my long experience in the Inter-American Dialogue to be enriching and rewarding. I was able to learn about the struggles over power and interests that take place around US foreign policy. The Empire is as dirty inside as it appears from the outside and in the day-to-day reality of our peoples’ experiences. However, there is a broad conglomeration of sectors and individuals within the US Government itself and within that nation’s corporate power structure that opposes and is struggling against that imperial form of culture and international action. We tend not to consider this reality in Latin America, perhaps because we’re more familiar with and closer to the solidarity we receive from so many US civil society groups that share our desire for justice and dignity. Yet I believe that linking up with the more “open” groups within the US establishment could provide an important legacy for the future, because it would allow us to accumulate negotiating capacity and build broader alliances.

I cannot erase from my memory
the bitter taste of imperial power

The process of creating the Contadora Group for peace in Central America was another important experience in the peace process. CRIES played a catalyzing role, linking groups of Central American politicians and intellectuals who toured Latin America on various occasions seeking to create an arena in which to negotiate and accompany the initial peace processes in Central America. Argentine Foreign Minister Dante Caputo played a pivotal role in setting up the Contadora Group, despite tenacious US opposition to this initiative. With the lucidity and ethical integrity to try to overcome the worst practices of his government, Senator Terry Sanford, an example of the “open” US establishment, coordinated another peace initiative: the Multilateral Commission for Central American Peace and Development, an international arena set up to support the Esquipulas Agreements.

The Sanford Commission, as it was known, and its 1989 report on “Poverty, Conflict and Hope: a critical moment for Central America,” had the vision to invite representatives from the governments and oppositions of the different Central American countries, accompanied by eminent representatives from the international community. Swedish Prime Minister Pierre Schori was the binding force behind the representatives from Europe and Japan, who acted as a counterbalance in the debate between the United States and the Central Americans. The Sanford Report regained relevance in 2001 following the stagnation of and delay in implementing the Peace Accords in the region.

These experiences were important for learning which of the countries and their individuals were really interested in a peace that would resolve the causes of the regional conflict and which wanted to maintain dominion and historical privileges over the region. We discovered unsuspected solidarity and interest among international civil society, universities, Christian and Buddhist groups, political parties and sectors of those governments interested in Central America during those years. Many meetings were held in each of the Central American countries, in the United States and in a large number of European and Scandinavian countries. We even took the issue of Central American peace to Japan.

In the whole regional and international peace negotiation experience it was important to discover that churches and civil society in the United States and Europe were strongly committed to a genuine peace in Central America that would resolve the causes of the conflict. On the other hand, for both the international financial organizations and the US government, seeking peace meant dismantling what they considered a subversive threat, even at a time in which the Soviet “evil empire” was collapsing. What were revealed during those years in which the small peripheral Central American countries were struggling for their dignity were economic and geopolitical interests rather than anti-communist ideology. In those years of negotiations, the nucleus of economic and political power in the United States demonstrated a great lack of respect and a shameful lack of magnanimity towards its smaller neighbors. It continuously sought to crush the dignity of the dejected and impoverished Central American people, whose hopeful aspirations and just demands for space and respect deserved to be listened to.

Ever since the sixties in Cuba, I have had an overwhelming experience of US arrogance in relation to Central America. I came to understand the imperial will first hand. For a long time I refused to use the term “imperialist” out of respect for my many close US friends and institutions. But imperialist blindness is an innate element of the US nucleus of economic and political power and of its dominant culture.

The alliance with US civil society is strategic for the 21st century. We mutually need each other if we are to obtain the freedom and democracy that would allow the construction of a better form of globalization. However, the innumerable displays of solidarity and generosity from so many Americans cannot erase from my memory that bitter taste of imperial power exercised against peoples that while of insignificant size and capacity still caused President Reagan to utter a phrase that synthesizes that blindness: “If we don’t prevail in Nicaragua and Central America, we won’t prevail anywhere else in the world.”

I was named rector against my will

The sudden death of César Jerez, rector of the UCA in Managua and previously Jesuit Provincial in Central America, marked an unexpected new turn in my life: university education. I was named rector against my will. I had always considered Latin American universities to be reproducers and amplifiers of the system despite their sporadic protests and their history of rebellion. I interpreted the fact that most universities ended up accommodating to the conditionings of the market or political power as expressing a lack of ethics. Nonetheless, in the seventies and eighties the Central American UCAs offered a different history of struggle for equality and social justice, which even included martyrdom.

In 1991, the Managua UCA was still recovering from the destruction caused by the 1972 earthquake. An avalanche of Sandinista and contra veterans enrolled, together with former Sandinista state officials who were seeking refuge in the university to rebuild their professional lives in the face of a new government that was increasingly discriminating against them. The task I was entrusted with was a great challenge. The Managua UCA was the only free Jesuit university in Latin America, as it was part of the national system of Nicaraguan universities and therefore received a share of the state budget. This allowed it to accept mainly students with limited resources, something that was impossible in other Jesuit universities, which had just a small percentage of scholarship holders.

Unsuccessful mediator in a polarized and paralyzed university

At the beginning of the nineties, the UCA became a platform of Sandinista resistance against the neoliberal adjustment policies implemented by the Chamorro government and attempts to dismantle the social projects of the revolutionary decade. The FSLN used the university students as cannon fodder and a channel through which to achieve their attempts to govern “from below.” During my first three years, the UCA was trapped in this paralyzing polarization. As rector, I was unsuccessful in my attempts to negotiate between the government and Sandinismo. The struggle over the allocation of 6% of the budget to the universities both marked and distorted university life for several years. Three deaths and dozens of wounded was the toll of a confrontation in which the university students’ just demands to be able to study in a country shattered by war and economic crisis mixed with polarizing and paralyzing political interests.

The students’ demands were manipulated and distorted by the FSLN, which exploited this struggle to maintain a political platform in the universities. They were also slighted by the incomprehension and inflexibility of the government, which was docile to the international financial organizations’ demands to reduce the university budget. The fanatical ideologizing of the ultraconservative and religious education minister turned education into a new battleground.

By 1994, the objective was to recover university autonomy and “depoliticize” the university, breaking down the partisan divisions. This objective is a determining factor for the future of Latin America, where we need universities that provide quality, relevant and equitable education at the service of the new generations. The “policy” and strategic commitment of Latin American universities should revolve around overcoming poverty and recovering the rule of law and the increasingly privatized public arena, along with a high level of social and ethical commitment. This is a great responsibility for the many Catholic universities that for so many years have been forming successful professionals in failed societies.

I have dedicated the most recent years to democratizing knowledge

Adapting the university to face the challenge of globalization and sustainable human development became a personal commitment born out of the Central American legacy. The UCA rectorship and my involvement in AUSJAL enabled me to discover the role of the university and education in this era of knowledge, this era of accumulation based on human capital more than on natural, industrial or even financial resources. The nineties marked the destiny of my final years, which have been dedicated to democratizing knowledge as one of the main ways to overcome poverty, increase democracy and create a citizenry capable of achieving sustainable human development.

This issue, which requires more in-depth examination, is perhaps one of the areas of greatest potential influence for Christians in the 21st century in Latin America. We still lack the consciousness and vision to make creative use of the educational continuum among universities, high schools and basic, formal and informal education, which represents such a broad educational platform in Latin America.

This continuum has the potential to form a new generation with values, capacities and professional quality and turn it into a pro-active network capable of integrating a liberating Latin American consciousness. If we don’t understand this, we will keep doing the same old thing: amplifying and reproducing the system and the reasons why so many Latin Americans live in impoverishment and exclusion. This is the great responsibility facing the huge platform of Catholic educational institutions in Latin America. Liberation theology has not recognized the evangelizing and strategic importance of education in liberating our peoples. Does this represent a new and renovating path for liberation theology in the 21st century?

The gifts of India, Africa and China

When I finished my time as rector of the Managua UCA in 1998, I requested a sabbatical year to assimilate and digest my forty years in Central America. My dilemma was whether to close myself up in a university to write a kind of analytic memoir, or to formulate the main areas of an epistemological rupture from which to examine Christianity and Latin America from a non-Western and non-Christian perspective, comparing the Latin American experiences in this era of globalization with those of the other continents.

In the end, I managed to combine both projects. I spent two months visiting India, invited by the Jesuits and some research centers, to evaluate the 500th anniversary of the “discovery” of India by Vasco da Gama. January and February 1998 were fascinating months in a country that profoundly surprised and captivated me. Despite considering myself well versed in the works of Mahatma Gandhi, who I consider to be the most important figure of the 20th century, India broke many of my western stereotypes that have been indulged by our Christian culture. Experiencing cultural diversity as a fundamental element for an alternative form of globalization was a gift from the Indian Jesuits, especially the dalit, who until then I had called pariahs due to the education I had received.

I also had the chance to make a month-long visit to three countries in the heart of Africa (Zambia, Uganda and Kenya), accompanying the heroic lay and religious experiences following the massacres of Rwanda. In addition, I had the privilege of living in China for a month, visiting Taiwan, Hong Kong and Beijing as the guest of the university of Beijing, which was celebrating its centenary. I obtained permission to visit the tomb of the Jesuit priest Mateo Ricci in the Emperor’s gardens, which are currently the gardens of the Communist Party’s Central Committee. His tomb is a marble mausoleum that has been well cared for in homage to the respect he displayed and the service he gave to the Chinese people. Ricci reminded me of Bartolomé de las Casas, Antonio de Montesinos and so many other pioneers who respected the indigenous peoples in the Americas. These are the people who endure in history and in people’s memory, regardless of the dominant culture or ideology of their lifetime.

I have reached the third age
with a great deal of accumulated youth

These brief experiences in the non-Christian East and the currently excluded Africa, with such different histories and cultures, reconfirmed for me that despite this diversity, the structural problems of globalization are very similar in all corners of the “global village.” The concentration and centralization of power and wealth, even in China, is the fundamental structural contradiction of a system whose very logic generates unemployment and exclusion. The market and competitiveness as society’s highest coordinating principles lead to the antidemocratic reality in which we live today. This reality is inefficient because over time the social, political and environmental costs generated by this globalization, which antagonizes people and peoples and is increasingly ungovernable, paradoxically destroy the efficiency that it proclaims as its main comparative advantage over other alternatives.

I tried to absorb and digest those months of epistemological rupture for the rest of 1998 in Boston College. It was the time of both the great US economic boom and the political satire revolving around President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Those were important months in helping me understand the power and capacity of that great nation that is the United States of America, as well as its miseries and its human, institutional and cultural weaknesses.

The year in Boston also helped me personally reflect on how to put to effective evangelical service a third age that while including a great deal of accumulated youth, was clearly signaling the end of my life. I proposed optimizing those years by considering that the third age can also be a sound age. I opted to use it as a time for maturing the rich and conflictive Christian experience I had lived through with an attitude of thankfulness. This age could help me deepen the commitment to “love and serve in everything” that had filled me with such happiness, having lived so intensely in Central American history, urged on by hope, yet burdened with suffering and many failures. And that’s what I am now doing.

On which pillars should we build the future?

Today we are living in times of confusion, perplexity and uncertainty derived from so many times of discernment and search. These are also privileged, although difficult, times in which to find a sense of life in this directionless world. Following these reflections on my biographical experience, I would like to transmit some ideas, which I present as a working hypothesis. I consider them valid pillars on which to build the future.

Effective closeness to the poor represents one valid pillar for building the future. Opting for the poor and their cause must be based on insertion and closeness. It is not just a matter of accompanying them through solidarity and affection, but rather one of effective and transforming structural accompaniment. This closeness requires a great deal of reflection, research, teamwork, multi-disciplinary efforts and linkage through solidarity-based and “gloncal” sectoral networks (“gloncal” networks refer to those that perceive the reality of the global village and national reality, while at the same time being local) within specific countries and cultures.

We must organize our hopes into what I see as five priority areas: 1) the world of work, 2) the environment, 3) new gender relations, 4) cultural and ethical relations, and, 5) the new generation. What is happening today in these areas has not been resolved nor does the prevailing global capitalist system have the capacity to resolve it. Rather than just alternative models in these areas, we need alternative actors and leaderships in each area so that a great alliance can be formed from civil society, one that uses the power of the citizenry to achieve a new Global Social Contract in participatory symbiosis with a democratized state and market.

Living with indignation

Evangelizing history is another pillar for the future. Discernment and insertion based on the cross of Jesus of Nazareth are also valid on the political level. The Leninism and vanguardism that hegemonized the attempts at social transformation in previous decades failed not just because of external aggression, economic and political errors and the lack of objective conditions. They mainly failed because they came from power, from above, from an elitist top leadership lacking effective closeness, internal democracy, accountability and political and economic transparency. We cannot accept as valid any transformation advocated by vanguardist systems that do not involve periodical renewal of the leading cadres and an ongoing formation and change of leaderships to regenerate collective energies.

It is fundamentally important from the perspective of both Christian faith and praxis to emphasize the development of cultures and daily life “from below and from within” as a pillar for building the future and sustainable human development. This social energy must be accompanied with technical and political teams whose integration is based on solidarity and whose proposals are ethically coherent with their lifestyles. The leadership that can make the necessary possible must overcome the populist, “caudillo-style,” technocratic and elitist leadership that has afflicted Latin America on both the Right and the Left. The political blindness of power, believing that one always and automatically knows what is needed and what the people are thinking, still represents the aberration and political corruption most responsible for destroying hope and increasing people’s poverty.

Serving and knowing how to listen are not pious Christian considerations, but rather the essence of efficacy, wisdom and the mobilizing mystique for achieving a successful social transformation. The new man—and new woman, as we should add today—incarnated by Martí, Sandino, Che Guevara, whose examples mobilized generations of Latin Americans, is a profoundly Christian concept. The ethical indignation that Monsignor Pedro Casaldáliga spoke of in his book Espiritualidad de la liberación (Liberation Spirituality), the heartfelt indignation at the tragedy of the exploited learned from FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca and that sense of life expounded by Sandinista intellectual and martyr Ricardo Morales Avilés (“Revolutionary activity is the art of giving one’s own life the value of a historic mission”), are fundamental attitudes for living ethically in this era of globalization dominated by cynicism.

In a community, a team and a “gloncal” network

From an evangelical perspective, faith cannot be maintained without community practice. Without community, it is impossible to experience the anxiety and perplexity provoked by this era of changes and this change of era. Without community, it is impossible to maintain a spirituality of resistance to the system or the robust spirituality required by the humanly impossible mission currently facing us. Discovering the presence of the Spirit in everyday life is something profoundly personal, while at the same time profoundly communal.

Certain values are just as necessary for the Christian as for the committed agnostic. The experience of community is one such value; it is the equivalent of the political need for teamwork. Individualism and the obsession with personal power have had the equivalent effect of AIDS among Central American revolutionary groups. We could generalize this perception to other regions of the world and to the Catholic Church itself.

But the need for community and a team is not enough today without the establishment of solidarity networks of a “gloncal” nature that link global-level experiences with national and local ones. In the century that has just finished, the international solidarity generated by Nicaragua and Central America is only comparable with that previously provoked by the Spanish Civil War and the Vietnam War. The difficult transformations of the future will require international solidarity networks working “gloncally” on local-national transformations that simultaneously have strong global linkage and solidarity.

New challenges for liberation theology

Placing power, ecclesiastical legitimacy and people’s capacity to mobilize at the service of the people themselves, rather than of the Church and much less its personal interests, is the legacy left to us by Monsignor Romero. His example reveals effective closeness; the affectionate as effective; proximity to the day-to-day demands; the defense of and search and respect for the identity of the social actors; and a sense of life and hope. These are fundamental legacies of the Central American past to the Latin American future.

The pending challenges include overcoming the ideological class perspective that does not allow respect for peasant or indigenous identities—as happened, for example, in the Sandinista revolution, led by urban cadres—and overcoming the ideological machismo that does not permit the establishment of new gender relations.

The identity of today’s youth, so profoundly marked by the media, by image and music, and with a sensitivity and emotional nature unknown to previous generations, also presents new challenges. The ambiguity of the current youth cultural phenomenon is part of a new identity in gestation that needs to be incorporated into the processes of change. What is already clear is that politics in its traditional sense is incapable of mobilizing the youth in the way it did in previous decades.

Creating “effective closeness” to the new social relations and to so many new actors of globalization (migrants, maquila workers, workers in ephemeral and badly-paid jobs, those excluded from public education and health, youth gang members, students with no job prospects, etc.) represents a challenge for liberation theology if it wishes to relaunch itself in the 21st century.

Integrating Latin America: a pressing challenge

The Contadora Group for peace in Central America had its roots in the solidarity generated by the Canal-based Panamanian cause. Although the Contadora Group opened up important spaces and hindered direct US military action, it was unable to create a Latin American framework for negotiating the crisis. Something similar subsequently happened with the Esquipulas Accords. Although this initiative came from the Central American governments supported by the Latin American community, the European community and the United Nations, it did not create enough maneuvering room in response to the boycott and negative impact of the United States, whose main objective was to isolate and weaken Sandinista Nicaragua.

Nor is there a prevailing Latin American frame of reference in the Argentine crisis and the growing and generalized Latin American crisis of economics and governability. Both the expectations generated around MERCOSUR and those related to the democratic process in Mexico following the defeat of the PRI could easily disappear. The tragic side to this dialectic is that rather than consolidating the democratic processes, the lack of economic and political governance in our countries is encouraging authoritarian regimes under democratic electoral formalities.

The consolidation of a Latin American negotiation framework and of blocs of Latin American countries able to regionalize the globalization and administer it in line with more endogenous regional interests is a pending and pressing issue for Christians.

Ecology, gender, biotechnology

Both historic socialism and capitalism share the great myth of progress; the myth of the development of productive and technological forces capable of ensuring unlimited and permanent progress. In socialism, this conception of progress was to be achieved through state control of planning under the management of the vanguard party. This same concept of progress is held by the capitalist system, in this case through private enterprise and the free market. This idea of progress is currently in crisis due to its obvious limitations (social exclusion; increasing environmental deterioration; stress and reduced quality of life for the great majority—including the elite), which requires us to carry out an in-depth revision of our concept of progress and development.

The following are just some examples that indicate that the concepts of progress and development and our vision of them are being profoundly questioned: the UNDP’s human development and quality of life indicators and analysis; the new perspectives provided by the comprehensive development of the World Bank’s outgoing economic director Joseph Stiglitz, the work titled The Visible Hands produced by The United Nations Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), the Copenhagen seminar that is following up on the Social Summit; and the work Development as Freedom produced by Nobel Prize for Economics winner Amartya Senn.

An in-depth examination of such questioning could be a potential area for the new liberation theology in the 21st century. The advances made in linking theology to ecology, to gender, to culture and to biotechnology appear on the horizon as crucial issues for theology with respect to the kind of civilization that is possible and desirable in this age of knowledge. This is truer today than ever, when the biogenetic revolution and the opening of the “book of life” through the mapping of the human genome have presented humanity with unsuspected challenges. The Copernican revolution that showed us we were not the center of the universe seems little more than an anecdote compared to the ethical and theological provocations raised by the current biotechnological revolution.

The hour of women and laypeople

The epistemological rupture implied by this change of era contains two fundamental areas for theology and social transformation. Throughout the world, including regions where women have suffered the most dramatic forms of discrimination and oppression (India, African countries), the emancipation of women and the demand for new gender relations is one of the most dominant factors of the 21st century. The liberation theology of women and women in liberation theology could become a fundamental voice for transforming both the reality in which we live and human relations. The evidence of a new consciousness among women will undoubtedly produce a change in the revelation of God and will be a determining element in future social changes.

Women’s mass incorporation into universities—they now account for a greater percentage of university students than men—and their superiority in terms of the highest university qualifications, is just one indicator that in the coming years we will experience an unprecedented professional, political, cultural and social reality not only in our countries, but also in the rest of the world. The unstoppable advances being made by women, who are increasingly aware and present in all arenas, will have special effects on the Catholic Church and on ecclesiastical power.

Alongside the advance of women, it is possible to perceive the emergence of an increasingly lay Catholic Church. Both realities, in symbiosis, will contribute profound transformations in ecclesiastical institutionality. But nothing is written in stone: these realities, which could renew the Church and strengthen it, could also weaken it or make it irrelevant in the world if they do not find an echo in the Church’s power structures. Paradoxically, the Church’s ecclesiastical apathy in abandoning its routines is coinciding with an increase of lay men and women searching for spirituality. This is something like what Carlos Fuentes described as “religious temperament without religious faith” in his panegyric and at times polemical text Jesús. Liberation theology must consider these realities and must effectively move closer to them.

The power and disintegration of the Latin American Left

Since the sixties, the simultaneous emergence in Latin America of dependency theory and liberation theology generated a convergence that, together with the boom of the Latin American novel, created an identity and leading role for Latin America in the world. All of this began weakening towards the end of the 20th century.

The profound crisis of the Latin American Left played its part in this weakening. In the case of the revolutionary movements of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, it is possible to apply the classic Latin saying “corruptio optimi pessima” (the corruption of the best is the worst). The individualism, ambition for power and economic, political and ethical corruption of the Central American revolutionary leaders and parties are recognized and widely disseminated facts. Their effects have been manifested in the division and fragmentation of the parties, the credibility crisis affecting the different Lefts—even when this is not expressed in its true dimension during elections—and the growing apathy towards politics, which is increasing the pre-eminence of economic and market factors. Some might add that the Latin saying could also be applied to sectors of the Catholic Church, and certain examples could easily be provided.

The Lavalas movement in Haiti, consisting fundamentally of Christian base communities and a committed clergy, represented another shattered hope in Latin America. The individualism and ambition of Jean Bertrand Aristide, together with the incompetence and corruption of his party, brought this admirable and impoverished country to a level of decomposition that in some aspects exceeded that generated by the Duvalier dictatorship. The crisis of the Granada revolution, to some extent the result of a similar process of corruption and individualism; the erosion of the Colombian guerrilla movements; the crisis of the Peruvian Left and of the Montoneros and Tupamaros, have only added to this increasing disintegration of the Latin American Left.

This moral decomposition of the progressive forces acting in opposition to their own values and principles is a “theological place,” a reality forcing us to reflect theologically on power, politics and politicians. It is not just another issue that the reflection of liberation theology can avoid, because the popular movements and progressive parties are the arena for the political incorporation of many Christian leaders, who themselves have not been free of corruptio optimi pessima either.

In the midst of its ambiguities, civil society is currently perceived as the midwife of a new Left, with more democratic organizations, accountability, greater transparency and a culture of ongoing evaluation. But nothing guarantees that this will be the case, because there are also many critical zones in today’s Latin American civil society.

The defense of Cuba: a Christian and Latin American task

In the Latin American scenario, the defense of Cuba is also a Christian task. In the first place, this involves defending it against the US aggression and embargo and the relentless conditions that the financial system and international market have woven around the island. But Cuba’s own defense of Cuba is also a Christian task. Cuba needs to defend itself from the rigidities and democratic limitations that could turn the island into a Latin American Numantia, which would have tremendous costs for its people and for Latin American countries as a whole.

Until very recently, Cuba had not had such a clear experience of two lifestyles and two parameters of behavior differentiating the people from certain leadership sectors. The forced need to insert itself into the international market following the collapse of the Soviet bloc is generating internal threats in Cuba that are just as dangerous as the external ones, if not more so. As a Christian, friend and witness of the Cuban experience for many years, I believe that there is an urgent need to provide an appropriate response to these internal dangers in order to define the required Latin American solidarity with the Cuban people in the transition process.

There is a patent danger of a capitalist restoration through the business technocracy that is emerging in the Communist Party in the name of defending socialism. The end of the subsidized utopia in the late eighties is causing a reversal of the socialization of power and in the quality of life achieved for most Cuban people. The necessary opening to the international market has strengthened the party technocracy and weakened the grassroots sectors. How can this be avoided? What will the parameters of social equity be in this new situation? The lives of the new elites linked to the business technocracy and foreign companies and of the directors of state companies are evidencing the dissolution of the solidarity and social equity that characterized the Cuban process. How can this process be dealt with? No Christian solidarity can ignore the new situation in today’s Cuba.

The possibility of linking the Cuban transition to an alternative Latin American project that could save Cuba’s best historical and humanist achievements is at stake on the island. In 1991, there was a great national debate in Cuba during the 4th Communist Party Congress, just as in the 1990 Sandinista Assembly in Nicaragua. If the issues related to ethics and internal solidarity raised in both evaluations are not reexamined in Cuba we will witness the exhaustion of Cuba’s consistency and internal morals even if they do not reach the extreme of the FSLN’s ethical hara-kiri. Meanwhile, the lack of participation and transparency in the debate on the transition to the future could fossilize the Cuban project. Cuba is not a task facing Cubans alone; it is a task for all of Latin America, particularly those peoples who have experienced Cuba’s generosity and solidarity in so many different ways for so long. A reductionist solidarity of unilaterally defending everything that happens there will not help Cuba deal with its transition.

We will live with the true

I would like to finish these reflections on my personal, Christian and professional experience with the words and values of two Nicaraguans and one Chilean. Poet and Sandinista activist Gioconda Belli sums up the ethical crisis that caused so many Sandinistas like herself to split from the FSLN, although not from Sandinismo: “A just system cannot be built with ethical values if those who propose doing so lack those very values or sacrifice them along the way…. I hadn’t joined a revolution to play by the same rules that we aimed to change.... I refuse to think that one can save the honor of others by sacrificing one’s own honesty, secretly living a lie…. Those leaders had been captivated by the seductive image of themselves they had created, the image they saw reflected in the eyes of the multitude on the day of the triumph.”
In his “Letter to my Sandinista brothers,” my fellow Jesuit Fernando Cardenal resigned from the FSLN for much the same reasons: “This is not the FSLN that I entered and in which I participated with disciplined activism for so many years…. The uncontrolled struggle for power and an attitude of intolerance and disrespect that broke the traditional Sandinista fraternity, [and included] low-down, dirty attacks, calumnies and lies.... Internal party politics turned into politicking…. As a priest, I can no longer justify continuing as an active member of that party…. I am leaving political militancy behind, but will remain faithful to my initial commitment: the cause of the poor…. I first committed myself to them and later joined the Sandinista Front as a way of better fulfilling that task…. A cause that requires lies to triumph is a cause that is not worth supporting.”
Before resigning from the Sandinista Front, Fernando Cardenal had published several articles in the Sandinista newspaper Barricada calling on the National Directorate to implement a political and ethical evaluation. In them, he quoted Carlos Fonseca: “The reason for our cause, for the enormous moral superiority favoring us, is the enormous superiority of the justness of the cause we have been called on to defend.” Cardenal argued that “austerity becomes a wall that defends our integrity; it is a lifestyle.... Lack of austerity not only becomes offensive and scandalous in the face of the majority of our impoverished masses, but also breaks the coherence between our ideas and our lives, turning us into hypocrites.“
In another context, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda displays the same feelings, without sharing the Christian roots of Gioconda Belli or the priestly commitment of Fernando Cardenal. I would like to end with his words:

[…] we shared hopes and winters;
and were wounded not only by mortal enemies
but by mortal friends (which seemed more bitter)
We go on loving love and through our own behavior
will bury the liars and live with the true.

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