Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 56 | Febrero 1986


Central America

The Cultural-Ideological Factor

Envío team

The Central American crisis comes at a moment in which there’s an effort to redefine the world from the perspective of US domination. The New Right and Neo-Conservatives in the United States are trying to rid capitalism of its bad conscience and recreate the capitalist system with a new legitimacy that promotes ideological superiority together with military and economic superiority over the evil empire. This project attempts to strengthen the ideology of the transnational class precisely in a period of international crisis. Within this general framework, the most important aspect of the new Central American historic subject is the re-germination of the seeds of liberation, its yearning for justice and a protest against the unjust order that regionally and internationally maintains it as the wretched of the earth. The enormous vitality of religion is part of the force of this cultural identity.

Any challenge to the status quo is met with a prolonged counterrevolutionary war. Under these conditions the subjective factor is decisive in resolving the conflict. The collective identity of the new historic subject is the profound reason for its creativity and its capacity to resist.

The prolongation of the conflict, however, has split the Central American nations into two different cultural countries. The inability to stop the endless war has brought the populations to the limits of human endurance. The two different countries, then, are made up on the one hand of those who submit to the imperial force and resist it passively, if at all, and on the other by those who, despite years of suffering, find a hope against all hope in their cultural identity and religious faith.

Another differentiation is that the economic annexation accompanying the recolonizing of the region’s countries provokes a “devil take the hindmost” approach or emigration to the United States on the one side. On the other side are those who survive in austerity and recreate a more just and fraternal popular project.

Moreover, the political annexation exercised basically through the mechanisms of “democratization” (see political section) leads some to accept this restricted democracy. Those on the other side, however, demand participatory democracy and struggle for a political power that permits them to subjects of the new society.

Ideological annexation by the US has created on the one hand a “satanization” of the revolutionary project, using sophisticated propaganda to combat sympathy toward the revolution among the population. On the other side are those who, in the midst of struggle, have achieved a cultural fusion of their historical roots of national resistance, the revolutionary experiences of other peoples and the Christian roots of liberation. The profound material poverty of the Central American peoples and the discovery of their capacity for survival facilitate the production of this synthesis.

Amid the agony and the struggle, the capacity still exists to find elements of life locked in these apparently contradictory experiences and interweave them into a unique project of life. Neither a Western Cartesian intellectualism, with its clear and distinct ideas, nor a scholasticism of distinctions that divides reality from fanaticism, can quite come to grips with these convergences among nationalism, Christianity and socialism. The rupture of ideological schemas and sectarian practices in this prolonged struggle has permitted cultural experiences with strong popular roots in this mixed culture. The option for life dominates over the contradictions in this synthesis.

Any explanation of these phenomena requires a crosshatching of diverse analytical logics, each with its different emphasis and rhythm. The division of the historic subject into two cultural countries confronted by all these diverse logics makes the cultural and ideological debate taking place within Central American identity a definitive element in the project’s success or failure.

The logic of intellectuals can enrich the cultural debate and offer critical support to the hopes of the poor. Intellectuals are, however, vulnerable to offering “models” that attempt to impose a road of excessively rational and illusory utopian force on the real possibilities of these processes.

On the other hand is the pragmatic logic of the revolutionary organizations, the main actors on the Central American stage. Their social practice reveals the capacities and incapacities of their analysis and leadership. Some are closed to the intellectuals’ analysis of critical support, and their practice tends toward dogmatism. Others maintain en open attitude not only toward this critical support but also to the experience that they themselves are leading.

There is also the logic of a progressive Christian perspective, which analyzes the projects of the new historic subject from a preferential option for the poor. This logic is making an ethical contribution to the revolutionary process that is increasingly respected, and even needed, by the practical logic of the revolution. This logic, however, is often dominated by fear of manipulation and by the Christian utopia that seeks fraternity as a way of life.

The religious terrain is also the most prevalent source of cultural identity for the great Central American masses, and in this religious identity two images of God are at play. There is the God of tradition, domesticated by the colonial power and accepted by the local elite, even though it is in the end the God of the dominators. On the other side is the God of the oppressed, of those at the bottom, the God of Jesus of Nazareth. This God permits them to overcome the logic of fear and become acculturated into the new historic processes, to be the ferment in the mass of the autonomous human projects and a sign of the new times. This kind of Christianity has led revolutionary movements such as the Sandinistas to accept the presence of Christians and to recognize that “the same beliefs are promoted among the revolutionary militants.

The prolongation of the conflict makes religion the theater of strategic and ethical dispute for the two conflicting projects. The churches’ role as a destabilizing factor or one of mediation and dialogue is being played out in a contradictory way in each of the different countries. At stake here, then, is the legitimization or de-legitimization of ideologies and hegemonic consensus.

This interpretation of the role of religion is not fortuitous. As early as 1968 the Rockefeller Report proposed a special vigilance over the role of the churches to the Nixon administration. Twelve years later the Santa Fe Document transformed that proposed vigilance into a declaration of war against liberation theology, seeing it as a justifying ideology for the attack against “private property and productive capitalism,” a product of ideas “more Communist than Christian.”

Christianity in Central America has been in a slow and enduring fermentation process within the new historic projects and the processes they unleashed. This Christianity has served as ferment for the new humanity, a heart within the heart of the revolutionary world. For their part the revolutions have been a profound challenge to Christian imagination—a prophetic challenge, an organizational challenge, a theological challenge and a symbolic challenge, obliging Christians not to be Marxists but to be more Christian.

The organizational challenge manifested in growing popular participation has permitted the birth of the Christian Base Communities, the “school of forgers of history,” as Puebla called them.

The theological challenge is to give reason from one’s faith and hope to a prolonged struggle that offers no hope. In this sense, the human experience and hope of this cultural identity confronts and enriches the Christian hope and is complemented by it.

The symbolic challenge is to find forms of celebration, of existence, of life. Without fiesta in Central America there is no humanization of life.

Faced with this convergence and cultural synthesis, the imperial project tries to satanize and distorts these phenomena. Nonetheless, the fact that the Central American revolutions are open to world observation is counteracting this satanization and beginning to overcome the stigmatizing mechanism within US society itself. The appearance of a “fifth column,” as a high Defense Department general called it, triggered among Christians in the United States by the experience of these cultural and Christian conversions in Central America is one of the most important political phenomena in current US policy.

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The Economic Factor

The Military Factor

The Political Factor

The International Factor: Coexistence or prolonged conflict?


The Cultural-Ideological Factor
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