Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bergoglio/Francis, Argentina, the Malvinas and the shadow of dictatorship

Robert Perry of Consortium News is using the occasion of the newly public controversy over Jorge Bergoglio/Pope Francis I's relationship to the dictatorship of 1976-83 in Argentina to highlight some broader issues with the Catholic Church and the war against real and imagined subversives in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Pope Francis, CIA and 'Death Squads' 03/16/2013, he refers to Friday's very defensive and to my mind obnoxious response of the Vatican to questions raised about the kidnapping and torture of two Jesuit priests in 1976, Franz (Francisco) Jalics and Orlando Yorio. (See Vatican Rejects 'Dirty War' Accusations Against Pontiff Bloomberg News 03/15/2013) Perry observes:

The Vatican's fiercely defensive reaction to the reemergence of these questions as they relate to the new Pope also is reminiscent of the pattern of deceptive denials that became another hallmark of that era when propaganda was viewed as an integral part of the "anticommunist" struggles, which were often supported financially and militarily by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

It appears that Bergoglio, who was head of the Jesuit order in Buenos Aires during Argentina's grim "dirty war," mostly tended to his bureaucratic rise within the Church as Argentine security forces "disappeared" some 30,000 people for torture and murder from 1976 to 1983, including 150 Catholic priests suspected of believing in "liberation theology."

Much as Pope Pius XII didn't directly challenge the Nazis during the Holocaust, Father Bergoglio avoided any direct confrontation with the neo-Nazis who were terrorizing Argentina. Pope Francis's defenders today, like apologists for Pope Pius, claim he did intervene quietly to save some individuals.

But no one asserts that Bergoglio stood up publicly against the "anticommunist" terror, as some other Church leaders did in Latin America, most notably El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero who then became a victim of right-wing assassins in 1980.
In regard to that last point, no one criticizes people living in a dictatorship for not seeking out martyrdom. Archbishop Romero himself was not seeking martyrdom.

But it's also a fact that some people come out of dictatorships with a record they can be more proud of than others. I suspect one reason for tension between the current Argentine President Cristina Fernández and the new Pope comes from the fact that, although she also didn't seek out martyrdom, she was a human-rights attorney during the dictatorship and actively pursued the legal defense of people targeted by the regime for political reasons. She doesn't have to claim in retrospect that she engaged in whispered private interventions on behalf of the victims.

Cristina has an audience with the Pope in Rome on Monday, the first head to state to be so honored by the newly installed Francis I. The audience will take place prior to the formal installation ceremony. Nicolás Lantos reports in La primera audiencia con Francisco Página 12 17.03.2013 that the President's office characterizes the upcoming meeting as "a gesture of good will" offering the opportunity for "facilitate an acercamiento [rapprochement]" between the two leaders, a diplomatic acknowledgement that the two have significant differences over policy. Lantos writes that their "relación cuando Jorge Bergoglio ocupaba la Arquidiócesis de Buenos Aires y encabezaba la Conferencia Episcopal Argentina no era buena" ("relationship when Jorge Bergoglio occupied the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and headed the Episcopal Conference of Argentine were not good." Lantos reports that the meeting has an "open agenda."

The after-effects of the neoliberal policies which Bergoglio backed and which brought about the debt crisis of 2001 are evident in her trip plans. The Argentine Presidential plane, Tango One, will take her to Morocco, where she will switch to a charter plane for the trip to Rome. The reason is to avoid any attempt by US vulture funds that bought up the remainder of the bad debt held by Argentine creditors to seize Tango One, repeating an incident with an Argentine ship in Ghana last year. (See Seized Argentina navy ship Libertad leaves Ghana BBC News 12/19/2012)

Will the supposedly anti-poverty Pope provide any assistance in getting the vulture funds off Argentina's back? It would be nice to think so. But he's more likely to intervene to promote diplomatic movement on Argentine-British negotiations over the illegal British colonization of the Malvinas Islands. "In the past, the Argentine Pope Francis has insisted the Falkland Islands, which are a UK overseas territory, belong to Argentina. He has referred to them using the Argentine name for the islands, Las Malvinas." (UK welcomes election of new Pope Francis BBC News 03/14/2013) But it's worth noting that previously, that was a relatively safe position for an Argentine Church leader to take, since support for Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas is noncontroversial in Argentine politics; even the dictatorship went to war with Britain to take the islands. Reclaiming the Malvinas by peaceful means has been a major issue for Cristina Fernández. (On Bergoglio and the Malvinas, see also Senior Falklands Islands Catholic hopes Pope 'outside politics' BBC News 03/14/2013; Ian Traynor, Pope Francis is wrong on Falklands, says David Cameron Guardian 03/15/2013)

This is a Spanish-language report from TV Pública Argentina on Cameron's criticism of the new Pope, Cameron no está de acuerdo con Francisco 15.03.2013

Perry also notes of the American press treatment of Bergoglio/Pope Francis:

It is noteworthy that the orchestrated praise for Pope Francis in the U.S. news media has been to hail Bergoglio’s supposedly "humble" personality and his "commitment to the poor." However, Bergoglio’s approach fits with the Church’s attitude for centuries, to give "charity" to the poor while doing little to change their cruel circumstances – as Church grandees hobnob with the rich and powerful.

Pope John Paul II, another favorite of the U.S. news media, shared this classic outlook. He emphasized conservative social issues, telling the faithful to forgo contraceptives, treating women as second-class Catholics and condemning homosexuality. He promoted charity for the poor and sometimes criticized excesses of capitalism, but he disdained leftist governments that sought serious economic reforms.
So far, Bergoglio's record in Argentina gives us reason to suspect that he will follow the same pattern that Perry describes here.

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