Saturday, March 16, 2013

El papa Francicso I and Argentine politics

Jorge Bergoglio begins his career with a record in Argentina of highly questionable (at best!) passivity in the face of the crimes of the military dictatorship of 1976-83, a passivity which continued after democracy and the rule of law had been restored in his reluctance to support the efforts of the government and human rights groups to hold the perpetrators accountable and to determine the fates of the many "disappeared" during the junta's brutal rule.

A sick example of how partisans of the dictatorship view the selection of Bergoglio as Pope came this past week, in a trial proceeding in which a number of functionaries of the junta were hearing testimony about kidnapping, torture and rape of which they are charged for being legally responsible. The defendants unveiled an insignia during the proceedings with the white and yellow colors of the Vatican. (Los genocidas de La Perla exhibieron los colores del Vaticano en sus solapas Página 12 13.03.2013)

These accused  perpetrators of kidnapping, torture and rape are fans of the new Pope

And despite his vague references to the needs of the poor and social justice, Bergoglio/Francis clearly aligned himself in Argentine politics with the representatives of the traditional oligarchía and the advocates of the neoliberal policies that brought Argentina to the brink of economic disaster in 2001 and caused a dramatic increase in poverty. And his stance has been distinctly against the left-Peronist government of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (known together in Argentina as "los K") and their policies that not only aimed at reducing poverty but have been dramatically successful in doing so. In the process, they expanded democratic rights and made defense of basic human rights a major priority, including the rights of children. But in their social policies and in their successful challenge to the "Washington Consensus" that prioritized the whims of international finance over the well-being of the Argentine people, Bergoglio made it very clear he was not on the side of los K.

Martín Caparrós writes in God Is an Argentine New York Times 03/14/2013 about what those who know the new Pope say about him. Including:

They highlight as well his words and deeds in service of the poor. These social stances often led to clashes with Néstor Kirchner and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the back-to-back presidents of Argentina since 2003. Several times he publicly denounced their policies on poverty and inequality, and accused them of enriching themselves while pretending to serve the needy.

Another battle emerged in 2010, when, after opposing it for many years, Mrs. Kirchner endorsed the gay-marriage law that made Argentina the first country in Latin America with marriage equality. Cardinal Bergoglio called it a devil’s move and demanded a godly war. Mrs. Kirchner later accused him of attempting to re-enact the Inquisition.

So she was relieved when, in 2011, his term as head of the Argentine Catholic Church expired. She probably would never have guessed — did anyone? — that he would be made the master of the kingdom, God's representative on earth. It is a paradox that Mrs. Kirchner’s administration, so fond of nationalist exploits, is now unable to showcase what could have been presented as a major national triumph: the election of Our Pope, the Argentine who made it abroad, the final confirmation that, yes, God is Argentine.
Caparrós' comment is odd but revealing in its oddity.

For one thing, Cristina did make a big deal out of having an Argentine Pope. The oligarycy-mouthpiece paper La Nación as well as the anti-Cristina paper Clarín were eager to make it sound as though she and her supporters were dissing the new Argentine Pope. Caparrós here seems to be proceeding in the same frivolous way.

I'm reposting a video of Cristina's initial statement on Bergoglio's naming as the Pope, "Un día histórico" TV Pública argentina 03/14/2013

It is true that for those paying attention, her initial public statement of congratulations (CFK: “Nosotros siempre optamos por los pobres” Página 12 13.03.2013) included the pregnant phrase "la opción por los pobres" ("the option for the poor"). During the high tide of Vatican II sentiment, the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) met in Medellín, Colombia in 1968 and produced a document emphasizing the need for the Church to take much greater concern for the material needs of the poor in particular, which framed the Latin American Church's positioning in terms that Bergoglio reflected even as he sided with neoliberal "free market" advocates over genuine defenders of human rights and the needs of the poor. Nine years after the Medellín conference, CELAM met in Puebla, Mexico. As Phillip Berryman describes in Liberation Theology: Essential Facts About the Revolutionary Movement in Latin America - And Beyond (1987):

Speaking of poverty, the bishops reaffirmed Medellín's "clear and prophetic option expressing preference for, and solidarity with, the poor." They then stated, "We affirm the need for a conversion on the part of the whole Church to a preferential ption for the poor, an option aimed at their integral liberation." The "preferential option for the poor" became a slogan encapsulating the central thrust of the Puebla meeting and endorsing solidarity with the poor as God's will for the church.
This concept of the "preferential option for the poor" was one that lay at the heart of the project known as liberation theology, a movement and approach to theology that Bergoglio's two predecessors as Pope tried hard to squelch.

But the Argentine President is also scheduled to be the first head of state with whom the new Pope Francis I holds an audience, on Monday. (La primera audiencia del Papa Francisco será con Cristina Tiempo Argentino 16.03.2013)

We could ask Caparrós' question in the other direction, as well. The issue of the illegal British colonial occupation of the Malvinas Islands is one of the most important national issues in Argentina right now. Will the new Pope do anything to push Britain into a meaningful negotiation over leaving the Malvinas? Time will tell.

Caparrós also calls attention to the criticism Bergoglio has directed against los K, and specifically of their programs to combat poverty. The UN's ECLAC report 2012 Social Panorama of Latin America (Nov 2012) includes a table on poverty rates (p. 14), which allows a comparison of poverty rates from 2002 to 2011. Argentina's poverty rate was 39.4% by this measure in 2002 when Néstor Kirchner first became President in the wake of the economic collapse brought on by the neoliberal policies of which Bergoglio and his Church were at least tacitly supportive; a subset of the poor population consisting of the very indigent was 14.9% of the country's population. Bergoglio was sympathetic to the neoliberal wing of the Peronist party led by Carlos Menem, who as President the most aggressive practitioner since the dictatorship of the neoliberal Washington Consensus that devastated Argentina's economy.

By 2011, after nine years of kirchnerismo of which Bergoglio was so critical, Argentina's poverty rate was 5.7% and indigence 1.9%. Argentina, thanks in major part to the government of los K of which Bergoglio did not approve, Argentina has the lowest poverty rate in Latin America. The fact that Bergoglio aligned himself discreetly but clearly with the oligarchy and against the anti-poverty government of the Kirchners makes his well-known habits of personal austerity look more gimmicky than substantial.

Meanwhile, the Pope's partisans are starting to strike back against criticism of his role during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Vatikan weist Vorwürfe gegen Franziskus zurück Der Standard 15.03.2013; Eduardo Febbro, Una desmentida que no alcanza a desmentir Página 12 16.03.2013) The Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi made a statement that denied any failings of Bergoglio himself as a Church official during the dictatorship, adding a perfunctory nod to the recognition that the Church "didn't do enough during the dictatorship" for its victims.

But the thrust of the message is to accuse Bergoglio's critics of defamation and calumny and accuses them of being "anticlerical". The statement is concerned particularly with the accusation that has dogged him for years about the arrest of two Jesuit priests, and speaks of "a publication" promoting it, which evidently refers to Página 12, which I often quote on this blog, including this post, because it is the best of the major newspapers in Argentina at professional news reporting. The other two major papers, La Nación and Clarín, are each part of major media firms and are notably hostile to Cristina Fernández' government and their editorial position colors their coverage far more than it should. To put it politely.

This doesn't bode well for Bergoglio/Francis' handling of the sex abuse and coverup scandals and the issues with the Vatican Bank. Bergoglio owes his Church and the world a fuller accounting and position on not just the failures but acts of collaboration with the dictatorship and of Bergoglio's reluctance to put himself on the side of human rights advocates in pressing for justice for the disappeared and the location of the many children kidnapped from political prisoners. A frank and self-critical assessment of that period for the Argentine Church, which Bergoglio is now in a position to require and to assist with evidence from the Vatican Archives, would be good in itself but also a good sign for how he will manage the abuse scandal and the Vatican Bank problems.

Jeffrey Donovan and Eliana Raszewski report for Bloomberg News on what must be an encouraging development for Bergoglio/Francis in Vatican Rejects ‘Dirty War’ Accusations Against Pontiff 03/15/2013. It relates to the single most controversial accusation, that Bergoglio collaborated in the 1976 arrest and subsequent torture of two Jesuit priests, Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio. Yorio has since passed away. He accused Bergoglio of having essentially fingered the two priests for arrest. Jalics is still alive and living in Germany. They report:

Lombardi spoke after one of the priests, Francisco Jalics, said today that he’d reconciled with Francis long after he and the other priest, Orlando Yorio, were abducted and tortured in 1976. ...

In his statement today, Jalics said a layman working with him and Yorio joined the guerrillas and was captured. Nine months later, "assuming that we were collaborating with the guerrillas, we were arrested" and "kept blindfolded and handcuffed" for five months.

"I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio during that period," he said.
In the book [El Silencio by Horacio Verbitsky], Bergoglio rejected the charges that he was complicit, telling the author in an interview that his meeting with two members of the ruling junta, Emilio Massera and Jorge Videla, was to seek the priests’ release.

Jalics said that years later he met and hugged Bergoglio, according to a statement today on the website of the Jesuits of Germany, where he now lives. "I'm reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," said Jalics, adding that the two Jesuits later publicly celebrated mass together.
There's nothing in what Donovan and Raszewskil quote that has Jalics exonerating the new Pope. "I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio during that period," could be construed as damning by faint praise!

Peter Franz (Francisco) Jalics - arrested and tortured in 1976  -  reconciled to the new Pope?

Here is the full statement Erklärung von Pater Franz Jalics SJ, as it appears on the German Jesuit website. Jalics, a native Hungarian, is using the German version of his name Franz here, Spanish Francisco:

Seit 1957 lebte ich in Buenos Aires. Im Jahre 1974, vom inneren Wunsch bewegt das Evangelium zu leben und auf die schreckliche Armut aufmerksam zu machen, und mit der Erlaubnis von Erzbischof Aramburu und den damaligen Provinzial P. Jorge Mario Bergoglio bin ich gemeinsam mit einen Mitbruder in eine „Favela“, ein Elendsviertel der Stadt, gezogen. Von dort aus haben wir unsere Lehrtätigkeit an der Universität fortgesetzt.

In der damaligen bürgerkriegsähnlichen Situation wurden von der Militärjunta binnen ein bis zwei Jahren ungefähr 30.000 Menschen, linksgerichtete Guerillas wie auch unschuldige Zivilisten, umgebracht. Wir zwei im Elendsviertel hatten weder mit der Junta noch mit den Guerilla Kontakt. Durch den damaligen Informationsmangel bedingt und durch gezielte Fehlinformationen war jedoch unsere Lage auch innerkirchlich missverständlich. In dieser Zeit haben wir die Verbindung zu einem unserer Laienmitarbeiter verloren, als die Person sich den Guerillas angeschlossen hatte. Nachdem er neun Monate später von den Soldaten der Junta gefangengenommen und verhört wurde, haben diese erfahren, dass er mit uns in Verbindung stand. In der Annahme, dass auch wir mit den Guerilla zu tun haben, wurden wir verhaftet. Nach einem fünftägigen Verhör hat uns der Offizier, der die Befragung geleitet hat, mit diesen Worten entlassen: „Patres, Sie hatten keine Schuld. Ich werde dafür sorgen, dass Sie ins Armenviertel zurückkehren können.“ Dieser Zusage zum Trotz wurden wir dann, auf eine für uns unerklärliche Weise fünf Monate lang mit verbundenen Augen und gefesselt in Haft gehalten. Ich kann keine Stellung zur Rolle von P. Bergoglio in diesen Vorgängen nehmen

Nach unserer Befreiung habe ich Argentinien verlassen. Erst Jahre später hatten wir die Gelegenheit mit P. Bergoglio, der inzwischen zum Erzbischof von Buenos Aires ernannt worden war, die Geschehnisse zu besprechen. Danach haben wir gemeinsam öffentlich Messe gefeiert und wir haben uns feierlich umarmt. Ich bin mit den Geschehnissen versöhnt und betrachte sie meinerseits als abgeschlossen.

Ich wünsche Papst Franziskus Gottes reichen Segen für sein Amt.

P. Franz Jalics SJ
15. März 2013
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