August 4, 2006


Politics in Latin America

Mexico’s disputed presidential election, in which Felipe Calderon eked out a close victory over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, shows just how volatile politics are in Latin America. The results of the elections there have implications both for the United States and for the Catholic Church.

In Mexico, Lopez Obrador is known to be anti-Catholic, and Mexico’s history shows that persecution of the Catholic Church there is not an impossibility.

History could repeat itself. It was only 80 years ago that another anti-Catholic government there martyred a large number of faithful Catholics. Pope John Paul II canonized 25 of them on May 21, 2000. Obrador ran on a platform that included legalization of abortion and same-sex civil unions.

Enemies of the Church are heads of several countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean Sea. One of them, of course, is Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Another is Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, which is located at the top of South America. As anti-American as they come, he has poured millions of Venezuela’s oil dollars into Cuba and has supported numerous left-wing movements.

Chavez has frequently been at odds with the Church’s bishops in Venezuela. It has even been reported that he once said, “The Church? How many divisions does it have in Venezuela?” He probably was repeating a quotation once attributed to the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin.

Evo Morales, who last December became president of Bolivia—south and west of Brazil and east of Peru—is another enemy of the Church. His platform called for an anti-U.S. alliance with Venezuela.

His education minister recently announced that he intended to exclude parental rights to choose a Catholic education for their children in public schools. Such a change would reverse a concordat that currently exists between Bolivia and the Vatican.

Thus far, only the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia are actively anti-American and anti-Catholic. Elections in other Latin American countries have been favorable both to the United States and to the Church.

In Peru, for example, Alan Garcia narrowly defeated Ollanta Humala, who had vowed to make Peru a secular nation. Garcia, though, has stated that “as a Christian and a Catholic, I will act with the utmost respect to the Catholic Church and the moral principles that form the moral backbone of our nation.” He also pledged to maintain a solid relationship with the United States.

Similarly in Colombia, Venezuela’s neighbor to the west. There Alvaro Uribe easily won re-election. Part of his platform included his support for efforts to overturn the decision of the courts legalizing abortion.

Colombia remains a hotbed for Marxist rebels who are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has long been a problem for the Colombian government. The Catholic bishops there have offered to serve as mediators between FARC and the government, but that seems unlikely since the bishops are seen to be supporters of Uribe’s government.

Elections are coming up in Latin America’s two largest countries, Brazil and Argentina. In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently appointed a commission to study Brazil’s current laws against abortion. It’s possible that the commission will recommend changes that would legalize abortion. In Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner is trying to keep from being involved in the current debate over the legalization of abortion.

There was also a recent election in Chile, Argentina’s neighbor to the west, in which Michelle Bachelet was elected. Although she claims to be a socialist and an agnostic, the U.S. Catholic national newspaper Our Sunday Visitor quoted Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago as praising her for “her capacity to approach people and her empathy, how she cares about the poor and those who are marginalized, how she cares about children’s well-being through the well-being of the family.”

Ecuador, on the west coast sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, has a pro-life president, Alfredo Palacio Gonzalez. He recently proclaimed March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, as the Day of the Unborn Child.

Elections in Latin America lately have been close, indicating considerable antagonism toward the United States and the Catholic Church, even if the axis that Venezuela’s President Chavez would like to form still consists of only three countries.

— John F. Fink


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