Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis’s ‘Dirty War’ Past

Yesterday Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires became Pope Francis I, the first Latin American pope and the first pope of the Jesuit order. Reuters describes him as a moderate with a history of outreach to the poor and standing up against “powerful interests,” but there is reason to believe he has a less-than reputable past. 

Bergoglio served as the head of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, during the height of the country’s Dirty War. Like many Church leaders of this period, he has been criticized for not denouncing abuses committed by the military dictatorship. While Bergoglio publicly apologized for the Church’s failure to speak out against repression after he was appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky alleges that he downplayed its complicity with the Dirty War.

Writing for Pagina12 in 2010, Verbitsky noted that in a 2006 book Bergoglio edited on the Church’s role during this period, he mischaracterized a 1976 meeting between Argentine bishops and junta officials as a venue for the bishops to express concern about the human rights situation in the country. In reality, the minutes of the encounter show that the Church figures requested the meeting to “clarify their position” that they wished to cooperate with the junta’s National Reorganization Process, because not doing so would "in all probability lead to Marxism."

Bergoglio has himself been accused of direct complicity with the junta’s crimes. In 2005 a human rights lawyer filed a suit against him for the 1976 kidnappings of two progressive Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. The two were kidnapped by the navy and found five months later in a field, drugged and half-naked. Yorio later accused Bergoglio of green-lighting their kidnapping after the two priests refused to stop working in poor Buenos Aires slums. Jalics, for his part, declined to discuss the matter publicly and moved to a secluded German monastery.

The new pope is also alleged to have failed to help the families who lost relatives in the Dirty War. When the De la Cuadra family appealed to Bergoglio in 1977 to help them find the baby of their daughter, who was killed by state security forces after giving birth, Bergoglio assigned a subordinate to the case. The Jesuit underling in turn informed the relatives that the baby had been adopted by a family “too important to challenge.” Despite this, Bergoglio maintains that he had no knowledge of the dictatorship’s practice of putting the children of slain dissidents up for adoption until after the end of the military regime. 

These and other allegations are discussed in “El Silencio,” a 2005 book by Verbitsky which presents evidence that Bergoglio had close ties to the Argentine dictatorship. In it, Verbitskty also claims that the Church worked with Argentine navy officials to temporarily house political prisoners on an island off Buenos Aires during a 1979 country visit by delegates of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

While Bergoglio denies any wrongdoing, these accusations suggest that the first Latin American pope may not be as progressive on human rights issues as many would have liked.

News Briefs
  • The L.A. Times has an overview of Bergoglio’s clashes with the Argentine government in recent years, under both Presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez. According to La Nacion, sources close to Fernandez say she was privately shocked to hear the news, and was allegedly hesitant to congratulate the new pope.
  • The Associated Press looks at the reception of the new pope in Brazil, a country which had hoped one of its own would be made pope. Bergoglio’s appointment, the AP points out, is likely to fuel the already strong rivalry between the two Latin American countries.
  • According to Animal Politico and Milenio, the Mexican Commission on Human Rights is expected to file charges of corruption, human rights abuse and abuse of authority against former security spokesperson Genaro Garcia Luna, who served under President Felipe Calderon.
  • El Mundo reports that Veneuzelan Interim President Nicolas Maduro claimed yesterday that the government has evidence that "far right" elements of the United States were plotting to kill opposition leader Henrique Capriles in an effort to destabilize the country. Reuters notes that the U.S. government declined any immediate comment on the matter.
  • After having announced last week that the body of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would be preserved and put on display, Maduro has walked back this statement, saying that embalming experts consulted by the government have said the body has not been sufficiently prepared.  
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced yesterday that his government’s peace talks with FARC rebels have made unprecedented progress, and said that he believes peace accord may be reached in a “few months,” according to El Espectador.
  • A new report by the Fundacion Ideas para la Paz (FIP), a Colombian conflict monitoring group, alleges that the main objective for the country’s paramilitary groups in the past, and the neo-paramilitary gangs of today, was participation in drug trafficking. The groups’ counterinsurgency aims, according to the FIP, has always been secondary,  a “grand facade.”
  • Writing for the Miami Herald, Medellin-based journalist Charles Parkinson describes the bloody toll that gang violence is taking on children and youths in the Colombian city’s troubled district of Comuna 13. The area has become increasingly dangerous of late due to a battle for control over the city between the Oficina de Envigado, the successors of the empire built by Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel, and the neo-paramilitary Urabeños.
  • The Guatemalan Constitutional Court has confirmed prior rulings which deny legal amnesty to former dictator Genral Efrain Rios Montt, on trial for charges of crimes against humanity. According to Prensa Libre, the ruling ensures that the trial will proceed, despite the fact that a temporary injunction has been placed on the proceedings.
  • El Observador reports that a Dutch NGO, the Drug Peace Institute, has nominated Uruguayan President Jose Mujica for a Nobel Peace Prize for his support for a marijuana legalization initiative in the country, which the group claims has altered the dominant discourse of the war on drugs.
  • In an editorial, the L.A. Times criticizes the continued inclusion of Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, noting that the decision “undermines Washington's credibility in Latin America.”

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