Blinded by the Right

On Sunday, March 15, 2009, a general election took place in El Salvador, the Savior. After twenty years in the violent political wilderness that is El Salvador, Mauricio Funes of the leftist FMLN party and former guerilla rebel, led his followers to victory over the incumbent Arena Party. The Arena Party, (arena, sand in Spanish, or in this case dirt,) was the murderous offspring of such kindly fellows as Jose Duarte and Roberto D’Aubuisson.

 

Roberto D’Aubuisson, fan of Adolph Hitler, trained at the School of the Americas in Columbus Georgia, where many would be Latin American dictators learned or refined the tricks of their trade. Described by the American ambassador to El Salvador as a ‘psychological killer”, he was nonetheless befriended and encouraged by the odious duo of the late Senator Jesse Helms and the not late enough, Preacher Pat Robertson.

 

D’Aubuisson or “Blowtorch Bob” as he was fondly referred to by his victims was founder of the Arena Party. The Arena Party rose out of the ashes he had created from the death squads that tortured and murdered thousands of his opponents and innocents in the 1970s and 80s. The losing candidate for Arena, Rodrigo Avila is an admirer of D’Aubuisson, a former national police chief, and a one time sniper for the death squads.

 

El Salvador remains one of the world’s most dangerous places, dominated by the usual suspects, rich landowners, foreign interest, the church and the government. In the midst of the misery that was El Salvador in the 1970’s and 1980, emerged an unlikely advocate for the poor, tormented people of the country, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero. While there were a number of local priests, those closest to the people, who tried to stop what was happening, and were often killed for their efforts, the Salvadorian church hierarchy improved its lot with the Vatican by towing the party line. Divine advancement meant cooperating with the thugs in power in San Salvador and their accomplices in Rome. Romero was a rare exception, someone higher up the supplicant chain that had the courage to take on the government, someone who tried to stop the killings, the torture, the illegal seizure of land, the rape of a nation.

 

Romero became a proponent of Liberation Theology begun in Brazil in the 1950s to address issues of poverty and social injustice in Latin America. He was a high-ranking voice and leading defender to the otherwise defenseless citizens of El Salvador. He was the thin bread line between the gluttons in power and the hungry, homeless peasants of his country.

 

An ocean away, amidst the glitter of his ornate palace, a brave, determined and hard man sat on a golden throne. Neither the palace nor its contents would fit through the eye of a needle. John Paul II, forged in the fire of Nazi and Communist Poland, was continuing his campaign to end the tyranny of the USSR. Had he glared at Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin or Leonid Brezhnev, it’s unlikely his stern look would have made an impact. But this Soviet Empire was in the process of decline and in a few years, rotting from the inside, aided by the unlikely rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the underrated pragmatism of Ronald Reagan, John Paul II would bring down concrete walls and iron curtains all over Eastern Europe. He is rightly a genuine hero to his native Poland, its neighbors, as well as to many followers and lovers of freedom around the world. His unyielding strength of personality and the relentless pursuit of his goal to see a people slip the yoke of tyranny was a determining factor in bringing down the USSR. To be sure, Moscow was a center that could not hold, but that does not diminish the catalyst that was John Paul II.

 

One day in 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero knocked on the doors of the Vatican to plead his people’s case to the people’s pope. As Romero found out, it’s not an easy thing to get an audience with god’s second in command, well maybe fourth in command, depending on how the trinity is counted. In fact, while the killings continued in El Salvador, Romero cooled his heels in the antechamber. It was similar to the experience of having to buy a few drinks at the bar while waiting for your table in a half-empty restaurant. After several days, Romero finally got his audience but not the reception he anticipated. He wanted papal intervention but received a fatherly pat on the head. He was advised to behave himself, follow church doctrine not liberation theology and be more cooperative with Blowtorch Bob.

 

Romero was stunned. What he saw as dignity and justice for an agonized nation, Karol Wojtyła, saw as his old foe, communism. Where Romero wanted a theology and practice of liberation, Wojtyła ordered him to support fascism.

 

Humiliated by his leader, and devastated in not being able to bring relief to the people of El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Romero, returned to the war zone. Less than a month after being rejected by the Pope and while appealing for help to a higher power, Oscar Romero, the hope and inspiration for millions in El Salvador and Latin America was shot dead by one of Roberto D’Aubuisson’s assassins. It was a mass killing of one.

 

What Romero didn’t fully comprehend about the Pope John Paul, was that like most leaders of a major world religion, Karol Wojtyła was an ideologue. It’s hard not to be ideological when you’ve been elected the leading protagonist of a great myth. John Paul 2 was the Joe McCarthy of the Vatican. He saw godless communism everywhere and though he had lived through the horrors wrought by the nazis, he couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge fascism when he saw it.

 

Whether practiced by Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pinochet, Pol Pot or D’Aubuisson, there was not a dime’s edge of difference between communism and fascism. What mattered was that it was all totalitarianism. That the pope, blinded by church dogma and hatred of communism, refused to accept that totalitarianism was a crime against humanity no matter its name or guise, is tragic and abhorrent.

 

Jerry Seinfeld and friends went to jail for refusing to offer assistance during a robbery. John Paul II became a global rock star while being totally indifferent to the systematic torture and slaughter of thousands throughout Latin America.

 

The Pope’s attitude towards Latin America, fortified in its obstinacy by the current Grand Wizard, Joseph Ratzinger, was in keeping with the long tradition of the catholic church. It had always enjoyed an intimate relationship with dictatorial and repressive regimes, accepting a seat at the table of gluttony and in return, threatening the wrath of god to keep the faithful and fearful in line.

 

John Paul, who handed out sainthoods like they were dispensations, started and accelerated the canonization for Josemaria Escriva, granter of spiritual cover to the foul Francisco Franco, longtime dictator of Spain. Escriva was also sainted for his founding of Opus Dei, the most reactionary and zealous sect of catholic conservatism, headquartered in Pamplona. The papal bulls should never be forgiven for missing this guy.

 

John Paul later canonized Archbishop Romero, though it seems not to have been motivated by guilt. In 1983, three years after the assassination of Romero, he publically scolded a priest, Ernesto Cardenal Martinez, who had the audacity to be serving in the left-wing Sandinista government. The Sandinistas had replaced the US puppet and notorious prick, Anastasio Somoza. John Paul however was siding with the US in trying to overthrow the Sandinistas and didn’t want any of the members of his club addressing such communist goals as diminishment of violence and poverty, social justice and land reform.

 

He vigorously campaigned against liberation theology, purging the clergy who supported its practice and its empathy for the masses. He brought in Vatican hardliners, dogmatic lackeys and enablers of vicious regimes which murdered or disappeared thousands of people across Latin America.

 

Many saw was what happening in El Salvador as a vicious crime against humanity. There were protests from the same people who had cheered the fall of soviet communism, pleadings from those who knew tyranny when they saw it no matter what disguise it was wearing, songs from activists who had done their bit twenty years earlier.

 

But it was John Paul II, not Noel Paul Stookey who was most impacting the fate of these trusting millions. It was the guy with the hot line to the savior, who ignored the physical plight of his truest believers. Nowhere else in the world does the catholic church have as much sway over the lives of so many people. Nowhere could the stern stare of John Paul II done more good, alleviated more harm, inspired more hope, instilled more fear in murderous regimes, than in Latin America. Instead he chose to sack the shepherds and let the wolves among his flock.

 

John Paul II would never have condoned the injury or killing of anyone. Had he been on the scene when violence took place, he would no doubt have taken a bullet in another person’s stead. The intent was never there to see anyone harmed. Yet his policies and tacit support of very bad people permitted the same horror he would have fought furiously to avoid.

 

Despite the resources of the world at his fingertips, despite his own experience of the horrors of fascist tyranny, despite the evidence that eyed him accusingly for decades, he could not move past his ideology. Had he placed more value on the word of men and less on the word of god, he could have spared the lives of thousands of desperate souls who had nowhere else to turn. Many Latinos, in their fear of god and belief in his spokesman, were convinced that they themselves were wrong and went to their graves for it. The shoes of the fisherman are red with their blood – all the better fit for the guy wearing them now.

 

According to his faith, before he could enter the next world, John Paul would have paused briefly at a gate where St. Peter would have asked him how life had been. Perhaps he should have first passed by The Hague. The people there may have had a few questions of their own.

 
Copyright © 2009 Paul Heno

 

 
 

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