Pope’s words on peaceful protests have special significance in Latin America

Pope’s words on peaceful protests have special significance in Latin America

Catholic Priest Luis Carlos Ayala wearing a mask amid the new coronavirus pandemic, hands Communion to a parishioner during a Mass at a drive-in in Chia, Colombia, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. For the last three weeks, Father Ayala has been celebrating Mass in the parking lot of the city's former horse racing track, now a venue that has been mostly used for concerts, movies, theater, and other outdoor presentations. (Credit: Fernando Vergara/AP.)

On Sunday, Pope Francis urged for leaders to respect - and listen – to the demands of protesters around the globe.

On Sunday, Pope Francis urged for leaders to respect – and listen – to the demands of protesters around the globe. With his foreign minister in Belarus to meet with Church and civil authorities amid weeks of anti-government protests, it’s hard to believe he was thinking about his home country.

Yet, since everything history’s first pope from the global south says – and also what he doesn’t say – is spun in Argentina to fit the narrative that Francis spends his days and nights tossing and turning thinking about his homeland, and by extension, Latin America.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of things brewing in the region that are worth paying attention to that, mea culpa, might help feed that narrative.

Argentina

The country is, as ever, on fire: In the past few days, thousands of police officers from the Province of Buenos Aires marched on strike, demanding a salary increase. The government of President Alberto Fernandez, whose party also rules the Province of Buenos Aires, found a “solution” by diverting federal money meant for the city of Buenos Aires, a separate government led by the opposition party.

In addition, after 170 days of COVID-19 quarantine, Argentines are fed up. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets this weekend – as they had August 17 – to protest the strict lockdown measures and the resulting economic disaster. In addition, there were protests against Vice President Cristina Kirchner, who as president of the Senate is working to secure a reform of the justice system that, observers claim, is aimed solely at securing her impunity for the dozens of open cases corruption she is currently facing.

Making a bad situation worse, over the past six months, groups of up to 2,000 people have been taking over plots of land and claiming them as their homes, building precarious shelters from wood and plastic. The national security minister has gone back and forth on whether the activity is actually illegal.

In the meantime, members of the opposition have gone on TV blaming the pope for the land grabbing, saying that pontiff is a friend of Juan Grabois, a social activist close to the government that supports the squatters. The opposition says that since Francis hasn’t condemned the activity, it means he supports it.

As a footnote, Grabois, a left-wing leader who’s a consultor for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, constantly boasts of his friendship with the pontiff, and despite the many statements released by the bishops of Argentina saying the activist does not speak in the name of the pope, he’s locally seen as a papal mouthpiece.

With all of these events brewing, Archbishop Moroslaw Adamczyk, papal representative in Argentina, gave his first official interview since his arrival: “I can say with certainty that the Holy Father wants to come visit Argentina,” he told AICA, the local Catholic news agency.

The Polish archbishop met with Francis in Rome last week, before heading to Argentina, where he serves as nuncio in replacement of Archbishop Leon Kalenga, who died of cancer last year while he was in Rome.

“Francis welcomes every apostolic nuncio before their new mission, so he welcomed me before my visit, and I can say that the Holy Father spoke to me about Argentina and the Church present here with a lot of tenderness and love,” Adamczyk said.

“He prays continuously for his country, ensuring, with his thoughts and prayers, his closeness to every Argentine,” he said.

Francis had the opportunity to meet the Polish prelate early in 2019, when Adamczyk hosted the pontiff in the apostolic nunciature during the papal visit to Panama for World Youth Day.

Peru

Peru is going through an intense political turmoil after a series of recordings of President Martin Vizcarra were released by Congress. In the audio, the president is heard justifying visits made by singer Richard Swing to the Government Palace. The artist was hired for a series of conferences, at a cost of $50,000.

In the recordings, the president is heard coordinating with his collaborators about what they should say during an investigation into the matter.

Congress has called the president to be removed from office over the affair. Vizcarra will have ten days to defend himself before an impeachment vote. The country currently has no vice president, after Mercedes Aráoz had to resign last year after Vizcarra constitutionally dissolved the Congress.

Archbishop Carlos Castillo of Lima, Peru’s capital, said on Saturday that he’s against the removalof the president, and urged political leaders to instead prioritize addressing the COVID-19 crisis. The country has had 730,000 positive cases so far, and 30,710 deaths.

In his weekly radio show, the prelate said that the country cannot afford the distraction of creating a presidential “vacancy,” as the process is called in Peru. This, he said, could create great harm for democracy.

“There is a situation that demands priority from us to face the crisis of the pandemic, joining efforts, the Government, Parliament, the Peruvian people, entities of all kinds, so that we can overcome it successfully,” he added.

This is not to say Castillo is willing to give the president a free pass: Vizcarra, according to the archbishop, should “give an account of what he has done.”

Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, archbishop of Huancayo and a figure often seen as close to Pope Francis, agreed with Castillo, saying that a presidential vacancy “would be catastrophic for Peru.”

“I beg the politicians, in this moment of public calamity, not to neglect the main people, who are the sick,” Barreto told Nacional, a local news outlet.

“We have to think of the country that is torn between life and death,” he said, comparing the situation to that of a family where, when the children are sick, the parents fight over something else.

Colombia

In recent days, mass protests erupted in Colombia after a viral video showed police officers repeatedly tasering a civilian, who later died. The unrest, which has claimed over a dozen lives, prompted the defense minister to apologize on behalf of the police over the brutality that was recorded.

The video showed Javier Ordonez, 46, being pinned to the ground as police officers repeatedly shot him with a stun gun. Police officials had stopped him because he was violating coronavirus restrictions by drinking alcohol in the open with friends. He was declared dead on Wednesday.

Two offices have been charged, and five others suspended.

“The national police apologize for any violation of the law or ignorance of regulations by any members of the institution,” Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said on Friday. But his apology did little to stop the unrest.

At least 13 people have died in the clashes between civilians and police officers, and 400 have been injured, including nearly 200 police.

The archbishop of Bogotá, Luis José Rueda Aparicio, called for Sept. 12 to be observed as a Vigil for Life, Reconciliation and Peace.

“in view of the serious acts of violence that have occurred in recent days in Bogotá,” the archdiocese said it was making “a vehement appeal to priests, religious men and women, and to all the lay faithful, to the apostolic movements and associations of the faithful,” to participate in the prayer.

During his homily, the archbishop called for a rejection of violence and revenge.

“We are not perfect, but we have a God who is perfect and we ask him to teach us to be his children with his Mercy DNA, so we can eliminate resentment and anger,” he said.

“We are not the owners of anyone’s life,” he said during the prayer, televised by Cristovision. “We all have to ask for forgiveness, [and] I will be the first to do so.”

During the celebration, he asked for the eternal repose of those killed in this “week of pain and death,” and for their families. Rueda also called for forgiveness and national reconciliation.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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