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When I was 12 years old – at the time a devout Catholic and Reaganite – I saw something on television which had a profound effect on my life. It was a 60 Minutes piece about El Salvador, and it focused on the murder of Archbishop Romero and the four Churchwomen, some of them American, brutally raped and murdered there. What was striking to me about the piece was its suggestion that the forces behind these atrocities may well have been those being sponsored by the United States. As we know now, this was indeed the case. And, it was this realization — that the U.S. was behind the persecution of the Church in El Salvador, and as I came to know later, throughout Latin America — which changed how I viewed the world and the U.S.’s role in it.
Of course, Noam Chomsky, with his partner in crime, Edward Herman, has been analyzing the U.S. war on the Liberation Church in Latin America, and the media’s almost utter failure to cover it, for years. Chomsky, whose lone poster in his MIT office is one with Archbishop Romero along with the four Jesuits killed in El Salvador in 1989, has pointed out quite recently that the murder of these four Jesuits (as we know now with U.S. bullets) took place very shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. That is, the murders took place as the Cold War – the ostensible struggle between Capitalism and Communism – was ending, leading to the conclusion that the assault on the Church, and in particular Liberation Theology, had little or nothing to do with the U.S.’s proffered goal to eradicate Communism. Rather, the goal was deeper and more sinister – to wipe out the seeds of social justice itself in Latin America by wiping out radical Christianity (that is, Christianity in a form closer to its early roots before it became the official, state religion of Rome). In other words, while the U.S. tried to justify its war against Communism as a war against anti-Christian atheists, it was in fact the U.S. that posed more of a threat to true Christianity.
And, the U.S. has carried out this battle with the sword — while the Vatican, which strayed from the roots of Christianity long ago, has carried it out through ex-communications and censure — sponsoring forces which have carried out the murder of literally hundreds of religious (including priests, brothers and sisters) throughout Latin America. (I will leave to a later day the discussion of the U.S. support for Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor which claimed the lives of between 500,000 and 1 million civilians, mostly Roman Catholic). And, while one would not know it from the U.S. press, this struggle continues.
Thus, as Colombia’s paper of record, El Tiempo, explained yesterday, six (6) Catholic priests have been killed in Colombia so far this year. AsEl Tiempo explained, between 1984 and September of 2011, two bishops, 79 priests, eight men and women religious, and three seminarians have been killed in Colombia alone. And, for the most part, these victims have been advocates for the poor and have been killed by right-wing paramilitaries aligned with the Colombian state and military – the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the region by far.
The most recent priest killed in Colombia was Father Gualberto Arrieta Oviedo, pastor of Our Lady of Carmen Capurgana (Choco), who was killed with a machete to the head. Father Arrieta Oviedo, as El Tiempo explains, “was known for his committed work with the poorest communities.” The Colombian Bishops Conference reacted to this latest murder by decrying the murder of Catholic priests in Colombia, and stressing “the courageous commitment of our priests with the prophetic denunciation of injustice and the cause of the poorest in the country.” Meanwhile, the Vatican remains silent about these killings.
Of course, it is the “prophetic denunciation of injustice and the cause of the poorest” of the poor which both the U.S. and Colombia would like to see wiped out. And, it is this goal which is the real impetus for the U.S.’s support of the Colombian military to the tune of over $7 billion since 2000, and for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which President Obama is threatening to have passed this Fall. Those dedicated to mission of justice must oppose both these policies with the fervor of those priests who risk their lives every day in the lion’s den which the U.S. and Colombia have created for them.
Dan Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh.