Chavez: Pope must apologize to indigenous peoples

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called on Pope Benedict XVI to apologize to the indigenous people of Latin America for his comments on the evangelization of the region. During an official visit to Brazil last week, the Pope defended the evangelization of the indigenous people of Latin America, claiming that Christianity had not been “imposed” upon them. Chavez disputed this in a speech Friday night, calling on his nation to challenge the old capitalist hegemony and create a new society.

In a nationally broadcast speech at an event in Caracas, Chavez criticized the Pope’s remarks and asked him to “offer an apology to the people of our America.”

“How can the Pope say that the evangelization was not imposed,” said Chavez. “Then why did our indigenous people have to flee to the jungles and the mountains?” he asked.

Pope Benedict XVI made the remarks last week during his first visit to Latin America. While in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Pope claimed that Christianity was not “imposed by a foreign culture” on the pre-Columbian cultures, but rather that these populations where “silently yearning” to be converted to Christianity. The pope went on to criticize the resurgence of pre-Columbian religions in the region, calling them “a regression.”

President Chavez called these statements into question, accusing the Pope of ignoring what he called the holocaust of the colonial era, in which millions of people were killed by war, disease and slavery, with the support of the Catholic Church.

“What happened here was much worse than the holocaust in the Second World War, and no one can deny us that reality,” said Chavez. “Not even his Holiness can come here to our land and deny the holocaust of the indigenous people.”

Chavez referred to the work of the Spanish Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas, who denounced the genocide of the indigenous people in the 16th Century.

“Christ came to America much later. He didn’t arrive with Columbus, the anti-Christ came with Columbus,” stated Chavez, who went on to ask the Pope to apologize for his error.

“Just like the Catholic Church has recognized errors, as a descendant of those martyr Indians that died by the millions, I ask, with all respect, your Holiness, apologize, because here there was a real genocide,” Chavez pleaded.

Giving birth to the new, burying the old

Chavez went on to emphasize in his speech on Friday the need to replace the old sociopolitical structures that oppose the construction of a new society. Chavez spoke of the double task of the revolution to give birth to a new counter-hegemony, as well as the necessity of burying the old.

“Those of us who push for the birth of the new, we have a doubly historic task: we are the creators of the new, but also we must be those who bury the old,” said Chavez.

Paraphrasing the renowned Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci, Chavez spoke of the imperial hegemony imposed on South American nations, and the need to challenge this hegemony.

“Real historic crises happen when there is something that is going to die, but has not quite died, and at the same time there is something new being born, but it hasn’t quite been born yet,” he said.

Chavez referred to the policies of the United States and the use of the School of the Americas to train Latin American armies to torture and kill their own people, using as an example the Caracazo massacre in Venezuela in 1989.

“They turned us against our own people, to massacre them, many times, they used us. The Caracazo was the ultimate tragedy of that history,” he said.

Chavez also responded to recent accusations of “politicizing” the military due to the use of the new slogan “socialism, homeland, or death,” among military ranks.

“Socialism is a concept that goes much further than a political party, it is a national concept, it is a national project,” he said.

Chris Carlson for VenezuelAnalysis, via Upside Down World, May 22

See our last posts on Venezuela and the Vatican.

  1. Pope evicts low income tenants
    Speaking of his Holiness… How very Christian. From the New York Sun, May 25:

    Residents of Rome Protest As Holy See Evicts Tenants
    ROME — For centuries, the Vatican has bestowed a special kind of charity on the residents of Rome, providing low-rent accommodation in the vast number of properties it owns in the heart of the Italian capital.

    But recently the Holy See has turned on many of its tenants, demanding higher rents or threatening to throw them out.

    An association of residents said the Vatican wanted to convert their apartments into hotels or commercial premises. A 65-year-old tour guide, Franco Lattughi, said his rent had been raised $960 a month to $2,800. “When I was given the apartment, it had been donated to the church and was in a very poor state. I spent all my savings, 200 million lire [$140,000], to decorate the place, on the understanding that I would be able to live here for the rest of my life with a fixed rent. That is what the church told me,” he said.

    Many of the residents who are being forced out said they had nowhere else to go. Zita Di Lucantonio, 50, has lived in an apartment on the Piazza Farnese for her entire life. The building is managed by the Fraternal Order of Santa Maria della Quercia dei Macellai, which is trying to evict her and her family.

    “We are the last people who live in the building. The others have caved in to the pressure, but I have a daughter and an old disabled mother,” she said. “We are not rich, we live on my mother’s pension, but we have always paid the rent.”

    Nice to see the Vatican keeping up with the times…except where gay rights and abortion are concerned.

  2. Islam “evil”; Christianity exonerated
    From Indian Country Today, May 17:

    Holy disaster: Pope alienates indigenous peoples

    “Arrogant.” “Disrespectful.” “Poorly advised.” These harsh words were not aimed at an unpopular president; not this time. They are the criticisms by Indian leaders in Latin America of Pope Benedict XVI, who again made headlines for culturally insensitive and historically inaccurate remarks.

    About this time last year the pope stirred international controversy when he characterizing the Prophet Mohammed as having spread Islam by the sword in an “evil and inhuman” manner. On May 15 he declared that the Roman Catholic Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Pope Benedict continues to stir up controversy wherever in the world he lands. But this particular papal idiom cannot be attributed to or excused as simple ignorance. There is an element of intent in the pope’s recent remarks that should anger, and mobilize, indigenous people throughout the world.

    In a speech at the Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, the pope characterized pre-contact Indians as “silently longing” for Christianity and stated that “the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.” It may be the most blatantly erroneous statement about the Christian legacy on indigenous cultures ever uttered.

    Not only did the pope’s comments exhibit an ever-increasing general arrogance that aims to deny the rights of indigenous peoples around the world but, in this rare case, they came straight from the source. Millions of tribal people died as a result of the institution of the 15th century Inter Caetera papal bulls that provided legal justification for European colonization of the Native people of the Americas (including Brazil where Benedict spoke) and Africa. Then, Indians were slaughtered, enslaved or exposed to deadly diseases. Now, Native survivors of Christian colonization efforts suffer its traumatic generational effects: a diminished ability to relate to and practice traditional life ways, social exclusion and learned sexual abuse. If this does not qualify as an ”imposition” on the culture of indigenous peoples, what does?

    Last year’s controversy was sparked by the pope’s suggestion at the University of Regensburg in Germany that Islam was spread through violence and that it was “contrary to God’s plan.” It seemed fair at the time to give him the benefit of the doubt for misspeaking. “He could clarify that the inherent rationality to which he referred … is a property of all humanity, not solely of Europeans,” we stated. “We have no doubt that this was the true intent of his remarkable lecture. But if he is through apologizing to Muslims, perhaps he could now explain himself to the indigenous peoples of the world.” It is certain that our charitable view of that situation did not serve the legions of indigenous people who are now offended by suggestions that cultural decimation is considered “purification” by the Church and its most revered leader.

    The Vatican has for years largely ignored the valid request by indigenous peoples and their representatives to rescind the papal bulls and the “doctrine of discovery” they inspired. And just days before his visit to Brazil, the country’s Indians appealed to Pope Benedict to express solidarity with them and acknowledge their struggle against the government’s encroachment upon their territories. They referred to a “process of genocide,” which no doubt began with the arrival of European Christian crusaders. It is agreed then that the pope is fully aware of the indigenous position on the lasting legacy of Christianity as a colonizing force. Ignorance is no excuse. The comments were more an indication that the Church’s knowledge of indigenous cultures has not evolved much since the days when Natives were thought by Catholic monarchs to be heathens empty of a guiding spiritual force, in need of enlightenment.

    It may be futile to demand an apology from the Church’s highest leader, but it is imperative that the indigenous voices continue to rise in protest after the controversy dies down. The public display of outrage (and credible threats of violence) by the Muslim world last year garnered a mea culpa by the pope, who said he was “deeply sorry.” It is now time the Vatican, as a religious authority and political nation-state, acknowledges the cost of Christianity on the indigenous people of the world. Perhaps a statement from Pope Benedict recognizing the inherent sovereignty of Indian tribal peoples as reiteration of this theological tradition would be a good, first step toward making amends.