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Apocalypse now!

11 July 2009

The Guatemalan dictator in the early 1980s, Efraim Rios-Montt — a Pentecostal — said a “true Christian has a bible in one hand, and a machine gun in the other”.  His regime launched a “scorched earth policy” against the Mayan community (the majority in Guatemala) meant to cure the Mayans of their “immaturity and illiteracy” that he claimed would make them easily swayed by “international Communism”.  And, incidentally, kill off a lot of pesky Mayans, and labor leaders, and priests, and nuns, and…

Rios-Montt was an extreme example of “faith in action”,  but his the mix of Evangelism and anti-communism is common in Central America.  Here are two statement posted on that ex-pat gardening blog turned propaganda organ for the Honduran regime, not “comments” over which the poster might have no control, but posted by the owner to demonstrate  support for the coup:

“We, as Americans, are in trouble. The US future is being written by some people that don’t have the interest of the common man and woman in mind. We are seeing the loss of two hundred years of hard won rights being sucked away from the individual. We are about to become the robots of a machine designed to have us all work day in and out just to support the few and their superior lifestyles. Our career politicians and the newly elected President are about to become the US ruling class.God help us all.

When the OAS, the UN, the BAFA and the UFO’s and A.L.I.EN.S are against a tiny country in Central America that is supporting his freedom against totalitarism and Marxism. When all of that happens, you will know that the end of this world is near, that the power of the USA is dwindling, like rome, when they put a barbarian as emperor, their empire started dwindling, they started moving their frontier backwards, and backwards, and more backwards, until those same barbarians who were afraid of them first became the ones to be feared. Beware that time. Beware for is it written it will come for a band of thugs leadered by Chavez is ready to take over the world as we know it.

Having to depend on missionaries and clerical sources for any information from Honduras (which has some of the lowest internet ownership rates in Latin America, and restrictions on the movement of ordinary citizens) may make me more aware of the religious rhetoric, but I have noticed that the Catholic Church sources are opposed to the coup (even though Michael O’Boyle reported for Reuters that Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga supported the coup.  However:

He said those who accuse the church of siding with Honduras’ elite “are not listening”, Catholic News Service reports.

“An unemotional person would read the church’s message and would understand it,” he said.

…  “Recently, I have observed something that did not previously exist in Honduras: class hatred,” the cardinal said in the interview. “”Recently, I have observed something that did not previously exist in Honduras: class hatred,” the cardinal said in the interview. “Zelaya had advisers in Venezuela, and stirring up class hatred was the strategy.”

The Cardinal, while blaming Mel Zelaya and Hugo Chavez for stirring up the “class hatred” doesn’t necessarily defend the rich, nor back the coup.  Such distinctions are important, but  — unfortunately — most of us who write about (or from) Latin America aren’t comfortable with the nuances of theology, nor is it something we consider of any importance.  When writing Mexican history, I was fortunate to know a conservate Catholic blogger (and former newspaper editor) who wouldn’t be too put off by the messy anti-clericalism of Mexican history, and my book is better for it.

What I noted in my book, when writing about recent Catholic v. Protestant violence in the Mexican south was that:

Roman Catholicism, the traditional religion of Mexico, had always spoken of a community of believers.  Evangelicals and other faiths talked more in terms of personal salvation, which made sense to poor people seeking their own individual economic or social betterment.

From “community of belivers” to “communism” is not a huge intellectual gap for those who see individualism as a value.    While I found one Catholic missionary worker (connected with a group formed at Pat Roberson’s Regent University... not normally Catholic territory) supporting the coup, the only supporters I’ve found have been among the newer Evangelical communities.  Jeremy Weber’s article on coup support in the Evangelical magazine,   Christianity Today is headlined “Honduras coup was ‘answer to prayer’ for many evangelicals”.

Evangelical support  may not be entirely by accident, or simply a matter of differing theories of salvation.  Most Evangelical sects in Central America are off-shoots of the conservative “Christian Right” sects known in the United States.  I thought at first Pat Roberson (who is friends with Rios-Montt) was the connection, but I’m wondering if it doesn’t go deeper.

The few U.S. politicians who support the coup, outside of those Florida politicos who need the support of the Cuban exiles, are people like South Carolina’s Senator Jim De Mint.

Besides a history as a supporter of free-trade agreements in Central America and a backer of rightist regimes in the region, DeMint is active in “The Family”, a politically powerful Evangelical organziation that has been in the news lately for unrelated reasons.  Two recent U.S. political sex scandals involve other “Family” members.  While I’m not particularly interested in the prurient details of the sex scandals (the subject of this news report), Jeff Sharlet’s discussion of “Family values” is frightening:

Sharett wrote a long article on the group for Harper’s back in 2003 (prominently mentioning then Congressman DeMint) and later a full-length book:  “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.  It might be noted that Hillary Clinton is also connected with “The Family“, but has not lived in the facility mentioned in the newscast.

It might also be noted that Honduran officials (preZelaya) were guests of “The Family” functions , and members of “The Family” have political ties to the political right in Central America.  It would be foolish to claim a direct link between “The Family” and political upheavals in Latin America, but it is noteworthy that Evangelical organziations, with the tacit backing of the United States government, grew exponentially within Central America only in the latter part of the 20th century, and that the same themes — “free trade” with the United States, anti-communism and personal wealth creation — have been used to justify rightist coups and violence in Central America, usually by politicos connected with “The Family.”

Mexico has largely avoided the problem (and Evangelicals in Mexico are more likely to vote for the left, simply out of fear of Catholic domination by the rightist — and Catholic — PAN) perhaps accidentally, having restrictions on foreign missionary activities.

As far as I know, the Mexican organization, “la familia” (which also seeks to use Evangelical religion to extend its shadowy reach into the halls of power) is not a subsidiary organization.  At least I hope not.

(Nicholas Kozloff also writes about The Family and their Central American poltical agenda on Counterpunch.  I hadn’t seen his piece until after I posted mine.  He includes several other “pro-coup” U.S. political figures among the “Family” members that I do).

9 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    11 July 2009 9:57 am

    Billy Joya, a special adviser to Micheletti and a former member of 3-16 who has been accused of torture and more, is also reported to have had a “religious conversion”.

  2. Utpal permalink
    11 July 2009 11:51 am

    I am a little more skeptical than you about Madariaga. I have a feeling that he just sensed that the winds were blowing in the wrong direction vis-a-vis the the international reaction to the coup. I find it very hard to believe that there was no class-based resentments in a country with 70% poverty and a Gini coefficient of 54 or something. His rhetoric about Chavez in the past has been typical rightwing stuff.

  3. Utpal permalink
    11 July 2009 12:21 pm

    The other funny things is that what you note about Evangelicals in Mexico is also true of both Brazil and Venezuela (!!!yes, indeed). Evangelicals in Vzla tend to be Chávez supporters, for the same reasons you mention about Mexico. In an interview with a NYT reporter once, an evangelical pastor once claimed that they had more religious freedom now than ever before. Both AD and COPEI had strong connections with the Catholic Church hierarchy, and frequently restricted evangelical protestant activity.

  4. Anna permalink
    11 July 2009 4:43 pm

    Utpal, I think when he says “Class Hatred!” its like in the US, when conservatives scream about “Class Warfare!”, it means some poor people or workers stood up for themselves. Or just asked for the kicking to stop. They’re never referring to the other 99% of the time when the top classes exploit and swindle the poor and middle classes. Similar to “Reverse Racism!”

    Maddow’s Friday show with Sharlet went into The Family’s involvement with Suharto and other dictators in Asia and Africa. I can’t imagine they stayed out of Central America.

  5. 11 July 2009 9:29 pm

    Billy Joya (sounds like a porn star) has had a “religious conversion”? To what–the Spanish Inquisition?

  6. 12 July 2009 1:01 am

    Don’t know about a conversion, but during his stint in Spain as an illegal alien in hiding (from an arrest warrant for murder and human rights abuses), he supposedly took religion classes at colegio de San José, de los Sagrados Corazones de Sevilla.

  7. Che permalink
    12 July 2009 11:29 pm

    “…..are off-shoots of the conservative “Christian Right” sects….”

    -Mighty big generalization there. What is your definition of the “Christian Right”? what makes up the “Christian Right”?

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