Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #10: In the Shadow of Leftists

There are so many interesting things when traveling to different parts of the world. Environments and landscapes change. Languages and cultures change. The sense of time can feel different. The referents that we use to pin down meaning, to create social and cognitive maps shift. It can be disorientating in a very fundamental sense. You rely on certain things to give a sense of stability. Certain things to be understood by those around you. When those shift it can be bewildering. 

One thing that I've found most interesting from the two UN regional seminars that I've attended, both in Latin America, is the way the pantheon of historical referents shifts. In a Guam context, there are certain figures that can be safely and comfortably referred to and provide a stable sense of communal meaning. Magellan, Yokoi, Hurao, Kepuha, San Vitores, the Archbishop, various Governors, maybe some MMA fighter or a Chamorro musician. People may debate their legacy, their social value or pulsing meaning, but they are still things which connect and provide sheltering forms of identity. In an American context too, there are easy, convenient forms of citation that extend out to Guam. You can talk about George Washington, MLK, maybe someone like Davy Crockett or Paul Revere. You've got plenty of presidents, pop stars, movie stars, fictional characters. You can even refer to certain international enemies or friends of the United States, like Kim Jong Un or Osama Bin Laden. 

When I travel to these UN seminars however, it is refreshing how sharply leftist, from a US imperial perspective the pantheon of citational figures becomes. In both Nicaragua and Ecuador, few people were referring to US presidents or pop stars or cultural icons. Instead, quotes were tossed by from revolutionaries and leftist heroes and the legacies of assassinated by capitalists and imperialist socialists were invoked. This pantheon pulsed with critiques of the United States and its foreign policy. This pantheon was filled with some who had taken up the mantle of non-violence, but more who had taken up the cause of violent revolution against corrupt and cruel dictators. It was a bit jarring for others attached to the United States, whether through allyship or as part of their colonization. All nations possess the powerful elixir that is nationalism, which can blind one to most sins of the country they call home and provide "reasonable" reasons to disregard the ones they can't deny. Even for those in the colonies, there is a general feeling that one must excuse even more on behalf of the colonizing nation, because they are the ones that provide the gift of life and prosperity to their far-flung island colonies. You have to love them even more, excuse even more of their sins. For those within the United States, their feeling of America being at its core a good country, that may not be perfect, but ultimately tries its best is part of this obfuscation. Regardless of the countless dictators that America has supported around the world, who from Latin America to Asia to Africa to Europe and everywhere in between and the sheer amount of human suffering the US has either directly or indirectly helped to create, most people remain impervious to these critiques. They don't want to believe them or understand them, because it implicates the political foundation of their lives. It means they are imperialists, colonizers, beneficiaries of a violent system of interference, domination and exploitation. It means that their privilege, their happiness, their standing in the world, may be built on something other than hardwork, freedom and innovation. 

At the regional seminar, the most outspoken nations were those from Latin America, and so they regularly invoked people such as Simon Bolivar, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Evo Morales, Jose Marti and Hugo Chavez. Because of us being in Nicaragua, local nationalists were also mentioned such as Augusto Sandino, Daniel Ortega and Ruben Dario. Because the keynote address was given by Father Miguel D'Escoto and Archbishop Oscar Romero had recently been beatified, Romero was also very much present. It was interesting and in a way refreshing to spend a week in the shadow of Latin American leftists. 

Below is an article on Romero's beatification courtesy of Democracy Now!
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300,000 Celebrate Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Romero, 35 Years After US Backed Murder
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Democracy Now!

Thirty-five years ago, Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass in San Salvador, El Salvador. On Saturday, over 300,000 people gathered in the same city to see him beatified, bringing him a step closer to sainthood in the Catholic Church. The recognition has long been opposed by right-wing clerics and politicians. During the ceremony, eight deacons carried Romero’s blood-stained shirt to the altar in a glass case. Archbishop Romero was shot through the heart while delivering mass at a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980. He was reportedly assassinated on the orders of U.S.-backed death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, a graduate of the U.S.-run School of the Americas who went on to form the right-wing ARENA party. We go to San Salvador to speak with Roberto Lovato, a writer and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research.

AARON MATÉ: Thirty-five years ago, Archbishop Óscar Romero was murdered by members of a U.S.-backed death squad while delivering mass in San Salvador, El Salvador. On Saturday, over 300,000 people gathered in the same city to see him beatified. The recognition has long been opposed by right-wing clerics and politicians. During the ceremony, eight deacons carried Romero’s blood-stained shirt to the altar in a glass case. An envoy of Pope Francis lead the event in honor of a man known as a "voice for the voiceless."
JESÚS DELGADO: [translated] We authorize that the venerable servant of God, Óscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, bishop and martyr, pastor, according to the heart of Christ, evangelizer and father to the poor, heroic witness of the reign of God, reign of justice, fraternity and peace, hereon shall be called beatified.
AARON MATÉ: President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former member of the left-wing rebel movement FMLN, spoke at the ceremony. The presidents of Panama and Ecuador also attended. President Obama sent a statement hailing the church’s new direction under Pope Francis, writing, quote, "I am grateful to Pope Francis for his leadership in reminding us of our obligation to help those most in need, and for his decision to beatify Blessed Oscar [Arnulfo] Romero."
AMY GOODMAN: Archbishop Óscar Romero was shot through the heart while delivering mass at a hospital chapel March 24th, 1980. He was reportedly assassinated on the orders of U.S.-backed death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, a graduate of the U.S.-run School of the Americas who went on to form the right wing ARENA party. This is an excerpt from the film Romero starring Raúl Juliá, who played Archbishop Romero.
ARCHBISHOP ÓSCAR ROMERO: [played by Raúl Juliá] I’d like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead in the words of God: "Thou shalt not kill!" No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. In his name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much and whose laments cry out to heaven, I implore you, I beg you, I order you, stop the repression!
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the film Romero, played by Raúl Juliá playing Óscar Romero, in one of those last addresses that Archbishop Romero would give before being gunned down.
Well, for more, we go to El Salvador to San Salvador, the capital, where we’re joined by Roberto Lovato. His family is from El Salvador. He’s a writer and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. He’s been reporting on Archbishop Romero’s beatification for The Guardian and Latino Rebels.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Roberto. Talk about what happened this weekend.
ROBERTO LOVATO: What happened, Amy, was basically a realization of what Monseñor Romero himself said before he died, where he said—because he knew they were going to kill him. That’s pretty clear from talking to people who knew him. He said that "If I am killed, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." And what happened on Saturday was precisely that, in a formal way, because people here will tell you that Romero was a saint for us here long before the church kind of caught up and did the beatification, which was held up by politics that included, for example, the—Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Carter administration kind of trying to get Romero to shut up in the 1980s. And then, from there on, the U.S. has not played a very kind of positive role here.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about exactly what happened on that day when he was assassinated? Give us the politics of what took place. Who murdered Óscar Romero as he was giving his chapel sermon?
ROBERTO LOVATO: He was giving a chapel sermon in what’s known as El Hospitalito, a small chapel near a hospital here in San Salvador behind me. And he was, you know, doing what he always does: ministering to the poor. I mean, Romero was nothing if not somebody whose alpha and omega began with God and the poor. And he interpreted the gospel in those terms. And so, he was talking, and there had already been a plan hatched, Plan Piña, by Roberto D’Aubuisson and others, because—you know, one of the things that happens is people lose the story in thinking that Roberto D’Aubuisson was the only killer of Monseñor, when in fact there were people in Miami, there were people in different parts of the country, who are still around and still—people here want to bring them to justice, who were plotting his murder. And so, a car drove by, and an assassin fired a bullet straight into his heart. And he was killed, and he died, you know, not long after.
And he was tended to by Carmelite nuns. I mean, one of the most touching moments for me here, Amy, during the ceremony on Saturday was to see a Carmelite nun singing a song called "Sombrero Azul," which was the kind of anthem of the revolutionary left in El Salvador. And the song says, you know, "And let the happiness come and wash away the suffering." And at the end of the song—in the middle of the song, there’s a part that says, "Dale Salvadoreño," "Go Salvadoran." And this four-foot-five Carmelite nun raises her fist and just had some of us in tears at that point.
So, Romero—Romero challenged the state to stop repressing people. But he went beyond that. I’ve been reading his homilies, listening to interviews and other things, and he actually—his gospel, his message, went far beyond simply stopping the repression. He called for—for example, he supported the nationalization of banks. He talked about los imperialistas, which was pretty much code for the United States. And so, we have someone now who in this country is—that’s now arguably the most violent country on Earth, in terms of homicides, becoming this massive symbol of peace. It couldn’t have come at a better time for El Salvador.
AARON MATÉ: And, Roberto, can you talk more about the politics behind this decision taking so long for this honor to happen and what this now means for El Salvador?
ROBERTO LOVATO: Well, you have basically the tale of two churches. I was in—on the weekend before the beatification, I was at a church, at the cathedral. And if you go to the cathedral, you see the tale of two churches playing out. On the top, you had a traditional mass that barely even mentioned Romero, being led by the archbishop of San Salvador, the current archbishop. Below, in the crypt of Romero, you had hundreds of people crammed up into this humid room, basically with—carrying pictures of their martyrs, carrying pictures of Romero, celebrating, singing and talking about justice and God in one voice. And so, that’s kind of the tale of two churches here.
And so, you have the conservative church hierarchy and the elites. You know, those that have continued the oligarchy from the 1980s, and been expanded into the financial sector, have joined forces to pressure the Vatican to not beatify Romero. They sent letters. They did what the U.S. has been doing while Romero was alive. Fortunately, that didn’t work. And as my friend Carlos Dada, a prominent journalist who wrote a good piece in The New Yorker, said, he said that, you know, this is a moral victory for El Salvador. So in terms of what it means for El Salvador, it means—it’s a moral victory. It’s a validation that—you know, your dead were there with Romero. There were people—they had read the names of the martyrs that have died, church people, non-church people, you know, 80,000 dead, 95 percent of whom were killed by the U.S.-backed government, according to the United Nations Truth Commission, 95 percent killed by—
AMY GOODMAN: Roberto Lovato, we have to leave it there, but I want to thank you for being with us, writer and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. We’ll link to his reports at democracynow.org, speaking to us from San Salvador.

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