Olavo de Carvalho explains why Liberation Theology is alive and well in Latin America.
Olavo de Carvalho
July 19, 2016
If the child and even its name came ready-made from the KGB, that does not mean that its adoptive parents, Gutierrez, Boff, and Betto have no merit whatsoever in spreading it throughout the world. On the contrary, they played a crucial part in the victories won by liberation theology and in the mystery of its survival.
The three of them, but mainly the two Brazilians, have always acted on two different levels at once. On the one hand, they produced artificial theological arguments for the consumption of the clergy, the intellectuals, and the Roman Curia. On the other hand, they spread sermons and popular speeches and intensely devoted themselves to the creation of a network of activists which would become well-known as “basic ecclesial communities”[i] and would make up the seed of the Workers’ Party, which has been governing Brazil since 2002.
In his book And the Church Became People (E a Igreja se Fez Povo)[ii], Boff confesses that the whole thing was a “bold plan,” hatched according to the strategy of the slow and subtle “war of position” advocated by the founder of the Italian Communist Party, Antonio Gramsci. The strategy consisted in gradually infiltrating all the decisive positions in seminaries and lay universities, in religious orders, in the Catholic media, and in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, without making much noise, until the time was ripe for the great revolution to come into view.
John Paul I, soon after the 1978 conclave that elected him pope, had a meeting with twenty Latin American cardinals, and he became astonished at the fact that most of them overtly supported liberation theology. On that occasion, they informed him that there were more than 100 thousand “basic ecclesial communities” spreading out revolutionary propaganda in Latin America. Until then John Paul I had known liberation theology as a theoretical speculation only. He was far from thinking that it could have been transformed into a political force of such dimensions.
In 1984, when Cardinal Ratzinger began to dismantle liberation theology’s theoretical arguments, four years had already passed since those “basic ecclesial communities” were transfigured into a mass political party, the Brazilian Workers’ Party, whose members and activists definitively do not know anything about any theological speculation, but can swear that Jesus Christ was a socialist because that is what the party leaders tell them to believe.
In other words, liberation theology’s feigned theological argumentation had already done its job of being food for debate and undermining the Church’s authority, and was functionally replaced by overt preaching of socialism, where the apparently scholarly effort to bring Christianity and Marxism together yielded the right of way to the peddling of cheap clichés and slogans in which the mass of activists neither looked for nor could find any rational argumentation, but only those symbols that expressed and reinforced their sense of belonging to a group and their fighting spirit.
The success of this second enterprise was proportional to the failure of the trio in the field of theology. In the United States or in Europe, an opinion-maker who aspires to be a political leader may not survive his own discredit, but in Latin America, and especially in Brazil, the mass of activists is leagues away from any intellectual concern and will continue to find their leader credible as long as he is backed up by his party and has enough political support.
And in the case of Boff and Betto, they received nothing less than formidable support. When the guerrillas which the Latin American Organization for Solidarity (OLAS, founded in 1966 by Fidel Castro) had spread throughout the subcontinent failed miserably, left-wing activists took refuge in non-military leftist organizations, which were putting into practice Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about “cultural revolution” and “war of position.” Gramsci’s strategy made use of massive infiltration of communist agents in all institutions of civil society, especially in the educational system and the media, to spread punctual, isolated, non-labelled, communist proposals so as to produce, little by little, an overall effect which could not be identified as communist propaganda, but through which the Party, or similar organization, could end up mentally controlling society with “the omnipresent and invisible power of a divine commandment, of a categorical imperative” (sic).[iii]
No other instrument could better serve that purpose than the “basic ecclesial communities,” where communist proposals could be sold with the Christianity label. In Brazil, the overwhelming growth of those organizations resulted, in 1980, in the foundation of the Workers’ Party, which initially presented itself as an innocent pro-labor union movement of the Christian left, and which only gradually revealed its strong ties with the Cuban government and various guerilla and drug-trafficking organizations. The greatest leader of the Party, President Luís Inácio “Lula”da Silva, has always acknowledged Boff and Betto as the masterminds of both his organization and of himself.
Born in the bosom of the Latin American communism by means of the “basic ecclesial communities,” the Party would not take long to return the favor by establishing, in 1990, an organization under the anodyne denomination of Foro de São Paulo (São Paulo Forum) whose purpose was to unify the many leftists currents in Latin America and become the strategic headquarters for the communist movement in the subcontinent.
According to Frei Betto’s own testimony, the decision of founding the São Paulo Forum was made in a meeting between Lula, Fidel Castro, and Frei Betto himself, in Havana. For seventeen years the São Paulo Forum had grown in secret, having a membership of nearly 200 organizations, and mixing together legally established political parties, kidnapping groups as the Chilean MIR, and drug-trafficking gangs as the FARC— which denied having anything to do with drug trafficking, but traded, every year, 200 tons of Colombian cocaine for weapons that Brazilian drug-dealer Fernandinho Beira-Mar smuggled from Lebanon.
When Lula was elected president of Brazil in 2002, the São Paulo Forum had already become the largest and most powerful political organization that had ever been at work in the whole Latin American territory. Its very existence, however, was totally unknown to the Brazilian people and cynically denied when a researcher would blow the whistle about it.
The general concealment of the São Paulo Forum, an operation to which the entire Brazilian mainstream media contributed for seventeen years with exemplary obstinacy, is one of the most curious and depressing episodes of the history of the press in the world. From that episode one can have an idea of the power that the pool of left-wing parties associated with the Workers’ Party exerts over the entire class of opinion-makers in Brazil. But the curtain of obsequious silence extended far beyond Brazilian national borders: in 2001 during a panel discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., two “experts in Latin America,” Kenneth Maxwell and Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, openly denied the existence of the São Paulo Forum.
For many years, based upon extensive documentation gathered by Brazilian attorney José Carlos Graça Wagner, I denounced the São Paulo Forum’s activities. But I was the only columnist of a major Brazilian newspaper to do it, and all kinds of pressure and threats were made against me to prevent me from doing so. I even published online all the minutes of the Forum’s general assemblies since its foundation, but even in face of such irrefutable proofs the slavish self-censorship of the Brazilian journalistic class did not yield even an inch in its obstinacy in denying the facts.
The media blockade reached its peak of intensity when, in 2005, Mr Lula, already President of Brazil, made a detailed confession about the existence and the activities of the São Paulo Forum. His speech was published on the Presidency of the Republic’s official website, but even so, the mainstream media in full force insisted on pretending that they did not know anything about it.
Finally, in 2007, the Workers’ Party itself, feeling that the cloak of protective secrecy was no longer necessary, came to trumpet the feats of the São Paulo Forum to the four corners of the earth, as they had always been obvious, banal, and well-known. Only then the newspapers allowed themselves to speak about it.
Why could the secret be revealed at that point? Because, in Brazil, all the ideological opposition had already been eliminated, and what remained as “politics” was only electoral vying for offices and denunciation of corruption scandals coming from within the left itself; whereas, on a subcontinental scale, twelve countries were already ruled by parties that belonged to the São Paulo Forum. The “basic ecclesial communities” had risen to power. At that point who would be concerned with theological debates or ethereal objections made twenty years earlier by a cardinal who took the literal sense of the writings of liberation theologians in a serious manner, but barely scratched the political surface of the problem?
The Workers’ Party, throughout its twelve years in power, managed to expel all the conservative opposition from the political scene while it shared the political arena with some of its more radical allies and a soft center-left opposition, governing the country by means of bribery, murder of inconvenient people, and systematic appropriation of funds of state companies to finance the growth of the Party. The rise of kleptocracy culminated in the Petrobrás case, where the siphoning of funds from state companies reached the level of billions of dollars, becoming, according to the international media, the largest case of business corruption of all times. This succession of scandals brought about some discomfort within the left itself and also constant complaining in the media, which led the Workers’ Party’s intelligentsia to rally in full force to defend their party. Mr Betto and Mr Boff have been busy with this kind of activity for more than a decade, and theology, in their business, is only an occasional supplier of figures of speech which they design to adorn the Party’s propaganda. Liberation theology, at last, embraced its true calling
[To be continued]
Translated from the Portuguese by Alessandro Cota
[i] The mass of activists, as distinguished from their leadership, is called, in communist technical language, “base.” Not by coincidence liberation theology uses that word to name its “basic ecclesial communities.” The flock had to become “base” so that the shepherds could become political commissars.
[ii] Boff, Leonardo. E a Igreja se Fez Povo. Eclesiogênese: A Igreja que Nasce do Povo (São Paulo: Círculo do Livro, 1988.), especially chapters XII and XIII.
[iii] Olavo de Carvalho, A Nova Era e a Revolução Cultural: Fritjof Capra & Antonio Gramsci, 4th ed. (Campinas: Vide Editorial, 2014).