Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga: The QTMD? Interview

By Ana Helena Tavares (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Quem tem medo da democracia? (in Portuguese)
October 21, 2012

The voice is soft, the body no longer lets him fight in front, but the lucidity of the Spaniard Dom Pedro Maria Casaldáliga, bishop emeritus of the Prelature of São Félix do Araguaia, is capable of embarrassing one. Though nearly killed several times due to his choice to defend the little ones and confront the powerful, Dom Pedro still receives threats.

QTMD? traveled to Araguaia to see and hear up close a bit of the history of this man who chose to live "barefoot on the red earth" [Translator's note: This expression, "Descalzo sobre la tierra roja", is also the title of a book about Casaldáliga written by journalist Francesc Escribano which is being made into a movie]. "'Barefoot' means without consumerism. 'On the red earth'. An earth drenched in sweat,...But also soaked in blood," Casaldaliga explained.

For him, all the parties and governments have three debts to the people: Agrarian reform -- reform that's "not, not, not there...", the indigenous cause -- "the indigenous are shunted aside for agribusiness", and small projects -- "obsession with big projects is a trademark of the current government."

The bishop, who faced the repression of the military regime, recalled that "Jesus faced the forces of the Roman Empire," and he talked about the Truth Commission, regretting the lack of punishment for the torturers. "Historical memory has to be a lesson," he stressed.

The interview was taped in two videos. A transcript follows.

Video 1:


Video 2:


Received by torches

"I arrived in 1968 in Rio de Janeiro (where I stayed about 4 months). We left Madrid at 11 degrees below zero and arrived in Rio de Janeiro at 38. They had those torches from the airport to the city. Some lighted torches ... I can still see it ... That heat, with those torches ... We spent a sleepless night."

"There are many Brazils"

"And then, in Petrópolis, I took a course that the Catholic Church has in Brazil for missionaries who come from abroad. To study the language and get a sense of the history of the country. Of the Church in the country. It was providential. Because, at the time of the military dictatorship, if we had come directly, in the way we came, to Sao Felix do Araguaia ... We would have been lost. Completely clueless, without knowing the real situation ... The causes of the situation. The migrations...Why?... The history of the country. That there are many Brazils ... "

A seven day journey

It was almost seven days of journeying from Sao Paulo to here (São Félix do Araguaia). Because the road was being opened; there was no road. The bridges were small. There were many streams ... Now when you journey from Barra do Garças here, you have no idea how the region was."

"Where is the post's forest?"

Everything has been cleared. The streams all desecrated, some of the dry ones have already lost all life. There was forest. They talk about the Forest Post (Posto da Mata)...Where is the post's forest?

"No man's land"

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga came to Brazil in January 1968, so before the AI-5 (which was in December of the same year), but he assures that "there was already a tense climate of dictatorship." And Sao Felix do Araguaia was, according to him, "a place where the state was not present. A no man's land."

Conflict with official policy

Dom Pedro remembers that, in '68, "we were beginning to see the large farms with the SUDAM tax incentives." And he continues, "Automatically, for us, living with the poor, for the people and for the little ones, meant getting into conflict with the latifundios. Getting into conflict with official policy."

"On one side were the indigenous people, the squatters, the peasants...On the other, the farm owners, the police, the army, the government, the state...Therefore, right from the start, we saw what a serious struggle it was. If we positioned ourselves on the side of the people, we got into conflict with official policy."

The guerrilla

"There weren't any guerrilla here. The guerrilla were in southern Pará and northern Goiás. I know that to the repression we were guerrilla. Because they couldn't understand why foreigners would confront this world where there was no communication at all. No infrastructure at all... And young boys who would leave their studies, their job and come here to earn practically nothing, could only be guerrilla or backing the guerrilla. Therefore, we had repression from above...always."

"A dialogue of the deaf"

"Many pastoral agents were arrested. Tortured. The chairs of the CNBB [the Brazilian Catholic Bishops Conference] were very supportive of us. And it was possible for us to discuss with the authorities because of this backing by the CNBB. Except it was a dialogue of the deaf."

"In 1972, I saw the Minister of Justice of the period. (Alfredo) Buzaid, the Minister of Justice (Médici government). I was with him...He was promising what he didn't want to give. He was most impressed by the beginning of Agrarian Reform. By the successes of Santa Terezinha in the region."

"A clamor!"

"On the day of my consecration, we sent out a pastoral letter. 'A Church in Amazonia in conflict with the latifundio and social marginalization.' And there was a clamor! Because we wrote naming names...This provoked more presence of the repression."

"Ação Cívica e Social do Exército"

"We had four operations of ACISO here in the region. 'Ação Cívica e Social do Exército.' ['Civic and Social Action of the Army'] Which came around these parts pulling teeth and consulting ... They actually came to inspect. Because it covered a narrow zone of the prelature."

"They turned our homes upside down ... They demanded arrest ... They took the arrested and tortured pastoral agents to the Army Barracks of Campo Grande. Because everything was suspect ... There was a climate of terror in all these regions."

"The people were tortured as accomplices"

"Many years later, the people felt free to act, to talk. In certain celebrations that we had, there was still a reticence. Because, besides the guerrillas who were killed, the people were tortured, abused as accomplices ... The guerrillas had established friendships; some were doctors, teachers."

"The indigenous are shunted aside for agribusiness"

As for the Indians, "it was an attitude that continued th whole policy of colonization ... The indigenous people were left aside. And we're in the same situation ... They're shunted aside for agribusiness. Because indigenous politics, the indigenous worldview, indigenous culture, the indigenous economy ... They're contrary to agribusiness politics and economy. So I said that we had a problem in defending these three groups of people. The indigenous peoples, the squatters and the peasants."

"The problem is being afraid of fear"

"We detected slave labor. And denounced it ... This is where slave labor was first denounced." Asked if at any time he was afraid of dying, the bishop of Araguaia didn't hesitate:

"A lot! Even now, for example ... This situation of intruders, those who command the intrusion (onto indigenous lands (click here to view a report by QTMD? on the subject). They think I'm mainly to blame for having defended these indigenous people."

"But (under the dictatorship) we were all threatened ... I have prominence for being a bishop. Of course ... I always say that the problem is not being afraid ... The problem is being afraid of fear, (because fear) is a defensive reaction."

The death of Father Burnier

Casaldáliga and Father João Bosco Burnier, who was killed by a policeman, were in a police station to defend tortured women. One of them appears in the picture, observed by Casaldáliga, with glasses. That was one of the four occasions when the bishop was almost expelled from Brazil.

"The people of Ribeirão Cascalheira overthrew the jail and the police station. They said that I was running this overthrow of the jail...A working jail...And that they could ask for my expulsion. Precisely, I had left quickly for Goiânia, bringing the complaint about the death of Father João Bosco (Burnier) and I wasn't there then (in São Félix)."

The three debts of the government to the people

"There isn't...isn't...isn't Agrarian Reform," Dom Pedro Casaldáliga emphasizes. "Agrarian reform implies agricultural reform too. A policy in favor of family agriculture. A monitoring of settlements. Some agreements were made ... But they don't enter in to what I'm talking about..."

"I'm saying that these parties, these governments all have three debts: agrarian reform, the indigenous cause, and the small projects. Family agriculture, micro- businesses...They have this debt."

"And with neoliberal capitalism...With an export policy...It's confirmed that these countries in Latin America and Brazil, in particular...are destined to be exporters of raw materials. It's a policy that's completely contrary to the needs of the people."

"The people are trying to do it (agrarian reform)...MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra/Landless Workers Movement) and other popular forces tried gestures of agrarian reform. But the official policy isn't one of agrarian reform. I insist: What's being called for is agrarian reform that would be agricultural reform too. Because land is more than land! For the indigenous people, above all, it's their habitat."

"Bishop Pedro is a Communist"

"We were Communists, here in the region, in the Prelature. And quaint things happened. On one occasion (during the military dictatorship), the police there in Santa Terezinha were saying that 'Bishop Pedro is a Communist!' One of the peasants said, 'I don't know what a Communist is. Now, if being a Communist is being from the community, working for the community, Bishop Pedro is a Communist.'"

"The first Socialists were inspired by the Gospel"

"On the question of justice and equality, we're on the same page. For philosophical, historical, and faith reasons...It's also said that 'we're all in the same boat.' And, to a certain extent, it's true. We're in the same boat, even though we would add the faith motive. The pursuit of social justice, universal brotherhood ... The first socialists were inspired by the gospel."

Dialectical, Marxist, humane

"On the other hand, liberation theology is criticized of being Marxist. It isn't Marxist. Because there are categories in common...Saying that the rich are richer and richer at the expense of the poor who are poorer and poorer...That is dialectical! It's Marxist! It's humane! A human consideration of reality gives this result: that the rich are ever richer at the expense of the poor who are ever poorer."

Socialization: the prerogative to peace

"When we were investigated here (during the military dictatorship) ... The federal police stopped me and asked about socialism. I said if they want to talk about socialism, let's talk about socialization. If the land isn't socialized ... The land of the countryside and urban land. Health, education, communication ... If these major essential assets aren't socialized, there will be no peace."

"As Jesus opted ..."

"There is a past, a present and a future (for liberation theology). And in any case, all true theology must be liberation theology. Christian theology has to opt for the fraternal equality of humankind. It has to opt for the poor, the little ones, the marginalized. As Jesus opted."

"Confronting, if necessary, the forces of power. As Jesus confronted the forces of the Roman Empire. The forces of a religion that was being used ... The forces of latifundismo in Palestine. So ... A Christian who wants to be a true Christian has to make these choices. This is what we call liberation theology."

"Historical memory must serve as a lesson."

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga agrees with investigating the human rights violations that happened between 1946 and 1988, as the Truth Commission is doing. "I thinks it's good that this other area is being covered."

"Because the danger of physically and psychologically torturing is in the hands of all governments that are more or less dictatorial. The dictatorship was the high point of this repression...of this abuse of power. But we need to prevent any other occasion."

The bishop, however, disagrees on the lack of punishment for the torturers. "They should be punished. Historical memory must serve as a lesson. It can't just be remembering some heroes and some torturers statistically. Several Latin American countries have shown this example."

Latin America -- "the Great Homeland"

Casaldáliga thinks Latin America "is better today that yesterday. Because we have more or less leftist governments. Because there's a greater awareness that we are one continent."

"A 'Great Homeland', as the liberators used to say. 'Our America', they also used to say. I always say that Latin America and the Caribbean will either be saved continentally as a whole, or they won't be saved. It must be a community of nations, because we have a special feature.

"Latin American Passion"

"Already, in part, we're getting to where Latin America isn't as openly the backyard of the United States. Important steps are being taken. When you talk about Venezuela, I say that, with the mistakes of Hugo Chávez, there have been some significant contributions. One is this Latin American passion."

Brazil is something else

"It's hard for Brazil to be aware that we are Latin America. Because of the language, because of a certain hegemonic attitude that, somtimes, isn't sufficiently controlled...Brazil is something else."

I don't believe in it, but...

The bishop doesn't believe in a new coup. At least not along the lines of what happened in '64. "Neither here nor elsewhere in Latin America. But there are other kinds of coups ... So it it's good to be on the alert...so that the dictatorships aren't camouflaged ... There could be military dictatorships; there could be civilian dictatorships too..."

The "other kinds of coups..."

"The government of Paraguay isn't legitimate; the government of Honduras isn't legitimate. Obviously. They're coup d'etats. They're camouflaged dictatorships at the service of the interests of the Empire. (Big capital) which is now significantly fewer of the countries...Globalization has put everyone in the same boat."

"Our DNA is being a human race"

"On the other hand, there's a scenario, a new awareness of being a single entity. We are a human family. Now no one can do without the rest of the world. We have always said that the United States' sin is to think of itself as alone in the world. And the rest is the rest."

"Now with globalization and its evils, and its abuses...a space has opened up...a unity. The first characteristic is being human..."

"I say that our DNA is being the human race. The human family. ("Races") exist as an identity. But within that identity, the fact of being human beings comes first. And all real policy should be devoted to humanizing humanity."

"Capitalism with a human face is impossible"

When asked if it was possible to have true democracy within capitalism, the bishop of Araguaia was emphatic. "No! Capitalism is evil. And there's no solution...Capitalism is collective selfishness. It's the segregation of the vast majority. It's profit for profit's sake. It's using individuals and peoples in the service of a privileged group. As for 'capitalism with a human face', you're asking the impossible. It's impossible."

"Democracy is a word that has been profaned"

For Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, there is no true democracy anywhere in the world. "Because there's a formal democracy...a political 'democracy' in quotes. But there isn't economic democracy...There isn't ethnic democracy. The indigenous people, within these democratic states...They're constrained. They're marginalized. They're forced to claim the rights that are elementary for them. Democracy is a word that has been profaned."

Who's afraid of democracy?

"All those who go on defending privilege for some people...privilege for a few...are afraid of real democracy."

"All those who make private property an absolute right."

"All those who don't understand that property has a social mortgage."

"All those who think that people, governments and states can exist that live privileged lives at the expense of domination and exploitation..."

"There isn't freedom of the press"

"The major media is the media of the powerful. This sums everything up...There isn't freedom of the press. I've seen journalists crying with rage because they've written matter and the editor virtually distorted everything...Putting such and such a title and turning everything that was said in the text around. Yes. Yes. There have been cases like this."

The Dilma government -- "an obsession with big projects"

The criticism I am making is about these three debts: The debt of agrarian reform. The debt of the indigenous cause. And the debt of small projects. Big projects are being done...Belo Monte. São Francisco. Hydroelectric dams...Big projects...Brazil is destined to be a big factory to service them."

"A member of the Caraja tribe said in a press conference in Europe a few years ago, 'I think our government is more interested in fattening the working pigs than in taking care of its people'...Fattening the pigs...Without harvesting soybeans...Making soybeans a big export...He was speaking a few years ago ... But still we must say that this obsession with big projects largely defines the current government."

International policy is going well

"I recognize Dilma's story. I acknowledge her acts of solidarity...The attitude that has been adopted with respect to Paraguay...The attitude taht has been adopted with respect to Venezuela... The attitude they've adopted on defending the rights of peoples. If Ecuador makes a decision, it's accepted or we support it. Yes (international policy is going well). For the first time policy is being made that seeks independence with respect to the U.S.

"Barefoot on the red earth."

When QTMD? was in São Félix do Araguaia, a film about Dom Pedro Casaldáliga was being shot, based on a book by the same name. The honoree was opposed, but later ended up allowing it.

"I opposed it anyway. Because I was afraid of two things: that it would go off into pedantry... the cult of personality. And that our causes wouldn't stand out enough. Why are we here? What do we stand for here? Why have we taken this position?"

"That in a communitarian way. Because it hasn't been me...It's been these pastoral teams...It's been the popular movement. The people of the region who have fought -- who are fighting -- to avenge their rights." "I made a point not to interfere. To leave absolute freedom. Without censorship. We criticize censorship, I'm not going to do censorship now ..."

"I think the film has a benefit...It will help evoke a memory that wasn't alive, especially in young people...of the government of that period. They will now be able to rediscover a past that affects the present and the future."

"'Barefoot' means without comsumerism. Stripped, without consumption. "On the red earth'. An earth drenched in sweat...but also soaked in blood. The blood of martyrs," the bishop concluded.

Click here to see an album of 80 photos taken by QTMD? in Dom Pedro Casaldáliga's house.

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