Get Off the Fence, Pope Francis

"That is not right," is all Pope Francis had to say to Evo Morales after receiving his "gift."
“That is not right,” is all Pope Francis had to say to Evo Morales after receiving his “gift.” (Diario Correo)

EspañolThe confused look on Pope Francis’s face says it all.

As for Bolivian President Evo Morales — opportunistic, rude, shocking — pick any adjective you’d like to describe the man who gave the head of the Catholic Church a crucifix attached to a hammer and sickle.

It’s worth noting that Morales, like Rafael Correa and the late Hugo Chávez, has never said he is a communist, even though he openly admires the ideology. In his defense, he could say that while millions have been killed in the name of communism, many more have died in the name of religion.

It’s possible that Morales wanted to force Jorge Mario Bergoglio to publicly side with so-called 21st-century socialism, since there’s still a strong debate on where this pope really stands on politics.

Clearly, Francis is far from John Paul II’s unambiguous liberalism. However, his tepid “that is not right” response after Morales unveiled the gift — a replica of the wooden statue carved by Luis Espinal Camps, a Spanish Jesuit priest tortured and killed by paramilitary groups in 1980 for his denunciation of political violence in Bolivia — deserves, at least, clarification that he doesn’t support Marxist liberation theology.

Although more than 30 years have passed, the image of Karol Wojtyla in Nicaragua severely admonishing a kneeling Ernesto Cardenal in front of the cameras is still fresh in my memory. We do not know what exactly John Paul II told Cardenal, but it’s clear Wojtyla took a strong position against communism and socialism during his papacy.

I mention this episode because, at the time, liberation theology was all the rage within the Catholic Church, and Wojtyla relentlessly put things back in order. As a Pole, he was well familiar with communism, from the inside.

Three decades later, experts agree that the alliance between Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Karol Wojtyla ended the Cold War. The global front defeated Stalin’s project, who reportedly at one point asked rhetorically: “The pope! How many divisions has he got?”

Francis is known for his role in 2014 as a mediator between United States and Cuba to help put an end to over 50 years of political hostility. There are some who believe the Obama administration has conceded too much to the Castro regime, and they have evidence to support it: in 2014 and 2015, repression on the island prison has reached levels not seen for years.

For now, his decision to visit Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay for his first Latin-American tour seems unfortunate. The governments of the two first countries belong to the Bolivarian Alliance, and have used Francis’s image for propaganda purposes — just like the Nicolás Maduro administration in Venezuela.

Every speech Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa gave in front of Bergoglio, just like the Marxist wooden crucifix, seemed to say “the pope is one of us.”

We can only hope that the Vatican, faithful to its ancient tradition of diplomacy, opts to soften the hearts and minds of authoritarian rulers, and that Francis’s visit carries the seed of liberty.

The ALBA leaders unfortunately have no such tradition. If Nicolás Maduro has recently relaxed the Venezuelan government’s cruelty against political prisoners, it has not been because of soft diplomacy, but because he feels that many world leaders are fed up with him and have publicly said it.

In Ecuador, Correa did not withdraw his outrageous tax bills because people asked nicely, but because thousands of Ecuadorians took to the streets to show him they will not stand for them.

Bergoglio, as a Latin American, would do well to take note and adopt a stronger stance.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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