Category Archives: Politics

Catholics Respond to Rising Anti-Globalization in Latin America

By Bristow Richards

Last year saw citizens of the US and Europe respond to globalism with disdain and contempt. 2015, the year of the COP21 climate accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Iran Nuclear Deal, gave way to 2016, the year of Donald Trump’s election, Brexit, and a general loss of faith in institutions. There is reason to believe that the same variety of anti-globalism could have political weight in Latin America as well. In recent decades, the region has experienced the worst side effects of both national isolation and global interconnectedness. In the Eighties, states involved themselves too heavily in their national economies and instituted too many import barriers, which led to an inflation crisis that ruined entire markets in the region. Latin American historians often refer to the era as the “Lost Decade.” Openness to international markets and institutions, on the other hand, can also be dangerous. Argentina had the biggest sovereign debt default in history in 2001 after relying almost solely on foreign capital and the IMF.

 

What can assuage the looming anxiety Latin Americans feel towards globalism? Populism and protectionism have been one cathartic political response in other regions of the globe. But politics is not the only solution.

 

One group of Catholics claims to have the answer. In February, Spanish-speaking Catholic theologians met in Boston to discuss the church’s approach to globalization and structures of exclusion. At the inaugural Ibero-American Conference of Theology, Catholic thinkers discussed issues from ranging from populism and acculturation, to the environment. Among those present was Juan Carlos Scannone, a previous teacher of the current pope, and Carlos María Gallí, one of the pope’s close friends and advisors. These Catholic thinkers argued that their particular reading of Christianity could address contemporary problems faced by all people, across political spectrums and throughout the globe. Their approach to Catholicism is called Liberation Theology – made renowned by Gustavo Gutiérrez in his 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation. Gutiérrez himself attended the conference, a gesture that seemed to give credence to the contemporary supporters of his theology. Although liberation theology once enjoyed considerable sway in Latin America, its influence has waned in the past few decades. In this political moment, however, liberation theologians are gaining momentum, hoping to return to mainstream political and cultural conversations in the Americas.

 

Liberation theology, according to its proponents, is a reading of Christian teaching that focuses on helping the poor and excluded to overcome exclusionary institutions like governments and multinational corporations. It has often been characterized as a leftist sociopolitical movement. Some strands of liberation theology take on a deterministic, Marxist interpretation of material well-being, encouraging the working class to struggle against these exploitative or extractive institutions, and to struggle violently, when necessary. The summary declaration from the Ibero-American Conference of Theology, however, takes on a gentler tone. The declaration calls for a reinvigorated approach to theology that pays special attention to “the reality of social conflicts,” aspiring to overcome vast inequalities of wealth, resources, and opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region could use it, too: inequality plagues Latin America from Buenos Aires to Bogotá, although it has been modestly improving in the past few years. To impoverished rural parishioners, a materialistic understanding of religion is more descriptive of their reality than the messages of vacuous Vatican elites, who are more concerned with debating abortion and gay marriage.

 

The “preference for the poor” espoused by liberation theologians is not unique to their movement. Pope Francis, though he does not specifically endorse Liberation Theology, has gone to great lengths to bring the church’s attention more to its people, especially its poorest. When he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pontiff-to-be made it a priority to improve the church’s relations with the villas miserias – “miserable neighborhoods”– where poverty and crime were often deadly. He condemned international institutions and unchecked capitalism for exacerbating the suffering of Argentines after the 2001 default. As pope, he has sought to improve Vatican relations with liberation theologians. In 2015, Francis invited Gustavo Gutiérrez to speak at the Vatican as a welcome guest. Perhaps more notable was when the pope ordered the beatification of Archbishop Óscar Romero, a divisive liberation theologian who was shot at the altar during the reign of El Salvador’s oppressive military dictatorship in 1980. The pope’s latent support for liberation theology has given the movement the nearly official legitimacy it has lacked since its founding.

 

Although Pope Francis has conditioned the church to consider the tamer calls of liberation theology, Gutiérrez and his entourage may still not be fully capitalizing on their chance to influence political events in Latin America. Elections in the Americas are seeing center-right administrations rise up under the likes of Argentina’s Mauricio Macri and Peru’s Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. While the source of this retreat from the Left may be based as much on disdain for the corruption of current leftist governments as it is on a rejection of leftism itself, the political landscape is becoming less amenable to some of the basic ideological premises of liberation theology. To make matters worse, Latin America is becoming decidedly less Catholic, with studies indicating that Catholic identity has decreased by more than 20% since the 20th century.

 

Despite these challenges, liberation theologians continue to have an immense asset at their disposal: Catholicism itself. Issues like globalization, migration, and poverty are transnational by nature. Transnational issues are also notoriously difficult to approach by any sort of international political effort. They aren’t necessarily the product of sovereign states, and it is nearly impossible for loose coalitions of independent countries to agree on how to solve them. The church, on the other hand, has the characteristics of a transnational movement. It relies on more than a billion individuals, who regularly choosing to reaffirm it. The Church does not need borders or laws to maintain influence. Furthermore, the Catholic Church has extensive bureaucratic capacity and ideological authority in the Vatican. The pope can influence Catholics with inspiration and religiosity, without imposing laws or inciting partisanship. Pope Francis has the power to open the minds of nearly 1.2 billion people, to ideas of social and political activism, to urge them to resist oppressive institutions. At the very least, he can make Catholics more receptive to religious leftism.

 

Catholicism (from the greek word katholikismos, or “universal doctrine”) can be a powerful solution to the fears that transcend national boundaries. Emboldened by a friendly Vatican and renewed organizational capacity, it seems that liberation theologians will attempt to strengthen their base in Latin America, and perhaps enter the cultural mainstream within the next few years. It will be a slow process. Gutierrez and his colleagues will likely take advantage of Pope Francis’ frequent visits to the region in the next decade, using his liberal Catholicism to further legitimize their endeavors. Time will tell if their message really takes root.

 

 

The Two State Solution is Dead: Time for New Perspectives on Israel/Palestine

By Aman Madan

Israel posses an irrevocable right to exist. It possess this right—a right denied to the region’s indigenous peoples—not out of any legitimate grievances, but because of a persistent co-optation of colonial powers on the part of Herzl, the Jewish National Fund, and the World Jewish Congress. Israel exists today as a direct consequence of what can broadly be described as the Zionist project and the force of Western powers against the Arab peoples. It’s consistent denial of rights to Israeli Arabs, Palestinians in the West Bank, and seemingly unstoppable settlement projects have all contributed to a slow but steady consolidation of Israeli authority in the region. From a Weberian perspective, states exist once they have monopolized control over the legitimate use of violence. Israel has achieved exactly this, and therefore the world, because it has stopped caring, trying, or some mixture of the two, has allowed Israel the dignity of a modern nation-state.

 

Without delving into a deeply complex history—one which illicits deep passion on both sides of the debate—the question of Israel, its status as a Jewish and democratic state, and whether or not it has a moral legitimacy [not one achieved through violence or colonialism] have resurfaced in contemporary discourse. Much of this can be attributed to a newly inaugurated American administration whose views on the regional conflict have departed from long held US policy. For the first time in US politics, an American president, standing side by side with Israeli Prime Minister, claimed that the United States would prefer a peace deal desired by both parties—whether that be a single state or multiple states. The statement incited anger and shock throughout the Middle East, not because the statement itself was controversial, but because, once contextualized, appeared to be highly biased toward the Israeli state—particularly given Mr. Trump’s warm relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Many news reports, particularly throughout the Arab World, categorized Mr. Trump’s departure from a forceful defense of a two-state solution—common US policy regardless of partisan leanings—as a tacit endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ultimate goal of annexation of the West Bank.

 

While his implication that “suddenly the long-proposed solution of two states did not really matter,” seemed to be a direct affront to the Palestinian cause, a one state solution might be a much needed change in the direction of resolving the conflict. For decades, the premise of the two state solution—the ultimate goal of a sovereign Palestinian state—has locked the Middle East into a perpetual state of inaction and at the least, external belligerency; many states have for years pursued a quiet relationship with Israel, but have done so at the expense of popular domestic support, where support for Israel still remains dreadfully low.

 

Israel is here to stay. To not acknowledge this gruesome reality is to either be wholly naive or ideologically pure—both are ironically counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. While the suggestion of a singular Israeli state appears radical—particularly in Lebanon from where I pen this piece—“it is simply the recognition of the uncomfortable reality that Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories already function as a single state.” According to Michael Tarazi, both territories share the same road systems, the same water supply, and even the same international borders. As a former advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization, he contends that the parallel reality of the interconnectedness and the simultaneous marginalization of the Palestinian population can cease with the emergence of a one state solution. The Palestinians should now push for a binational state with equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated an inclination toward this idea, arguing for a “state-minus” status for the West Bank. For the first time, a majority of Palestinians do not support the two state solution. In fact, 56% of Palestinians no longer view an independent Palestinian state as a viable future outcome. With thousands of new Israeli settlements already constructed in the West Bank and a new Israeli law allowing for a retroactive legalization of illegally seized Palestinian land, many Palestinians have warmed to the prospect of full integration into a binational state. Perhaps more importantly, with the increasing popularity of the Israeli right—the likes of Naftali Bennet who argue for a full annexation—many Palestinians are fearful that such a move may necessitate a complete removal from their land. With that nightmarish option looming as not-too-unlikely possibility, full integration and co-equal citizenship carry with it a certain appeal previously not associated with the idea.

 

Mr. Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank, argues that such an idea would only be a legitimate alternative if the entirety of the Palestinian population was given the vote. Full Palestinian integration comes at a significant cost. It “means that Jewish democracy in the land of Palestine is not possible.” With a full annexation of Area A, B, and C, Israel will gain approximately three million Palestinians, meaning that Israel will be unable to retain the Jewish character of its state, undoubtedly inciting serious questions of Jewish and Israeli identity. If Netanyahu and his coalition ultimately seek a singular state, they must determine the essence of the state they seek—not an easy task given the heightened partisan divide within Israeli politics. Certainly, it is not out of the question that Israel allows for an integration of Palestinians, but refuses equal rights to the new population. Israeli Jews will certainly resist ceding rights perceived to be exclusive theirs, deepening an apartheid state—which to be frank, is already manifesting itself in the West Bank. The onus then, should be on international intermediaries, particularly Mr. Trump who has now “opened the door to this conversation.” It is unlikely that Mr. Trump sides with the Palestinians, eyeing an Israeli domination of the ‘peace process’ as a relatively simplistic way to ‘finally’ end this decade long conflict. Mr. Trump has always had an affinity for reductionist approaches, particularly in the foreign policy realm. We should not expect any significant deviation from this approach in regard to this conflict.

 

The two state solution is now inviable. To remain in pursuit of this objective does not positively contribute to the ‘Middle East Peace Process.’ If Jared Kushner—Mr. Trump’s appointed intermediary between Israelis and Palestinians and his son-in-law—seeks a sustained peace in the region, he must acknowledge that a singular state with equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis is the only way to effectively resolve this conflict. In the words of Haroon Moghul, a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, “we’ve left the two-state solution long behind. God forbid we leave the one-state behind, too.”