Giovedì, 17 Agosto 2017
Sabato 13 Novembre 2010 20:49

What Remains of the Option for the Poor? (José María Vigil)

Valuta questo articolo
(1 Vota)

I find the title given to me for this article highly suggestive and provocative: What Remains of the Option for the Poor (OP)? What remains of the OP, of all that we have lived and proclaimed with such passion and fervor, of all the hopes for which so many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives? Does there remain in place any utopia? Does the option for the «people as subject» remain? Does even the very OP remain? Does anything remain?

What Remains of the Option for the Poor?

José María Vigil


I find the title given to me for this article highly suggestive and provocative: What Remains of the Option for the Poor (OP)? After «these last three fruitful decades»1 after the «lost decade», after the fall of socialism as experienced in twentieth-century history and of many ideologies, after the setback of revolutionary processes and popular movements -after we have awakened to a new era2 in which all that we were thinking and feeling until recently now appears so distant and so filled with «ingenuousness and over-simplification»3 , after all this, we ask ourselves: What remains of the OP, of all that we have lived and proclaimed with such passion and fervor, of all the hopes for which so many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives? Does there remain in place any utopia? Does the option for the «people as subject»4 remain? Does even the very OP remain? Does anything remain? Or are the only things that remain disappointment, the awakening from a dream, the bitter taste of a flight-with-resignation into an attitude of «Let whoever can, save himself or herself» in this new empire of individualism and neoliberal exclusion?

The question «What remains?», although strictly speaking a question, connotatively is a statement: the implicit statement that something is in peril of disappearing: does anything (still) remain?

Without doubt, there are many who, without answering explicitly, do so implicitly by their lives and by affirming, at the same time that they ask whether anything remains, that now almost nothing remains. In this my Nicaraguan homeland we have seen this «sharply», as we say here, and with total clarity. The international volunteers have gone; they did not «remain»5 . The «international missionaries», even though proportionately in a lesser degree, have also gone. The revolutionary dream has ended, including the dream of a «church of the poor». Realism has imposed itself, the crudeness of a bitter awakening after a moment in which we seemed to «touch heaven».6 What remains_?


The facts, in «headline» form

I will start with reality by means of a simple recalling of the most striking facts, as it were in «headlines», as they are usually presented.

The era of the bloc has ended: we have reached a unipolar world, one in which there is no rival.

The cycle of anti-imperial revolutions has ended. We must live with the Empire. Moreover it no longer makes sense to talk of «empire» and «anti-imperialism».

Socialism as experienced in twentieth-century history has crumbled. There is no alternative to capitalism. «Outside of capitalism there is no salvation». We have reached the «end point of history». Whatever may come in the future has to be «more of the same», evolved or improved but always within the confines of the system, which now is definitive7 .

Capitalism, in neoliberalism, has triumphed. It is the only system that produces wealth. It is what will redeem the world8 by means of the traditional «trickle-down effect», which requires first a period of storing of wealth «above» before that wealth overflows and trickles down below.

The «complete marketplace» is essential, since it has shown itself to be the best economic arrangement. Everything is an object of merchandizing, everything is bought and sold, nothing should be subsidized. Only in this way will we find ourselves in just and equitable conditions: the one who works more, who produces more, who sells in a better way will be the one who will win. Whoever does not know how to compete will remain marginalized; he will exclude himself from succeeding.

There is no ideological alternative; there is no other economic starting point. All others fell apart. Neoliberalism remained alone, victorious. The social sciences are in a state of crisis, disoriented, without even a glimpse of a possible starting point other than the ever-present neoliberalism.

That which was experienced in the past decades was an «ideological dream», a revolutionary romanticism, devoid of foundation, which at this juncture has been shown to be simply unfeasible.

-Facing all this, what meaning does the OP have? Does it mean anything more than a beautiful theory which can not be implemented in practice?

-Can the people be the makers of their own history? Can that people one day stand on its own feet? Or does the future course of history lie more in the hands of the middle class and the powerful? Is the «people as human foundation» a myth without foundation that we ought to abandon?

The «second defeat»

These would be, as it were, the brute facts, the objective facts presented, almost (it would seem) without interpretation, in headline form. They would be like a balance sheet of the «defeat» of the people's cause, as some have named it. But we know well that is not the whole of the matter. For, joined to this «defeat» there spreads within many a «second defeat»: the moral, psychological, and spiritual defeat.

In Nicaragua we have experienced this phenomenon, also «sharply», and what we have experienced is, perhaps, a reflection of what, in a similar way, is happening in all of the continent.

In Nicaragua, first, there were fright and confusion, the inability to believe in the electoral «defeat» of the revolution. Then there were tears and anxiety. Later the search for those who were to blame. Still later came self-blame. Finally there came a demobilizing, a breakdown, flight, bitterness. And, last of all, there was reinterpretation.

An expression of this reinterpretation in Nicaragua would have to show itself, by reason of the idiosyncrasy of our people, in literature. I will give an example which can take the place of many ideas. Mónica Zalaquett, wife of the man who was chief of intelligence for the Sandinista Army during the harshest years of the war, has suddenly entered the gallery of goddesses of literature with the publication of her first novel, «Your Ghost, Julián»9 . With a more aged pen, certainly also feminine, Gioconda Belli celebrates Zalaquett's entry into the literary Olympiad with her critical comments. The novel presents the absurd war in which two brothers find themselves involved, one a counter-revolutionary, the other, Julian, a Sandinista.

«The Ghost of Julián -writes Gioconda10 - is the ghost of what they and we have done to Nicaragua, to the peasants, to the innocent persons. It is the ghost of our own inability, as Nicaraguans, as supposed leaders and politicians, to place the people and their sufferings before slogans and pride.

The novel confronts us with that people which acts without love and, often, moved by an ancestral resignation regarding its own misfortune -those accursed banners which are written in the name of «principles» which are one day inviolable and the next day negotiable- principles in which they find themselves overwhelmed against their will in order to achieve goals which, in the end, have no meaning at all. These people end up changing nothing of the essence of their poor and misery-laden lives_

That which carries weight in this book is the act of recognizing how we, the political classes of this country, on whatever side we are, have been incapable of adequately measuring the sorrow that we have caused to the men and women who have paid with their blood the price of our ideas, the price of the ghost of liberty which everyone sought to wrap in the mantel that most conformed with 'the truth' that his or her group had proclaimed».

According to Gioconda -acclaimed at another time as one of the literary goddesses of Sandinism, emigrant in this new era to the paradise of the United States- we now discover that we were mistaken. Everything which we lived through during this past decade turned out to be an irrational struggle over «ideas» -no matter what they were- brought to the fore by «the political classes» of the country, who wrote the banner which should represent those poor who are the ones who always provide the dead.

In reality, however, that which Gioconda Belli, Mónica Zalaquett, and all of their ideological/literary choir are saying regarding the past is not being said really about the past but rather about the present and the future. The reinterpretation which they make of the past has as its objective the creation of a new space for living and for forgetting, for justifying the change of direction: the abdication of those principles which, some years back, they considered sacred and absolute.

The best way to break with those principles, now uncomfortable, is to proclaim that a radically new era has begun, one in which we feel ourselves exempt of the ethical demands of those principles and which disqualifies all those values as belonging to a world of dreaming and lack of reality.

Reducing those struggles, that mystique, that passion, all of that extravagance of witness, generosity, and heroism of so many fighters and martyrs -in spite of so many examples of human misery- reducing all of this to a simple «irrational struggle of ideas» is a form of justifying the forgetting of the past and a desire to begin a new life freed both from the demands of the former life and from the remorse of having abandoned those demands.

One of my friends interprets all of this in this way: «This is the elite and intellectual middle class speaking, those who stood with the poor only while it was easy for them to do so and who, now that the horizon has been closed, abandon the ranks and attempt to rationalize their betrayal». I would say, simply, that what is happening is the «second defeat», which, like the «second death», is worse than the first. The first defeat took place from outside; the second defeat kills the very soul.

Postmodernism with a Latin American look

We aren't accustomed to speaking of «postmodernism», but that doesn't mean that we do not experience it, in our way, in the Latin American way. I believe that postmodernism is arriving, in an enslaving way, in Latin America at this very hour. It is happening without the mediation of theories and intellectual imports from the First World but rather as a native product which is being born here in reaction to «what happened». By reason of this practical and historical, rather than intellectual, origin, it is not known by its name, which seems reserved for a current of First World thinking.

Here also, as happened in the intellectual world of modern times, a process of disenchantment and disillusionment has taken place. Here also people have ceased believing in progress, not now the classical and modernist «progress» but rather progress as the capacity of humanity to take control of history or, expressed more concretely, as the capacity to overcome age-old injustice and poverty. In place of the best euphoria has come the worst disenchantment: there is no way out.

If indeed there is now no way out, if all the mysticism and all the utopias for which we have fought and for which so many brothers and sisters have died, have been crushed by the war (on all levels) that the powerful have waged against us, what Cause remains for us to live for (even to the point of dying for it)?

This situation is too difficult to expect that all can endure it. Certainly there are militant groups which resist the beating administered by such adverse circumstances; but many others have become lame -with a lameness «structurally» postmodernist: we don't want to build new utopias, we don't even have the desire to maintain the ones we have had. Let us abandon them as outmoded. Perhaps everything was simply an «irrational struggle over ideas» which wasn't worth the effort. Let's construct a reinterpretation which permits us the tranquil conscience of being able to take refuge in fragmentation, in individualism, in the attitude of «Let the man or woman who can, save himself or herself». Let's not look for general overviews or great Causes now; let's be content with the tasty pleasures of the modern world, pleasures which we weren't able to enjoy on the revolutionary mountain.

Thus does the postmodernism of a Latin American stripe grow -and not only in society as a whole but also in the Churches.

The desertion of the militant Christian

In the first half of this century there was much talk about the «desertion of the worker» and of the «desertion of the intellectuals». Working people, almost everywhere, experienced themselves as anticlerical, inclined towards atheism, estranged from the church, which became a missionary Church. For their part, the intellectuals and the scientists came to appear as the other public enemy of the Church. Today there is nobody who doubts that speaking of the «desertion of those people», intellectuals or workers, never was anything but a euphemism. The phenomenon was not fundamentally that of «desertion» on their part but rather that of a practical expulsion of them on the part of the Church.

The Church had become an uninhabitable space for the worker who was aware or for the intellectual who was honorable. The anti-labor alliances of the Church with the world of business and business leaders, the Church's lack of understanding of the expectations of the workers , the imposition of a way of understanding both faith and science which clashed with minimal demands of scientific freedom and with respect for reason -- all of this caused the workers and intellectuals to abandon the Church. There are some famous areas in Europe that still drag along this age-long inheritance of anticlericalism, thus reacting to historical traumas which are not healed even after many centuries.

In a different context, today, in Latin America, while making a balance sheet of the last decades, I believe that it is necessary to begin to speak also of the «desertion of the militant Christians». We are not accustomed to speak of this because we don't want to open our eyes to its painful reality. We would much prefer to think that the fertile and practical working together of Christianity and the people's movement which we experienced in Latin America is still a full reality. Often in the past we underlined the fact that such a working together was something new in the history of the Church, in so far as it contrasted with the kind of desertion (of workers and intellectuals) which was here being overcome.

But_ it is the time for truth and realism. If indeed it is certain that there are still a vast number of militants who continue to believe in God and that this faith leads them to a commitment to the people's Cause, we likewise have to recognize honorably that there are also many militant Christians who no longer «practice», because they are disillusioned due to the attitude which the Church or the Churches have adopted in these last years with regards to the Cause of the poor. The historical processes which have challenged Christian faith during these last years have been a decisive test. Many militant Christians and non-Christians have come to the conclusion that the experience of a Church truly involved in the Cause of the poor was likewise a mirage, a «dream» from which they have now awakened. It is true that these militants continue to believe in Liberation Theology (which is clearly ruled out by the Church), in priests such as Leonardo Boff (who had to abandon his priesthood), in bishops like Pedro Casaldáliga (who constitute precisely the exception to the rule), and in members of religious congregations and pastoral workers whom the official Church encounters confrontationally. They are sustained in their faith by that which the Church more and more commits itself to contradict. Can they feel themselves identified with the Church?

Now we can, and should, speak of a «desertion of the militants in Latin America». Some bishops are happy, because «now the Church of the poor is finished» in their country. They are like those persons who, a hundred years ago, rejoiced in the unity of the Church and in the absence of ecclesiastical conflicts of a political and theoretical nature without noticing that the price they were paying for that «peace» was the expulsion from the Church of the workers and the intellectuals. Those who rejoice today do not notice that they are rejoicing in having succeeded in scandalizing militant Christians who have become convinced that, effectively, it is not possible for them to be members of the Church and stand fullheartedly with the poor and who, accordingly, abandon church practice, if not the faith itself.

Accordingly rebuilding is now going to be very difficult, because there are no human agents on which to lean. So many generous militants are now incapable of trusting in the institutional Church; they have lost their capacity to be enthusiastic once again regarding the Church. The Church has scandalized them and has irretrievably lost credibility. What we have experienced has been «too much» -- including blood stains, a growing stubbornness against the cause of the poor, blasphemies against the God of the poor and the people's Church. This is a lost generation for the Church, lost by the Church. It will take many generations to regain that confidence.

What remains of the Church of the poor? (Rather than speaking of a Church of the poor or of a people's Church, we should speak of a people's Christianity)11 . A people's Church has been half destroyed (they have half destroyed it). But perhaps there remains a dispersed people of God, a people's Christianity -- de-ecclesiastized and incapable of «re-ecclesiastizing» itself for a good period of time. Concretely, what remains? And, above all, in whose name will it be possible to call together those who seem to be immunized against being called together by the Church?


The triumph of capitalism?

The triumph of capitalism is presented as a fact. But we can't be ingenuous in this respect. We are dealing with a deceptive triumph, which really isn't a triumph at all. There are various reasons for saying this.

In the first place, what we in the Third World experience isn't a triumph of capitalism but rather its complete failure: the constant increase of poverty and exploitation in every area where it has exercised its influence. If in the present moment there is a constant factor, it is that of the increase of poverty to boundaries never before known. The mystery is why the situation doesn't explode, given its highly explosive nature. Postmodernism -constructed of an inspired blend of individualism, attitudes of «what do I have to lose?», indifference, apathy, disenchantment, resignation, renunciation, laziness, lack of hope- this postmodernism acts like the best ally of neoliberalism in keeping the population indifferent and passive in conditions of life in which the mere use of the word «triumph» should remain forbidden so as not to offend the dignity of the poor of the Third World. A triumph of capitalism? What kind? Of what origin?

On the other hand, shall we look upon capitalism's imposition of itself as a «triumph» to be proud of? More accurately we can believe the opposite. What has been demonstrated with this «triumph»? It has become clear that there is no practical way out of our situation, that for now utopia has been made impossible, that which still moves groups of people is the motivational force of egoism, that we are still in the Tableau de Quesnay, in the discovery of egoism as the best motivation that humanity has, that we still see the commercial competition of homo homini lupus (man as wolf) as the best regulator of interhuman economic relationships.

It is indeed sad that, after so much historical effort, it seems to be discovered that there are no new men and women who care for the group with more love than they care for the self, who seek to produce communal property with as great interest as they bring to producing private property, and who can surrender themselves with a freely given love far above considerations of economic remuneration.

Indeed, if it had been demonstrated in these last years that Adam Smith and Ricardus are correct and that there is no other possible way to build society than that of the motivational force of individual egoism, we would justifiably join in common mourning. We would not recognize that as a «triumph» but rather as a complete defeat -- a defeat not only of society but also of human nature and, definitively, of God. We think that it has not been shown beyond doubt that «There is no other way out» (or, what amounts to the same thing, that «Outside of capitalism there is no salvation»). We think rather that, at the most, it has been shown that now it is not yet possible to take that necessary step, that humanity is not yet mature, and that, much to the contrary, we must struggle to make that process of maturing possible. We think that it has been shown that the «transformation of society and its structures» depends also on a reaching of maturity on the part of the heart of humanity.

We do not accept this failure as definitive, because we do not accept the failure of God. We cannot resign ourselves to the ethic of the wolves.

A matter simply of economic models?

Are we dealing here only with a purely socio-economic discussion? That is, is it only a matter of discussing simple socio-economic models? Here in Nicaragua, a few months after the electoral defeat of Sandinism, three hundred and eighty one qualified12 Christians made public their reflection over this point, and that reflection seems valid and enlightening to us. They wrote:

Two systems and two conceptions of the world are in conflict. It is important to understand the battle they are waging.

Capitalism is based on individual egoism (according even to is own theoretical founders) and on a civilization ofviolence (survival of the strongest). Accordingly the powerful feel quite comfortable in that system and request complete 'liberty' of movement. Let there be no other law than that of the jungle («Let the man or woman who can, save himself or herself»): free labor market, free enterprise, free competition, liberalism, neoliberalism. It is logical that, in the middle of the jungle of egoisms, the big fish eats thelittle fish. The rich make themselves all the time richer at the expense of the poor becoming all the time poorer. The onehundred and eighty three million Latin Americans submerged in poverty are the fruit of this social system.

Socialism is the effort to transform that system into a society characterized by justice and solidarity. That cannot be done without limiting the abuses of 'freedom.' The freedom of one person ends where that of other persons begins. Socialism prohibits the freedom to rob (even with white gloves), to exploit, to dispossess the little people, and to hoard immoderately. Logically, in a society thus constructed there is more justice, but there is less incentive for individual egoism: it is not so easy to rob, exploit, dispossess, hoard, and marginate. There the powerful do not feel comfortable. They claim that there is no «freedom». They say that the economy must be 'liberalized, flexibilized, privatized.'

It is evident that a project of socialist nature can move forward only on the strength of a mystique (whether it be ethical, political, or religious). This is so because it cannot count on the incentive of individual egoism. It is spontaneously more 'motivating' to tend to private property than to community property, to work for one's self than for the community, to look out for one's self rather than for the common good. No one is born with a «socialist» heart. For all of us egoism is much easier. It is, in part, original sin. Only with a strong effort to act on a higher level are we able to draw near to being New Persons.

Accordingly, for us, from a faith perspective capitalism and socialism are not simply two socio-economic systems, comparable as such, which should be judged simply in function of their economic output. The first relies on the easycomplicity of egoism and violence. The second represents precisely the laborious building of the New Human Being. Accordingly the resistance and difficulties that are found on this journey neither scandalize nor disappoint us13 .

Was the people's project really unfeasible?

Many persons say to us: in these worldwide changes, that which has been making itself clear is that the people's project was unfeasible. It failed.

Here too we are dealing with a deceptive failure. There is a valid parallelism with the Conquest of the sixteenth century: did the historical project of the indigenous people fail -- their culture, their understanding of the world, their utopias, their hope? It is a euphemism to say simply that that project «failed»; more exactly what happened was that it «was crushed». It is not correct to say that the indigenous empires of Abya Yala collapsed; they were destroyed. They failed, true, but precisely in the face of the hostility of the most powerful empire of its time: they failed by being massacred14 .

Does that mean that the worldview and the project of the indigenous people were really unfeasible, impossible, verging on inevitable failure? By no means. We are still rediscovering and seeking to recover their values. Nor have the projects of liberation of the Latin American peoples failed in themselves; rather they waged a valiant battle against the greatest empire of the earth, and in that battle, with fewer means, arms, and technology -as was the case with the indigenous people of the sixteenth century- they were crushed.

Well, then, neither does what happened during this last part of the twentieth century provide evidence that the project of the poor in Latin America was unfeasible, leaning necessarily towards defeat. What happened shows simply, by the manner in which it concretely took place, that project did not have the force necessary to confront the sustained and pitiless attack of international capitalism, which didn't hesitate to put its greatest resources into what has been called the «total war» or the war «of low intensity». The right of Force conquered over the force of Right.

A brotherly/sisterly project of life is unfeasible, impossible if the older brothers/sisters refuse to live as brothers/sisters of those who are younger and instead dedicate themselves to making war against them. In that situation a family life of sisters and brothers is unfeasible, it is impossible. But that impossibility is not intrinsic. It arises from the specific set of circumstances.

The unfeasibility of the project of the poor is an external, factual unfeasibility, in this concrete hour of history; it is not an intrinsic impossibility, in itself, by its very nature. That is: it's not that we aren't able but rather that they don't allow us. Nor are they going to allow us. We aren't able «in this hour», but «since it is possible, it can be done». And we would have been able to achieve our project if only those who didn't allow us to, had allowed us to, and if those who should not have stood aloof and who should not have entered into connivance had fulfilled their obligation. Today all of those things are futuribles, but still futuribles that help us to avoid misinterpreting the facts, ambiguous and equivocal as those facts are in themselves.

And if the impossibility is not complete, there is an obligation to wait, actively, with hope.

Can the people be the makers of history?

With this in mind it is said that the option for the people as agents of change must be reworked. The people showed, in this view, their incapacity to be the makers of history. As a matter of fact the prevailing option within the Church, as shown in various movements, is at present for the middle classes. They are the historical agents on the basis of which the Church and history want to be built15 . On this point, our Nicaraguan experience can have significance, even perhaps in a symbolic way. This is so because we have really been witnesses of a people as «agents of their own history, architect of their own liberation»16 , witnesses of a «people's power». In the decade of the revolution it was normal to encounter public officials with notably peasant characteristics behind counters where, in any other country, an official of clearly middle class origin is found. Here the state was in the hands of peasants, workers, members of the proletariat. While this was a delight for all of us who were tuned into the utopia of the power of the poor, it didn't stop being a source of worry, for various reasons. First, for all that has to do with public functions and bureaucracy the middle class has been and is, always, better prepared than the poor. Those peasants at times almost didn't know how to write, nor did they have the ease of manner typical of the public official who was born, by reason of class origin, among bundles of bureaucratic papers.

Likewise, that notion of an «historical vacation» set in: it was claimed, for a time, that there had been more than enough work during the years of capitalist exploitation and drawn-out days of imposed work; now was the time for a period of rest, of «historical vacations», in order to make up for so much exploitation. Thus, many peasants put in workdays of scarcely five hours.

For its part, the collectivist philosophy of a revolutionary state -understood in their own way by the popular classes- resulted in the notion that what belongs to everybody belongs to nobody. If «the revolution is paying», now there's no need to give attention to saving, to productivity, to efficiency.

And we were even saying in those days: if we are not new men and women, if we do not value common property, the interest of the people, the common good as if they were our very own personal good, and even much more than that -- the middle class, capitalist attitude of efficiency will win out over us. The typical middle class virtues and qualities (efficiency, hard work, competition, responsibility, efficiency)17 will be definitively surpassed only by the New Man and the New Woman. The middle class, capitalist person is motivated by egoistic self-interest, and that is a very powerful motivating force.

A revolution will surpass capitalism only if it makes use of a yet more powerful force: the mystique of the New Man and the New Woman.

The New Person, man or woman, does not grow like mushrooms after a structural change. Nor is that New Person brought into existence by revolutionary decree. It is a question of mystique. Socialism, the revolution, the collective or cooperative economy can not move forward by means of political decrees or state measures but rather through a mystique (religious or political or ideological but, in any case, a mystique).

Let's ask anew: were the people up to the circumstances? Can that people be the agents of history? I will not join the chorus of judges of history who, after a brief experience of scarcely a few decades of allowing the people to act as protagonist, after centuries or millennia of being marginalized and treated as incapable and after a period of violent hostility carried out by the empire of the moment -as had done the earlier Spanish empire in the sixteenth century- now pronounce as definitively proved the incapacity of the people to be makers of their own history and declare that, regarding all that, «nothing remains». So also in that sixteenth century did the imperial politicians and their court theologians consider as proven that the indigenous people didn't have the capacity to be agents of history. But today we see clearly -not everyone yet- that it was precisely the Spanish empire which showed itself not to be worthy of the historical responsibilities that fell upon it in that hour.

What remains? To reply that only unfeasibility remains seems to me to be a lamentable mirage. We must distinguish between factual impossibility and intrinsic unfeasibility: it is not that the People can not be agents of history; it is rather that others have not allowed them to carry out their capability.

It is not that People was not capable: it was rather that that capability doesn't appear spontaneously in a few years after so many centuries or millennia of passivity and marginalization. Faced with factual impossibility (due to the present circumstances, in this concrete moment of history, when humanity is not yet mature), there exists the intrinsic feasibility of the people as agents of change. Moreover it is an immutable ethical imperative.


A number of times I have already referred to the Conquest of the sixteenth century. I think that that historical reality has a close parallelism with the present situation. The actors, their names, the settings and the specific circumstances have changed, but the structural conflict is surprisingly similar.

The indigenous persons also failed in face of the Europeans in the sixteenth century. But did they really fail? I want to be clear: from the point of view of Right, of Truth, of a global view of history, who really failed, who was ethically mistaken regarding the right of nations, who was mistaken before God and History?

There have been many «dark nights» and many historical failures of the poor throughout the course of the centuries. Their liberating project was frequently blocked, suffocated, crushed. Likewise it was said that what they wanted to accomplish was impossible, unfeasible. The recognition of the freedom of the indigenous people seemed unfeasible, and the banning of slavery seemed unfeasible. They were able to show the king that, if the system of royal land grants (encomiendas) was suppressed, quite simply the colony would be shut down and the «New World» would come to ruin18 .

«Without slaves there is no sugar, and without sugar there is no Brazil», it was said. And as it wasn't possible to stop having Brazil, it was decided that the banning of slavery was «unfeasible». They made the human dignity of those slaves unfeasible because there wasn't the will to give up a Brazil built on the sweat and the blood of the black persons. And the suppression of the royal land grants as well as the recognition of the dignity of the indigenous people were unfeasible because there wasn't a capacity to see the rights of other persons and the rights of the peoples. Those projects weren't unfeasible in themselves; they were that only factually and as a result of the circumstances. As a matter of fact, those projects continued alive, below the surface, awaiting the hour of realization and concretization, when humanity would reach a level of maturity and conscience that would make possible, even to the point of requiring, their concrete realization.

Why now is it going to seem to us that the «triumph» of neoliberalism means the definitive (and, in fact, intrinsic) unfeasibility of the project of the poor and the «end point of history»? Such a view would be a lamentable error in historical perspective. It seemed to St. Agustine that the world was coming to an end -and he wrote in that vein- when, at the gates of death himself, the barbarians were laying siege to his city; but that was not yet the «end point of history». Like Augustine, many Christians allow themselves to be deceived and believe that they are seeing the end point of history when they take for granted the irreversible victory of neoliberalism and the unfeasibility of the project of the poor.

The «dark nights» of the poor have been many, innumerable. The hours have been interminable in which they have heard the harangue of illustrious oligarchs, aristocrats, middle class persons, or sacred preachers that their project of seeking liberty and of becoming historical protagonists was unfeasible. The powerful have exerted great effort in depriving the poor of that which is most valuable: hope. And likewise today neoliberalism expects (and, in large part, has achieved) an alliance with the Churches in this task.

But the People maintain an historical perspective. And they remember. In that remembrance clearly appear the hopes of the indigenous people who did not yield, of the enslaved black persons who fled to the quilombos, of the workers and peasants exploited down through the centuries, of all the rebellious fighters. What was the night like of the indigenous people when they were conquered? What was the night like of the black slaves as they observed, aghast, the universal (including Christianity's) complicity in that crime of slavery, «the greatest sin of the colonial expansion into the west»?19 Can there be a night worse than that? But in every case they kept their hope, and the hope was realized in its day. Will not the history of dark nights teach us their lesson for our own night?

«Let us die, because already our gods have died», said the Aztec wisemen to the «twelve apostles of Mexico» who were striving to dialogue with them in order to show them that their religion, their gods_ were false. «Isn't it enough that you have destroyed our state and are dispersing our institutions? Do you want also to destroy our religion? It is the gods through whom there is life. Let us die, because now our gods have died»20 . That is the feeling that today many Latin American militants experience. «Let us die, because now our gods have died». The utopias that filled our lives with life and meaning, the «gods through whom there is life» have disappeared. Let us die tranquil in the ambience of individualism and let-whoever-can,-save-himself-or-herself, in the Latin American postmodernism.

But, despite the fact that many indigenous people succumbed to despair, hope and the gods of the Aztecs, the Mayas, and all of Abya Yala remained alive. Will the militants of today keep alive the fire which nourished their gods, those gods for which one fights, dies, and lives?

2.2. Light from the Bible

The Bible also, all of it, is marked by the internal rhythm of the hours of the successive empires. The history of Israel can be divided into periods according to the different powers under which it was forced into submission: Sumeria, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Rome, Greece. The arrival of a new empire (new arms, new technology, new commerce) which imposes itself by one or other type of violence and volatilizes the hopes of the poor: this is a recurring theme in the Bible; it is like the cadence which marks the unconfusable rhythm of biblical history.

Take, for example, the exile, the captivity in Babylonia. Israel sees itself driven out of its own land -without temple, without institutions, without priests- in the most absolute vanquishment by the empire in place at the time. «The very identity of the people was broken like a plate that falls to the floor. The people remained lost: without power, without privilege, without direction, dispersed in an immense empire. The captivity was darkness (Lam. 3,2.6), the experience of nothing, chaos: darkness, waters, desert (Gen 1,2). God seemed to have abandoned his people for good (Lam 3,43-45). There was no sign that could offer hope to the people. God seemed to have lost control of the world. The new ruler was Babylon, which was saying: 'I am to be lord forever! I am, and aside from me there is nothing!' (Is 47,7.8). The break with the past seemed to be complete, and the people were saying: 'The hope that was coming to me from God has been used up' (Lam 3,18). 'I no longer know what it means to be happy' (Lam 3,17). 'God had abandoned us' (Is 49,14). 'The Daughter of Sion was left a widow' (Lam 1,1), 'she lost her husband, she remained without God' (Is 40,27; Ps 22.2)»21 .

The people were, with complete clarity, experiencing all of that as the «end point of history», as the total triumph of the empire over the poor, over the project of God. But God continued on his way with history on his shoulders, without changing. He did not disappoint his people, so small and weak, and continued choosing that people as collaborators in the history of salvation. God continued choosing that people, we might say, in an exhibitionistic way: it was pleasing to him to underline the contrast between the littleness of Israel and the powerful empires, in order better to emphasize his choice of his people, a choice which was not based on the merits of the people and which did not correspond to the capacities that Israel was displaying.

Let's note that one of those defeats was not due to a crushing violence from outside but rather constituted, shall we say, a «democratic» defeat. That is precisely what the defeat of the confederation of the tribes of Israel was -- the end of the idyllic period in which the people were closest to realizing the project of God. We could say that the defeat was the very project of God. The people grew weary of God's project. The more that project seemed to be beneficial for the people, in that it eliminated, at the root, the very possibility of exploitation and injustice and despite the fact that it was a fraternalizing and equalizing project, without kings to oppress with taxes, without an army, etc. -- in spite of all this the people became tired. They preferred to «be like the other people» (I Sam 8,5.19), like the empires, to have like them their king and their army (although with it there was introduced the possibility of exploitation, as in a clairvoyant way Samuel proclaimed (I Sam 8,6-18). The exegetes22 say that accompanying all this there was an economic logic: new commercial routes, a desire on the part of the most developed Israelites to enter the atmosphere of international trade, of «modern technology», of «development», thus abandoning those idyllic and archaic ideas of equality and brotherhood that belonged to God's project.

Let us say, accordingly, that the people withdrew their support from that project. God «lost the elections». His utopia did not prove convincing. The masses opted then (and they are voting today) for the stomach and preferred the American way of life of that epoch. God lost democratically. His project broke down, just as today socialism as experienced in twentieth-century history did, with all of its utopias and projects of revolutionary brotherhood.

That is to say that we are not only not at the end point of history; rather we are not even in the presence of something new. «There is nothing new under the sun». Although it seems at times to reach its end point, history returns, in another way, to the same things.

And in the New Testament, what greater defeat than that of Jesus? What greater «end point of history»? Everyone gave him up as finished with. No one believed in him. They abandoned him alone. They fled. He was the only one who did not want to change his way of thinking. Nor was he able to «give explanations», because, quite to the contrary, all that he had were questions, above all that one: «Why have you (have they) abandoned me?» or, what comes to the same thing, Why have we come to defeat, if we are right, if our Cause, the Kingdom, is what has value? At this point, in the darkness of the failure of the cross, the project of the Kingdom presented itself to Jesus as «unfeasible». The people as agents had failed him, since he found himself without people, alone, «without a social base», democratically defeated. The empire -along with its ally, religion- crushed him by force, they won. But did they succeed in convincing? Regarding Jesus, of course, no. In the eyes of others, the great masses, it seemed that they had triumphed and that he was disqualified from history, especially by the quasi-conspiratorial silence of God. It seemed that history was finished, definitively.

But God came to the defense of Jesus, raised him up, and gave guaranty to all of Jesus' preaching about the Kingdom and the Good News for the poor. No, history had not reached its end.

Beyond and deeper than all those arguments there is another, which should perhaps be the most theological or most experience-of-God-based23 : God himself. The people's reading of the Bible is showing, to the point of satiation, that, with time, «we have hidden more than revealed»24 the originality of the God who reveals himself to us in the Bible. The original God of the Bible does not make an OP: he «is» that very OP. He appears and reveals himself in the OP made by the poor who become agents of history. That theme goes beyond25 , by all means, the limitations of space that we have here, but it is necessary to state it at least. Today we know that the appearance of God in history was not based on a metaphysical spectacle such as the burning bush nor on the wonderful deeds of the Exodus nor on the «selecting», equally gratuitous as incomprehensible, of an ethnic group (that of Israel) as the chosen people. God makes his introduction (his irruption) into history in the middle of the agrarian-peasant revolution which takes place in Canaan at the end of the thirteenth century B.C.E.

The «hapirús» (origin of the word «hebrews», with the same strong consonants) are the ones truly chosen. The hapirús were not a race but rather peasants without land, the marginalized -including common criminals, forced to be such in order to survive -- bandits («foras-exitus», outside of the law). These hapirús had the first religious experience of the biblical God. Or, what comes to the same thing: in them, for the first time (historically speaking), the biblical God revealed himself. They experienced the presence of a God, «El»26 , who confronted the god Baal, god of the Empire of those times, and who placed himself in solidarity with them and pushed them towards a different kind of society. Then took place the encounter between the group of people who were likewise hapirús (not Hebrews) which was coming from the Exodus -that group which was coming from Sinai- and those who, since long before, were living in the mountains of Israel. There was the surprise of discovering that their religious experiences expressed themselves in similar fashion. From there came the synthesis which took shape in the Bible. All these peoples had the same sentiment as that of the people of the Exodus from Egypt: namely, that «the God of the hapirús went forth to meet us» (Ex 5,3). The biblical God is the God of the hapirús: the God of those ragged, poor people who revolted as agents of their own history in what -looked at socio-politically- was an agrarian-peasant revolution. It is not that the biblical God makes an OP: it's that he himself «is» OP. It is not that believing in the biblical God shares in the making of an OP but rather that it «is» an OP and shares in the belief in the poor as agents of history27 . And, vice-versa: to make an OP is already belief in the biblical God, even without knowing him.

That's who the original God is; every «other» God is a deformation of this one.


Distinguishing levels

Our obligation in the present hour involves discernment. To discern is to distinguish, not to confuse levels or realities.

A first distinction: the level of principles and the level of mediational means28 are different. Principles, ethical imperatives, both theological and God-oriented, are found on one level; on another level are found the mediational means for achieving these principles, that is, strategies, tactics, ideological formulas which are able to concretize historically those great principles in each hour, the actual possibilities which each set of circumstances offers or prohibits.

For example, let us speak about the OP. Its deepest essence is not strategic nor pastoral nor mediational but rather theological or, better, God-oriented. The OP is a principle which, we are certain, belongs to the depths of Christianity because it belongs to the depths of the being of God. It has a God-oriented foundation, more than a theological one, and is permanent, transcending the historical juncture and transcending the doable and the undoable.

All of this does not hinder the possibility that, in a particular hour of history, a specific way of putting into practice of this OP, which as a God-oriented imperative, is imperturbably «firm and irrevocable». may be made (or human beings make it) unfeasible. The option for the poor is far above and much more central than its mediating possibilities.

It causes me to smile when I read that Napoleón Chow (a Nicaraguan jurist, economist, and sociologist who is making sorties now into the field of theology)29 attributes to me the distinction of having been the first to have made this distinction30 . This honor doesn't belong to me. Fortunately this is a conviction that has always been clear in the theology of liberation, even if the present hour makes us more aware of whether there is a need to use it.

Christians committed to the poor, and liberation theology, have not made a God-oriented option for socialism nor for any political ideology -- that is, for any specific means of achieving the OP. This is not to say that, on the «strategic», practical, mediational level, Christians, in order not to remain in the ineffectiveness of eternally theoretical principles, haven't adopted a practical option, on the strategic level, in favor of the ideological and socio-political mediation of the OP that they believed most adequate in each moment. In this they have remained aware of the distinction between the fundamental option and its mediations and have not raised to a theological, dogmatic, or God-oriented level that which was and always had been for those who remained clear-thinking a practical-strategic option.

If history, at this particular moment, had made it clear that socialism, as a concrete ideological and socio-political formula, would be unfeasible, we would have, evidently, to set aside all efforts for its historical implementation but there would remain untouched -because it is on another level- that which gave basis and motivation to the strategic mediational means used, namely, the OP. The same OP, «firm and irrevocable», will be worked out in diverse practical and strategic options (means), according to the capability or impossibility of being actualized that every historical hour brings to these mediational means.

Distinguish the levels but don't separate them unduly

It is not enough to distinguish; it is also necessary not to separate unduly. Distinguishing does not necessarily imply disconnecting. Theological, ethical and experience-of-God-based principles. while distinguished from their applications at the level of mediational means, should continue being that which they are, «principles», principles directive of the mediational means, principles that send forth imperatives which have to be implemented in one or another manner.

The contrary of this is «theological schizophrenia», into which some are falling at the present time. There are, for example, those who, in fact, say: «Yes, the OP continues being valid in itself, theologically speaking, but in practice capitalism has triumphed and there is not going to be any way out other than through participating in its rules, because the people have been shown to be incapable of being a human foundation of history». That is theological schizophrenia: a theology of those who accept the OP on the theological level but at the same time proclaim it to be unfeasible on the level of mediational means, a theology of those who accept the OP as a beautiful, even though impractical, theological theory.

Distinguishing levels does not imply, we say, a complete disassociation of those levels. Such a disassociation, far from being just a distinction, is actually a destruction of that which the two levels really meant in their mutual and fertile interaction.

If the OP continues «firm and irrevocable» for us, we cannot deceive ourselves by emptying it of meaning and efficacy on the level of mediational means, a level which every principle needs in order to convert itself into something more than a «flatus vocis (breath of air)» or a simple «useless idea». For the OP to continue firm and irrevocable and for us to recognize its theological and God-oriented status, we must recognize it as one of the greatest directive principles of our historical involvement at the time when we seek to choose concretely the mediational means of a socio-economic-political nature. Through such means we want to «verify» precisely our greatest principles, those that give direction to our historical way of acting and to the bringing to completion of our Christian mission and agenda.

The healthy (not schizophrenic) distinction is found on the level of epistemology and language: «we know» that the God-oriented OP and the strategic-tactical OP are distinct levels of reality; and we don't fall into the double-talk of jumping, without awareness, from one level to another. The schizophrenic distinction deceives itself in thinking that it respects the OP at the God-oriented level, when in reality it has simply put it aside in the trunk of inefficacious and impractical principles.

The OP as «firm and irrevocable»

This is not the place to develop the theological foundation of the OP31 ,but we want to highlight the importance that attaches to a strengthening of that foundation.

Due to the lack of clarity, to which we have referred, concerning the distinction between the level of principles and that of mediational strategies, this is a point which must be underlined and proclaimed. For there are many who, without awareness, think that, in the crisis of these years, not only socialism as experienced in twentieth-century history and liberation theology but also the OP fell into decline.

We have here a matter of theological and pastoral urgency that cannot be postponed -- that of overcoming in this moment that possible confusion. Many have an interest in making that confusion disappear: it is urgent to continue proclaiming that, even if, hypothetically, it had been shown that the «end point of history» and the «unfeasibility» of the people as human foundation and of that people's historical project were all true -- that, even in that case, the OP would remain «firm and irrevocable» and, even, strengthened. It would be necessary to change mediational means and to discover new formulas, for all such are relative and accidental, but that which is essential and absolute would continue to be essential: the OP as the dimension that is the Kingdom of God32 .

We must continue deepening that theological foundation of the OP. We must proclaim it persistently. There have been too many centuries of a contrary option for us to think that the OP has now been sufficiently assimilated in the Christian awareness of our generation.

Certainly its power and ability to convince are such that not even its enemies succeed in avoiding its influence. The OP has such power that it seems more an evident axiom than a theological position in need of proof. For this very reason, however, the temptation, both irresistible and unconscious, arises to «domesticate» it: «if it is not possible to meet it head on, let's reinterpret it and reduce it to a size that we like». The majority of the people who make a point of insisting on the «preferential», «not exclusive or excluding» nature of the option are heading in this direction33 . Some are now reaching the extreme of affirming that the OP of Medellin and Puebla has already been declared abolished; that what was proclaimed in Santo Domingo was a new option without connection with that earlier one and that this new one would not be «ideologized»34 as was that one.

We must denounce these hollow efforts at domesticization; we must proclaim «in season and out of season» the good news of the OP, within and outside of the Church and within and outside of theology. This has shown itself to be a pastoral and theological (even to the point of being ideological) task that now remains urgent and unpostponable.

Does the OP include the poor as agents?

Or, what comes to the same thing: what is left of the option for the poor as agents? First, however, we must ask: does the option for the poor as agents pertain to the level of theological and/or experience-of-God-based principles or to the level of mediational means?

We are dealing with a serious and difficult question. For, to give a first approximation at an answer, it seems evident that the option for the poor as agents is an ideological-political mediational means. The realization that the new world must be built by one historical agent or another, either by relying on the middle class sector or on the people's movement, could lead to thinking of it as simply a matter of tactics or strategy, pertaining accordingly to the level of mediational means, without having to seek in the whole matter a theological or experience-of-God-based marrow.

But we would not remain completely satisfied with such an answer, tout court. We think that, certainly, the matter belongs to the level of mediational means. This is evident. It is a matter of procedure, of method, of historical strategy, and all of that is mediational. At the same time, however, there is something more here35 . Is there a real and efficacious OP if one doesn't recognize in them, in one manner or another, the potentiality, at least, of being the agents of history? An OP which remained on the theological/experience-of-God-based level but were understood as compatible with the denial to the poor of all protagonist character or of the capacity to be «agents of history» would not really be an OP but rather an option «for the poor as objects that are beneficiaries of a history directed by the powerful». It would be an option for the poor that would tacitly recognize that the poor are not the basis of the option.

At the level of theological studies there is full justification for how the option for the poor as agents is a required part of the experience-of-God-based OP. Apart from theological reflection of a systematic nature, however, another reflection of a more historical nature can be pursued. Let's take a look.

There were many who opted for the people as agents when the «scientific certainties» of dialectic materialism also «gave evidence» for it. That option for the poor as agents was not a matter of faith but rather one of science; there was something «scientific» about it, as was said. Anyone who didn't maintain that option was accused of being out of date, of being someone who held on to a prescientific way of thinking. And today, when all those certainties have been destroyed, there are now many who don't opt for the people as agents because it is not evident -- because now the agent of history that seems evident is the neoliberal middle class.

Neither that option nor this one are options of faith, God- oriented options. Both were indebted to the «certainties» which, at each moment, seemed «to be evident». There were authors who justified (even theologically) the option for the poor as agents not by founding it on faith but rather on political analyses. And many of those who now are renouncing that option are doing so likewise because of other new economic-political analyses. Neither the one nor the other option for the poor, I insist, is a true OP at the experience-of-God-based level. For the OP, like faith itself, does not base itself on «scientific certainties» nor on political or economic analyses but rather on God, on the option of God, on faith in Him.

The OP, including the option for the poor as human foundations of history, has a experience-of-God-based foundation. We do not opt for the poor because they are the strongest nor the most capable but rather because we are imitating God, who equally did not opt for them because they are the most holy or best but rather precisely because they are poor. We do not opt for the poor because they are tomorrow's conquerors -thus opted many who climbed on the wagon of the conquerors and climbed down from it as soon as the wind changed direction- but rather because they are today's losers. We do not opt for them as agents of history because «scientific certainties» or political analyses provide evidence that in them there is the best potentiality for being agents of history but rather because faith tells us so, that faith which has us imitate a God who opts, obstinately, for a poor and weak people who fail, without exception, before the successive empires. Because the OP is of a faith nature, we can opt for the poor «against all evidence». We already know that history appears now to show the contrary; and we too ask ourselves, «Why have you abandoned us, why have we failed?» Nevertheless, we dare to place our option for the poor as agents in the hands of God. By this I want to say that our OP is experience-of-God-based; it is based on God and not on scientific certainties nor on socio-economic-political analyses. We accept all the present analyses which tell us that historical hegemony has in recent times headed in other directions. We take the risk of believing, however, that, in one form or other and in a manner that at present it is impossible for us even to imagine, the poor, the people will move forward in History, because that which is not the final possibility of God cannot be the final possibility of the poor.

For us, the experience-of-God-based option for the poor includes an affirmation of the poor as agents of history. While this affirmation is likewise an affirmation on the theological (and perhaps quasi-eschatological) level, it is nonetheless real and explicit. It is an affirmation that is compatible (because they are on distinct levels) with contrary (momentary) proofs which now («in this aeon») are made from the starting point of socio-economic and historical analyses. In the historical moments in which those two levels (the theological and the socio-analytical) manifest themselves in contrary ways, a required form of opting for the poor can be that of perplexity. Knowing how to bear up under that perplexity without losing hope and the option itself -- here we have the cutting edge of the knife.

«End point of history»: a precipitous kind of eschatologism

A word, even though very brief, concerning this inopportune «eschatologism» is in place. We have already referred to it before. Some final words will suffice.

If the accurate analysis of that which has happened in this hour had to be expressed by saying that the project of the poor has failed before the triumph of capitalism and that such a triumph and such a failure are definitive and insuperable, from our faith we would have to conclude that the one who has failed is God himself. If this «triumph» of neoliberalism is the «end point of history», this would likewise be the end point of God, the denial of his sovereignty and of his lordship over History. Let us say it clearly and publicly: if this is the «end point of history», human nature has failed, history itself has failed, God has failed: his own project, the Kingdom, would have been shown to be unfeasible!

The expression «end point of history» is theologically too coarse to be acceptable to a theologian (including a simple Christian) with even a minimal theological formation. But there is a hidden or unconscious acceptance of this «end point of history» when Christians accept, as a matter of fact, the «triumph of capitalism» as something unsurpassable or definitive. When they tell us that «now the people as agent is unthinkable» or when they take it for granted that any progress can take place only in the framework of the neoliberal reform -from within that reform and not by going beyond it- those who say this are falling ingenuously, and perhaps also unconsciously, into that headlong eschatologism that continues to have its share of blasphemy against God, as I have said, in so far as it denies his Kingdom, his lordship and sovereignty over History. It likewise has its share of blasphemy against the poor, in so far as it has been disappointed by them and now believes them to be simply «objects» of history.


God remains definitively «firm and irrevocable» in his option. And the poor, for the present, remain more numerous and poorer. Likewise the Gospel remains as the «good news» of God for them and for all of us who have made ourselves «companions in hope and in the Cause» for the OP.

There remains, therefore, the same OP as always, immutable and eternal. There are now more circumstantial factors to motivate us and greater urgency in this concrete historical hour, if there is room in that hour to fit everything in.

Neoliberalism is diametrically opposed to the OP. Accordingly, neoliberalism is sin, even if it is «now the only practical possibility», for the present. Christians can live it its presence only as in exile, as in a state of missionary evangelization and prophecy, with the permanent obsession of «not accommodating ourselves to this world.»

Having said that, we want to end by listing, now only in a quasi-telegraphic way, the principal challenges that this prophetic and missionary attitude requires of us:

1. Clearsightedness: to know how to see, with faith and with theological discernment, the experience-of-God-based essence of the OP far above the crisis of theoretical paradigms and sociopolitical analyses. This means against all sociological-economic-political evidence.

2. Certainty: not to allow oneself to be convinced by those who have begun to limp. Our project of fraternity, without denying its evident defects, «was» not unfeasible; «they made it» unfeasible. Two people do not live in fraternity if one does not want it. But the project continues, with all the necessary remaking of plans involved; for we do not believe in the right of Might.

3. The incarnation: to share the «dark night» of the poor, harvesting the inheritance of the People in such age-long historical nights.

4. The «teimosia», the ability to endure, despite the «desertion of the militants». To prove now, in difficult times, the quality of our option for the Kingdom and for the poor.

5. The conviction, the interior strength that enables us to find ourselves and keep ourselves in the «Church of Jesus» and in the secure utopia of the Kingdom, even though doubts and conniving with the system set up house in the Church.

6. The inevitable historical, global conflict, both in society and in the Church. Always to be unequivocally defined as being on the side of the poor. To beg insistently from the Lord the grace never to play the game -consciously or unconsciously- of those who oppress the People.

7. The «pastoral care of utopia»: To shepherd it, to justify it, to make it possible, to nourish it. To help to restore it for those who now have no «scientific certainties» on which to lean. To accompany the faithful «remnant».

8. The search for economic alternatives, within the system as well. Not to accept new dogmas in Economics and not to yield before «scientific certainties» of the new stamp. To recognize theoretical perplexity as an historical form of hope.

9. Faithful rebellion or prophecy within a Church that proclaims, schizophrenically, the option for the poor in theory while in fact opting against them. In the midst of the revolution of rightist movements and the turning in on itself of the Church, the capacity to resist is essential.

10. Spirituality: the utopia of the poor can be implemented only on the basis of the mystique and maturity of humanity, not on the basis of simple structural reforms of an economic nature. Without the mystique of the New People, individual egoism will always be stronger. «Against neoliberalism, the spirituality of liberation».

Translation of F. Donald Murphy sj



  • 1 CASALDALIGA-VIGIL, Espiritualidad de la liberación, Envío, Managua, 1993, p. 64.
  • 2 «The twentieth century ended abruptly in 1990_» Cf. J.M. VIGIL, Para un análisis de coyuntura de la Historia de la Salvación, in VARIOS, Dando razón de nuestra esperanza. Los cristianos latinoamericanos frente a la crisis del socialismo y la derrota sandinista, Nicarao, Managua, 1991, pp. 89ff.
  • 3 P. Thai HOP, Cómo entender hoy el papel protagónico de los pobres?, III Coloquio Teológico Dominicano (not published).
  • 4 (Translator's note) The Spanish sujeto is here translated by «subject». In the future it will be translated usually by «agent(s)», which seems more clearly to express the author's meaning for English readers.
  • 5 Some justified even their leaving as a way of remaining: «leaving in order to remain». Cf. S. FERRARI, Sembrando utopía, Nicarao, Managua, 1991.
  • 6 E. CARDENAL, Tocar el cielo, Ediciones Monimbó, Managua.
  • 7 «The best order has been reached, the final point of the history of the world. It remains for us only to perfect, to defend, and to promote that which we have achieved». Francis FUKUYAMA, The End of History in The National Interest, 16/1989.
  • 8 M. Novak looks on capitalism and, especially, modern business as the «Servant of Yahweh».
  • 9 Vanguardia, Manangua, 1992, 224 pages.
  • 10 Nuevo Amanecer Cultural in El Nuevo Diario, 27.11.1992.
  • 11 Cf. GIRARDI-VIGIL (Editors), Pueblo revolucionario, Pueblo de Dios, Claves Latinoamericanas/CAV, México/Managua, 1989, pp. 33ff, passim.
  • 12 The testimonial was signed by one-hundred and forty eight religious priests and sisters belonging to all of the dioceses of Nicaragua as well as by Delegates of the Word and animators of communities in all the country.
  • 13 Cf. VARIOS, Dando razón de nuestra esperanza, op. cit., pp. 140-41.
  • 14 «For some time -since I came in habitual contact with the indigenous populations- I have sensed the disappearance of entire peoples as an absurd mystery of historical iniquity which changes my faith into disappointment. 'Lord, why have you abandoned us?' How can the Father of life, the Creative Spirit of all culture, permit such annihilations?» P. CASALDALIGA, Los indios «crucificados». Un caso anónimo de martirio colectivo, Concilium 183 (March, 1983), pp. 383- 89.
  • 15 For a study of this pastoral approach from a liberation perspective, see Clodovis BOFF, Pastoral de classe média na perspectiva da libertacão, Vozes, Petrópolis, 21992, pp. 35ff.
  • 16 These prayerful words are found in the anthem of the Sandinista revolution.
  • 17 Cf. C. BOFF, Como trabalhar com o povo, Vozes, Petrópolis, 1986, pp. 16ff.
  • 18 «Since without the slavery all of America would come to ruin», was the answer of the Council on the Indies to the memorandum of the prophetic Franciscan José de Jaca (1681) who was protesting against the enslavement of the Blacks. (Preparatory Document for Santo Domingo, 22)
  • 19 Santo Domingo, 246.
  • 20 M. LEON PORTILLA, El reverso de la conquista, Editorial Joaquín Mortiz, México, 1964, 191990, pp. 21ff.
  • 21 We have developed this biblical theme in Para un análisis de coyuntura de la Historia_, loc. cit. pp. 90-96. On this point of the significance of the captivity in Babylonia, cf. also C. MESTERS, La Biblia y la Nueva Evangelización, Boletín CLAR (July, 1990), p. 8.
  • 22 J. PIXLEY, Historia sagrada, historia popular, DEI, San José, 1989, pp. 23ff. Cf. also J. PIXLEY, Opción por los pobres y Dios de los pobres in J.M VIGIL (ed.), La opción por los pobres, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1991, pp. 19-31.
  • 23 (Translator's note) Here the author introduces a distinction, which he will use extensively hereafter, between «teológico» and «teologal». The first word is obviously translated by «theological». The second word is much more difficult for the English-speaking reader. What it points to is the most fundamental experience of God that a person of faith has -- the experience of grace, of the «supernatural». Whereas «teológico» refers to the intellectual, speculative reflection on the content of faith, «teologal» refers to the foundational experience of faith in itself. I have used the phrase «experience-of-God-based» to translate «teologal».
  • 24 Gaudium et Spes, 19.
  • 25 We want to dedicate the space it deserves to this theme in a forthcoming book, El Dios original, which is being prepared.
  • 26 This name would remain encapsulated in the God-inclusive name of Israel, Isra-EL: «God will fight for us».
  • 27 Here we have the biblical basis of the well known theological affirmation: «the option for the poor has an experience-of-God-based foundation because when we opt for the poor we are doing nothing other than imitating God».
  • 28 (Translator's note) The author here introduces, and will use extensively hereafter, the distinction between «principios» and «mediaciones». Though I sometimes translate «mediaciones» simply by «mediations», usually I find it clearer to use the fuller phrase «mediational means».
  • 29 Napoleón CHOW, Teología de la liberación en crisis, Banco Central de Nicaragua, Managua, 1992, 183 pages. Significantly the Banco Central de Nicaragua is taking up again now its ideological militancy -even on the theological playing field- which had been interrupted during the years of the Sandinista government.
  • 30 «For the first time a Liberation Theologian modifies clearly the understanding of what should be the chief priority for committed Christians. José María Vigil has written that 'Our fundamenal option is not socialism but rather the Kingdom of God and, within that Kingdom, the option for the poor.' That is a scandalously new way of looking at the matter». Ibid pp. 156-57.
  • 31 Regarding this work of laying the foundation, we would recommend: J. LOIS, Teología de la Liberación: opción por los pobres, IEPALA, Madrid, 1986, 506 pages; BOFF-PIXLEY, Opción por los pobres, Paulinas, Madrid, 1986, 286 pages; C. ESCUDERO FREIRE, Devolver el evangelio a los pobres, Sígueme, Salamanca, 1978, 460 pages; J.M VIGIL (ed.), La opción por los pobres, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1991, 165 pages.
  • 32 «Only the Kingdom of God is absolute; everything else is relative». Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8.
  • 33 I have expressed my reflections in this respect in Opción por los pobres, preferencial y no excluyente? in VIGIL, La opción por los pobres, pp. 55ff.
  • 34 It stunned me to see in the bulletin «Valencia Misionera», official publication of the archdiocese of that part of the Church in Spain, confusing statements along this line. At Santo Domingo there would have been an abandoning of the «ambiguous» concept of a preferential option. The option for the poor now would not be a preferential option but rather a simple pastoral directive, one among many others. «The text of Santo Domingo shows that what is being dealt with is a 'Gospel-based and renewed' priority, with the purpose of distinguishing it clearly from the preferential option for the poor understood from an ideologized point of view. Likewise this text 'seeks to avoid the ideological manipulation which developed in the wake of the preferential options of Puebla'». (Valencia Misionera, 37, December, 1992, pp. 12-13).
  • 35 In another place we have tried to show that the same pre-theological matter of the analysis of reality is not really pre-theological but rather theological. Cr. El Kairós en Centroamérica, Nicarao, Managua, 1990, pp. 137-42.
  • Ultima modifica Sabato 13 Novembre 2010 21:17
    Fausto Ferrari

    Fausto Ferrari

    Religioso Marista
    Area Formazione ed Area Ecumene; Rubriche Dialoghi, Conoscere l'Ebraismo, Schegge, Input

    Iscriviti alla Newsletter per ricevere i nostri "Percorsi Tematici" e restare aggiornato sui migliori contenuti del nostro sito