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Examining the Complications between Cartels and Catholicism

"A Shepherd Must Tend His Flock"

In the 1970s, grassroots movements seeking to instill principles of social justice, freedom for the oppressed, and equity under law through dogma and spirituality spread among Catholic priests, bishops, and laity throughout Latin America. While corrupt governments subjugated their meanest citizens, Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P. and other theologians developed the watershed movement known as Liberation Theology. As the movement gained momentum, spiritual figures like Archbishop Óscar Romero, S.J. in El Salvador and Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., former Father General of the Society of Jesus, began to define the religious identity of the region around three key philosophical pillars: political emancipation, liberation of the poor, and freedom from sin. Liberation Theology called on religious affiliation and spiritual justification to ignite political and social change.This called for a radical departure from traditional interactions between church and state, unsettling the ruling elites of the region and alienating the hierarchy of the church. These authorities viewed Liberation Theology as a threat to their command over society, as it empowered the poor to seek justice and liberty.

Today, however, priests in Latin America face a philosophical dilemma when attempting to uphold social justice. In Mexico, where over three-quarters of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholic, drug violence runs rampant. The church’s official response to this bloodshed has been largely neutral. While it has denounced the conflict between the government and the cartels, it has failed to initiate a faith-based movement either in opposition to or in support of the “war on drugs.” The Holy See seems detached from the conflict, issuing statements and condemnations, but doing little to combat the ever-increasing drug-related crimes committed against the faithful.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Zachary Deibel.

To read the full article, click here.

Gustavo Petro Elected Mayor of Bogotá

Gustavo Petro’s hefty plurality in the Bogotá mayoral race represents a stunning victory for the country’s democratic process, and an even more explosive setback for the Obama administration’s paralytic Latin American policy as previously seen in Cuba. Together with the defeat of almost all of the candidates backed by former hardline Colombian president and U.S. lapdog Álvaro Uribe, Petro’s triumph represents a classic repudiation of Washington’s Cold War anti-insurgency policy that actually dates back to the Clinton administration’s fictive stance that all differences between nations are susceptible to being forced upon a procrustean bed rather than be subjected to the application of a vibrant democratic diplomacy. Maybe now local national interests and not only Washington’s narrow security values will be respected.
With Washington repeatedly striking out on its Cuban policy, the Obama White House is all but undistinguishable from what it was under President Bush. When it comes to Latin America, the current administration might want to take the opportunity to start fresh with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos and Bogotá’s victorious mayoral candidate, Gustavo Petro.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Director Larry Birns.

To read the full analysis, click here.

Monday October 31st, 2011 | Research Memorandum 11.3

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at


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