Venezuela’s President Chavez Tells Pope to Apologize to Indigenous Peoples

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called on Pope Benedict XVI to apologize to the indigenous people of Latin America for his comments on the supposedly benign evangelization of the region.

Mérida, May 21, 2007 (— Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called on Pope Benedict XVI to apologize to the indigenous people of Latin America for his comments on the evangelization of the region. During an official visit to Brazil last week, the Pope defended the evangelization of the indigenous people of Latin America, claiming that Christianity had not been "imposed" upon them. Chavez disputed this in a speech Friday night, calling on his nation to challenge the old capitalist hegemony and create a new society.

In a nationally broadcast speech at an event in Caracas, Chavez criticized the Pope’s remarks and asked him to "offer an apology to the people of our America."

"How can the Pope say that the evangelization was not imposed," said Chavez. "Then why did our indigenous people have to flee to the jungles and the mountains?" he asked.

Pope Benedict XVI made the remarks last week during his first visit to Latin America. While in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Pope claimed that Christianity was not "imposed by a foreign culture" on the pre-Columbian cultures, but rather that these populations where "silently yearning" to be converted to Christianity. The pope went on to criticize the resurgence of pre-Columbian religions in the region, calling them "a regression."

President Chavez called these statements into question, accusing the Pope of ignoring what he called the holocaust of the colonial era, in which millions of people were killed by war, disease and slavery, with the support of the Catholic Church.

"What happened here was much worse than the holocaust in the Second World War, and no one can deny us that reality," said Chavez. "Not even his Holiness can come here to our land and deny the holocaust of the indigenous people."

Chavez referred to the work of the Spanish Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas, who denounced the genocide of the indigenous people in the 16th Century.

"Christ came to America much later. He didn’t arrive with Columbus, the anti-Christ came with Columbus," stated Chavez, who went on to ask the Pope to apologize for his error.

"Just like the Catholic Church has recognized errors, as a descendant of those martyr Indians that died by the millions, I ask, with all respect, your Holiness, apologize, because here there was a real genocide," Chavez pleaded.

Giving birth to the new, burying the old

Chavez went on to emphasize in his speech on Friday the need to replace the old sociopolitical structures that oppose the construction of a new society. Chavez spoke of the double task of the revolution to give birth to a new counter-hegemony, as well as the necessity of burying the old.

"Those of us who push for the birth of the new, we have a doubly historic task: we are the creators of the new, but also we must be those who bury the old," said Chavez.

Paraphrasing the renowned Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci, Chavez spoke of the imperial hegemony imposed on South American nations, and the need to challenge this hegemony.

"Real historic crises happen when there is something that is going to die, but has not quite died, and at the same time there is something new being born, but it hasn’t quite been born yet," he said.

Chavez referred to the policies of the United States and the use of the School of the Americas to train Latin American armies to torture and kill their own people, using as an example the Caracazo massacre in Venezuela in 1989.

"They turned us against our own people, to massacre them, many times, they used us. The Caracazo was the ultimate tragedy of that history," he said.

Chavez also responded to recent accusations of "politicizing" the military due to the use of the new slogan "socialism, homeland, or death," among military ranks.

"Socialism is a concept that goes much further than a political party, it is a national concept, it is a national project," he said.