CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demanded Pope Benedict apologize to Indians in Latin America for saying this month in Brazil that the Roman Catholic Church purified them.
Chavez, who regularly clashes with the Catholic Church in Venezuela but had not directly criticized the Pope before, accused the Pontiff on Friday of ignoring the “holocaust” that followed Christopher Columbus’s 1492 landing in the Americas.
“With all due respect your Holiness, apologize because there was a real genocide here and, if we were to deny it, we would be denying our very selves,” Chavez said at an event on freedom of expression.
In a speech to Latin American and Caribbean bishops at the end of a visit to Venezuela’s neighbor Brazil, the Pope said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Indian leaders in the region were outraged by the comments.
Millions of tribal Indians are believed to have died as a result of European colonization backed by the Church, through slaughter, disease or enslavement.
The majority of our Venezuelan students would hate us for saying so, but you gotta hand it to that Hugo Chavez. Besides, we teach at one of the most expensive and exclusive universities in the world, so do the math. While it is undeniable that Chavez is an eccentric egotist and that he has seriously infringed on the percs and privaledges of the traditional ruling class in the Latin petro-Democracy, it is certainly refreshing to have someone on the world scene who isn’t beyond noting that the Emperor has no clothes.
Gone are the days that Nikita Khrushchev, Idi Amin, Yasir Arafat and Haile Selassie regularly railed at the mega-powers that control our world. Shot down like Jaime Roldos, shot up like Salvador Allende, overthrown like Jean-Bertrand Aristide emasculated like Qadaffi, their voices have been silenced one by one. Some of them were truly bad men, some not so bad, but they had a style and charisma that are rare today, and none of them were afraid to stand up and call out the most powerful men on the planet, including the President of the United States, and the Pope.
The European genocide of native Americans, in large part sponsored, paid for and carried out by the Catholic Church remains the Original Sin of the Founding Fathers of all of the American states and everything that came after. Because honestly facing it will require a comprehensive reevaluation of our most sacred myths and legends, we are all in a sort of Disney denial of where our origin truly lies and exactly whose blood and how much of it nurtured the roots of our democracies.
But this process must begin, and must include not only reexamination and redress but also reintegration. Only by honoring and tapping the accumulated wisdom of the original continental caretakers can we avoid the ultimately distructive and death-centered religions, philosophies and -isms of Europe and the Middle East.
They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. We know all too well, we carry in our blood, the history of our European ancestors. But the history of this land exists only in the native peoples it nurtured, and we are dangerously close to losing those voices forever.
We would be willing to bet that the name Hugo Chavez will before too long be added to the list of silenced voices above. In the meantime, let us enjoy his candor.