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"In the Name of God - Stop the Lies - Stop the Killing," the statement was headed. The Witness for Peace document alleged,
among other things, that there is no religious persecution in Nicaragua. It alleged that there has been no "widespread" killing of Miskito Indians.The document was signed, in March 1986, by over one hundred American religious leaders. They included five Catholic bishops, six United Methodist bishops, six Episcopal bishops, the president of the United Church of Christ, and both the president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches.1 It also included numerous nuns, priests, and directors of Religious Left organizations.
As has been seen in the previous chapter, the Sandinistas are enemies of the church and persecute Christianity in numerous ways. Large segments of the American mainstream church, however, refuse to recognize the real nature of Sandinismo and defend it both verbally and politically.
That they do so is simply the logical result of their belief system. If one believes in liberation theology through a Marxist perspective, as many do; if one believes that the Soviets are more sinned against than sinning, as many do; if one believes that Marxist-Leninist societies are beneficial (or at least harmless) and capitalist societies are evil, as many obviously do; then the accumulation of such misconceptions will help persuade that person to believe the Sandinistas are doing God's work on earth.
The defense of Nicaragua's basic goodness by the Religious Left has taken several different forms. Church leadership, clergy, and bureaucracy have toured Nicaragua, then come back to reassure Americans that all accusations against the regime are false. The United States is an evil genie which takes delight in torturing a poor, helpless neighbor, they righteously exclaim. Then they send one more resolution to Congress asking that all American aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas be ended.
Those resolutions are often drafted by church agencies, such as the Presbyterian Board of Home Ministries or the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, and given to their respective church assemblies to approve. Those assemblies, influenced by leadership, dutifully do so.
Some mainline churches have organizations dedicated to forcing a cut-off of American aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas and to the government of El Salvador. The Presbyterian Advocates have a "hardcore of 2,600 people who agree to get in touch with local congressmen when the Washington office signals them." It was created by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. at its 1983 convention. Another such network is run by the United Church of Christ, and they are said to be in touch with eight thousand local UCC churches.2
Quasi-church groups such as the Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America scorn mere letter-writing. They go personally to Congress to lobby for their cause. Rep. Tim Valentine's office (D-N.C.) was visited monthly for more than two years by church groups affiliated with the organization. Carolina Interfaith has fourteen chapters in North and South Carolina, and they have taken turns making weekly trips to Washington to visit Congressional offices.3
In January of 1985 a delegation composed of the Presbyterian state synod executive, a Duke University religion professor, a Baptist minister, and a state council of churches executive visited with Valentine. Early in April another group delivered a "letter of concern" signed by nine North Carolina United Methodists, Episcopal and Roman Catholic bishops.4
These visits were beneficial for the Left because Valentine voted against providing military aid for the anti-Sandinista guerrillas and once, in 1985, against providing humanitarian aid. Valentine's press secretary, Dean Brown, said he had been impressed with the visitors. They understood the legislation, they were prepared, they understood how Congress works, they were specific on the issues, and they knew the "jargon," he said.5
This same organization took out ads in The Fayetteville Times headed "An Open Letter to Soldiers at Fort Bragg," which urged soldiers interested in alternatives to combat duty in Central America to consider seeking conscientious objector status.
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The American government is the constant target of well-orchestrated letter-writing campaigns by both these sorts of organizational and church bureaucracies. They are often bombarded by some sort of demonstration. The latest styles in demonstrations include sit-ins and candlelight vigils. Older tactics are also used. The more radical-than-thou sixties were recalled in 1983 when most major denominations and Catholic orders protested Central American policy (and the invasion of Grenada) in a march on Washington.
The United Methodist Women's Action Guide has been more imaginative than most in their lobbying efforts. They suggested, among other things, that Methodist women organize interfaith services to commemorate the "martyrs" of Central America.
Sojourners magazine has created the newest method of twisting government's arm; it has organized a plan to invade American public buildings (including, presumably, the Congress) in the event of American intervention in Nicaragua or escalation of military aid to El Salvador. That means anything from invasion or air strike on Nicaragua, to naval blockade, to invasion by American "Proxies," to "massive U.S.-backed bombings of El Salvador." The "pledge of resistance" has been signed by agencies' of most American mainstream churches and by organizations like CISPES, the propaganda arm of the Salvadoran guerrillas.
Of all the methods employed to aid the Sandinistas, the visiting delegation has been both the most effective, the silliest, and the least educational. Most delegation members have made up their minds about the issues before they ever board the airplane and nothing that is said to them, nothing they see in Nicaragua, changes their minds.
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The Witness For Peace Tour
Alfredo Lanier, a senior editor at Chicago magazine, bolstered evidence for this point of view with his testimony on a 1984 Witness for Peace tour to Nicaragua. Lanier joined the delegation after he was invited to report on the trip.
Witness for Peace, which was partially created by Sojourners, is one of the most influential semireligious, pro-Sandinista organizations in the United States. It is heavily funded by American churches and boasts no less than four clergy on its steering committee.6
The most outstanding Witness specialty is in sending tours (the members of which are largely Christian) to Nicaragua which come home proclaiming Sandinista sainthood. As of December 1985 there have been approximately fifty-one delegations - a total of about twelve hundred participants. The organization has also been involved with such spurious (and media-directed) schemes as sending teams of Christians to the Nicaragua-Honduras border to form a "protective shield" between natives and anti-Sandinista guerrillas.
Lanier's delegation, as he described it, was typical of Witness for Peace tours. Approximately 90 percent of his delegation (half of which were Christian activists) "had already made their minds up" about Nicaragua and "were not in any frame of mind to question . . . there was very little questioning or openmindedness." Many of the Christians on the trip, he said, had been to Cuba and had returned "ecstatic," a condition Lanier, who is Cuban, could not understand.7
The inevitable process of affirmation for the regime was helped considerably by the tour leader's attitudes, Lanier said, which were not only clearly favorable to the regime, but manipulative of the tour as a whole.8 The most outrageous action committed by Witness for Peace leadership was giving a press conference to attack the United States as soon as the delegation got off the airplane in Managua. When the one hundred and ninety-person delegation landed, they were escorted to the VIP Lounge. No one knew what to expect, Lanier said, but the delegation was served coffee while armed guards prevented them from leaving the room.9
Then, to the delegation's "complete astonishment," tape recorders, television lights, and cameras were turned on and the delegation became part of a press briefing for reporters of the Nicaraguan government's controlled television and radio stations and of La Barricada, the official government newspaper.10
Gail Phares, a former Maryknoll nun and one of the leaders of Witness for Peace, then read a statement condemning the "illegal war being waged against Nicaragua . . . designed, directed and funded by the (U.S.) government." Another spokesman, Lanier said, compared America's foreign policy to a "malignant tumor" that needed to be excised and "expressed our presumed wish that our visit would 'hurt' American policy in the region." The tour group had no idea they were going to be used in a press conference, Lanier said.11
Tour members who genuinely wanted to discover the real situation in Nicaragua were not likely to do so. Lanier described a journey in which the highlights were lectures from government officials, including Daniel Ortega, about the revolution. The only opposition voice heard by his tour, Lanier said, was from an uninvited visitor from La Prensa.
That La Prensa reporter subsequently wrote two stories about his visit to the delegates. One was based on his interview with Garnett Hennings, the president of Operation PUSH in St. Louis and one on Lanier's inquiries into censorship in Nicaragua. The story based on the interview with Hennings was printed, but the story about Lanier's inquiries was censored and never appeared in the newspaper.12
At one point the delegation discovered a camp of about eighty Cuban military advisors. When Lanier mentioned the camp, Witness for Peace tour leaders denied the men were Cuban. Lanier had talked to the men himself and insisted they were. The tour leaders then said the Cubans were medical advisors. Lanier, however, had seen the weaponry.13
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Witness For Peace Pep Rallies
In order to influence the delegates emotionally, Witness for Peace provided political pep rallies (dubbed Fogotas) which supposedly displayed the pro-Sandinista attitudes of average Nicaraguans. A tire burned in the street, tour leaders said, is the method used to rally the gung-ho masses. At one point, after two tires were burned in one barrio the people still did not appear. The local Sandinista Defense Committees were forced to go door to door to recruit participants.14
When a few neighborhood residents finally gathered, the Americans and the Nicaraguans stared awkwardly at each other in the street. One "expressionless" woman, after a long pause, began to "mechanically" shout "consignas," or political slogans, which denounced American aggression and expressed support for the Sandinistas and the guerrillas of El Salvador. After a few minutes of shouting and a few more of hymn singing, the Nicaraguans and the bewildered delegates went back to their respective bases.15
Some rallies, Lanier said, featured sufi dances - a sort of conga line derived from Eastern religious rituals - wrapping bewildered Nicaraguan peasants in banners as symbolic shields against "American aggression," and emotional breast-beating about America's wrongs in Central America. At a high school rally at which Jesse Jackson was scheduled to appear, the students repeatedly cheered, "Here and there/We will kill Yankees everywhere." The delegates, who didn't understand Spanish, "cheered and danced along."16
The delegates were housed with "average" Nicaraguans which Lanier said were "clearly, clearly, clearly pressured to take us in."17
These blatantly manipulative activities are, unfortunately, par for the course for Witness for Peace. The organization was responsible for sending a boatload of people (twenty-nine activists and eighteen members of the media) down the San Juan river in 1985, ostensibly to protest American support for the anti-Sandinista rebels. The boat was allegedly captured by some armed men. Witness for Peace claims it was the rebels, despite the fact that that particular section of the river had been controlled by the Sandinistas for weeks and that a Sandinista helicopter, complete with television crew, conveniently hovered near the boat as it was being "captured."18
Sandinista officials had also organized "welcome home" demonstrations "before it was clear the activists would be returning."19
It should not surprise anyone that WFP involves itself in such activities; indeed, one of its steering committee members has acknowledged close cooperation with the Sandinista government. Jovce Hollyday, in an article for Sojourners, said the idea for WFP was first proposed to a member of the junta and later discussed with Tomás Borgé. "Borgé," Hollyday wrote, "agreed that such a presence on the border could have a strong impact on the situation in Nicaragua."20
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The United Methodist Tour
Although Witness is usually more openly partisan, tours sponsored by denominations do not usually offer a much more balanced agenda. Kalmin Smith, a United Methodist from Michigan, took a tour to Nicaragua in 1984 which was initiated by the West Michigan Conference of his church. After being questioned about the one-sided schedule of interviews, the tour guide (who had been recommended by the General Board of Global Ministries) told the group that his goal was to spread the gospel of liberation theology and Sandinista social justice to the "exclusion of other points of view."21 That same tour guide, it was later discovered, was persona non grata in Costa Rica as a result of his political activities.22 (For more information on Smith's tour, see Appendix.)
Before the trip Smith requested that the tour include interviews with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, La Prensa, leaders of opposition political parties, the U.S. Embassy, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Commission, and others critical of the government. Not even one of the requested interviews was scheduled. The tour was subjected, however, to lectures on Marxist economics and the virtues of liberation theology.23
At one point, the delegation visited a Moravian church which the tour guide addressed. Smith said that when the translator began to tell him what the tour guide was saying, he was astonished to find out that the man was telling the congregation that the delegation's mission in Nicaragua was to support the revolution and to work for a change in American policy when they returned home.24
When questioned about the delegation, Sharon Rader, trip organizer for the West Michigan Conference, said she felt there had been no need to schedule interviews with people in order to "hear Reagan's side. We can do that here." Rader, who is the conference liaison for the General Board of Global Ministries, said she did not believe that talking to pro-Sandinista spokesmen prevented the tour from asking, and getting answers to, hard questions.25
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The Master Of Deceit
Most Americans, both Christian and non-Christian, seem to feel that a few weeks' visit will make them experts on Nicaragua and the Sandinista government. They have no idea, however, how deceiving appearances can be.
Merle Linda Wolin, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, interviewed Tomás Borgé - head of Nicaragua's secret police - for a series of articles on Sandinista leadership.26 Wolin reported that Borgé took her to meet his wife and children in what he represented as his home, a small modest house in the suburbs. She was instantly suspicious, however, when she saw the house was furnished like a hotel room and that the toilet was filthy.
It was later confirmed by members of the FSLN, and from Borgé's bodyguards, that the house was a soldier's bungalow. Borgé actually lives in luxury elsewhere, they said.27
Borgé is a past master at such deception. Alvaro José Baldizon, the former Sandinista Minister of the Interior who fled to the United States in 1985, revealed many of Borgé's tactics. The great impersonator has two offices, Baldizon said, one for regular work and one for meeting with American religious groups. In the office he uses for the Christians he has "photographs of children, gilded, carved crucifixes, and a Bible or two." In the former office he has "Marxist literature and posters of Marx, Engels and Lenin."28
In early June 1985, Baidizon said, he was among five hundred people from the Interior Ministry whom Borgé ordered to dress as civilians and attend the closing session of an international assembly of Baptist youth. The government employees pretended they were evangelicals in order to make it appear Borgé had support among that community.29
Unfortunately for Americans who travel to Nicaragua free of bias, it is difficult to find average Nicaraguans who speak freely. The country has been so well-traveled by Americans who are blatantly proSandinista that Nicaraguans assume all Americans are "internationalistas," their word for Marxist-Leninist sympathizers. It has not helped the situation that at least one Christian group took a tape recorder to an interview with anti-Sandinistas and then gave the tape to State Security.30
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Baldizon revealed that the Sandinistas help this process along by having Sandinista security officers, dressed as civilians, follow the delegations. Baldizon claimed civilians know who the security officers are and "very few dare speak ill of the Sandinista regime."31
Also confusing is the Sandinista practice of setting up parallel organizations. For instance, there is a Nicaraguan Permanent Commission on Human Rights which has documented evidence of torture in prisons and numerous mysterious disappearances. That same organization documented the abuse of human rights under Somoza. The junta, however, soon after the revolution, established an organization with almost the same name, the National Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which is simply a tool for reassuring Americans about the human rights situation. That the organization was established to confuse, and that it is nothing but a front, has been verified by its former director, José Esteban Gonzales, who defected in 1985.
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Catholic Support For Junta
It is one signal of the ideological conflict that has marked the Catholic Church in recent years that some of the strongest support for the junta has come from Catholics - both American-based clergy and bureaucrats and missionaries living in Nicaragua. Some American Catholic clergy, notably Archbishop John Roach and Cardinal John O'Connor, have verbally supported Cardinal Obando. But many more Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, and bureaucrats have relentlessly hammered at American foreign policy regarding Nicaragua and ignored accusations of persecution from the Nicaraguan Catholic hierarchy.
One such pro-Sandinista alliance was put on prominent display at the Washington press conference at which Witness for Peace discussed the "capture" of the boat on the San Juan. Catholic bishops Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, and Maurice Dingman of Des Moines were all present on the organization's behalf.
Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil, it was revealed in 1984, has had his view of the situation in Nicaragua shaped by the Maryknoll nuns in general and Peggy Healy, the regional coordinator of the Maryknoll nuns, in particular. O'Neil has been unrelentingly hostile to providing American aid for the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.
O'Neil told The New York Times that "when the nuns and priests come through, I ask them questions about their feelings, what they see, who the enemy is, and I'm sure I get the truth. I haven't found any of these missionaries who aren't absolutely opposed to this policy (funding the contras)." Miss Healy corresponds "regularly" with Mr. O'Neil, his aides said.32
Rep. Thomas Downey, Democrat from New York, told The Wall Street Journal that in 1983 several Maryknoll nuns, just back from, Central America, came by his office to talk to him. When he suggested that they take their message to his constituents (most of whom are Catholic), they did so with "astonishing" impact. For months, he said, people would visit him at his district office and ask to discuss events in Central America.33
"I'd ask them how they heard about it," Downey said, "and they'd say, 'Well, this nun came to talk.'"34
Monsignor Bismark Carballo - who you will remember is Cardinal Obando's assistant - wrote a letter to the general secretary of the U.S. Catholic Conference in 1984 to protest the activities of Thomas Quigley, the conference's Latin American specialist.35 Quigley, the letter said, had hindered the Nicaraguan bishops' struggle against religious persecution. The Sandinista government had also used remarks made by Quigley to "fuel its propaganda effort against the Catholic Church."
The remarks - which Quigley said were merely a repetition of the U.S. Catholic Conference position on American covert operations in Nicaragua - appeared in the official Sandinista newspaper Barricada and on government radio broadcasts. They were attributed to, in some cases, "Bishop Quigley." Quigley is not a member of the clergy.
Carballo said that Quigley appeared to disagree with the Nicaraguan bishops' pastoral letters which urged national reconciliation. That reconciliation includes, in the cardinal's view, talks with the antiSandinista guerrillas.
Geraldine de Macias, a former Maryknoll nun and wife of Sandinista dissident Edgard de Macias, testified at a 1983 Senate hearing that Quigley, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) director Joe Eldridge (see Appendix), and Tony Ramos of the NCC's Church World Service advised her not to criticize the Sandinistas. It would, they said, give President Reagan ammunition to use against them. She repeated the same charge in a personal interview with the authors. Her husband, a former vice-minister of labor in the Sandinista government, was forced to leave the country when he found that the Sandinistas were planning to have him murdered.
Quigley said in a personal interview with one of the authors that the role of the U.S. Catholic Conference is not to support, or criticize, the Sandinistas, but to comment on American policy in the region. Officials from the conference have testified on this matter in Congress, arguing, of course, that the aid should be ended. However, the Sandinistas use the official position of the conference to aid them in their propaganda war against the Nicaraguan church, depicting "local church leaders as counterrevolutionaries and CIA operatives."36
It is not really surprising that Quigley has a seemingly pro-Sandinista viewpoint, as he is a member of the Religious Task Force on Central America steering committee, an organization blatantly dedicated to promoting the Sandinistas and ending American aid to antiSandinista guerrillas and the government of El Salvador (see Appendix).
Quigley is obviously not adverse to making his views known in public. Discussing the late Archbishop Oscar Romero, in an article for The Witness, a magazine published by the Episcopal Church and Society Network, Quigley said the archbishop had called to mind brilliant leaders like John XXIII and "maybe Mao, representatives of the people who knew that leadership has to do with evoking, calling forth the wisdom that is in the people."37
The Rev. Edward Killackey, director of Maryknoll's Washington-based Office of Justice and Peace, gave another example of extreme political bias in the Catholic Church when he told The Washington Post that the church-state conflict in Nicaragua is essentially a power struggle. "The church is still struggling to understand the role of the church in a revolutionary society," he explained."38
The National Council of Churches has not only denied religious persecution in Nicaragua many times over, it has said it "deplores the increasing deterioration of relations between the government of Nicaragua and a sector of the Roman Catholic Church in that nation."39 In other words, the Council is saying that there are two Catholic Churches, the orthodox and the "Popular Church." Since the "Popular Church" is a creation of the Nicaraguan government, and the tool with which it seeks to destroy the Roman Catholic hierarchy, it can safely be concluded that the National Council is an accessory after the fact.
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Flood Of Support
No less irresponsible have been the flood of articles published by religious publications which have, in a word, lied about events in Nicaragua. The Churchwoman, among others, declared that the Nicaraguan people had interrupted the Pope's Mass in Managua because he had failed them. "Those who had come joyously and lovingly to welcome the Pope - calling out, 'Papa, Papa, Papa' - left in weariness and disappointment. They had hoped for a few pastoral sentences and some recognition of their suffering."40
It is one thing for Protestant religious publications to criticize the Pope through blind ignorance, and another for a Catholic publication to do the same thing. But The Catholic Times quoted Sandinista sympathizers who accused the Pope of ignoring "the pleadings of the mothers" who only wanted the Pope to offer "a prayer for their martyred children" at his Mass in Managua. As we have seen, what John Paul did was to refuse to be used politically. And the "mothers" were hardly the innocents portrayed by the article.41
National Catholic Reporter, a Catholic publication which has been consistently sympathetic to the Sandinistas, has glorified and distorted the true position of the "Popular Church." In one article it lamented that the Catholic hierarchy in Nicaragua has "learned ways to reach the people at the emotional level." The article cites the support given weeping virgins and campaigns with "strong ideological overtones" which promote devotion to the Virgin Mary.42
The article also claimed that the hierarchy has wealth, influence, and access to powerful media. The truth, as we saw in the last chapter, is just the opposite. The church has no help from the outside and the organizations of the "Popular Church" are rich with international help and access to Sandinista mass media.43
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Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publication, published a "White Paper" (on November 7, 1982) so blatantly pro-Sandinista and so hostile to the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic hierarchy that an anti-Sandinista organization - composed of exiled Nicaraguans - rebutted the article in a twenty-five page letter to Catholic Archbishop John Roach.44 The White Paper was a result of a task force team visit to Nicaragua composed of Catholic clergy, including Father Vincent Giese, editorin-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Giese wrote the White Paper himself.
Alejandro Bolaños, head of the Nicaraguan Information Center, charged, among other things, that Giese whitewashed Sandinista efforts to censor information concerning their attacks on the Miskito Indians. Giese put the blame for the breakdown of relations between the government and the church hierarchy on Cardinal Obando y Bravo, Bolaños said. He also charged that Giese had misrepresented the position of the Nicaraguan people regarding priests in the "Popular Church" (to the point that Giese explained a turba as a group of simple parishioners), made Monsignor Carballo look guilty of having an affair with a woman, and misrepresented even letters to the Nicaraguan Church from Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul, Giese wrote, "pointed out some dangers in the popular church movement." What the Pope's letter really did, the Center said, was clearly condemn the Popular Church. The letter, not printed by Giese, bears out the Center's accusation. It reads in part: "A 'people's church' opposed to the church presided over by the lawful pastors is a grave deviation from the will and plan of salvation of Jesus Christ."45
Giese goes on to say that the Sandinistas first censored the letter, then allowed it to appear "in its entirety in the country's major newspapers." The Center pointed out, however, that the government censored the letter on three different occasions, then only allowed it to be printed with an official communique critical of the Pope's message. The government only relented about the communique when La Prensa refused to publish for three days rather than print it.
These are rather small matters, but taken all together misrepresent the situation in Nicaragua entirely. Giese, as of 1985, still believes the Nicaraguan government to be "worthwhile."46
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One of the most difficult problems to overcome, when trying to inform Christians about the situation in Nicaragua, is their frequent refusal to accept facts. Christian advocates for the Sandinistas listen exclusively to pro-Sandinista priests in Nicaragua (of which there are approximately twenty, according to the Nicaraguan Roman Catholic hierarchy),47 most of whom have supported the Marxists-Leninists for many years. It is almost unheard of that Christians who support the Sandinistas gather information from members of the anti-Sandinista opposition, or believe them when they do bother to ask their opinion.
Typical of this approach is that used by Phil Land, a Jesuit priest and a director of the Washington-based Center of Concern, a Catholic organization which is privately funded. Land explained in a personal interview that his pro-Sandinista stance results from his distrust for Cardinal Obando on one hand and his trust for the information given to him by his Jesuit colleagues in Nicaragua on the other.48
Land explained that he believes Obando "misreads" the situation, and adds that Obando perceives the Sandinistas as a threat to his social authority. Talk to Jesuit Cesar Juarez, he says, that's the man he trusts . He also said Commandante Daniel Ortega told him personally he was not a Marxist.
The Jesuits that Land believes in, however, are hardly dispassionate. They have been long-time supporters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, to the extent that they openly criticized the Roman Catholic hierarchy for advocating that the government hold negotiations with the anti-Sandinista guerrillas. The Jesuit superior general, the Rev. Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, denounced them for that action and subsequently sent his assistant to Nicaragua to scold them in person.49
When Land was asked about Cardinal Obando's accusation that Father Amado Peña was framed by State Security (see the last chapter), Land answered that he did not believe State Security had done such a nasty thing. As far as the turbas are concerned, he believes them to be simple people of the barrio.
Typical of the revolutionary Christian's ability to ignore facts was one nun's explanation for the expulsion of ten priests from Nicaragua in 1983. Sister Mary Hartman, an American nun and an employee of the Sandinistas' National Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, explained the expulsion as a response to the priests' "counteffevolutionary" behavior. "The priests would meet with young people and tell them they didn't have to register for the draft. They were counterrevolutionaries,, that's all they were."50
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The Liberation Theology Centers
As explained in the previous chapter, some of the most influential agents for the Sandinistas are Nicaraguan research centers which specialize in books on liberation theology and news reports which advance the government's accusations against the Catholic hierarchy. It is the most telling feature of American Christian attitudes that these centers, listed below, are financed by American church money.
- The Evangelical Committee for Aid to Development (CEPAD) - this organization is the largest recipient of U.S. church support in Nicaragua. The Presbyterians (U.S.A.), for instance, gave CEPAD $20,000 in 1985. The United Methodists gave it $19,500 in 1983 and $6,000 in 1984. The National Council of Churches gave CEPAD $365,329 in 1981 and at least $8,500 in 1983. CEPAD claims to represent Nicaragua's Protestant churches and has been very persuasive in convincing American Christians that the Sandinistas are doing God's work on earth. It has proselyted for the Sandinistas among delegations visiting CEPAD headquarters in Managua and during American lecture tours.
CEPAD, however, not only works hand-in-hand with the Sandinista government; its director, Gustavo Parajon, has been accused of being a Sandinista agent who faithfully tape-records CEPAD meetings for State Security. The accusation was made by a highly placed defector from Sandinista State Security.51 According to the same defector, CEPAD official Sixto Ulloa is obedient to the secret police and has direct access to Tomás Borgé. He also ran for office on the FSLN ticket in 1984.52
The National Council of Evangelical Pastors, which is one of the two evangelical organizations not recognized by the Sandinista government, does not trust CEPAD due to its governmental connections and questionable financial disbursements. Those disbursements may have included, as was charged by pastors in Mantagalpa province, the donation of eleven four-wheel drive vehicles for use by the Sandinista Police. The Evangelical Council broke off all ties with CEPAD in 1983.53
CEPAD has also allegedly withheld financial aid to pastors who are insufficiently supportive of the Sandinistas and threatened, in 1984, to withhold benefits to organizations boycotting the elections.54
The Nicaraguan Conference of Catholic Bishops protested the materials used in the literacy campaign of 1980, many of which were produced by CEPAD. The materials promoted a Marxist view of history and society, portraying the FSLN and its mass organizations as the only legitimate expressions of organized social actions in Nicaragua.
Not one to hide its ideological light under a bushel, CEPAD, in 1980, helped fund an educational booklet in the style of a comic book which was titled Capitalism and Socialism for Beginners. It is a beginner's guide to Marxism. CEPAD's leaders even admit their political orientation. In the March 1984 issue of The Disciple, CEPAD's executive director, Gilberto Aguirre, said, "We not only support the Sandinista government, but we are immersed in the revolution."
Geraldine de Macias worked for CEPAD while in Nicaragua. She told the authors that "after the revolution they were blatantly pro-Sandinista. Survival as an institution became more important than anything else. One of the National Council of Churches groups, foreign advisors, were the ones who got them to go to Cuba and come back with Cuban posters to give seminars on how to survive under the revolution.55
"They said if they were going to survive as an institution and as a church they had to be revolutionary, they had to be useful to the government. Translated, that means to be pro-FSLN and anti-American. That bothered me. I saw CEPAD's thrust as how to deepen faith. After 1979, that become less important to them and vast amounts of CEPAD funds began to go to government programs. Some of them in CEPAD had joined the FSLN and are Marxists."56
- The Antonio Valdivieso Ecumenical Center is directed by Father Molina, the head of Nicaragua's "Popular Church." Valdivieso has published, among many other things, a booklet which portrays evangelical and Pentecostal preachers as U.S. agents. The booklet features a cartoon of Uncle Sam winding up (like you do a toy) a man who is preaching to kneeling worshipers. The man is saying that there is a contradiction between faith and the revolution.
The Center received $19,500 from the The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries in 1983 and $6,000 in 1984. The World Council of Churches' sharing book, which is a list of projects the WCC intends to fund if the budget passes its legislative test, has the Center down for $165,000. The WCC book states that the Center's main aim is "to accompany Christians committed to the revolutionary process in their reflections and actions." One of the activities planned to help this objective is "Bible courses in order to re-read the Bible in the light of the local situation." One-third of all Valdivieso's funds come from churches in the U.S.
- The Central American Historical Institute was initially created by Jesuits who support the Sandinistas. The cover of an institute publication shows a soldier carrying a gun with Christ interposed on top. The words say, "Christian Faith and the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua." The picture is not so startling if you realize that the Institute also published a book called Are You Afraid of Communism? I Am Not. The Institute also maintains an office in Washington from which it propagandizes for the Sandinista government. The United Methodists gave the Institute $8,000 in 1983 and the 1983 World Council of Churches' resource sharing book proposed to give it $36,560.
- The Latin American Evangelical Committee for Christian Education, better known as CELADEC, produced material, much of it in comic-book format, called What Is Liberation Theology. One little lesson is titled "Knowing how to see reality with the eyes of God." The illustration is of three guerrillas toting machine-guns through the jungle. The text says that God does not present Himself solely through Christ, but through the liberation of men and women that are not considered Christians.
- The Nicaraguan Institute for Economic and Social Research - The Institute was created by the United Methodist Church and the government of Nicaragua. Its grant proposal said the Institute would establish "academic solidarity . . . with progressive social scientists of the west and the social research centers of the socialist countries." It continued by stating that "The work of INIES is therefore at the service of the organs of political decision-making which seek the social and political transformation of the region." Its spokesman, Father Xavier Gorostiaga, appears frequently in the American media. This Institute received $30,000 from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in 1983.
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American Church Funding
The United Methodist Church, as well as most of the National Council of Churches' membership, contributes to the Council's Division of Overseas Ministries. That department distributed, for the Methodist Church, money for all the Nicaraguan organizations to which the United Methodists also contributed in their own name. For instance, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries gave $30,O00 to the Nicaraguan Institute for Economic and Social Research in 1983. But the United Methodist World Division of Global Ministries gave $30,000 to the National Council in 1982, which was, in turn, passed on to the Institute. In 1981 funds were given to both CELADEC and CEPAD through the National Council's Latin American division, ($15,000 to CEDELAC) and CEPAD was given a grand total of $375,329 by the National Council through Church World Service. CEPAD has stated its annual budget is nine times larger than the amount it received from the National Council in 1981. No National Council budgets have been released since 1981.
The World Council of Churches has given considerable money to organizations in Nicaragua with funds it receives from American denominations. Presbyterians have contributed about three-fourths of the total U.S. money given to the Churches' Participation in Development. This money was used, in part, to fund the following grants to the Antonio Valdivieso Center and CELADEC: the Valdivieso Center was given $21,000 in 1981 and CELADEC was given $33,000. An additional $20,000 was given to CELADEC in 1983 and $50,000 to Vaidivieso in 1983.
The World Council proposed to spend $36,000 for the Institute of Central American History in 1983 while openly admitting that the Center would act as an information outlet for the government. The 1983 sharing book (which lists funding proposals) states that ". . .cooperating agencies and solidarity committees have drawn attention to the lack of regular, speedy news, above all at the time when Nicaragua is being criticized by conservative circles throughout the world and news about the country is making the headlines in the world press."
Under "Aims," the sharing book explains, "The government of Nicaragua does not have the necessary resources to meet this challenge. The Institute of Central American History headquartered in Managua is therefore setting up an Information Center which will not only act as a news center but also as a channel of communication to and from Nicaragua.
"Many persons visiting Nicaragua for the first time find it very difficult to understand the dynamic revolutionary process as they are not familiar with the context or the background." The WCC also targeted $176,245 to the Antonio Vaidivieso Center.
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The Sanctuary Movement
Although promoting official Nicaragua is the trendy Christian's favorite method of bashing (or bending) the United States government, an alternative (or a correlative method for the energetic) is rapidly gaining popularity. This is the sanctuary movement, and it has enmeshed approximately two hundred and fifty churches in its activities.57
Movement spokesmen argue that the United States is deporting illegal aliens from El Salvador that will be murdered when they return. They usually point to the government of El Salvador as the likely culprit, citing horrible stories of torture and murder by death squads and government soldiers. Sanctuary workers argue that they are therefore doing their Christian duty by harboring and transporting aliens.
The real goal of the sanctuary movement, however, is not nurturing individuals or families, but in nurturing a political cause. Sanctuary workers believe that the United States should end military assistance to the government of El Salvador. Presumably they are aware that the Marxist guerrillas would then have a much better chance of overthrowing the duly-elected government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte.
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El Salvador has been the second largest source of illegal aliens in the U.S., after Mexico, for the last thirty years. Before the beginning of the guerrilla war the number of Salvadoran illegal aliens was approximately three hundred and fifty thousand. Today, it is about five hundred thousand. Terror did not begin the exodus, nor has it continued it. Salvadorans come to the U.S. for sound economic reasons.58
Confirming this viewpoint was an exit poll conducted by the Spanish International Network during El Salvador's recent presidential elections. It found that 70 percent of the people polled would like to emigrate to the United States - in order to work.59
Further, there has never been a case in which an illegal alien was returned to El Salvador and was then deliberately murdered. One case has been cited in which a man was killed, but it has never been determined if he was a deliberate victim or was simply caught in random violence.
The Chicago Religious Task Force, the key organizing agent in the sanctuary movement, claimed at one time that Amnesty International had documentation proving that 30 percent of all illegal aliens returned were tortured, maimed, or murdered. Amnesty International's area coordinator for Latin America, however, Rona Ellen Weitz, denied that Amnesty International had said any such thing.60
In 1983 the American Civil Liberties Union published a study on this matter. It was based on a comparison of the names of eighty-five hundred deportees with a list of the names of twenty-two thousand victims of human rights violations in El Salvador. After nine months it was found that only one hundred and thirteen possible matches among the names was found and only twenty-five cases where, by ACLU estimation, there was better than an average possibility of a match, about one-third of the one percent total . The ACLU could not establish one positive match.61
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The Lack Of Victims
The American State Department investigated the same question. They took a random sample of four hundred and eighty-two deportees, interviewing the deportee or a close family connection and found only one case in which a deportee became a human rights victim. In that one case, the deportee was shot in 1981 by a guerrilla as an apparent result of mistaken identity.62
Further, no human rights organization in El Salvador has reported a case of a deportee being killed since two deaths in 1981. The Geneva-based Inter-governmerit Committee for Migration, which provides resettlement services to returning Salvadorans, has not reported one case of deliberate violence being inflicted on a Salvadoran deported from the United States.63
Further, political violence in El Salvador has steadily dropped since 1981. There were only two thousand political murders in 1984 compared to sixteen thousand and two hundred in 1981.64 Indeed, more Salvadorans fleeing violence go to regions held by the army. According to the U.S. government figures, in 1984 there were about four hundred thousand Salvadoran refugees who did so. Another twenty thousand fled to Honduras (which provides refugee camps open to all Salvadorans looking for safety), eighteen thousand to Costa Rica, seventeen thousand and five hundred to Nicaragua, thirty-five hundred to Mexico and two thousand to Belize. Only a small portion of these refugees claimed they were fleeing from Salvadoran authoritieS.65
Most of those who flee are in terror of the guerrillas, who kidnap, kill and terrorize local officials,66 murder government sympathizers, and forcibly induct young men into their movement.
Moreover, the army has severed its ties with the extreme right and reorganized the three police security forces, largely ending officially sanctioned death squads. Human rights violations by government forces are at a five-year low.67 Social and land reform programs are also being implemented. Salvadoran Archbishop Rivera y Damas, who has been a long-time advocate of Salvadoran reform, explained the guerrillas' lack of support as a result of the people realizing the guerrillas "were more interested in obtaining power than in fulfilling . . . hope for the people."68
None of these facts have been acknowledged by spokesmen for the sanctuary movement, neither the progress on the right or murderousness on the left. The same statement can be made about the mainline church, which has uniformly supported the guerrillas.
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Sanctuary workers also act as though the U.S. government has no interest in providing asylum for people threatened with torture or death by political agents or agencies. Such is not the case. Under the Refugee Act of 1980 an alien may qualify for asylum if he or she has "a well-founded fear of persecution" in his/her homeland "on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion." It is not enough, however, to flee from generally violent conditions. The alien must prove it likely that he/she will be singled out for violence.
If an alien has a well-founded fear of persecution he/she is not automatically entitled to asylum, but the alien may not be forcibly returned to the country from whence he/she fled. Out of the five hundred thousand Salvadorans in the United States today, only twenty thousand to thirty thousand have applied for political asylum.69 Still, the boards, assemblies, and agencies of the mainstream churches pass resolutions by the handful which are piously affirmative of sanctuary. The United Methodists, through the General Board of Global Ministries, even provided $25,000 for the legal defense of sanctuary workers and the World Council has done the same thing. The general secretary of the U.S. Catholic Conference, in what has to be the most clever rationalization of recent years, lamented the fact that government policies regarding Central America "entangle people of good will in criminal prosecutions."
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Worse than any resolution, at least to those who are subjected to the spectacle, are the publicity stunts created by sanctuary workers. Typical was the motorcade from Chicago to Weston, Vermont. It featured Felipe and Elena Excot and their five children in a brown Ford van, marimba music which played on a portable tape recorder, and a caravan of cars with signs proclaiming "U.S. Out of Central America" and "This Is a Freedom Train." The stunt was sponsored by the Chicago Task Force. At each stop the illegal aliens (these from Guatemala) stopped for the night at a church.
What was so heartbreaking about the caravan was not the silliness, nor the manipulative bid for publicity - it was all the help given the Excots while others had none. According to John O'Leary, director of New Exodus, a Washington organization which aids refugees, numerous Nicaraguans fleeing from Sandinista tyranny claim sanctuary workers have refused to help them. . .they are on the wrong side of the political fence.70
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The Betrayal of the Church Copyright © 1986 by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois 60153
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.
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