Friday, October 21, 2011

Bishop Santos as president of Honduras?

Our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, has been in the news in English and Spanish recently. On November 7, when he turns 75, he will send the Vatican his letter of resignation as bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. He expects that he will continue to serve until March, the twenty-eighth anniversary of his ordination as bishop.

Bishop Santos in San Juan, Intibucá, May 31, 2011

A headline to an article in a Catholic newspaper screamed, “Honduran bishop hopes to run for office.”

But it is much better to say that the bishop is considering responding positively to efforts to nominate him as a candidate for the 2013 presidential election. He is not seeking to be a candidate.

This is not news to me. I have heard of groups proposing the bishop as a candidate for more than a year.

Considering a bishop for president reveals on one level the problem of the political situation in Honduras.

Here in Honduras there is a deep lack of trust in the two major political parties, the Liberal Party and the Nationalist Party. Bipartidismo – the monopoly of the two parties – is seen by the Resistance and many others as the scourge of politics here. The parties have dominated the political scene for more than a century. They have succeeded one another, seldom without trying to enrich their candidates and provide favors for their party activists.

There is also a concern among some supporters of the Resistance that the bishop might be the only viable candidate, known to the people, not connected with powerful elites, and incorruptible.

And thus, as I read articles and talk with friends in Honduras, the bishop does not have political ambitions. He is not seeking to run for office, to be president.

In fact, recently he has denied that he wishes to be connected with either one of the major political parties, at least its mainstream leadership, which he has consistently criticized. However it does appear that the Liberals in Resistance have proposed him as a precandidate.

In another article he said that if he were president he would call for a national constitutional convention (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente) to re-write the constitution. He thus allies himself with the Resistance’s proposal to re-found Honduras with a new constitutional order that undercuts the power of the political and economic elites who profit from the current constitution and legal order.

The bishop seeks a political and social order in Honduras that puts a priority on the poor and facilitates their participation in the political process.

And so will the bishop be a candidate? I do not know.

But above all, I know that the bishop does not want to leave the exercise of his priesthood. Being able to celebrate the Eucharist is central to his identity and to his sense of mission.

Where this will lead I do not know.

For several years the bishop has been planning to continue his work for the poor, especially for the poor Lenca people in the department of Intibucá, one of the poorest in Honduras. He has set up a foundation that will fund projects there and in other places in Honduras that will seek to transform lives through education and social projects.

But the bishop knows that the problem in Honduras is systematic. Political and economic structures need to change. If he does run for president it is a last resort in the struggle to bring dignity to the Honduran poor and to assure that they are protagonists in their towns, municipalities and the country.

The real question therefore should not be “Will Monseñor Santos run for president?” The question is “Why would Monseñor Santos consider running for president?”

He answered it well in the interview he had with Paul Jeffrey, "Why do I get involved in politics? Because it is politics that has screwed the poor."

Sadly, that is so true.

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