Monday, September 21, 2009

Article on Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos of Santa Rosa de Copán

This interesting article on Santa Rosa bishop, Monseñor Santos, has been circulated in the Catholic press but is not available on the CNS site. I obtained permission to post it for 30 days.

Honduran bishop says he will try to launch dialogue to resolve crisis

By Paul Jeffrey Catholic News Service

EUGENE, Oregon (CNS) -- A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service he would launch an effort to resolve the apparently intractable crisis in the Central American country.

Honduran Bishop Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan told Catholic News Service Sept. 16 he would see "if an internal dialogue is possible" between "the Resistance" -- Hondurans who oppose the de facto government installed in a June 28 coup -- "and the economically powerful who are behind the coup."

"Dialogue many times seems impossible at the beginning, but as things get clarified the parties come to accept it," he said. "And attempting to open a dialogue is strategically important at this point, because if the armed forces and the police continue killing the people of the Resistance -- they've already killed eight -- and breaking their armswith batons, this could provoke widespread resentment that could evolve into a civil war."

Bishop Santos has participated in two public demonstrations of the Resistance. On Sept. 12 he celebrated Mass with eight other priests during a demonstration in the streets of Santa Barbara, and the following day he was joined by six other priests as he celebrated Mass during a demonstration in La Esperanza.

Yet the bishop denied he is a member of the Resistance.

"It's the people who are in the Resistance, not me," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. "My task is to provide pastoral accompaniment, encouraging them spiritually to love God and their neighbor. My message is that faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God are necessary to confront the social injustice that reigns in Honduras and which has become more visible with the coup d'etat."

Bishop Santos said that national elections, scheduled by the de facto government for Nov. 29, are likely to aggravate the tense situation.

"Those in the Resistance don't want elections if (deposed President) Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales doesn't return to the country. So there will be resistance to voting, and since the armed forces and police will be in charge of the elections, I suspect there will be violence between the Resistance and the armed forces," he said.

The bishop said he spoke by telephone Sept. 15 with Zelaya, who accepted the mediation effort. Zelaya has not been allowed to return to Honduras since being flown in his pajamas into exile in Costa Rica during the coup.

Bishop Santos said he had invited some other political leaders and influential citizens, whom he declined to name, to join in the mediation effort.

The bishop said he had not yet contacted Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, "since he's very astute and would surely make videos to present me in public as favoring him and the coup. I don't want to fall in that trap."

Bishop Santos said another agenda item for any dialogue should be planning a national constituent assembly that would consider rewriting parts of the country's constitution.

"The present constitution was created by the economic elite of the country, and for 27 years the two political parties have been incapable of resolving the basic problem of Honduras, which is social injustice. We're one of the worst countries in Latin America in terms of inequality. Nor have they resolved the lack of education or health care for the poor," he said.

Bishop Santos' perspective on his country's political crisis is different from that of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who has defended the coup as a legitimate measure to derail an unconstitutional power grab by Zelaya.

Bishop Santos said he had not spoken with the cardinal since a meeting of the bishops' conference in the wake of the coup.

"It's difficult to speak with the cardinal," he said, citing Cardinal Rodriguez's multiple obligations.

With grassroots opposition to the de facto regime growing by most accounts, the Micheletti government faces increased international pressure. The U.S. government has officially terminated more than $30 million in nonhumanitarian aid; canceled the visas of Micheletti, several Cabinet ministers, Supreme Court judges and a handful of wealthy Honduran business leaders; and announced it would not recognize the November elections if carried out by the de facto regime.

On Sept. 15 the European Union warned it was about to levy even stronger sanctions if Zelaya is not allowed to return.

Bishop Santos applauded the moves, but said the U.S. government was sending mixed messages about its response to the Honduran crisis.

"President (Barack) Obama and (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton have a point of view, but the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have a contrary point of view," the bishop said. "The coup was carried out with the knowledge of the U.S. government, because it wasn't convenient for them to let (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez or anyone else have any power in Honduras. But the civilians in the U.S. government can't accept a coup, so there's a dialectic at play that we hope will resolve itself soon."

Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service Reprinted with permission of CNS.

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