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"Poverty is subversive"

By Thelma Mejía*

Environmental degradation is one of the causes of socio-economic deterioration, says Honduran Catholic cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez, who describes the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development a failure, and blames "the arrogant attitude of the powerful nations."

TEGUCIGALPA - Latin America faces the greatest subversion of all times, the subversion of poverty, says Honduran Catholic cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who is considered one of the candidates in line to succeed Pope John Paul II.

Professor of math and physics, and fluent in six languages, the 59-year-old prelate is a harsh critic of the current globalization process and believes environmental degradation is one of the causes of increasing poverty.

Rodríguez, who served as president of the Latin American Bishops Council from 1995 to 1999, spoke with Tierramérica in an exclusive interview at the Palace of the Archbishopric in the Honduran capital.

-Tierramérica: What do you see as the outlook for Latin America in the 21st century?
-Rodríguez: We are hitting bottom, and the worst is that nobody wants to see that we are faced with the biggest subversion of all times: the subversion of poverty, which is very different from that ideological struggle that claimed the lives of thousands of people in the 1960s and 1970s. What is occurring in Argentina, Brazil and other countries, which are in economic crisis, is a sign that the system is collapsing.

- What creates this subversion?
- The political class in Latin America does not realize that this new subversion, poverty, is generated by violence, corruption, environmental problems and the foreign debt. I believe this new subversion will be the major social phenomenon to be dealt with in the coming years.

- How should we confront the region's environmental problems?
- The ecological theme is fundamental for the debates dominating the beginning of the 21st century, especially in regions like Central America, where awareness about its scope has not existed. In the Catholic Church, the time has come for theological reflection on the environment, given that the human being is a protagonist in nature, and the social doctrine of the Church conceives of it that way.

- How would you evaluate the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which took place in Johannesburg Aug 26 to Sep 4?
- I had expected a great deal from the Summit. And I have to say that it was a failure due to the arrogant attitude of the powerful nations. They feel that they do have the right to contaminate and to protect their industries in order

- After being named cardinal, you promoted an unprecedented march in the Honduran community of San Ignacio, in the central region, in protest against the mining operations of the U.S.-based transnational corporation Entre Mares.
- It was a just demand in response to the weariness of a people who nobody wanted to listen to. I knew that community from my time in the archdiocese of Tegucigalpa. I arrived every Saturday to celebrate the Word (of Christ) and I saw how, in spite of their poverty, they had water to live, they planted trees and harvested basic grain crops. But at one point, these people were left without water. The mining company contaminated it all, and the same thing is occurring in other regions of the country. For more than a decade we have been working with groups concerned about the environmental damage the mining companies cause, and I believe the moment has arrived to take decisive action.

- You have petitioned for the cancellation of the debts of poor countries. Do you still believe debt forgiveness is possible?
- Nobody is going to forgive anything if we don't give some sign of wanting to change. And I am referring here to corruption. For example, someone said that if they are able to bring former president Arnoldo Alemán to trial, Nicaragua will see its economic conditions improve. I believe that is true, because foreign investors are going to perceive that in Nicaragua there is justice, and where there is justice there is financial security.

- Does the Catholic Church have the strength to lead the way in this sense? Especially given the recent scandals involving charges of sexual abuse by priests.
- All of this is a put-on by the mass media. Those cases of abuse involve a minimal percentage of the clergy, but the media have magnified it because they seek to discredit the Church.

- Why?
- Because the Catholic Church, particularly in Latin America, is beginning to speak out against injustices, for example, against the foreign debt. This makes the opulent nations uncomfortable.

- Do you think there is a chance that you will be the successor to John Paul II?
- All cardinals are potential candidates. And I think that the time has come for the Americas, which are home to half of the world's Catholics, to have a pope. However, these questions are uncertain because at its core, the Church is not guided by humans, nor by the criteria of the world, but by the Holy Spirit.

* Thelma Mejía is an IPS correspondent.

Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados

Cardinal Rodríguez
Cardinal Rodríguez