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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pope Francis in Bolivia: A Lamb Among the Wolves

Image result for Pope Francis imagesPope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Bolivia today (8 July 2015) as part of his three-nation South America visit. Millions welcomed the former Argentine cleric to Ecuador, and Bolivians also will throng to any gathering hosted by Francis. The largest will undoubtedly be in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, in southern Bolivia, which also happens to be the center of anti-government sentiment. There is no such thing as coincidence in Bolivian politics.

Evo Morales, whose government is "socialist" and "pro-environment" in name only, and which has moved in recent years to deepen the social, economic and racial divides long prevalent in the Andean country, will meet Francis at the El Alto international airport in La Paz. They will descend to the city center, where the pope will meet with various leaders and officials from the government and religious and civil society.

Pope Francis will then travel to Santa Cruz, where the entire city will shut down in one massive traffic jam. After Bolivia, Francis will travel to Paraguay.

Evo will be gracious to the pope, despite his past difficulties with the Catholic Church.  He is a sincere social activist and has great charisma. But he also has a lot to answer for. During his watch, opponents of his government have been assassinated and jailed without charge. The press has been coerced and intimidated. The judiciary has been stacked with official party hacks. The Legislative branch, through political manipulation, has been so filled with Morales supporters that it is virtually useless. Corruption, always a problem in Bolivia, has expanded massively since Morales took office.

Half of the people in the country who are not indigenous -- white or mestizo -- are afraid to speak out. Those who do are exiled or jailed without charge. There are people, foreign and national, who have been in prison for years without facing formal charges.

So, Pope Francis. What will you say to Evo about all of this? We may never know, but one thing is certain. This pope is not afraid to discuss the tough issues of the day. And these are just a few of them facing Bolivia today.

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