CATHOLICISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS
IN LATIN AMERICA
MARGARET E. CRAHAN
Religion and human rights in Latin America have been strongly linked particularly since the 1960s. Many of the principal human rights actors, including the Vicariate of Solidarity in Chile, the Office of Legal Assistance of the Archbishopric in El Salvador, and the Justice and Peace Commission in São Paulo, Brazil, were started by churches during periods of severe repression and survived in large measure because of national and international ecclesial support. It is frequently assumed that the connection between churches 1 and human rights was initiated by the Second Vatican Council ( 1962-1965) and the Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops in Medellín, Colombia in 1968. While both these gatherings encouraged the contemporary churches' focus on human rights there was a historical base for it as far back as the early sixteenth century when Dominican and Franciscan friars denounced the exploitation of Native Americans by Spanish and Portuguese colonists. Even with the close identification of ecclesiastical and secular elites in Latin America, there has always been an outspoken sector of church people that called for an end to the exploitation of the poor and greater respect for human rights.
This tendency was reinforced in the late nineteenth century by Pope Leo XIII 's landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum ( 1891) which urged that there be an end to the exploitation of workers by industrial capitalism. Using a critique similar to that of Marx, Leo held that capitalism tended to regard labor as a commodity to be bought and sold according to market forces. Leo further