Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

own members, pyramids of authority linked to higher authorities at their apexes, stratified social hierarchies in which each stratum recognize[s] its place." 54

In Colombia the corporation most likely to upset this arrangement is the army. The first condition crucial to the regime's survival to date has been the ability of civilian party politicians to retain ultimate (if diminished) authority. Their governments in the last decades have frequently been harsh, arbitrary, and (certainly in social and economic terms) undemocratic. But they have maintained a degree of openness, competition, and legitimacy. In the face of the guerrilla insurgency, however, the power of the army has grown to proportions that have no precedent in Colombian history. Civilian control has been in doubt in all three of the last governments. 55 In the throes of a deep, continuing social crisis - and even with the immense inherited skills of the political class -- it is not difficult to imagine circumstances that might lead the army at some point to take power directly.

What would the church do in such a situation? Much would depend on particulars, of course, but it would certainly mean the end of neo-Christendom. Part of the church would undoubtedly support the new regime. It did so after the last army takeover, in 1953, and it would be impelled by the same considerations of Realpolitik and its own long historical tradition. Since that era it has considerably strengthened its own ties to the military institution (notably by creating the military chaplaincy, headed by a bishop), in recognition of its "maximum importance" as "guardian of internal peace" (in its words at the time of the 1973 Concordat).

The bishops would have great difficulties, however, in maintaining unity under a military regime. They were divided under the relatively mild dictatorship of Rojas Pinilia in the 1950s and ultimately turned against him. Violations of human rights were one factor even then. Since that time the Colombian military has imbibed a doctrine of "national security" that has been the catalyst of church opposition to authoritarianism wherever it has arisen in Latin America. The Colombian church has also changed since then. Its far greater social consciousness has been tamed within neo-Christendom. Neo-Christendom, however, counted on a stable regime of oligarchical democracy -- not with a military government likely to be both more brutal and less predictable.


NOTES
1
See Alexander Wilde, "Redemocratization, the Church, and Democracy in Colombia", in Colombia Since the National Front, eds. Bruce Bagley, Francisco Thoumi, and Juan Tokatlian( Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1987).
2
A short list of the most important studies in English of the new Latin American church in its relation to politics include the following: Phillip Berryman, The Religious Roots of Rebellion ( Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1984); Thomas C. Bruneau, The Political Transformation of the Brazilian Church ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 1974); Thomas C. Bruneau, The Church in Brazil ( Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981); Edward L. Cleary, O.P., Crisis and Change: The Church in Latin America Today ( Mary

-125-

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