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What's <em>Really</em> Bothering Pat Robertson About Chavez

Liberation Theology's adherents -- nuns, poets, and even a prime minister or two -- are seen as threatening adversaries.
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Earlier this week, Pat Robertson was calling out loud and clear for the U.S. to "take out" leftist Venezuelan prime minister Hugo Chavez.

Then yesterday, Pat took it back.

Still,it is obvious that Chavez and leaders of that ilk make Robertson more than a little uncomfortable.

But there are larger forces at play here than the disdain that one very conservative North American has for one quite leftist Third World leader.

This has to do with the religious dynamics in force in most Latin American countries. Sure, oil is involved in Venezuela. This latest dispute, though, is just an extension of what has been going on for decades in oil-less Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala-where clashing religious visions have raged for decades.

In most of these nations, there are three major religious factions jousting for loyalty and fervor:

Traditional Catholicism- the faith of most of the financial, military and political elite, and, in some circles, an advocate for either the status quo or slow change.

Catholic Liberation Theology- the movement that relates what it sees as the revolutionary roots of Jesus' message to the class struggles of the present day, and has often expressed commonality with leftist Latin American figures;

Evangelical Protestantism- the movement that focuses more on born-again fealty, adherence to moral values and rejection of "Godless Communism" as the best path.

Now, think back to the Nicaragua of the 1980s. The Sandinistas often worked in conjunction with Liberation theologians. The Evangelical Protestants were closest in creed to the Contras, right-wingers who opposed Daniel Ortega in a similar manner to the type of opponents Chavez draws today.

And do you remember who was on the side of the Contras? Evangelical, anti-Communist fanatics such as Oliver North. And, much of the Reagan Administration.

Remember how this religious struggle played out in the streets and rural villages of Nicaragua?

Catholic nuns sympathetic to Liberation Theology were murdered by death squads- while tongue-talking, faith-healing Evangelical preachers - many of whom were and are theologically and politically indistinguishable from North Americans such as Robertson - were and are winning converts.

And meanwhile, the corrupt upper classes and the establishment church that did and do their bidding - have looked on, smug in their arrogance fueled by institutional power.

So to the evangelicals bent on changing minds and saving souls in Latin America: laissez-faire establishment Catholicism is acceptable, but only as a staging ground for more disillusionment and subsequent conversions to Evangelical Protestantism.

Evangelical Protestantism, I might add, that at least in Latin America, doesn't speak to the root causes of oppression but teaches that those who fight the oppressors are Godless and must be stopped.

Since the Liberation Theology embraced by many leftists is the only alternative to Evangelical Protestantism for Latin America's downtrodden and disillusioned its adherents- nuns, poets, and even a prime minister or two - are seen as threatening adversaries that should be taken out.

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