By Alejandro Bermudez
Next to the usual call for repentance and conversion, most of the Mexican bishops' Lenten letters this year had one revealing thing in common: a call to government, organizations and individuals to put an end to violence and, especially, corruption.
Although there seems to be a consensus that violence, especially from organized crime, has become the greatest challenge to Mexico's stability and development, there is no agreement on who is behind the violence and what its real causes are.
"The answers to these questions are critical to understand what is really happening in Mexico, and the Catholic Church has a very different assessment than most of the international media and the local political parties," said Manuel Diaz Cid, a specialist of church-state relations in Mexico and a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity.
In fact, from the perspective of both the local and U.S. media, the increasing power of the drug cartels operating mostly in northern Mexico, as well as the looming economic crisis, are seen as factors that could lead the country either into out-of-control violence or a revolution.
For many, alarming signs can be found in the increasing violence in the Mexico-U.S. border -- which have already cost 3,000 lives this year -- as well as in the recent apparition of the self-styled Movimiento Armado del Norte (Northern Armed Movement), an alleged revolutionary organization that recently issued two statements.
So far, the Movimiento seems to be no more than an "electronic tiger," since its presence exists only in two Web postings. Both statements criticize foreign investors and government abuses, and announce that its plan "for now" consists in "infiltrating the system" to change the government "from within."
A recent report from the U.S. State Department said that "impunity and corruption at all levels of government are still pervasive," despite the "significant efforts of the current presidency to fight and punish corrupt elements tied to drug trafficking."
The report claims that "the war against drug trafficking has been significant, but has not bore relevant results and has had a significant toll on human rights."
Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa reacted by saying the report "is dramatically damaging the nation's effort to fight drug trafficking and organized crime."
"This administration cannot be blamed for the dramatic conditions of violence we have inherited," said Secretary of the Interior Fernando Gómez Mont. "The presence of drug trafficking and organized crime as well as the existence of revolutionary movements are a heritage of many of the past governments."
He added the possible growth of revolutionary movements "is still remote, but we are taking it as a serious threat, especially because of the economic crisis."
Nevertheless, Catholic intellectuals believe the violence has to do more with political corruption than the economic crisis.
"It is not by chance that the area the Movimiento Armado del Norte claims to control matches exactly with the territory that the two main drug cartels are now disputing," says Federico Muggenburg, director of the Center for Social Studies in Mexico City.
"Many believe that 2010, a century after the 1910 revolution that brought the powerful, anticlerical PRI to power, is the time for a new revolutionary cycle," Muggenburg told OSV. PRI refers to the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled in Mexico for decades. "But if that is the case, it will not be a revolution that will start in the streets, but one that will be designed on some political drawing boards."
Diaz Cid concurred. "If you take a look at the recent signs of revolt, like the long strike of teachers in the state of Morelos, or the disruption of urban activities by bands of tapados (masked men) that appeared from nowhere, you can see the pattern of someone who is testing the waters for a revolution," he said.
In fact, a source of the Mexican bishops' conference who spoke to OSV for background said that "Mexico does not have a Che Guevara, but has plenty of Philippes of Orleans," implying that there are no real revolutionary leaders, but ambitious political leaders similar to Philippe of Orleans, the irrelevant 18th-century French nobleman who, thanks to astute maneuvers, ended up being the regent of France.
"There are significant economic resources placed into these apparently random revolts carried out across the country, but they all point to the drug-trafficking money and the leadership of some old politicians who cannot come to terms with having lost the control of the country," the source said.
In fact, late last year, the Mexican Army -- regarded as generally honest -- unveiled that one of the "revolutionary groups" operating in the Pacific, the so-called "Z," was formed by former policemen paid by drug traffickers to distract the government and the army away from drug enforcement.
Muggenburg also recalled that in 1999 Jose Alfredo Andrade, former lawyer of famous Mexican drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, wrote a book titled "The Secret Story of Drug Trafficking."
"Andrade disappeared forever just a month after publishing his book. His main theory was that Mexico had lost the war against drug trafficking because of the political protection provided by well-connected former members of the Mexican government," Muggenburg said.
In fact, the bishops' conference's source said, "the name of the drug cartel capos (heads) come out every now and then, but we still don't know the names of the godfathers."
The godfathers, according to him, are those high-ranked political leaders who control both the drug traffic as well as the deeply corrupted branches of the police and local governments.
That is probably the reason why the bishops have not been speaking mainly against drug trafficking, generalized violence or a possible revolution, but specifically about corruption.
"We need to fight violence and corruption with the 'weapons' of prayer, penance, fasting and a morally sound life," said Cardinal Norberto Rivera, archbishop of Mexico City, during his Ash Wednesday homily.
"There are many who are trying to take advantage of fear, hatred and poverty to take revenge. We have to stop them with the strength of truth, love and goodness," he added.
"May this Lent be a time for us to build peace by helping those most in need and stopping any attempt to promote violence," the Cardinal concluded.
Archbishop José Luis Chávez Botello, of the Archdiocese of Antequera, Oaxaca, delivered a similar message. "The growing violence is not the consequence of chance. It reflects the deep corruption of our political system and its connections with organized crime," he said.
"We can't be mere bystanders, waiting for things to improve by themselves. We have to be committed Christians, bringing our values to the public square and doing anything possible to promote peace, truth and honesty in our surroundings," he added.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, a practicing Catholic, has the daunting task of fighting drug trafficking, as well as massive police and government corruption, all in the midst of a looming economic crisis.
"If, in the past, the government was part of the problem, this time we will make certain that we will be part of the solution," he said during a interview with the daily Excelsior.
Analyst Manuel Diaz Cid said, "There is no doubt that (Calderón) is for real and is genuinely committed to fight organized crime, mostly by relying in the army and a new generation of politicians, mostly from his own party."
"But the only way he will really succeed is if he is able to expose and break the link between drug cartels and old political leaders that want to bring Mexico back to the 'soft dictatorship that ruled the country for more than 60 years," he told OSV.
Anything less than that, said Diaz Cid, will be too little ... and maybe too late.
Alejandro Bermudez, who writes from Peru, filed this report from Mexico.
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