21 November 2007

Revolutionary Priest Camilo Torres

Angel Guerra Cabrera

Forty-one years after the demise of the guerrilla priest, Camilo Torres, the people of Latin America renew their rebellion against imperial domination, in which he died fighting in the ranks of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in his native Colombia.

Today there is a renewal of the popular struggle south of Rio Bravo against the social and ecological devastation caused by neo-liberalism imposed by Washington. This has led not only to progressive governments of different shades but also profoundly revolutionary processes – as can be seen in Venezuela and Bolivia and which could come to Ecuador – and the most creative forms of resistance.

Clarifying and accelerating the current cycle of rebellion demands a serious scrutiny of our history. The key current problems were conscientiously tacked by the Colombian priest. Among them are the rupture with imperial domination and the socialist revolution as unavoidable tasks in the freeing of our countries. And, to achieve that, the indispensable unity of popular forces in defeating powerful forces. It demands uniting into a single sheaf a very plural world of classes, social sectors and ideological positions. That takes us to a fundamental alliance of Christians and Marxists, not only as “fellow traveller” tactics but as brothers achieving Latin American revolution. Camilo made notable contribution in the solution of these questions in his practical policies and in his analytical works on the Colombian reality which is maintained till today in its astonishingly valid essence.

Although he was educated as a sociologist in the old continent, he rejected the dogmatic extrapolation of European thought to our reality. To him, the proletariat in Latin American conditions was much more diverse than that studied by Marx in nineteenth-century Europe. So he called for founding a United People’s Front, of which he was the leader, that directs “the popular class, the middle class, community action organisations, trade unions, cooperatives, mutual aid societies, farmers’ leagues and working class organisations, the indigenous people, the non-conformists, men, women, the youth…” He revived the original Christian ethic and made “brotherly love” the central spine of his actions, love that to be “sincere and true” would have to be “effective” and for which it was necessary to tie it with knowledge.

“Why,” he asked “do we discuss in cafés if the soul is mortal or immortal when we know that hunger certainly is mortal… not that the Marxists have to become Christians or Christians Marxists, but that they unite for the solution… of the problems of the majority of Latin Americans… I am prepared to fight with them (the Communists) for common objectives: against oligarchy and domination by the United State, for the taking of power by the popular class.”

He affirmed that the character of the revolution, peaceful or otherwise, depended on the attitude of the ruling class. He worked tirelessly with the people in the legal framework until repression by the genocidal Colombian oligarchy forced him into armed struggle.

He proposed a minimum programme that included national control over subsoil resources, agrarian reform, education, social security and health for all: “ a proposal for the popular class to discuss … to transform… since it is going to be what they will apply when they are in power”. His organisational vision was that of a democratic structure from bottom to the top, plural and beyond vanguardism per se since “the people do the concrete exercising of authority”.

Camilo is the inheritor of a tradition of revolutionary priests which, of necessity, nurtured Latin American socialism: of Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, leaders of the most radical revolution of independence of the continent, and of Félix Varela, who inspired José Marti and whom the Communist Party of Cuba recognises as one of their predecessors. He was the precursor of liberation theology. Through Arnulfo Romero and Sergio Méndez lives again grassroots ecclesiastical communities, as much priests as lay Christians, who adhere to the preferential option for the poor. Who was going to imagine, when Camilo fell in combat, that the leader of the second Socialist revolution of Latin America, Hugo Chávez, too would be a believer? Faith always smashes into social reality.
Published in La Jornada, Mexico City, February 15, 2007 Link:

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