Peru’s Perilous Politics: Papal Visit Comes Amid Tensions
LIMA, Peru — When Pope Francis touches down in Lima, Peru, Jan. 18, he will meet a boisterous Catholic Church fresh from a victory over gender ideology, while confronting new skirmishes against “ideological colonization,” as the Holy Father describes foreign attempts to undermine Christian values in poorer countries.
At the same time, the Church in Peru is powerful — and apolitical — enough to promote peace between an embattled president and a congress poised to impeach him last month.
Pope Francis was scheduled to spend three days each in Chile (Jan. 15-18) and Peru (Jan. 18-21) before returning to Rome.
These two high-profile initiatives, working for reconciliation and peace while forcefully challenging anti-family initiatives, have powerfully shaped the Catholic Church in Peru in the last 17 years, since the end of a devastating war that claimed some 70,000 lives.
The Church has strong leadership from Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, who has been the archbishop of Lima since 2001. One-third of Peru’s 32.4 million people live in Lima, the capital. The Latin-American nation’s 50-member bishops’ conference is also deeply committed to indigenous peoples in the country’s highlands and jungles.
When investment banker President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 79, narrowly defeated right-of-center populist Keiko Fujimori, 42, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, with 50.1% of the vote in June 2016, it took Cardinal Cipriani to bring the two political opponents, both Catholic, together for their first postelection meeting — six months later.
It was not just a polite act, but a matter of political stability. While Kuczynski governs the country, Fujimori controls the Congress: Her party, Popular Force, holds 71 out of 130 seats, while Kuczynski’s Peruvians for Change party now has a mere 15 seats.
In October 2016, at an annual prayer breakfast, “PPK,” as the president is known, consecrated himself, his family and the Republic of Peru to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. No president had ever attended the event, which was dedicated to the theme of mercy, following Pope Francis’ declaration of a jubilee year.
Yet tension between the two top politicians animated much of 2017.
Unexpectedly, on Christmas Eve, President Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori, 79, sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in jail for involvement in murder and kidnappings conducted by security forces under his supervision.
While in office, from 1990 to 2000, Fujimori is best remembered for defeating a Maoist guerilla movement, the Shining Path, but extra-judicial tactics were apparently part of the strategy.
Describing his gesture as a humanitarian act in light of Fujimori’s illness, PPK’s decision drew protests and mainly negative reaction from Western observers.
United Nations experts condemned the pardon; The Economist described it as “troubling.”
Most political analysts assume the president gifted the indulto de Navidad (Christmas pardon) to the Fujimori family in exchange for Kenji Fujimori’s crucial support in blocking PPK’s near-impeachment the week before.
Kenji is the pardoned president’s son, a member of Congress in his sister’s political party. He led a 10-person block in abstaining from an impeachment vote, on corruption charges, that Keiko Fujimori supported.
But Catholics in Peru read the situation differently: Cardinal Cipriani was in Rome in early December planning the Holy Father’s trip; President Kuczynski was at the Vatican in September.
A source in Rome says the cardinal had Vatican support to encourage political reconciliation, a Francis leitmotif, in a country still coming to terms with a violent past. In this view, the Catholic Church encouraged an act of mercy to set the stage for the Holy Father’s much-anticipated visit.
Twenty-one years ago, some 15 armed Marxist terrorists burst into the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima during a party celebrating the emperor’s birthday. Rebels took hundreds of VIPs hostage, including diplomats, government officials, businesspeople and President Fujimori’s mother and sister.
Thus began a four-month hostage crisis. One of the main mediators was Bishop Juan Luis Cipriani, then serving as the shepherd of Ayacucho, a southern province hardest hit by guerrilla warfare.
Although Bishop Cipriani said he was just providing pastoral care and offering Mass inside the rebel-controlled residence, he was playing a “major role” in “freeing hostages,” according to The New York Times, which described him as a “close friend of Mr. Fujimori.”
Father Raymond Finch, superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, served 23 years in Peru as a missioner to indigenous people in the southern Andean highlands during the violent internal conflict.
He confirmed to the Register, “The Church has always been seen in Peru as one of the reliable and most trustworthy institutions fostering peace.”
Father Finch said the country has been involved in a national reconciliation process for the past 10 years that must continue: “Some 70,000 people were killed, most innocent civilian bystanders.”
So the Catholic Church’s efforts to promote reconciliation between warring political factions is a version of a much larger effort to foster peace in a fractured country.
Although President Kuczynski is often called a pragmatist, he accepted the left-wing minority’s agenda his first 18 months in office — one of the sources of tension between his government and Popular Force.
Among the unpopular initiatives was the government’s unilateral introduction of a new national curriculum for primary schools embodying “gender ideology,” the idea that gender is a personal choice disconnected from biology. The curriculum also mandated instruction on sexual and reproductive rights, abortion, homosexuality and transgenderism.
Catholics across Peru reacted fast and furiously. Marches in 26 cities attracted some 1.5 million people — and global attention.
The Peruvian Bishops’ Conference, with 50 members, responded quickly, pointing out that the document contradicted Peru’s constitution, which defines marriage as “a union between a man and a woman.”
A lay group, Parents in Action, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education for implementing the guidance without consulting key stakeholders, parents, and for trying to indoctrinate children.
The Superior Court of Justice ruled in favor of the parents in August.
Two months ago, the government withdrew the controversial curriculum unilaterally, reinstating the 2009 version of educational guidelines, with no apparent offensive assumptions embedded.
Juan Carlos Puertas Figallo, a Catholic lawyer and founder of the Scalia Association, which participated with an amicus brief supporting Parents in Action, advised the Register by phone that the lawsuit against the Ministry of Education is still pending: Having won in the first tribunal, it will still be heard in a high court this year.
“Catholics are the ones thinking about the dangers of gender theory. To win, all Catholics must make this our battle together,” the lawyer observed.
Just a month after celebrating the government’s retraction of one variant of gender ideology, another one has popped up: Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, normally a fallow period for any bureaucracy, the general secretariat of the Council of Ministers convened a meeting Dec. 28 to approve the “National Human Rights Plan: 2017-2021,” according to Catholic news agency ACI Prensa, which broke the story.
The plan identifies members of the “LGBTI” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex) community as “vulnerable,” therefore requiring protection — in fact, a privileged status. Two other new classes of vulnerability are created by the plan: domestic workers and defenders of human rights.
As Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute (PRI), pointed out to the Register, “This undermines the notion of equality under the law!”
“What we have here is yet another effort to create a protected class of people and impose penalties on those who are accused of discriminating against them,” he said. “It’s a logically imaginary class of people that tends to shrink or grow depending on personal preference, unlike a tribe with clear membership.”
Active in Peru, PRI has tracked how “generously funded outside groups in Canada, the U.S. and the European Union go into relatively poor countries like Peru, recruit a local front and undermine local democracies by imposing foreign values,” said Mosher.
He continued, “Following contraception imperialism and abortion imperialism, we now have gender imperialism.”
Juan Carlos Puertas Figallo agrees. “Most financing, and thinking, to push gender ideology initiatives comes from outside — from the U.N., from [George] Soros, from Planned Parenthood. They send money to NGOs in Peru,” he told the Register.
“It is not a natural question for us, so we need to cut the external financial support,” said Puertas.
Peru’s determined response against gender ideology seems dependent on three sources: lay mobilization, ecumenical collaboration and support from key bishops. Besides the popular galvanization of Catholics, Peru’s growing evangelical Christian movement responded quickly to the challenge and the two faith groups coordinated efficiently.
According to 2014 data from Pew Research Center, 76% of the Peruvian population is Catholic, 17% is Protestant, 4% has no religious affiliation, and 3% listed “other.”
While the Catholic Church and her allies were victorious in 2017 against gender ideology, the fight against these new forms of imperialism will continue into the future in Peru and elsewhere.
Pope Francis is certainly aware of the landscape.
On Jan. 5, in a speech to diplomats accredited to the Vatican (an important annual address covering the Pope’s international priorities), the Holy Father pointed to the “risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see: the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable,” a phenomenon which Peru’s Catholics know too well.
Senior Register correspondent Victor Gaetan
is an award-winning international
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contributor to Foreign Affairs magazine,
the Washington Examiner.