Coming up: Church & party in Spain

It's been a complicated week, in my life as well as in Spain's. We just got back to Carboneras and my home Internet connection on Wednesday, after 2 very busy weeks in Madrid. And meanwhile, the hierarchs of the Spanish Catholic Church launched a surprise offensive on the Socialist government, which has gone to great lengths to appease them. Excessive lengths, in my opinion. The State still subsidizes the Church, and pays the salaries of military chaplains and religion teachers in public schools who are hired and fired by the bishops. And despite all this, at a huge rally in Madrid the day before New Year's Eve, supposedly to defend "the family," Cardinal Agustín García-Gasco thundered that "Radical laicism [i.e., the threatened separation of Church and State] is leading to the dissolution of democracy!"

Democracy? What does the all-male dominated, vertically commanded Church with its infallible pope know about democracy? This cluster of cardinals is taking a stand to the right of Pope Benedict, and openly siding with the conservative Popular Party. But rather than take pot-shots at purple-clad targets, I want to investigate these serious social questions:

What is causing this sudden ecclesiastic politicization? An upcoming election within the Church for control of the Bishops Conference is one vector, intersecting with the also proximate national elections (announced for March) for civil authorities, but mere coincidence (or contemporaneity) doesn't explain what is making certain cardinals so belligerent.

A second question is: How serious is all this going to be politically? Do the cardinals really control very many votes in contemporary Spain?

And we must also ask what it is about "laicism", homosexual unions and abortion that gets Spanish clergy so much more outraged than their counterparts in other European countries. Of even whether those are the real issues, or rather the public relations front to cover a more serious fear of the Spanish clergy: the threatened loss of their privileged institutional status and financing in a Church-State concordat still in effect since the Franco years.

I don't promise to answer all these questions, but simply to reframe them as hypotheses that can be proven or disproven. They are important for understanding Spain, and Spain is important for understanding the world.


Venezuela commentary in Spanish

Those of you who read Spanish may be interested in the commentary that my colleague, Baltasar Lotroyo, and I have been writing on another blog, Lecturas y lectores.

Protégete de los vacilantes (on the Dec. 2 referendum vote)

Otra visión de Caracas. Visit to the posh "Country Club" section and to the club itself, and to a very skillfully designed and popular shopping center, with the center's architect.

Política y espacio. A visit to Caracas' notorious "23 de Enero" housing project (mammoth superblocks, a violent political history) in August 2007. Photos.

"Socialismo del s. xxi": Hugo Chávez' big idea.

Hugo Chávez' military strength and problem

Last month's "No" vote in the referendum on changing the Venezuelan constitution, despite Hugo Chávez's energetic campaigning for "Sí", came as something of a surprise, given his continuing high approval ratings. It showed that not everybody who voted for him (over 60% in the last election) is willing to follow him anywhere he wants to lead, suggesting that the Venezuelan electorate is maturing and discriminating. The other surprise, to those who think of him as a dictator, was that Chávez accepted the result.

Jorge Castañeda, Mexican politólogo and former foreign minister (under President Vicente Fox), offered a cynical explanation of that second surprise: that army officers who knew that the vote was negative (hours before any public announcement) let him know that they would not tolerate fraud. (See Castañeda's article in El País, ¿Qué pasó en Venezuela?)

We can't know whether this is what really happened -- Castañeda's informed speculation is dubious, and his anti-Chávez bias is apparent. But Nikolas Kozloff's Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the United States (2006. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), originally published in 2006 and recently re-published as a paperback, includes two chapters suggesting that something like that is at least possible: "Chávez's Civil-Military Alliance" and "The Test of Chávez's Civil-Military Alliance" (pp. 71-104).

The "test" of his alliance with the military was the short-lived coup (Ap. 11-14, 2002), which Hugo survived by a hair, thanks to intervention of two generals (Carneiro & Baduel) and lower ranks, which changed the structure of the alliance in 2 ways: 1, allowing Chávez to identify and purge those most likely to betray his revolution, but 2, making very clear his dependence on those other officers who saved him but whose vision of the Bolivarian revolution does not depend entirely on his.

For more information and also some good laughs, see this video of Nikolas Kozloff on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Aug. 20, 2007.