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HONDURAS-RODRIGUEZ (UPDATED) Oct-20-2009 (1,000 words) With photos. xxxi

Cardinal says this might be last chance for Honduras to make changes

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, responds to a question during an interview with Catholic News Service in Tegucigalpa Oct. 19. He discussed the church's role in the country's political crisis. (CNS/Carlos Alberto Ramos)

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (CNS) -- As a resolution of Honduras' political crisis seemed yet again just out of reach, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa told Catholic News Service that this turning point for the nation might be the last opportunity to make fundamental changes and avoid a course toward Venezuelan-style politics.

In an interview Oct. 19 in the Honduran capital, Cardinal Rodriguez described the church's role in mediation; explained his change of heart about ex-President Manuel Zelaya, whom he previously supported; and said he saw the fingerprints of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in aspects of the situation in Honduras.

"I think this can be a good opportunity for politicians to reflect," the cardinal said. "I have been telling them, maybe this will be your last opportunity. Because there are fundamental changes necessary in our country."

On June 28, Zelaya was removed from office with the support of the congress and the supreme court, following a procedure set out in the Honduran Constitution. However, he was flown out of the country to Costa Rica, which violated the constitution.

Zelaya returned surreptitiously in September and has remained holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa while negotiations continue in an effort to resolve the political impasse. A congressionally appointed successor, Roberto Micheletti, has been named interim president, pending a presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29.

The role of the Catholic Church has been the subject of some criticism -- and misunderstanding, according to the cardinal -- since the coup, or as they call it here, the "golpe de estado," literally, a hit on the state.

Although in early July the 11 bishops of Honduras issued a statement calling for understanding and reconciliation "beyond the interests of parties or groups," he said, "nobody is listening to the reality." For instance, he said, there is a perception that he and most of the other bishops are siding with Micheletti, rather than that they are supporting legal actions.

"People are not looking for the truth, but for their versions of it," he said.

"The reality in Honduras is, there is a constitution here," he told CNS. "Everything was done according to our laws, our constitution. But the rest of the world wants to think of things as they want it done. And this is the problem."

Cardinal Rodriguez said the bishops' statement "was not supporting anything (political) but trying to tell the people how to learn from the mistakes of the past."

The cardinal told CNS he read the bishops' statement on television "and five minutes later I was threatened with death." Amid much colorful graffiti in Tegucigalpa related to the coup, there are many references to the cardinal; the tamer comments call him a "golpista," or coup plotter.

Years ago "I was accused of being a liberation theologian and now I am accused of being a 'golpista,'" he noted, chuckling at the irony. "I am the same person. I have not changed, but it all depends upon the sunglasses people have ... or the reading glasses."

He said he thought outside forces were behind some of the actions in Honduras.

The cardinal said he received a message from the bishops of Venezuela "telling me, they are going to do this, and this and this. It was like following a menu. Every step (they followed in Honduras.)"

He said it gave merit to the observation that Honduras is "a testing point" for the kind of politics that enabled Chavez to step into power in Venezuela.

The cardinal said he first visited Venezuela in 1979, when it had a strong democracy amid a hemisphere of military dictatorships.

"But after some very corrupt governments, the political parties disappeared -- like an implosion," he said. "And so, the messiah (Chavez) came out. I think this will happen (in Honduras) if it hasn't started already.

"So maybe this will be our last opportunity to think like a nation, to start with a national plan," the cardinal said.

Early efforts at mediation, led by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and other outside leaders, went nowhere. Because the cardinal was receiving death threats, Tegucigalpa Auxiliary Bishop Juan Pineda Fasquelle eventually became an intermediary in getting Micheletti and Zelaya to start talks.

The cardinal also told CNS he lost faith in Zelaya after learning of corruption -- money stolen from programs meant to aid the poor. He said he had collaborated with Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, on programs like a census of the poorest parts of the country. But he said program money was misused and included the buying of jewelry.

Another Zelaya effort, to hold government meetings in small towns around the country, also seemed to have merit, the cardinal said, adding that he realized later those meetings had "the purpose of instilling hatred between the classes."

One Honduran prelate, Bishop Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan, has made statements supportive of Zelaya. He told CNS in September that poor Hondurans know Zelaya raised the minimum wage and shared government funds with poor, small towns.

Bishop Santos said the country's wealthy elite were behind Zelaya's ouster and that the country needs dialogue between the elite and the poor and working-class citizens.

Cardinal Rodriguez declined to discuss Bishop Santos' apparently contrary position, emphasizing that all 11 Honduran bishops signed the July statement.

"I prefer not to talk about this, but I can tell you we are united," the cardinal said. "Sometimes there is a voice singing out of tune with the choir ... but you're united."

One step toward reconciliation for Honduras would be to work against lies the cardinal said are pervasive.

"It's not impossible because all of us are sons of God. There is only one God, and we are all brothers and sisters," the cardinal said. "So when there is faith, faith has to lead us."

Unfortunately, he said, some people think violence is the only option. But violence leads nowhere, he said, "and so, this is our work."


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