EspañolPope Francis arrived in an Ecuador on edge, after a hectic month of mass demonstrations and protests in several cities across the country. The discontent boiled over in response to bills recently introduced to the legislature — for new taxes on inheritance and capital gains — and demonstrated a rejection of the presidency and the ruling party. Although a constitutionally secular country, eight out of 10 Ecuadorians identify as Catholic, and they eagerly welcomed the leader of the Church.
According to the polling firm CEDATOS, Rafael Correa’s approval rating fell by 14 points — from 60 to 46 percent — between January and June 2015. Given these alarming figures, broad civil unrest, and the imminent need for a truce with constituents, the Ecuadorian government launched a public-relations campaign for the papal visit, to boost the popularity of the president.
However, this backfired and caused even more discontent among the people, due to the flagrant politicization of Pope Francis’s arrival in the country.
On Sunday, July 5, President Rafael Correa gave his welcoming speech to Pope Francis at the airport of Ecuador’s capital. Given pushback over repeated tax hikes, with the stated aim of wealth redistribution for a more egalitarian Ecuadorian society, Correa used the open platform to draw on Pope Francis’s statements regarding poverty, wealth, and its distribution. This tactic preempted remarks from Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in case he might contradict what he had said before on these issues.
Nonetheless, in both of his homilies, Pope Francis spoke about the defense of the family, dialogue, and inclusiveness towards those who hold different opinions. This happens to be the message that some of the leaders of the Ecuadorian opposition, such as Guillermo Lasso, have consistently conveyed.
In contrast, one can clearly identify the “enemy” in Rafael Correa’s speeches. Usually, it is capitalism, the “insulting opulence of the few,” the IMF and its “trickle-down theory,” “perverse political and economic systems,” and “rich countries.” He uses this technique religiously in all his appearances, including his weekly Citizen Link show, and that held true in his speech on Saturday.
By carefully reading the Laudato Si and Lumen Fidei encyclicals, we can deduce that Pope Francis was very cautious in his response. He addressed the distorted interpretations of the social doctrine of the Church included in Correa’s sweeping references, which constantly mention the apparent meeting points between the president’s thoughts and those of the leader of the Church.
Let us analyze some excerpts of President Correa’s speech:
We are deeply committed to protecting our common home, as we have the first constitution in the history of mankind that grants rights to nature. Of our territory, 20 percent is protected in 44 natural reserves and parks. The multicolored range of our flora and fauna complements and enriches the diversity of our human cultures. We also have a mestizo majority, 14 indigenous nationalities with their ancestral languages, including two un-contacted peoples, who have chosen their voluntary isolation in the heart of the virgin forest.
It is contradictory, to say the least, to mention the protection of nature, and of the un-contacted peoples. In fact, the Ecuadorian government has decided to exploit the oil found in the Yasuni National Park, home of the un-contacted peoples of Ecuador.
[The Pope] said to the heads of state at the Summit of the Americas in Panama — and I quote — “inequality, injustice, the unfair distribution of wealth and resources, are a source of conflict among peoples, because they assume that the progress of some is built on the necessary sacrifice of others, and that, to live with dignity, we must fight against each other.”
It is characteristic of the school of economic thought known as 21st-century socialism to assume that wealth is not created or enlarged. Rather, in the minds of adherents, it is like a cake that must be distributed to reduce conflicts. In practice, this has resulted in a complete paradox for Correa, since the tax measures he has tried to implement have themselves generated political conflicts.
The president constantly mentions dignity in his speeches, and this was no exception. In response, Pope Francis mentioned the dignity with which the Ecuadorian people have risen up: “Mr. President, you can always count on the commitment and collaboration of the Church to serve the Ecuadorian people, who have risen up with dignity.”
He reminds all the faithful that the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable, and emphasizes the social function of any form of private property. In his encyclical, [Pope Francis] cites the words of John Paul II, who visited us 30 years ago, when he says “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone,” and — he adds — the Church does defend the right to private property, but teaches no less clearly that all private property has always a social obligation, so that goods may serve the general purpose that God has given them.
It is also important to mention that John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, discusses the right to economic initiative, and the right of people to gather the just fruits of their efforts. He specifically stated: “Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged ‘equality’ for everyone in society, diminishes or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen.”
The Gospel says “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Please be assured that my treasure is not power, but service.
Following this line of reasoning, Correa’s heart is in service, not in power. However, what he asserted bears little accordance with the list of amendments to the 2008 Constitution — drafted during his administration — and those which his party is promoting. They include, among other things, indefinite and immediate reelection. It is no less appropriate to mention that the only Latin-American countries with this approach to the presidency are Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia.
Ana Belén Cordero is an Ecuadorian lawyer and political activist. She holds masters degrees in business law from San Francisco University of Quito and political management from George Washington University in Washington, DC. Follow @anitacebelinco.