Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira



South America: Dangers and Opportunities







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For decades, we have dealt with our Latin American neighbors without fully understanding their ways, heritage or culture. Today, as the importance of South America in the world panorama increases, this policy of misconception is having unfortunate consequences.

Issues like the foreign debts, the Central American powder keg so near our very border and the ominous effects of so called liberation theology have suddenly made Latin America's problems our problems also. At the same time, it is more and more obvious that it is no longer possible to use our old criteria in dealing with them.

To help provide a better insight into Latin America, we are pleased to present to our readers an abridged text of a speech titled "South America: Dangers and Opportunities" by Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, founder and president of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). Professor Corrêa de Oliveira wrote this analysis of the South American situation especially for the Meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Policy Forum held in Dallas on April 26 and 27 (1985).

CORDIAL greetings to the distinguished participants of the Meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Policy Forum in Dallas, and especially to its illustrious and well-deserving president, Morton Blackwell. As president of the National Council of the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and in light of the critical national juncture brought about by the death of President elect Tancredo Neves, I must convey my regrets at the impossibility of delivering some of my thoughts on South America to my peers in person. I am, therefore, sending them in writing.


I am sure that the great South American bloc   which is actually indissociable from all Latin America including Central America and Mexico   has in today's world a much greater weight than imagined by a considerable number of Europeans and North Americans who are still influenced the by outdated clichés and stereotypes.

1. The Negative Persistence of Old Clichés

The picture of what is happening in Latin America conveyed by the mass media is often incomplete or one sided and customarily presents mere verbose humanitarian lucubrations with a large dose of demagoguery.

Without citing here the complete list of clichés and stereotypes about Latin America whose replacement to me seems necessary and urgent, I must at least state the three Latin American topics that appear most frequently in the international news: the problem of the foreign debts of several countries, notably Argentina, Brazil and Mexico; the authentic risks that the occupation of Nicaragua by Sandinista communism poses for the stability of Central and North America; and the indigent state of considerable portions of the region's populations. Yet these topics far from encompass all the most significant aspects of reality in this part of the world and in the nations flourishing here.

2. The Positive Side of Reality

However, reality also has its positive side. The incalculable wealth of resources   both in land and sea   of practically the whole region and the rapid development that has already made many Iberian American cities thriving centers of population enjoying great industrial and commercial expansion attest this. For example, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sâo Paulo and Mexico City number today among the most important cities on the globe. This progress is based upon a rationalized, mechanized and expansionist agriculture that is conquering areas formerly dominated in part by laziness and ineffective methods and in part by a natural terrain not completely tamed by man. Thus, it can already be said that the Latin American bloc is destined to become a great world power that will emerge in the dawn of the twenty first century.

3. One Positive Aspect Especially Important to the Future: Latin American Unity

I am speaking of Latin America as a single bloc not only from the geographical point of view but also from the ethnic, cultural and historical points of view. Spain and Portugal, who together begot the Iberian American nations, form an ethnic and cultural whole bonded by a common historical past. This profoundly influenced their colonies in America, just as the British ethnic and cultural heritage can be felt in the United States and English Canada. To this can be added other important factors of concord. Almost all Iberian American countries still have extensive tracts of uninhabited land for possible expansion, a fact that discourages border disputes among them. Furthermore, it must be stressed that all the Latin American peoples are Roman Catholic through their Iberian heritage. The large immigrant groups of the nineteenth century were characteristically comprised of Catholic people such as the Italian and Syrian immigrants, who, in turn, added to the religious unity of the bloc. An Iberian American motto with a slightly exaggerated oratorical emphasis affirms that "Everything unites us, and nothing separates us." This would be difficult to say with equal veracity about other vast areas of the earth. I must add that this Catholic character was preserved in Latin America with the particularly Iberian note of a deep attachment to the Holy See and to local ecclesiastical authorities.


1. The Methods of Communist Expansion Until the 1940s

From Marx until the end of World War II, communism employed two methods of expansion more or less simultaneously:

a) Doctrinal proselytism, which was the open and categorical preaching of both Marx's critique on the capitalist system and of his socioeconomic regime, which is totalitarian and ultimately anarchistic.

b) Attacks on the public authority through violence, sometimes manifested by terrorist actions against individuals, sometimes by social revolutions. This provoked the "revenge" of the Nazis and Fascists, which to some extent can be described as "the same reaction in the opposite direction." 

2. Communist Tactics After World War II

Since World War II, communist tactics have undergone important changes:

a) Imperialist expansion has become much more important not only through warfare but also increasingly through politics, economics and culture.

b) Expansionist warfare policies still continue to play a prominent role. But communism has sought to disguise its "crusade against the Cross" behind "patriotic" geopolitical motives and others.

c) The explicit ideological proselytism continues, although it is losing strength. In general, free peoples are immune to it.

d) Ideologies similar to communism, wherein communism incubates in order to circulate more freely, have taken on a primary importance; communism uses these "parallel" movements to prepare for its proselytism. This implicit preparation makes it much easier for explicit communist doctrine (to which the great majority of peoples are adverse) to draw new adherents.

e) The tactic of infiltrating non communist organizations is becoming increasingly sophisticated and widespread with the help of "useful innocents" and "fellow travelers," and the use of artifices such as the "salami tactic," the "dropping of ideological barriers" and detenté.

f) Leftist "useful innocents" and "fellow travelers" in leadership roles and positions in bourgeois society often exert an imperceptible proselytizing action, which is another type of activism. Whether in political, military, university, publicity, religious or other sectors, these subordinates contrive to strategically provide information and advice cleverly gauged to serve Moscow's interests, to make suggestions harmful to the free world and to provide their communist cronies with important information.

g) The pressure exerted by a leftist press, certain political circles and, although less frequently, some personalities and interest groups who contradictorily claim to be centrist or rightist leads countries and public and private economies to adopt, at a gradual but accelerating pace, statist forms; from these, they advance closer and closer to total state capitalism. Thus is born revolutionary psychological warfare which serves the world communist revolution and embraces many other aspects too numerous to list here.


Religious circles and issues, as well as the religious and moral aspects of certain issues not intrinsically religious, have considerably greater importance in South America and in the whole of Iberian America than in other parts of the world. This is especially the case when they deal with communist/anticommunist options.

Since the 1940s and even the mid 1930s, one of the primary concerns of communist expansionism has been the ideological infiltration of the religious sectors of society. This follows the premise that once such infiltration is complete, communism will have ipso facto won the battle. To understand this, the subject must be purged of certain incorrect notions that contain only parts of reality while purporting to contain the whole reality.

1. An Old Cliché of Communist Propaganda: The Unfair Distribution of Wealth

The first of these notions has it that in South America, as in Central America and Mexico, the improper distribution of wealth has created a monstrous economic structure: a few tycoonish fortunes form one pole, and the starving multitudes another. Intermediate levels allegedly do not exist. The continual friction between these two poles supposedly generates clashes that are presently on the verge of igniting a spontaneous, uncontrollable class struggle and social revolution. In short, this brutally simplistic picture, true to some extent but bereft of all nuances, is primarily a monotonous repetition of the propaganda clichés that were used in 1917 to explain the communist revolution in Russia to a bewildered world. This picture, which presents the economic factor as the single motor of social revolution, betrays the influence of the communist ideology, which sustains that the economy is ultimately the sole main spring of history.

2. The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, the "Fifth Branch of Government"

With the exception of Argentina, which has maintained a union between the Catholic Church and the state (although this is a primarily symbolic situation virtually void of juridical consequences), all the countries of Latin America are officially secular. However, this does not prevent the influence of the Catholic Church from being such that the ecclesiastical hierarchy constitutes the "Fifth Branch of Government" in each one of those republics. Accordingly, the Executive is the First Branch; the Legislative, the Second; and the Judiciary, the Third. The macro capitalist press of the private sphere would constitute the Fourth Branch. The ecclesiastical hierarchy (also located in the private sphere according to the dictates of the secular state) would form the Fifth.

3. The Three Branches of Government In Relation to Communism

The three branches of government have been employed both for and against communism's quest to conquer public opinion and the state.

In reality, not only Allende's Chile but at certain times in contemporary history also Bolivia and Velasco Alvarado's Peru have all had governments (First, Second and Third Branches) that were used to steer the state and society (and through it, public opinion) in a strongly communist direction. However, this has achieved little up to the present. The Fourth and Fifth Branches no doubt aided the communist propensities of the other branches. But for strictly circumstantial reasons, the Fourth and Fifth Branches in those countries thought it necessary to refrain from a total, ostensive and emphatic commitment to communism.

In Brazil and post Allende Chile, on the contrary, the first three branches of government have been widely used to promote anticommunist action.

4. In Brazil, the Episcopate Rejected Any Collaboration with the Anticommunist Action of the State

In Brazil, the Episcopate (the largest in the world, with 368 bishops) rejected any collaboration with the anticommunist action of the state. A large part of the leaders of the Fifth Branch discreetly (and in some cases, quite indiscreetly) favored the revolutionary psychological warfare waged by one communist wing; this was not the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B), which is the violent, terrorist branch rigidly suppressed by the police, but rather the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), the peaceful, ideological and proselytizing wing that has deeply in filtrated intellectual circles and even Catholic seminaries, as well as some snobbish circles of the high  and middle class bourgeoisie. It has also infiltrated and this can never be emphasized enough the press through various writers and editors, as well as the arts, radio, television and theatrical circles. Under the military regime, the PCB enjoyed almost complete liberty.

5. In Brazil, the Decisive Force in the Reformist Movement Is the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy

Thus, the communist forces have had an ostentatious role throughout the Brazilian political "opening" process (abertura). I insist on the word ostentatious to show that this role was grossly inflated by the mass media.

Both communist parties are being used as scarecrows by the communists and their socialist partisans to make the landowners and the industrial, commercial and land development firms imagine that they will soon be swallowed by communist violence if they refuse their consent to urgent social reforms that will mutilate the institution of private property and deprive it of its fundamental balance.

Having strongly favored leftist change, the massive and only truly decisive force within the reformist movement permeating this country is the Fifth Branch, which, if successful, will leave the country only a few steps away from a communist socio-economic regime.

This situation has not lacked the collaboration of the other four branches even under our recent military regime, where the number of nationalized companies and subsidiaries practically quintupled. At the end of the 1950s, the number of state controlled businesses was 121; at the end of the 1970s, which coincides with the expiration of President Geisel's mandate (1974 79), that number had risen to 560.

At present, Brazil's collapse into an "advanced" socialist regime leaning heavily toward communism is being prodded on principally by the Catholic left. For this reason, the following question is crucial: How far in that direction will the immense Catholic majority allow itself to be led by the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB)? (Cf. IV, 4)

6. Brazil and Chile: Different Attitudes Toward the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy

In Chile, the general lines of this picture are quite similar to those of Brazil. However, among the serious elements of diversification that distinguish the immense Atlantic Brazilian republic from the Chilean nation with its long Pacific coastline, one fundamental difference stands out.

The Brazilian military regime frantically avoided any overall clash with the CNBB, limiting itself to the inevitable friction caused by the imprudence of several bishops and priests taken individually.

Chile's more clear sighted military regime has not retreated from global clashes with the Chilean Bishops' Conference (CECH) and allows the cultural, "peaceful" wing of Chilean communism less freedom. This has somewhat stemmed the revolutionary psychological warfare in that country and afforded the military regime the conditions for what could be, as it appears at the moment, a long term of power; it could also create conditions that, at a certain point, would allow the country to return to a civil regime equipped to defend itself effectively from communism.


In view of these facts, let us cast a questioning glance at today's situation: What kind of tomorrow is it preparing for us?

Let me warn you beforehand that I will use the word politicized in a special sense: to designate one who is culturally accustomed to considering the collective good, both as a whole and in its principal elements one who is accustomed to observing the relationships between the common good and the individual good, and to duly evaluating the temperate and harmonious primacy of the former over the latter.

Strictly speaking, politicization in this sense concerns both the temporal society (the state) and the spiritual society (the Church). The individual who is completely politicized thus possesses the capacity to know and adequately consider the common good of both.

I will also speak about "conscientization" as a preliminary stage of politicization. The individual who has become "conscious" of his necessities and individual rights (whether real or fictitious) even to the degree they exist for multitudes and are problems of the state is "conscientized." A fully "conscientized" individual is ipso facto politicized.

1. Politicized Catholics: Progressivists. Conservatives and Reactionaries

Politicized Catholics form a divided minority inside the Church. Some call themselves progressivists. For them, progress lies in directing the Church (and, concurrently, the temporal society) toward increasing equality. In other words, in the Church. it entails the concomitant erosion of the papacy's prestige and powers by bishops, clerics and lay men. In the temporal sphere, these politicized individuals similarly tend toward an increasingly egalitarian society, whose goal is the completely horizontal and egalitarian self management envisioned by Marx as a successive stage to state capitalism.

Symmetrically, there are the politicized who call themselves conservatives and who want to progress in spiritual matters no farther than the reforms of Vatican II. In the temporal sphere, they frequently tend toward the preservation of existing society, perhaps slightly reformed here or there.

Finally, there are the reactionary Catholics, who are nostalgic for the religious situation as it was until the end of the pontificate of Pius XII. In the temporal sphere, they often desire the abolition of socialization and the egalitarian laws promulgated since the 1940s.

2. Unequal Distribution of Progressivists, Conservatives and Reactionaries Among the Clergy and the Laity

Most of the bishops, clerics and religious are divided, although unequally, into these three currents. The progressivists are a decided and active minority; the conservatives are an indecisive and indolent majority, and there are almost no reactionaries.

Among the laity, however, the situation is perceptibly different.

The progressivists among laymen constitute a minority proportionally much smaller than among the clergy, and their components are less resolute; on the contrary, the conservatives are much more numerous, although even more irresolute; and the number of reactionaries is somewhat greater and, above all, much more decided.

The conservatives among the clergy and the laity rarely speak out. However, their weight, which is primarily static, is considerable. Progressivists and reactionaries argue extensively. They are moved much less by the hope of gaining converts from the opposite camp than by the hope of attracting, with the commotion caused by their arguments, the attention and support of new followers from this conservative sector, this "no man's land."

This last group is formed mostly of people who are only scarcely if at all politicized. Their position is much less a thought out conviction than a tradition.

3. The Weight of The Religious Factor in the Determination of South America's Future

For this reason, the progressivist and reactionary minorities are gradually gaining ground in the conservative majority. Who will win the fight? Their power, methods of action and tactics are so different that the battle is reminiscent of the Fight between one gladiator with trident and shield, and another with helmet, cuirass, shield and short sword.

In any event, the final victory will belong to the one who knows how to incorporate the most influential, most dynamic and largest faction of the conservatives.

It is from this still undecided state of affairs that the possible directions of Catholic opinion can, step by step, be discerned in Brazil and, mutatis mutandis, in the other countries of South America.

At present, the future of South America is being decided in light of the debate inside the Church. If, in the name of the Faith, the Catholic majority swings toward theological and socioeconomic egalitarianism, South America will become communist. If, in the name of the Faith, it resists that egalitarianism, South America will be against communism.

I would like to note in passing that, in the former case, it would become anti-American, and its twelve countries would become as much puppets of Moscow as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Cuba of Castro, or the Nicaragua of Ortega, to mention only a few of the unfortunate nations under the communist yoke.

From the American point of view, South America, with 260 million inhabitants, 6.8 million square miles and incalculable economic and strategic possibilities, can be compared to a gigantic pendulum that swings between Moscow and Washington.

The final resting point of this pendulum, with its immense international, political and socioeconomic scope, will not be determined merely by the influence of the religious factor. But it seems to me that the religious factor will have a key role in the choice symbolized by this pendular movement.

4. The Two Images of the Church Between Which the Conservative Catholic Is Called to Choose

From the logical and psychological standpoints, what are the terms of the choice the conservative Latin American Catholic must make?

Because of his religious formation, and especially because of the Iberian character of this formation, he will not attempt to solve the problem merely according to his personal preferences. Rather, he will, above all, want to ascertain what side the Church hierarchy is on.

For this reason, he will have to make an interior choice between two images of the Church:

a) The one seen in the majestic, glittering continuity of the socio-economic teachings of the Church from Saint Peter to Pius XII, which will invite him to interpret the teachings and the conduct of the Holy See and Vatican II in this light.

b) The "rejuvenated" image, belonging more to the future than the present which is described to him by those who attempt to interpret everything the Church has taught and done since John XXIII and Vatican II in a progressivist sense, and even interpret the teachings of the pre medieval Church in this light.

The latter image presents the medieval and Tridentine periods as religiously deficient and decadent, a position that horrifies the conservatives   just as conservatives are horrified by certain reactionaries' criticism of Vatican II and the post conciliar Church.

5. Leading Role of John Paul II in the Choice of the Conservatives

Among Catholics, the number of Sede Vacantists (those who deny the authenticity of John XXIII and his successors) is inconsequential, albeit perhaps greater than many think. It is, therefore, highly improbable that they can significantly influence this tragic choice facing conservative Catholics.

So it is obvious that, realistically speaking, the leading role in this choice facing the conservatives falls to John Paul II. In principle, it would seem that the path will follow the direction he chooses.

6. It Is Unforeseeable to What Degree the Present Pontiff Will Use His Prerogatives

But, in fact, the situation could be completely different or, at least, some what different from this.

Considering things merely from a human standpoint, the factors that could lead a pope to not say or not do part or all that he wants, especially in these times of confusion and convulsion, are in numerable. We need only remember Pius VI and Pius VII, who ruled the Church successively during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. Thus, while I most willingly render due homage to the wise and timely pronouncements of John Paul II, whether made by him or through the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, it is nonetheless not at all easy to foresee to what degree he will use his prerogatives at this immense historical crossroads where South America finds itself.

No matter what direction South America takes, it is improbable that it will be able to carry with it an organized and united world. But, given the right circumstances, decisive fragments of our deeply troubled and radically divided world might follow in its footsteps.

Be that as it may, who can calculate the plurality of contradictory pressures to which the Pope is subjected as a consequence of this problem, one among so many others? Christian virtue must no doubt require that some of these pressures be taken into account and that others, with Faith and confidence in God, be challenged and written off as irrelevant. How abundant, or even superabundant, will be the graces with which Divine Providence, who loves and guides the Holy Church, will help the Pope at every step? How will the Pope use his free will in each instance?

These are august and sublime mysteries, which are not given to us to fathom.

However, it is certain that, by the inscrutable designs of the wisdom and goodness of God, unpredictable disasters that strike terror and surprising triumphs that enlighten even the most critical minds can occur in the course of the Church's future, as has happened in her past.

It is also certain that, in view of the present situation in South America and throughout Latin America, the doctrinal battle between progressivist and reactionary Catholics and the position of conservatives in this battle have a capital importance.