I was saddened to hear about the passing of Blase Bonpane earlier this week. I remember hearing him speak in LA in the 1990s when I was doing an internship, and his lifelong antiwar and economic justice activism helped shape many of my values today and my worldview.
Beginning as a Maryknoll priest, an order known for their social justice stances, Bonpane applied his strong spiritual convictions to the material world. After going to Guatemala in the late 1960s those convictions transformed into what is now known as Liberation Theology, the joining of Christ’s teachings with real world political and economic inequality and injustice. It would become the subject of his doctoral thesis years later.
He witnessed firsthand the violence against the poor and indigenous by the rightwing regime which was installed in Guatemala by the CIA via a coup against the democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954. This was done at the pleasure of United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) who would not allow economic reforms, let alone democracy, to cut into their enormous profits.
His political advocacy for the oppressed earned him the imposed silence of the Church at the behest of the rightwing Guatemalan government. But this did not deter his passion or his activism. He eventually left the order and gained notoriety for exposing the slaughter of thousands of Guatemalans by government death squads with the active support of the US government. He called it America’s “Latin Vietnam.”
A legendary critic of militarism, he condemned many injustices around the world from the Middle-East to Africa to Central America. He and his wife Theresa, a former Maryknoll nun herself, founded the Office of the Americas in order to confront both American Imperialism and political and economic repression in Latin America.
He wisely observed about American society:
“I think we have to deal with the ideology of militarism, because the militarism has become the very fabric of our culture. Militarism has no relationship to democracy. If it’s militarist, it is anti-democratic. And if we base our thinking on might makes right, we really don’t care about who has a claim to anything, and we don’t care about law. We become lawless. Our policy has been lawless in Central America, in South America, in Africa, in the Middle East. It has been lawless. It has been an argument and a policy of power and militarism.”
May he rest in peace, and may all people of conscience gain courage from his life and his convictions to oppose the brutal militarism and fascism we see rising today.
Blase Bonpane, présente! (1929 – 08 April 2019)
Kenn Orphan (2019)