President Eisenhower and U.S. Covert Plan Against Cuba

The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published two important and largely declassified documents relating to the initial U.S. (Eisenhower Administration) response in 1959-60  to the Cuban Revolution. Here are summaries of those documents.

“A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime”[1]      .

The author of this document, dated March 16, 1960, was the 5412 Committee, which was “the name given to the group assigned responsibility for the planning and conduct of covert operations” and whose “working methods and the people who compose it should be protected.” After its name apparently was published in a 1964 book, The Invisible Government by David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, the name was changed to an “utterly drab and innocuous” name, the 303 Committee, without altering its “composition, function or responsibility.”[2]

The “Objective” of this proposed covert program was “to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner as to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention. Essentially the method of accomplishing this end will be to induce, support, and so far as possible direct action, both inside and outside of Cuba, by selected groups of Cubans of a sort that they might be expected to and could undertake on their own initiative.”

This proposed program to be undertaken by the CIA had the following four “major courses of action:”

  • The “creation of a responsible, appealing and unified Cuban opposition to the Castroregime, publicly declared as such and therefore necessarily located outside of Cuba.”
  • “So that the opposition may be heard and Castro’s basis of popular support undermined, it is necessary to develop the means for mass communication to the Cuban people so that a powerful propaganda offensive can be initiated in the name of the declared opposition. The major [proposed] tool . . . is a long and short wave gray broadcasting facility. . . “ [3]
  • “Work is already in progress in the creation of a covert intelligence and action organization within Cuba which will be responsive to the orders and directions of the ‘exile’ opposition.”
  • ”Preparations have already been made for the development of an adequate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistic support of covert military operations on the Island. . . . [This force will] be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one or more active centers of resistance. . . . [A] limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration and exfiltration already exists under CIA”[4]

President Eisenhower’s Approval of the Program of Covert Action[5]

CIA Director Allen Dulles presented a summary of the above Plan for Covert Action at a White House meeting on March 17, 1960.

In response, President Eisenhower said, “he knows of no better plan for dealing with this situation. The great problem is leakage and breach of security. Everyone must be prepared to swear that he has not heard of it. He said we should limit American contacts with the groups involved to two or three people, getting Cubans to do most of what must be done.  . . . [The President] understood that the effort will be to undermine Castro’s position and prestige.”

The President  “told Mr. Dulles . . . [to] go ahead with the plan and the operations.” The President, however, added, “that, as he saw it, Castro the Revolutionary had gained great prestige in Latin America. Castro the Politician running the government is now losing it rapidly. However, governments elsewhere cannot oppose him too strongly since they are shaky with respect to the potentials of action by the mobs within their own countries to whom Castro’s brand of demagoguery appeals. Essentially the job is to get the OAS to support us.”

Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Anderson,  said “Castro is trying to inflame Cuban opinion and create an incident against the Americans which would touch off attacks on Americans in Cuba which might result in the death of thousands. The President stated that once . . . [the paramilitary invasion] gets started, there will be great danger to the Americans in Cuba.” Anderson added, “that if Cuba is to seize the Nicaro plant [6]  or other U.S. Government property, we could not stand on the sidelines. In response to a question by the President, it was brought out that there is no treaty on this, and that Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given.” (Emphasis added.)[7]

In addition to those already mentioned,  this meeting was attended by the following officials: Vice President Richard Nixon; Secretary of State Christian Herter; John N. Irwin, II, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations; General Goodpastor, White House Staff Secretary;  Major John Eisenhower, Assistant Staff Secretary to the President (and the President’s son); Colonel J.C. King, Chief of CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division; Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Mr. Roy R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; Richard Bissel, CIA Deputy Director for Plans; and Gordon Gray, U.S. National Security Advisor.

Other Eisenhower Administration Documents About Cuba[8]

The above documents are contained in a collection of 629 documents published in 1991 by the State Department’s Office of the Historian. It is available online and contains the following parts:

  1. U.S. interest in the Cuban revolution, the overthrow of the Batista government, and the consolidation of power by Fidel Castro, reevaluation by the U.S. Government of the policy of shipping arms to the Batista government, January-June 1958 (Documents 1-68).
  2. Kidnapping of U.S. citizens by Cuban rebels, June-July 1958 (Documents 69-106).
  3. Continuing violence during the Cuban electoral campaign and reappraisal by the U.S. Government of its support of the Batista government (Documents 107-151).
  4. Fall of the Batista government, November-December 1958 (Documents 152-206).
  5. Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, January-April 1959 (Documents 207-272).
  6. Visit to the United States by Prime Minister Castro, April 1959 (Documents 273-305).
  7. The Cuban Government’s promulgation of an agrarian reform law, and the question of asylum for Batista, May-October 1959 (Documents 306-369).
  8. Adoption by the Department of State and the Eisenhower administration of a revised policy toward Cuba, October 1959-January 1960 (Documents 370-423).
  9. Recall of Ambassador Bonsal and formulation within the U.S. Government of a program of covert action against the Castro government, January -April 1960 (Documents 424-498).
  10. Inauguration by the U.S. Government of a policy to weaken the Cuban economy, April-July 1960 (Documents 499-548).
  11. Response by the United States and the Organization of American States to signs of increased Soviet support for the Cuban government, July-September 1960 (Documents 549-580).
  12. Consideration by the U.S. Government of possible severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, September-December 1960 (Documents 581-629).

Conclusion

A reasonably informed student of U.S. history already would know that in the early months of the Kennedy Presidency in 1961 the U.S. supported an unsuccessful paramilitary invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón) and that this operation had been planned in the later days of the Eisenhower Administration. Thus, the above documents from the earlier administration merely provide details on its planning for this invasion.  In addition, these two documents indicate that the earlier administration  was actively engaged in trying to create, on the island and elsewhere, a Cuban opposition to Castro and a covert intelligence and action organization on the island; as well as a radio propaganda program whose signals would be sent to the island. These facets also are not surprising given what we already knew about this period.

This understanding of the historical context also may partially explain the cursory treatment of these two documents in an excellent and well documented book about the U.S. and Cuba by U.S. experts on Cuba, William M. Leo Grande and Peter Kornbluh: Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2014). However, as the book’s title suggests, its focus is on negotiations between the two countries, not on what was happening that led to negotiations. In any event, here is what is what this book said about these two documents:

  • “On March 17,. . . Eisenhower signed a top secret authorization for ‘A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,’ giving the CIA the green light to begin covert paramilitary operations to roll back the Cuban revolution.” This was the same day that Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, rejected “ a feeler” put forward by a legal advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mario Lazo, to Cuban Treasury Minister López-Fresque that the U.S. “was prepared to work aggressively to halt that exile flights from Florida that were burning Cuban sugar cane fields . . . if the Cubans , in return, would be prepared to engage in serious talks on a broad range of issues.” (Pp. 33-34)
  • The Covert Plan of March 1960, as quoted above, called for the development of a TOP SECRET paramilitary force to invade Cuba which in fact happened in April 1961 in the early days of the John F. Kennedy Administration. The LeoGrande and Kornbluh book merely states the following: “as president-elect, [Kennedy] . . . was briefed by the CIA on Eisenhower’s covert paramilitary project to invade Cuba with an exile brigade. As president, [Kennedy] . . . ignored the entreaties of several Latin American governments that, at Cuba’s behest, tried to intercede at the last minute to broker a U.S.-Cuba dialogue before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Instead, Kennedy gave the green light, sending a CIA-led paramilitary exile force at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] on April 17, 1961, in the hope that the invaders would somehow spark a popular uprising. They didn’t, and within seventy-two hours, the brigade’s beachhead had collapsed; more than twelve hundred of them were taken prisoner.” (Pp. 42-43.)[9]

These two documents also recently were referred or alluded to by a Cuban source.[10]  However, these references were merely jumping-off places for a diatribe against the U.S. Some of these other points may be justified, but they would need to be analyzed, carefully and dispassionately. Moreover, this Cuban source ignores the progress that was made in addressing these and other issues in the two countries’ bilateral meetings in 2015-16.[11]

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[1]  Paper Prepared by the 5412 Committee (Mar. 16, 1960) (# 481).

[2] National Security Action Memorandum No. 303 (June 2, 1964).

[3] In 1983 President Ronald Reagan established Radio Marti, whose mission was to hasten the fall of Cuban President Fidel Castro and communism on the island. (Radio Marti, Wikipedia.)

[4] This is an obvious reference to the paramilitary force that invaded Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in April 1961 during the Kennedy Administration.

[5] Memorandum of a Conference With the President, White House, Washington, March 17, 1960, 2:30 p.m.

[6]  During WWII, the U.S. government built a nickel processing plant near Nicaro, Cuba under a U.S.-Cuba treaty that exempted the plant from Cuban taxes. The plant was closed after the war in 1947, but reopened with improvements in 1952. After the Cuban Revolution took control of the country’s government in January 1959, Cuba that same year adopted a new mining law imposing sharply increased taxes on mining and export of minerals. In protest the U.S. stopped shipments from the plant in December 1959. Thereafter Fidel and Che made frequent verbal attacks on the U.S. over the plant; and in October 1960 Cuba nationalized the plant. (Bart, Flow of Nickel from Cuba Halts, N.Y. Times (Dec. 18, 1959); U.S. Nickel Plant Hindered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Mar. 25, 1960); NICARO Talks to Reopen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 1960); Soviet Mission in Cuba: Group Plans Help to Reopen U.S. Nicaro Nickel Plant, N.Y.Times (Nov. 30, 1960); Veloz Placencia, Che’s passion for the nickel industry, Granma (Aug. 23, 2017).

[7] This admission by a top U.S. government official in 1960 that “Cuba of course has the right to confiscate the plant so long as compensation is given” should not be forgotten in the ongoing dispute over Cuban compensation for its expropriation of U.S.-owned property in Cuba and the U.S. recent steps to allow enforcement of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. It also must be remembered that Cuba over the years repeatedly has admitted  that it has such an obligation under international law, that Cuba has resolved similar claims by other countries and that in various U.S.-Cuba discussions in 2015-16 the two parties exchanged information about compensation for such properties. Finally it cannot be forgotten that Cuba does not have the financial resources to make such compensation in full.

[8] In more than 450 individual volumes the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian has published Foreign Relations of the United States series to offer the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity.”

[9] In a footnote LeoGrande and Kornbluh say the best account of the Bay of Pigs disaster is Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1979). See also Kornbluh, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (National Security Archive Documents)(New York, The New Press, 1998)

[10] Escuela, Cuba denounces war on our people, Granma (May 22, 2019).

[11] See posts listed in the “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2015” and “U.S. (Obama) & Cuba (Normalization), 2016” sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

 

 

U.S. Announces Suspension of Military Aid to Cameroon

On February 6 the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. was suspending some military aid to the West African country of Cameroon. The U.S. had terminated a C-130 aircraft training program; halted deliveries of four defender boats, nine armored vehicles and an upgrade of a Cessna aircraft for Cameroon’s rapid intervention battalion; and withdrawn its offer for Cameroon to be part of the State Partnership Program. “For the time being, other programs will continue,” a State Department official said.

The reason for this action was concern over alleged human rights abuses by the country’s security forces. The State Department said, ‘We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it. We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.”

The U.S. decision comes after videos circulated online last year showing Cameroonian security forces shooting and killing civilians, including women with small children strapped to their backs. The videos were documented by Amnesty International and global media outlets.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said in December that he feared the separatist crisis could get “much, much” worse and warned against a “brutal response” to extremism, saying it could lead to radicalization. Cameroon also faces a deadly threat from fighters with the Boko Haram extremist group based in neighboring Nigeria.

The United Nations has said some 430,000 people in Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest regions have fled the fighting between security forces and English-speaking separatists who seek independence from the largely French-speaking country.

Reactions

There was no immediate comment from Cameroon’s government on the U.S. action. In recent months, however, it has ordered investigations into some of the alleged abuses and some people have been arrested.

The U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Rene Emmanuel Barlerin, on February 7 said,”We are not going to stop security cooperation with Cameroon. We have our differences, Cameroon is a sovereign country and the United States is a sovereign country,” after meeting with Cameroon’s government. The Ambassador added, “Relations between Cameroon and the United States are excellent and longstanding and we aim to continue that relationship.”

Also on February 7, at a U.S.  Senate Committee on Armed Services hearing, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said Cameroon has “been a good partner with us counterterrorism-wise, but you can’t neglect the fact that . . . there are alleged atrocities.” The General also testified that last October, before Cameroon’s widely contested presidential elections, he and the U.S. ambassador to the country had “a very direct conversation” with its President Paul Biya about investigations into alleged atrocities and “appropriate battlefield behavior. We were very emphatic with President Biya that the behavior of his troops, the lack of transparency could have a significant impact on our ability to work with them.” 

Commander Candice Tresch, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, noted, “the U.S. government does not provide assistance to security force units or individuals where we have credible information that the unit committed a gross violation of human rights.We have informed the Cameroonian government that lack of progress and clarity about actions undertaken by the government in response to credible information of gross violations of human rights could result in a broader suspension of U.S. assistance.”

France, which administered what has become the Francophone region of Cameroon under a mandate from the League of Nations after World War I until the early 1950’s, said it would not follow the U.S. suspension of military aid to the country’s government. A French Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said, ”France is bound by a defense partnership agreement that it conducts according to the international standards. In accordance with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict, this cooperation is also intended to help Cameroon’s defense and security forces combat terrorism, especially against Boko Haram in the north of the country, while protecting the people. This cooperation continues.”

This French position may be influenced by its significant business interests in its former colony and by its reliance on Cameroon to fight against Islamist militants. France, therefore, has been careful not to overly criticize the government’s handling of the crisis. It has urged the Cameroonian government to engage in dialogue to stop an escalation in violence.

Amnesty International (AI) supported the U.S. decision and urged the U.S. to suspend all security assistance “until the Cameroonian government can show it has not been utilized to commit serious violations of international law and persons responsible have been held accountable.” AI also AI also called on the Trump administration to press other donors to review their assistance to Cameroon and insist on reforms.

Conclusion

As demonstrated by several earlier posts, this blogger fully supports the U.S. decision and urges other countries and international organizations, including the United Nations and the African Union, to take actions supporting increased pressures on the Cameroon government to stop its harassment, persecution and killings of Anglophones in its country.

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Assoc. Press, US Cuts Military aid to Cameroon Over Human Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Halts Some Cameroon Military Assistance Over Human Rights: Official, N.Y. Times (Feb. 6, 2019); Reuters, France Says to Continue Military Cooperation with Cameroon, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Moki, US ambassador says Cameroon relations good despite aid cut, Wash. Post (Feb. 6, 2019);  O’Grady, U.S. cuts some military assistance to Cameroon, citing allegations of human rights violations, Wash. Post (Feb. 7, 2019). 

The Canonization of Oscar Romero

On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis at the Vatican canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Vatican’s press release briefly stated the following:

  • “Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 as he was saying Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital where he lived.  He was an outspoken voice for the poorest people of his country, so got caught up in a conflict between the military government and guerilla groups that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives.”
  • “Thirty five years later, he was declared a martyr of the Church, killed out of hatred of the faith, and was beatified on May 23rd[1]

Pope Francis, who wore the bloodstained rope belt that Romero wore when he was assassinated, canonized Romero and Pope Paul VI at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before about 70,000 faithful, a handful of presidents and 5,000 Salvadoran pilgrims who traveled to Rome to honor a man whom many Latin Americans consider a hero. Back in El Salvador’s capital, tens of thousands more Salvadorans stayed up all night to watch the Mass on giant TV screens outside the cathedral where Romero’s remains are entombed. Below are photographs of the crowd at St. Peter’s, Pope Francis and of  photographs of Romero and Pope Paul VI hung on the exterior of St. Peter’s.

 

 

 

Pope Francis’ Homily

In his homily Pope Francis said that Romero “left the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to give his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.”

The homily was based upon Hebrews: 4: 12-13 (NRSV): “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The passage from Hebrews “tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . . It really is: God’s word is not merely a set of truths or an edifying spiritual account; no – it is a living word that touches our lives, that transforms our lives. There, Jesus in person, the living Word of God, speaks to our hearts.”

“The Gospel, in particular, invites us to an encounter with the Lord, after the example of the ‘man’ who ‘ran up to him’ (cf. Mk10:17). We can recognize ourselves in that man, whose name the text does not give, as if to suggest that he could represent each one of us. He asks Jesus how ‘to inherit eternal life’ (v. 17). He is seeking life without end, life in its fullness: who of us would not want this? Yet we notice that he asks for it as an inheritance, as a good to be obtained, to be won by his own efforts. In fact, in order to possess this good, he has observed the commandments from his youth and to achieve this he is prepared to follow others; and so he asks: ‘What must I do to have eternal life?’”

“Jesus’s answer catches him off guard. The Lord looks upon him and loves him (cf. v. 21). Jesus changes the perspective: from commandments observed in order to obtain a reward, to a free and total love. That man was speaking in terms of supply and demand, Jesus proposes to him a story of love. He asks him to pass from the observance of laws to the gift of self, from doing for oneself to being with God. And the Lord suggests to the man a life that cuts to the quick: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor…and come, follow me’ (v. 21).”

“To you, too, Jesus says: ‘Come, follow me!’ Come: do not stand still, because it is not enough not to do evil in order to be with Jesus. Follow me: do not walk behind Jesus only when you want to, but seek him out every day; do not be content to keep the commandments, to give a little alms and say a few prayers: find in Him the God who always loves you; seek in Jesus the God who is the meaning of your life, the God who gives you the strength to give of yourself.”

Again Jesus says: ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor.’ The Lord does not discuss theories of poverty and wealth, but goes directly to life. He asks you to leave behind what weighs down your heart, to empty yourself of goods in order to make room for him, the only good. We cannot truly follow Jesus when we are laden down with things. Because if our hearts are crowded with goods, there will not be room for the Lord, who will become just one thing among the others. For this reason, wealth is dangerous and – says Jesus – even makes one’s salvation difficult. Not because God is stern, no! The problem is on our part: our having too much, our wanting too much suffocates us, suffocates our hearts and makes us incapable of loving. Therefore, Saint Paul writes that ‘the love of money is the root of all evils’ (1 Tim 6:10). We see this where money is at the centre, there is no room for God nor for man.”

“Jesus is radical. He gives all and he asks all: he gives a love that is total and asks for an undivided heart. Even today he gives himself to us as the living bread; can we give him crumbs in exchange? We cannot respond to him, who made himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments. We cannot give him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love him twenty or fifty or sixty percent. It is either all or nothing.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, our heart is like a magnet: it lets itself be attracted by love, but it can cling to one master only and it must choose: either it will love God or it will love the world’s treasure (cf. Mt 6:24); either it will live for love or it will live for itself (cf. Mk 8:35). Let us ask ourselves where we are in our story of love with God. Do we content ourselves with a few commandments or do we follow Jesus as lovers, really prepared to leave behind something for him? Jesus asks each of us and all of us as the Church journeying forward: are we a Church that only preaches good commandments or a Church that is a spouse, that launches herself forward in love for her Lord? Do we truly follow him or do we revert to the ways of the world, like that man in the Gospel? In a word, is Jesus enough for us or do we look for many worldly securities? “

“Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, leave behind the yearning for status and power, leave behind structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world. Without a leap forward in love, our life and our Church become sick from ‘complacency and self-indulgence’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 95): we find joy in some fleeting pleasure, we close ourselves off in useless gossip, we settle into the monotony of a Christian life without momentum, where a little narcissism covers over the sadness of remaining unfulfilled.”

“This is how it was for the man, who – the Gospel tells us – ‘went away sorrowful’ (v. 22). He was tied down to regulations of the law and to his many possessions; he had not given over his heart. Even though he had encountered Jesus and received his loving gaze, the man went away sad. Sadness is the proof of unfulfilled love, the sign of a lukewarm heart.”

“On the other hand, a heart unburdened by possessions, that freely loves the Lord, always spread’ joy, that joy for which there is so much need today. Pope Saint Paul VI wrote: ‘It is indeed in the midst of their distress that our fellow men need to know joy, to hear its song’ (Gaudete in Domino, I). Today Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have travelled this path.”

Conclusion

In my first trip to El Salvador in April 1989 I started to learn about Oscar Romero and his courageous denunciations of human rights violations by the Salvadoran government and, to a lesser extent, the rebels. For these acts he was assassinated while he was saying mass in a small, modern and beautiful chapel on the grounds of a cancer hospital across the street from his small apartment. As a Protestant Christian I came to regard Romero as my personal saint. Thus, I treasure the Roman Catholic Church’s formally recognizing him as a saint.[2]

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[1] Vatican, Bl. Oscar Romero: A martyr of the option for the poor, Vatican News (Oct. 14, 2018); Vatican, Booklet for the Celebration: Holy Mass and Canonizations (14 Oct. 2018); Vatican, Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis (Oct. 14, 2018); Zra, Óscar Romero, Archbishop Killed While Saying Mass, Will Be Named a Saint on Sunday, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Assoc. Press, Pope’s Canonization of Paul VI, Romero Personal, Political, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2018); Sherwood, Salvadoran priest óscar Romero to be declared saint by Pope Francis, Guardian (Oct. 11. 2018); Winfield & Aleman, Pope makes El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI saints, Wash. Post (Oct. 14, 2018); Pavoledo, Archbishop Óscar Romero and Pope Paul VI Are Made Saints, N.Y. Times (Oct. 14, 2018).

[2] Previous posts have discussed my discovery of Romero and various legal proceedings about his assassination. (See the posts listed in the “Oscar Romero” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: EL SALVADOR. A website totally devoted to honoring Romero and promoting his beatification and canonization is Super Martyrio. There also are frequent posts about Romero in the blog El Salvador Perspectives.

“Who Is Jesus for Us Today?”  

This was the title of the sermon on September 9, 2018, by Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. (A photograph of the church with its new addition is below.)

Biblical Texts for the Day

 Psalm 8 (NRSV):

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 John 1: 45-51 (NRSV):

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”

 The Sermon[1]

 “The work of the Church is fundamentally a teaching task: asking questions, seeking answers, exploring possibilities – and then translating all of that into life between Sundays. . . .”

“Christianity is never settled for any of us, no matter our age or the extent of our involvement in church. The world is always changing. If our faith is not similarly dynamic, not living, not rising to the challenges we see all around us, not attuned to the context in which we live, it will slowly wither away. . . .”

“Actually there’s something appealing to the notion that what happens in churches can be hazardous to the status quo. Powerful worship is subversive; it wants to upend the dominant ethos. A church ought to be considered a place the world enters at its own risk. After all, we follow a Savior perceived to be such a serious threat that he was crucified.”

“But the Church is not only what happens inside these walls for a few hours each week. . . . Church mostly happens the rest of the week, out there. We – you and I – are the Church when we leave here and go out into the world. . . . “

“The faith we practice has always felt compelled to move out into the streets and ask, ‘What is God up to in this place and in this time?’ because we want to join that work. Call it public theology, or our witness in the world, or the pursuit of biblical justice – our faith has never wanted to sequester Jesus in the sanctuary, as if he might – we might – be sullied by the messy reality of what’s going on in the world around us.”

“We Come Together not to be sheltered in this sacred space, but, rather, to hear the call of God to go forth and be the Church. To do that, however, means we need to understand whom we follow out into those streets. . . .”

“The decision to follow Jesus, Professor Gail O’Day says, ‘Is inseparable from the decision one makes about Jesus’ identity.’ [New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995) p. 534] . . . .”

“Who we think he is will determine the kind of Christians we become.”

“In the 1930s in Germany, the young pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself growing skeptical about the Jesus being preached in the churches of that land. As political rhetoric became more overtly racist and the culture increasingly supportive of extreme Aryan nationalism, most German Christian churches rolled over and acquiesced to all of that. They gave their Jesus over to the rising ideology of the times. It was expedient for them, convenient for them, to go along with the predominant and popular spirit of the land.”

“Bonhoeffer and his colleagues – Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and others – resisted, and some of them eventually paid for it with their lives. They wrote an affirmation of faith rejecting the distorted theology used to underpin racism and nationalism. They started an alternative church, called the Confessing Church, as opposed to the German Christian Church, which supported the ideology of the times.. They founded an underground seminary, as over against the schools of the German Christian Church, which taught theology that supported the direction the nation was moving. They preached and worked against the tide.”

“And behind all that work, according to Bonhoeffer, was a single, driving question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? . . . .”

“Who is Jesus Christ for us today? That question will inform our worship at Westminster this fall, even as it informs our life as we move from this place out into the world . . . “

 “Eighty years ago in Germany was not the only time when Christians have resisted the prevailing winds. Forty years ago in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrote and adopted what became known as the Confession of Belhar. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was the segregated denomination created for “mixed race” persons in the 19th century by the white Dutch Reformed Church, the denomination that eventually – by the mid-20th century – would develop a theological justification for apartheid, a theological basis for apartheid.”

 “The Confession of Belhar is a theological denunciation of the racist political system of South Africa of that time. It rejects the notion that God would accept the dividing of the human family on the basis of race or color. The Confession answers Bonhoeffer’s question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today,’ by portraying Jesus as the one standing with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” (Emphasis added.)

“Who Jesus is for us determines what it means for us to pursue his way – to be Christian in our time.”

.“Like the Germans of the Confessing Church, and like many in our land today, the ‘mixed race’ South Africans stood their ground . . .against those who would corrupt Christianity to make it supportive of the politics of exclusion and racial superiority. They declared that one could not be a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, a supporter of apartheid. Think of that in our time: it is not possible to a follower of Jesus and supporter of racism at the same time.” (Emphasis added.)

“Our denomination adopted the Confession of Belhar two years ago. . . .  We chose to adopt it to speak to our own historic and current racism in America, a system that has been in place for so many centuries.”

“Westminster has embarked on a pilgrimage to join the great effort in our nation finally, finally now wanting to come to terms with the original sin of this land, the enslavement – the buying and selling of human beings, the thinking of people as less than human – the enslavement of Africans to build up our nation. The legacy of that terrible time yet endures today. That journey for us, as followers of Jesus, starts with the question: Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” (Emphasis added.)

“Following Jesus is costly. The South Africans found that out. The Confessing Church in Germany discovered that. We will learn that, as well. The challenge to love in the way of Jesus should not be undertaken lightly. It will change each one of us and, hopefully, the world in which we live.”

“That’s why it matters what we do here in worship week after week. That’s why it matters that our children and youth are engaged in nurturing their faith. That’s why it matters who we are as a congregation in this city.”

The Confession of Belhar[2]

After the  sermon, the congregation read in unison the following extracts from the Confession of Belhar:

  • “We believe: that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker; that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells;
  • That the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation hatred and enmity;
  • Therefore, we reject any doctrine which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.” (Emphasis added.)

Conclusion

This sermon provided at least a partial answer to the question, ‘Who is Jesus for us today?’ It d did so by referencing the creation of the Confessing Church in Germany and the Confession of Belhar in stating, “Jesus stood “with those on the receiving end of the cruelties of history, those excluded from places of privilege and power by virtue of who they are or where they live or what language they speak or whom they love or the circumstances of their lives.” [3](Emphasis added.) ==================================

[1] Sermon: Who Is Jesus for Us Today? (Sept. 9, 2018).

[2]  See The Confession of Belhar Is Adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2016).

[3] The sermon went on to say that further answers to this question will be provided in future sermons and other discussions at Westminster.

 

 

South Africa’s ANC Members Killing One Another 

On September 30 the New York Times reported that over the last several months at least three members of the African National Congress (ANC) who had spoken out against corruption in the political party had been murdered. [1]

Another ANC member who had spoken out against the corruption and who is now in hiding said, “if you understand the Cosa Nostra, you don’t only kill the person, but you also send a strong message.” He added, “We broke the rule of omertà,”  saying that the party of Nelson Mandela had become like the Mafia.

Moreover, about 90 politicians have been killed since the start of 2016, more than twice the annual rate in the 16 years before that, according to researchers at the University of Cape Town and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime.

According to Mary de Haas, an expert on political killings who taught at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, “The politicians have become like a political mafia. It is the very antithesis of democracy, because people fear to speak out.”

In the meantime, South Africa’s economy is struggling. According to the Wall Street Journal, the “economy has plunged into recession, its rand currency has slid and pressure is mounting from a dissident faction within his ruling party [the ANC].” These problems are occurring “amid a selloff in emerging-market assets, rising oil prices and a historic [South African] drought that cut agriculture production.” The country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said, ““The economy moved against us.…We were too slow with some reforms.” But “Now the reforms are coming fast and furious.”[2]

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[1] Onishi & Gebrekidan, Hit Men and Power: South Africa’s Leaders Are Killing One Another, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2018).

[2] Parkinson, Steinhauser & Keeler, Economic Problems Exacerbate Challenges for South Africa’s Leader, W.S.J. (Sept. 26, 2018).

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).

Washington Post Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council 

An editorial in the Washington Post says “the United States’ decision to withdraw from the [Human Rights Council] . . . is a counterproductive step and another sign of President Trump’s retreat from global leadership. The administration is picking up its marbles and leaving rather than staying to fight for human dignity.”[1]

Yes, as Ambassador Haley mentioned, the Council is not perfect. “But these deficiencies must also be considered against the vital need for a credible U.N. body on human rights with U.S. participation.”

“However flawed the council’s work has been, walking away rewards all the oppressors, who undoubtedly will be thrilled that they no longer face lectures from the United States. What good will come from pulling out? Will it change the behavior of the regimes for the better? Will it make the council more effective? We don’t think so. The decision to walk away is in keeping with Mr. Trump’s lack of interest in human rights elsewhere, glad-handing autocrats and dictators with nary a word about their bone-crushing repressions. A real commitment to human rights would be to stay in the council and use the bully pulpit to confront the bullies.”

This editorial supports the opinion expressed in yesterday’s post to this blog.

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[1] Editorial, Trump walks away from the U.N. Human Rights council—and rewards the oppressors, Wash. Post (June 20, 2018).