“The Logic of the Majority”
By Xabier Gorostiaga
Vol. 6, No. 1, 1984, pp. 6-10
Xabier Gorostiaga: I was born in the Basque country in the north of Spain. My family was very persecuted at that time, after the Civil War (1936-39). In the confrontation between General Franco and the Basques, my father was very involved in the Basque fighting. Then we went into exile. Exile and persecution are part of my vital experience.
Kirkpatrick: You were in a Catholic family. Was the Christian faith a vital force in your family?
Gorostiaga: Yes. Especially with my mother, later also with my father. My father was not a good Christian at the beginning, but was transformed by the religious thinking of an atheist, the Basque philospher Miguel de Unamuno. Then when the Vatican put Unamuno’s writing on the black list of forbidden books, my father had to rethink his own atheism and his own religious beliefs.
Kirkpatrick: The condemnation of the Vatican caused your father to re-think the Christian faith.
Gorostiaga: Yes, but in a very dialetical process. Because instead of saying, “Well, I won’t have anything to do with the church,” my father said, “This man is a real Christian. I don’t know why the church condemned this fellow.” It forced him to rethink. It was a starting process to get closer to an evangelical attitude toward life. And in the last years of his life he was a very committed Christian.
Kirkpatrick: So did you become a Jesuit early in life? And leave home?
Gorostiaga: I came to Latin America very young to do all my religious studies here. The novitiate we call it. Then I studied in Cuba, from 1958 to 1960, in El Caballo, a small town close to Havana. And the Cuban experience was an incredible experience for me. At that time I realized that the role of the Catholic Church in Cuba was a very traditional, very conservative role. The Cuban Church was very rich and had no contact with the poor in Cuba. We were not allowed at that time even to hear Fidel Castro on television. And even though some Christians took part in the revolution, the church was not considered part of the building of a new society. And that experience, in the negative sense, also was important for me.
Kirkpatrick: So you stayed in Latin America after that training?
Gorostiaga: Yes, all the time except my final years doing theology studies. I did my theology studies in a university in the Basque country in order to be close to my mother and father who were very old at that time, and in order that they would be present at my ordination as a priest.
You know the Jesuit province is organized with five 1` small nations in Central America, from Guatemala to Panama. I lived one year and a half in Guatemala, a year in Salvador. In 1961 I was naturalized in Nicaragua. I had a Nicaraguan passport until Somoza took it away. At that time I was an economic advisor of the Panamanian government working on the Panama Canal treaty negotiations so I took the nationality of Panama.
I maintain my Panamanian passport, but I consider myself a Central American citizen. I have been living in all these countries. I have been involved in reform in El Salvador, working with my Jesuit colleagues in Guatemala. For me, Central America is a nation.
Kirkpatrick: So your spiritual formation is very clear then. Has that resulted in an attitude toward the faith that differed from your childhood faith?
Gorostiaga: I was very traditional in my faith when I was a child and even when I became a Jesuit. But what moved me to become a Jesuit was my experience with shantytowns, immigrant towns in the Basque country. People from Andalusia, from Galicia, the poorest part of Spain came to these towns and were living in incredible conditions. Every Sunday for more than three or four years I went with two or three Jesuits to help build houses to teach these people. I think that was the experience that converted me to a real Christianity, the experience that induced me to be a Christian, and also to imitate two or three of these Jesuit priests that I saw working for so many years with these very, very poor, oppressed people.
Later my experience in Cuba, in Ecuador with the very poor Indians, and in Panama with the campesino movement in which Father Hector Gallego, a martyr, was killed in 1971. That experience changed my life. I realized that as Jesuits we had spent four hundred years teaching, assuming, that the rich people would be the creators, the builders of a new society. I realized that we were absolutely wrong. That these people will receive some training, some Christian feelings, but that they will not fight against a society that they are the builders of. I consider that only the oppressed can build a new society. The rich have no interest in a new society because they are the owners of the present society.
Then at the beginning of the 60s, before Medellin* and after, there was a generation breakthrough in the lives of many Jesuit priests, nuns and laymen in Latin America. We said what Monsignor Romero said’ “I was converted.” We found a new way of reading the gospel, a new way of praying, a new way of looking at the different values of society. That was a real conversion. We went to work with the poor, trying to convert the poor and the funny thing is that the poor converted us.
From 1969 to 1971 I did undergraduate studies, and later on post-graduate studies, at Cambridge University. It was a fascinating experience, but very hard because I had in my background in Latin America the sufferings of the people and here I was living in that incredible, marvelous town of Cambridge. I really had to convince myself every day that that was useful for the poor. And that was my full commitment. I was thirty years old and the only thing that forced me to carry on five years work in economics was my purpose to give a new tool, a new instrument, to the poor of this part of the world. And now I realize that they were five worthwhile years.
Kirkpatrick: Xabier, as an economist you have been the motivating force behind a research institute that is based here in Nicaragua but is for all Central America. At a workshop held in Holland, that group has recently (June of 1983) issued this Alternative Policy for Central America and the Caribbean. Could you talk about the main points in the Alternative.
Gorostiaga: The basic one is the logic of the majority. We realize that the logic of capital, the logic of transnational companies has created underdevelopment, exploitation, poverty, misery and nowadays, a social and political explosion. This logic doesn’t solve the problems of the majority in this part of the world. Everybody nowadays talks about the basic needs, but they don’t talk about a new logic. The basic needs can be accomplished through a very paternalistic way: “We the rich will provide some things.”
Kirkpatrick: Sounds like you’re talking about Reagan’s Caribbean Basin. . .
Gorostiaga: . . . Initiative. The key point of the logic of the majority is that we need a new historical subject to build a nation. And this historical subject will not be the rich, will not be the transnational companies, will not be the logic of capital, but will be the logic of the majority of people–illiterate, oppressed. Let’s put all the power, the resources, the land, the education, the health, in the service of the majority. I think that this is the key purpose of a social revolution. And I think the Sandinista Revolution has taken the logic of the majority as the basis of the new society. It is becoming a term of reference for many, many small poor countries of the Third World.
Our proposition is: Let’s satisfy basic needs. Let’s satisfy even artificial needs but with a logic of a new society, a much more egalitarian society. Instead of having a trickling down effect, let’s have a trickling up effect. Let’s start building an accumulation model, a growth model that is based on the needs of the population, the priorities of the majority. And we think that this is real democracy. Other-
wise propaganda dominates the market, not the real needs of the population.
Non-alignment is another very important aspect in our Alternative. Our international relations have been linked to the United States in a sort of umbilical cord. Seventy to eighty percent of our technology, our production, our exports and imports were linked to the United States. Then the pattern of production and consumption, the model of United States’ society was transferred to the very poor, underdeveloped small countries.
When we are talking of non-alignment, we are talking of diversifying our dependence. We are very small, poor underdeveloped countries. We cannot be independent, but we can diversify our dependency and maintain one-quarter of our relations with the United States, one-quarter of our relationships with Europe, one-quarter of our relations with the rest of Latin American–especially with our big neighbors in Latin America such as Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia. And the quarter that is left is the non-aligned countries–the African and Asian countries (the South-South relation) and the socialist countries including Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. Instead of walking with two legs–one big leg with the United States and one with the rest of the world–let’s have four legs and walk as a mature animal. This diversification of dependency is part of the non-alignment and it creates the basis for an international plurism and is the way in which we can break our dependency from the United States without breaking our friendly relations with it. We will treat the United states as we treat the rest of the world. We cannot be independent countries in the backyard of anybody.
I think there’s a possibility of having a much more friendly, efficient, productive relationship between these small countries of Central America and the US people. The problem is that you have your own oligarchy there that doesn’t agree with this model.
Kirkpatrick: Let’s talk about popular participation. What do you mean by democracy?
Gorostiaga: I don’t think there can be a human model, a Christian model, unless there’s a democratic model. What does democracy mean–in a very developed society such as the United States and in a very undeveloped society?
Democracy has an important component of economic participation. I don’t know why–and I asked David Rockefeller in our last meeting–in the Inter-American Dialogue–why democracy in the United States stops at the door of the factory. Because we think, in terms of the productive system, there is no democracy in the United States. We think that democracy has to start in the productive system. That is why in Nicaragua we have built 3,500 cooperatives. And the people decide what to produce, decide and discuss the cost of production, decide what will be the price. And there’s a tremendous fight between the ministry of planning and the cooperatives–that’s democracy.
The basis for democracy is literacy, the satisfaction of basic needs and a sort of national identity in order that elections will not legitimate oppression. In the last forty years in Central America we have had more elections than in any area of the world. Elections here have justified and legitimized oppression. Elections may be a tool of anything. When you have a terrorized country like El Salvador or Guatemala, elections will represent terror and fear.
Elections should be tools of democracy. First you have to build democracy in order that the elections can be a representation of democracy. In Nicaragua the constitution gives us six years (from 1979 to 1985) in which to hold elections. In the first year after the Revolution we began a literacy campaign. A year later we had decreased illiteracy from fifty-five percent to twelve percent. In our health campaign we have eradicted polio and almost eradicated yellow fever and malaria. We have been able to decrease infant mortality forty percent without doctors, without hospitals–only through popular mobilization. Literacy and malnutrition are not technical or financial problems, they are political problems.
For me it is a legitimate sign of the democracy of a country when the government provides 150,000 machine guns to defend the country, the people take the arms and there is no shooting, no killing in the streets. The people return the arms to the government after training. Can you imagine Pinochet distributing arms to the Chilean people? This is the only country in Latin America where the US Ambassador can walk at night without bodyguards.
At the moment I consider, without any doubt, that the main enemy of democracy in this country is the administration of Ronald Reagan. The war might make it impossible to create the basic conditions for elections. It is a very difficult problem to solve.
You ask me, “Is the Sandinista Revolution a Marxist revolution?” I will say, “No.” “Is it a Christian revolution?” I will say, “No.” “Is it a nationalist revolution?” I will say, “No.” Because it is a mixture of these three. This is a very nationalist revolution Sandino symbolized the nationalism of this revolution. Obviously, this is a Marxist revolution in the sense that a lot of Marxist thinking is going on, and not the European Marxist thinking of Cold War, a much more Creole Marxism–much more Latin American, with lot of indigenous roots in the culture and history of Latin America and with lot of Latin American thinking–philosophers, poets. This is a Marxism of poets. And this is also a Christian revolution.
Kirkpatrick: This is such a central fact that I am surprised that the press and the politicians of the US ignore it.
Gorostiaga: It is very good when thousands of Chris-
tians from all over the world come to this country and they see the vitality and the originality of this church. The new ways in which the people pray, the new way in which the church is organized, the new role of women within the church, the new role of laymen within the church. Obviously, some people in the church, some members of the hierarchy, see all this as heresy. But I think that what is going on here is the maturity of these Christian people who are very poor and they are getting a new maturity in the Christianity. This revolution has been one of the most important spiritual experiences of my life. I think that the kingdom of God is not something that will happen in heaven, but something that we have to start building on this earth as the human beings that we are.
Kirkpatrick: In this report on an Alternative Proposal you state that “the United States commitment to preserving its hegemony in the region has given the struggle for social justice in Central America an anti-imperialist character.” What you’ve just described, will the United States agree to it?
Gorostiaga: I would say that the majority of the people in the United States will agree if they get knowledge of what we mean with that. These countries of Central America are the countries in the world that have suffered more intervention from the United States than from any other part of the world. Twenty-eight military interventions. In the case of Nicaragua we were occupied twenty-five years by US marines. Then, they left us the gift of Somoza.
The breakthrough in Central America is a historical breakthrough. The small countries in Central America are fighting for independence, for sovereignty, are trying to break down this model of banana republics. The problem is that this social revolution against the five percent rich people, the oligarchies in these countries, in order to create a much more equal and just society, at the same time it is a social revolution, it is a geopolitical revolution. Because this five percent, the oligarchies in these countries, the military are the natural allies of the US interests in the region.
We will not become part of any bloc. Not the Soviet Union, not any bloc.
Kirkpatrick: How can you avoid that?
Gorostiaga: That’s difficult. But this is our definition, our project. And I will say that the Soviet Union at the moment has been generous. Cuba has been generous with us. The pressures that these governments have created on Nicaragua is minimal, I will say nil, in relation to the pressure that has been created by the United States, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund.
Kirkpatrick: Xabier, if we go back to the years before 1979, I knew Nicaraguan people in exile and others who were studying the Bible. It was easy to find signs of hope for the struggle in those years because they could see in the biblical message that God is on the side of the oppressed. Then in 1979 the victory came here and in my several visits in the two or three years after that it was so easy to feel the joy and exuberance. The people seemed to feel that the victory gave vindication to their hope. Now, it’s a very different situation. We’re under the pressure of aggression from the United States. Would there be in the biblical message any sign of hope if the United States overthrew the revolution?
Gorostiaga: I recommend you do two things that helped me very much. The first would be to go to a militia training and see how the militia does the military exercises. Look at the eyes of these people. Do you see hate in the eyes of these people or happiness, confidence, hope. Do you see camaraderie? You see how the social relations change in militia training. And how the people in the middle of this very difficult situation, this US intervention, are happy, they don’t fear. They are confident that they can destroy an intervention in this country.
I don’t consider that this revolution can be destroyed at this moment. This revolution may be corrupted in some years. The US marines may come here. They may occupy Managua. The majority of the people will go to the mountains and a fight of three, four years will occur and after that a victory will occur. My fear is not US intervention. My fear is the problems of internal corruption. That this revolution will lose the originality, the freshness, the commitment to the people, the participatory democracy. I fear the US marines may produce a lot of suffering and destruction. But I feel that this revolution cannot be destroyed as a social revolution. Maybe, as it is happening nowadays, Reagan is consolidating this revolution, and unifying the people. Polarizing the people that are not happy with the revolution–the rich, some members of the Church hierarchy. But I will say that a substantial majority, from seventy-five to ninety percent, are behind this revolution.
The problem of a revolution is that it is human. The problem of a revolution is internal, another story.
Kirkpatrick: So this is not the kingdom of God?
Gorostiaga: No. It may be part of the process to build the kingdom of God. And I believe in that. But the sin is within us. But it may be part of the process of building justice, and equality among us and with the rest of the world.
Kirkpatrick: What would you say to Christians within the United States?
Gorostiaga: That this is an incredible opportunity to establish Christian relations between your people and our people. I consider what is happening in Central America something very important for the United States. I consider that the Reagan Administration and some economic and political leaders in the United States are trying to cut the relations between this new phenomenon and the US people. Distorting this phenomenon. Presenting this revolution as totalitarian, as Marxism-Leninism in the worst sense of the phrase. Because I consider that maybe for the first time there is the possibility of having Christian relations between the churches here and the churches of the United States without paternalism. And more than that, maybe even a teaching position from our side with relation to the US church. Transforming the old relation of colonialism. I think the vitality of these churches, the conversion of these churches is essential for the United States. And also, I think this is biblical, as you have said, the poor, the rest of Israel is here. Maybe in twenty years you will have to come back to missionize, but at the moment I think we have a role to preach to the rest of the world, to Europe and the United States. I think that the genuine Christianity is here, more than in the very developed rich nations of the world.
Ministers of God, Ministers of the People: Testimonies of Faith from Nicaragua by Teofilo Cabestrero. Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545. Interviews with Ernesto Cardenal, Fernando Cardenal and Miguel d’Escoto.
Christians in the Nicaraguan Revolution by Margaret Randall. Published by New Star Books, Vancouver, Canada.
On his most recent visit to Nicaragua (November, 1983) Dow Kirkpatrick spoke with Xabier Gorostiaga, chief economist of the Sandinista Government, Jesuit priest and head of the Central American Institute for Economic and Social Research. In the following interview, Gorostiaga talks about the formative influences upon his commitment to Central America and about the Alternative Policy for Central America and the Caribbean, a report recently issued by the Institute as a result of an international policy workshop held in The Hague during the summer of 1983.
*. Medellin, Colombia, where the Latin American Roman Catholic Bishops in 1968 changed the historic alignment of the Church with the dominant class, and took an ‘option for the poor.’