Last month's visit of Pope Francis to Mexico, was a spectacular public relations victory for president Enrique Peña Nieto. However, the trip ended up being an enormous disappointment to human rights defenders and the socially committed minority of the country’s Catholic Church.
This is because of Francis’ failure to address one of the nation’s most flagrant human rights issues: more than 25,000 disappearances since 2007, according to the Mexican Government’s own data. Even though forced disappearances have been defined as a crime against humanity, the Argentinian pope was utterly silent on the issue.
Is it unfair to expect that a Pope coming from the nation that 'educated' the world about forced disappearances, not only would have the evident moral authority to speak on the issue, but would also be particularly sensitive to the theme, given his own history and experiences in the past?
Mass Grave Mexico
The forced disappearancee of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in September 2014, led the heroic priest working with migrants in the impoverished state of Oaxaca, Fr. Alejandro Solalinde, to comment that “the whole of Mexico is a clandestine mass grave”. That same year one person went missing every day on average, and this in a nation without a military dictatorship. Just one week before Francis stepped onto Mexican soil, the headline of the newspaper Excelsior stated that 201 mass graves have been discovered in the country since 2006. In a previous story, the paper had pointed out that the government has 120 agents working on the more than 25, 000 missing person cases. This might explain why Amnesty International remarked that “search efforts for missing people were generally ineffective”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described the missing 43 students as “the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory”. The criminal investigation has, at best, been unprofessional and HRW claims that the government has “proved unable or unwilling to conduct a serious investigation”.
The “Dirty War” in Argentina (1976-1983) led to thousands of missing persons. According to Argentinian president General Jorge Rafael Videla, in a 1979 press conference, the government could not do anything confronted with such cases, since the persons were “not dead, nor alive, but disappeared”.
Critics of Pope Francis have long condemned him for what they perceive as his inaction as Jesuit provincial during the Dirty War. In the analysis of Nobel Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the provincial did not back the military regime. Still, Pérez Esquivel believes that Bergoglio “lacked the courage to accompany our struggle for human rights in the most difficult moments”.
As a relatively young leader of the Argentine Jesuits – Jorge Mario Bergoglio was 40 years old in 1976 – it might have been somewhat difficult for him to be very vocal against the military regime. However, it is almost impossible to understand why a Latin-American pope, with a life wisdom of almost 80 years including his personal experience of the Dirty War in Argentina, does not have the courage to denounce, and transmit a desperate cry to heaven with respect to 25,000 disappeared human beings.
The word "disappeared" did not cross the lips of the Pope while on Mexican soil. Pérez Esquivel’s assessment of the young Jesuit provincial’s cowardice during the Dirty War, makes the silence of Francis faced with the 25,000 disappeared, and their families, in Mexico even more troublesome to interpret in a kind manner.
Before the visit, representatives from the Mexican authorities expressed strong confidence that the Pope would not say anything that might have “unpleasant political consequences”. When it comes to the negative effects of savage capitalism on human beings in today’s world, it seems that Pope Francis does not shy away from using his podium to scold the situation. We are only left to speculate on the reasons behind his ‘blackout’ on the issue of disappearances.
For the evangelical part of the Mexican Catholic Church it must be difficult to face a tomorrow with ongoing disappearances with a Pope that, effectively, did not touch one of the most burning human dignity issues in a contemporary Latin-American democracy. The Virgin of Guadalupe is probably wiping away a tear due to the fact that the prophetic voice of Pope Francis was muted in Mexico.