Missionary priest 'tells it like it is' in Bolivia, explains its problems
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - Globalization is great if it means equal trade among strong democracies.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Father Michael Gillgannon speaks with Frank Neff who attended the priest's June 14 talk on conditions inside Bolivia.
But Father Michael Gillgannon, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and a missionary to Bolivia since 1974, said in a lecture at the Catholic Chancery June 14 that he strongly doubts that democracy can survive in the South American nation.
"They have no model for it," said Father Gillgannon, who came to the U.S. to receive an honorary doctorate degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Shortly after his return to the U.S. Father Gillgannon's brother, Msgr. Francis Gillgannon, a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, passed away.
Father Gillgannon said that centuries of colonial rule, followed by military coups and dictatorships, have taught an impoverished indigenous people that their only recourse to effect change is through violence.
That violence will continue, he predicted, until true economic development occurs. But that development won't occur until Bolivia's people are convinced they will share in the wealth produced by the development of the nation's abundant natural resources.
"Until you can get at some of the root problems in economic systems, you are in for a series of violent conflicts in Bolivia," the priest said.
"Governments can't hold it together because they don't have the resources and don't have a plan for the development of their people," he said.
Last October, violent street demonstrations forced President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign. The new president, Carlos Mesa, a Catholic whom Father Gillgannon said could be a catalyst for true reform "if he had room to work."
But Father Gillgannon said a crushing national debt, plus continued violence in the streets may also quickly doom the Mesa presidency.
"You have policies that the United States would like to see in place becoming unworkable," Father Gillgannon said, particularly noting the U.S.-sponsored program to eradicate coca, the source of the drug cocaine, and one of the most easily grown and marketable crops for the impoverished native populations.
"The only way you will be able to keep the people in line is with an army of occupation," Father Gillgannon said.
The priest said the people are particularly suspicious of free trade agreements under the globalization of the world's economy. That's because the people have had lengthy experience with corporations from outside Bolivia exploiting the nation's resources without sharing the wealth with the people.
In fact, it was a plan to liquefy and export Bolivian natural gas to California by way of Chile that brought Sanchez's administration down, he said.
Father Gillgannon said that long civil wars throughout Latin America have cost the region "a generation of leaders."
"They were killed or exiled," he said. "They should be leading their countries now, but they are dead."
Without educated leaders capable of convincing the people of the benefits of economic development, chaos will continue and wealthy nations will not assist Bolivia in any meaningful way, the priest said.
"What we really want is a free exchange of culture and ideas and commerce all around the world," Father Gillgannon said. "But who calls the shots? A country like Bolivia has no defenses for its own borders or its own natural resources."