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Presidential hopeful in Chile is a base communities priest.

OXFORD, England - Among the four candidates in the presidential election in Chile scheduled for Dec. 11 is a priest, Fr. Eugenio Pizarro, representing the left-wing coalition MIDA (Movimiento de Izquierda Democratica Allendista).

Pastor in the Puente Alto suburb of Santiago and well-known for his defense of human rights under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Pizarro was chosen candidate by the base communities during a "national assembly of the people" in December 1992.

What has happened to Pope John Paul II's ban on priests in politics? The archbishop of Santiago, Carlos Oviedo, a fellow seminarian with Pizarro, lifted the ban on condition that Pizarro be suspended from his priestly ministry during the campaign.

Pizarro accepts this, while claiming that he has never felt so priestly as in this period when he embodies popular aspirations for social justice and the search for truth about "those who disappeared," He sees his candidacy as a way of reaching out to nonbelievers who think the church is on the side of reaction.

That is uphill work. For there has been a sea change in Chilean society. Though Pinochet was replaced as president by Patricio Aylwin, he remained commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Sept. 11, the anniversary of his CIA-aided coup in 1973, is still a national holiday in Chile.

It was celebrated with special pomp on this year's 20th anniversary. The chief army chaplain, Msgr. Florencio Infante, in his homily during the Mass at the Military College, exalted the 1973 coup and hoped that its spirit would endure.

That same day, students who tried to go to the cemetery to pay homage to the victims of the Pinochet regime were blocked and beaten by police. Two were killed. The election campaign holds up a mirror to Chilean society. Superficially the country is economically flourishing; it not only satisfies the IMF and the World Bank but is regarded as a model for the rest of Latin America.

Inflation is down to around 13 percent annually. Unemployment is down to 6 percent, compared with 30 percent under the dictatorship. Exports have increased. Chile's external debt - $22 million - is negotiable and not crippling.

Yet these statistics are misleading. Unemployment is down only if one counts street vendors and children who clean windshields at street crossings. Six million people, 40 percent of the population, live below the poverty line. Pizarro seeks to make their voices heard.

Education and health services have been privatized at the request of the IMF. The result is, says Pizarro, that Chile has become two nations.

But Pizarro is not supported by the bishops. The majority of them, appointed in this pontificate and during the nunciature of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, now Vatican secretary of state, have abandoned the principles of the Vicariate of Solidarity that looked after the victims of torture in the Pinochet regime. Their slogan today is not "justice" but "pardon and reconciliation," which means in effect letting bygones be bygones.

Sodano played a great role in the transition to "democracy." It would be better described, says Pizarro, as a transition to "the civilian administration of a military regime."

Pizarro does not expect to win the presidential election. The other candidates are Eduardo Frey Ruiz-Tagle of the present government coalition, which includes the Christian Democrats; the right-wing candidate Arturo Alessandri; and Manfred Max Neef, representing the Greens, or ecologists.

What seems most likely is a runoff between Frey and Alessandri. In which case, Pizarro would recommend his supporters to vote for Frey. Then he could return to his parish, none the worse for his experience.
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Title Annotation:Fr. Eugenio Pizarro
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Nov 5, 1993
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