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Wikileaks reveals Catholic church interference in Mexican politics

July 25, 2011

The outspoken archbishop of Guadalajara sought help from the U.S. government to prevent popular leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from winning the 2006 presidential election, according to a WikiLeaks document released last week.

Sourced from the U.S. embassy in the Vatican, the cable reveals that Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez asked Francis Rooney, then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, if President George W. Bush could help prevent the possible election of Lopez Obrador, the candidate of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

The cardinal was worried by the rise of popular socialist governments throughout Latin America, the likes of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and more moderate leftists Christina Kirchner and Michelle Bachelet.

Sandoval described this as a “dangerous trend,” fearing that AMLO, as he is commonly known, would lead Mexico in the same direction as the aforementioned governments. He also said that levels of “crime and violence had risen in Mexico City” under the government of AMLO, who was mayor at the time.

“The cardinals felt the poor in Latin America did not understand the potential benefits to them of free markets and urged U.S. government help, acknowledging that the Church, though necessarily cautious, can also play a greater role,” reads the leaked cable.

Sandoval met with Rooney in the Vatican City on March 28, 2006, several months prior to the general election in July. The cardinal also mentioned to Rooney his dream of constructing a temple in Guadalajara to commemorate Mexico’s 1926-1929 Cristero War martyrs, although most of the conversation focused on politics.

The 2006 election proved highly controversial, with PAN candidate Felipe Calderon narrowly claiming victory by just 0.58 percent of the vote, amid allegations of electoral fraud. Refusing to concede defeat, Lopez Obrador still maintains that he won the election and is aiming to run for president again in 2012.

Sandoval is a notoriously polemic figure and is not unknown for interfering in local and national politics. In 2008 he was at the center of the “macrolimosna” scandal, in which it emerged that Jalisco state governor Emilio Gonzalez Marquez had donated 90 million pesos of public money to the cardinal’s project to build the martyrs’ sanctuary. Sandoval returned the money after a public outcry.

Sandoval has also voiced opposition to the use of condoms, sex education and emergency contraceptive pills. He has been criticized by gay rights groups for using homophobic language, and when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in August 2010 he accused the justices of having accepted bribes from the PRD’s mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard.

Written hastily as it broke the night before, this story made the front page on 22 July 2010. The next week I wrote this follow up piece:

Polemic homage ruffles secular feathers

The Jalisco state government will go ahead with an homage to the archbishop of Guadalajara Friday, despite recent allegations that he interfered in Mexico’s electoral politics and sought to undermine the country’s democratic process.

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez has denied accusations made last week (revealed by WikiLeaks) that he solicited U.S. government intervention to prevent popular leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from winning the 2006 presidential election.

Undeterred by this political scandal and growing concerns over the convergence of church and state, the Jalisco government will pay homage to Sandoval at the Teatro Degollado on Friday, July 29, 7 p.m., his spokesman Antonio Gutierrez Montaño confirmed this week.

Following a large gathering in the Plaza Liberacion, the Jalisco Philharmonic Orchestra is due to play at a ceremony in the theater. This will also serve as a farewell party of sorts, with Sandoval approaching retirement and awaiting the announcement of his successor by the Vatican State Secretary.

Other famous Tapatios to have been honored recently include soccer player Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (see page 28), singer Alejandro Fernandez and golfer Lorena Ochoa, leading critics to suggest that such homages are little more than an excuse for local politicians to share the limelight with popular and successful celebrities.

But the decision to publicly recognize Sandoval, a polarizing figure at best, has proved far more controversial and has a strong risk of backfiring.

The Civic Awareness Association condemned the homage as legally and morally wrong, citing previous accusations that Sandoval had allegedly covered up 12 cases of pedophilia among the clergy.

The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) also called for the homage to be cancelled, arguing that it would violate Article 130 of the Constitution, which guarantees the separation of church and state.

“The homage should be suspended, or at least paid for out of their own pockets and not with public funds,” said Roberto Lopez Gonzalez, leader of the PRD in Jalisco. He described the planned event as “evidence of the relationship that exists between a political party and a religious hierarchy that should not be meddling in electoral politics.”

Writing in El Informador, editorialist Diego Petersen Farah echoed these comments, arguing the “homage should be made with private funds in a private place” and warning that ahead of the upcoming elections “the government and the Catholic Church are closer than ever.”

The archdiocese of Guadalajara has denied recent allegations of partisanship within the church, affirming that “there has always been a relationship of mutual respect” between Sandoval and Lopez Obrador, that the cardinal “values the work of the left,” and “has no interest in intervening or involving himself in the political affairs of the country.”

Lopez Obrador responded saying he has no doubts that Sandoval had called for the United States to impede his election bid, and reaffirmed that he had been robbed of the presidency by fraud.

The archdiocese described the evidence published by WikiLeaks as “totally false” and a “malicious lie,” confirming that a meeting did take place in 2006 between the cardinal and then U.S. Ambassador Francis Rooney, but that “the only issue discussed was a request that the U.S. representative support the construction of the Shrine of the Martyrs.”

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