Message on Leaving to Join the Guerrillas in Teoponte – Néstor Paz (July 17, 1970)

[Néstor Paz, the “Mystic Christian Guerrilla,” was born on October 9, 1945, in Sucre, Bolivia. According to Ed Garcia and John Eagleson, “his family was neither poor nor powerless. His father was a general in the Bolivian Armed Forces and became Governor of Sucre. The Paz family was both highly respected and well liked in the town.” Throughout his life Néstor “read the Bible daily and had great devotion to St. Francis of Assisi, the gentle saint with a consuming love for the poor.” At the age of 25, he joined the Bolivian National Liberation Army, the ELN, and participated in the guerrilla campaign in the Teoponte area. The following text is from My life for my friends: the guerrilla journal of Néstor Paz, Christian, published by Orbis Books, 1975, translated and edited by Ed Garcia and John Eagleson.]

Every sincere revolutionary must realize that armed struggle is the only path that remains.

(Camilo Torres, January 7, 1966) [1]

Following the glorious path taken by our own heroes, the guerrillas of the Peruvian highlands, and by the continental heroes, Bolívar and Sucre, and the heroic commitment of Ernesto Guevara, the Peredo brothers, Dario, [2] and many others who lead the march of the people’s liberation, we take our place in the long guerrilla file, rifle in hand, to combat the symbol and instrument of oppression—the “gorilla” army [3].

As long as blood flows in our veins we will make heard the cutting cry of the exploited. Our lives do not matter if we can make our Latin America, la patria grande, a free territory of free people who are masters of their own destiny.

I realize that my decision and that of my companions will bring upon us a deluge of accusations, from the paternalistic “poor misguided fellow” to the open charge of “demagogic criminal.” But Yahweh our God, the Christ of the Gospels, has announced the “good news of the liberation of man,” for which he himself acted. We cannot sit and spend long hours reading the Gospel with cardinals, bishops, and pastors, all of whom are doing fine right where they are, while the flock wanders about in hunger and solitude. Doing this is called “non-violence,” “peace,” “Gospel.” These persons, sadly, are today’s Pharisees.

People no longer listen to the “Good News.” Man is always betrayed by his “brother.”

“Peace” is not something one finds by chance; it is the result of equality among people, as Isaiah says in his chapter 58. Peace is the result of love among people, the result of an end to exploitation.

“Peace” is not attained by dressing up in silk and living in a medieval palace, or by robbing the people in order to have a millionaire’s salary, or by playing on the people’s religious superstition in order to live at their expense.

“Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.” This is the commandment which sums up the “Law.”

For this reason we have taken up arms: to defend the unlettered and undernourished majority from the exploitation of a minority and to win back dignity for a dehumanized people.

We know that violence is painful because we feel in our own flesh the violent repression of the established disorder. But we are determined to liberate man because we consider him a brother. We are the people in arms. This is the only path that remains. Man comes before the ”Sabbath” not vice versa.

They say violence is not evangelical; let them remember Yahweh slaying the first-born of the Egyptians to free his people from exploitation.

They say that they believe in “non-violence.” Then let them stand clearly with the people. If they do, the rich and the “gorillas” will both demand their lives, just as they demanded Christ’s. Let them take courage and try it; let us see if they are consistent enough to face a Good Friday. But all that is demagoguery, isn’t it, you canons, generals, cursillistas, [4] priests of the established disorder, you priests of the peace enforced by violence, of the massacre of San Juan, [5] of the complicity of silence, of the 200-peso salaries, of the widespread tuberculosis, and of pie in the sky when you die. The Gospel is not mechanical moralism. It is a shell hiding a “life” which must be discovered if we are not to fall into pharisaism. The Gospel is “Jesus among us.”

We have chosen this path because it is the only path left open to us, painful though it may be.

Fortunately, there are some, and their numbers are growing, who recognize the authenticity of our position and who either help us or have joined our ranks. We need only consider what the right-wing “gorilla” government of Brazil does to a committed Church: Father Pereira Neto was assassinated in a most cruel and inhuman manner. [6] Or recall Father lldefonso, a Tupamaro, assassinated in Uruguay. Or Father Camilo Torres, silenced by the government and the servile church. But Camilo Torres ratified with his blood what he had said about Christianity:

In Catholicism the main thing is love for one’s fellow men: “… He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the Law.” For this love to be genuine, it must seek to be effective. If works of beneficence, almsgiving, the few tuition-free schools, the few housing projects —everything which is known as “charity”—do not succeed in feeding the majority of the hungry, in clothing the majority of the naked, or in teaching the majority of the ignorant, then we must seek effective means to achieve the well-being of this majority …. This is why the revolution is not only permissible but obligatory for those Christians who see it as the only effective and far-reaching way to make love for all people a reality.

[7]

I believe that taking up arms is the only effective way of protecting the poor against their present exploitation, the only effective way of generating a free man. I believe that the struggle for liberation is rooted in the prophetic line of Salvation History.

Enough of the languid faces of the over-pious! The whip of justice, so often betrayed by elegant gentlemen, will fall on the exploiter, that false Christian who forgets that the force of his Lord ought to drive him to liberate his neighbor from sin, that is to say, from every lack of love.

We believe in a ‘”New Man,” made free by the blood and resurrection of Jesus. We believe in a New Earth, where love will be the fundamental law. This will come about, however, only by breaking the old patterns based on selfishness. We don’t want patches. New cloth can’t be used to mend old garments, nor can new wine be put into old wineskins. Conversion implies first an inner violence which is then followed by violence against the exploiter. May both men and the Lord together judge the rightness of our decision. At least no one can imply that we look for profit or comfort. These are not what we find in the struggle; they are what we leave behind.

The Lord said, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew), and “He who does not hate even his own life cannot be my disciple” (Luke). We believe that the Lord is referring to the person tied to his “own little world” and his “own little problems.” The “other person” is out there beyond our “own comfort.”

There are those who defend themselves with lyrical discourses about the “revolution”; yet at the moment of truth, because of their cowardice, they take the side of the oppressor. The sin of ‘”omission is the fault of our Church, just as it was of the “lukewarm”members (Rev. 3:14-22), just as it is of those who do not want “to get their hands dirty.” We don’t want to bequeath to our children a vision of life based upon competition as a means of possession, or on possessions as a measure of man’s value.

We believe in a man who has value for who he is, and not for what he has. We believe in a completely liberated man who will live and build brotherly structures through which love may be expressed.

I am certain that we can achieve this goal, for the Lord “is ready to give us far more than all we can ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

“The duty of every Christian is to be a revolutionary. The duty of every revolutionary is to bring about the revolution.” [8]

Victory or Death.

Francisco [Néstor Paz’s “battle name.”]

Notes

[1] Camilo Torres, a Colombian priest and sociologist, university chaplain and editor of Frente Unido, joined the Colombian National Liberation Army and explained the reasons for this decision in “A Message to Colombians from the Mountains” on January 7, 1966. A month later he was killed in an encounter with a national army patrol. The example and writings of Camilo Torres had a deep impact on Néstor Paz. See Revolutionary Priest: The Complete Writings and Messages of Camilo Torres, ed. John Gerassi (New York: Vintage, 1 971).
[2] Inti and Coco Peredo as well as “Dario” (Arturo Alvarado Duran) were combatants in Che Guevara’s Bolivian campaign.
[3] “Gorilla” refers to reactionary military forces.
[4] The cursillo is a renewal movement of Spanish origin geared toward deepening the commitment of lay Catholics. In Bolivia its composition is largely from the middle and affluent classes and it has come to be identified with a conservative or reactionary orientation.
[5] Massacre of miners and their families in the mining centers of Siglo XX and Catavi perpetrated by Bolivian soldiers on St. John the Baptist’s Day, June 24, 1967. The massacre was ordered by then President René Barrientos, who feared the solidarity of the miners with the forces of Che Guevara. The date is widely commemorated among opposition forces in Bolivia today.
[6] Henrique Pereira Neto, a university chaplain in Recife, Brazil, was an assistant to Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, world renowned champion of the poor and oppressed. Father Pereira Neto was kidnapped, tortured, and killed by para-military right-wing forces in Brazil in May 1969.
[7] Camilo Torres, “Message to Christians,” published in Frente Unido, August 26, 1965.
[8] Ibid.