Radical Readings and Christian Liberation in Santa Fe de Veraguas, 1968–1971
Father Héctor Gallego, a Liberation Theology priest, worked in the highland region of Santa Fe de Veraguas between 1966 and 1971. Heading the National Guard’s 1968 coup, and after wresting control of that institution from other officers the following year, Omar Torrijos assumed dictatorial control of the country. Gallego and his Popular Christian Movement set up cooperatives in the region, launched a literacy campaign, and fought the abuses of the local bosses. As General Torrijos supported the local caudillos, and as Gallego’s movement began to project itself nationally, the military intervened in the Santa Fe standoff. Meanwhile, in Bible-reading circles that he had created in the hamlets, Gallego stimulated a radical reading of the Sacred Text alongside discussions about the roots of the peasants’ oppression. The new framework for understanding faith served as the movement’s ideological engine, while the sanctioning of the peasants’ interpretations of the Bible in light of their own life empowered a large group of new peasant intellectuals and grassroots leaders.
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