Under the heading of: “Chile, the convent of the Americas? A country between the Opus Dei and Liberalism” the German journalist Maurice Weibel analyzes Chilean politics, where the followers of Escriva de Balaguer have a dominating presence in politics and over the agenda to update values in a country on the move to join the developed world.
The debate has been further speared by the recent case of a woman who had to give birth to a dead fetus because Chilean law bans even therapeutic abortion.
In Chile members of the Catholic organization Opus Dei hold important posts in a country facing a growing debate on sexual liberties and family policies which divides transversally the political establishment according to the report from Weibel.
“They have gone too far with women’s rights in a brutal way”, claims Senator Evelyn Matthei from the ruling conservative Democratic Union Party in spite of criticism from her peers.
“The work done under the protecting wing of the Virgin has been far more efficient” argues Ximena Ossandon former director of a network of government run pre-school institutions in reference to the division between State and Church incorporated to the Chilean legal system back in 1925.
Differences which also include health and civil rights erode with equal intensity the left-wing opposition in such issues as abortion, euthanasia and sex education in schools, particularly between Socialists and Christian Democrats.
In the middle of the debate the ultra conservative organization Opus Deis which has a strong presence in the media, universities and corporate world managed to have several of its members named in clue government organizations linked to education and family policies and in a country which for the last twenty years had been ruled by a left wing coalition.
Education minister Joaquin Lavin and the director of the National Office for Women Carolina Schmidt are the heads of such an advance which is even resisted inside the conservative government coalition of President Sebastian Pinera.
“There’s nobody that represents me less than Ximena Ossandon” said Senator Matthei who is promoting therapeutic abortion, banned in Chile by the military junta that ruled Chile until 1989/1990.
Her brother Manuel Ossandan, mayor of Puente Alto and an Opus Dei fundamentalist is known for having forbidden the distribution of the “day-after” pill in the city’s clinics. “Show me the pill is not abortive and I’ll be the first to have them distributed”, said Ossandun.
President Pinera a Liberal businessman has as his main political target to make of Chile a developed country based on per capita income and a booming economy, thus seeming to take distance from the debate raging in Chilean society and his own coalition.
The agenda of values, particularly following last February’s earthquake was forcibly frozen and only this week did the government put on the table the consideration of same sex civil unions and some limited gay rights.
The initiative coincides with the ruling from a lower court to request a report from the Constitutional Tribunal on the legality of banning same-sex marriages which is considered a “historic event” by activists from sexual minority groups.
The debate which also divides the opposition reveals tensions inside a society which only a few decades ago (1970) triggered the Marxist revolution of former president Salvador Allende and later the most emblematic neo-liberal project in Latin America (1973/1990) under the guidance of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The situation has triggered an intense debate in a society where public opinion polls have repeatedly shown the Catholic Church and the Police as the most respected institutions of the country. This also threatens the cohesion of conservative political groups.
Interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpenter the politician closest to President Pinera generates controversy among conservative sectors, particularly the Independent Democratic Union which holds a third of seats in Congress.
The fact is that the debate has taken over Congress, the presidential palace, the NGOs and the different churches in a country which only eleven years ago there was no divorce law.
Nowadays women in Chile don’t have the right to abortion even when the fetus is dead, same-sex marriage is specifically banned and government funds are invested in courses to teach government women staff massage and make-up.
All of this in a country that until March 2010 was ruled by an elected woman who is an atheist, twice divorced and Socialist, Michelle Bachelet, currently head of the UN Office for Women.