December 13, 2013
For Occupy Wall Street leader ‘Obama is worst than Bush’
By Constanza Heller
If he is proud of one thing, it is certainly that he did not vote for Barack Obama neither he campaigned for the US president. He goes by what he calls and learnt from his grandmother the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that taught him to be alert rather than paranoid. “I don’t care he is an African American. I care about his socio-politic agenda that responds to the ruling class which you did not see attacking Obama. You have to be suspicious and say this does not smell good,” Luis Barrios, a 61-year old Puerto Rican Episcopal priest tells the Buenosairesherald.com during an interview that does not take place at a Christian temple. We met at the At-Tauhid mosque in the Buenos Aires city neighborhood of Flores.
A history of activism
He might have got some notoriety in media when he joined the Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York City along with other religious leaders, -“a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Christian.” He got arrested four times and four times he got back to protest at the financial district.
“We joined the movement because we understood we had to be there to stress there was a political and economic crisis in the US but also a spiritual crisis,” Barrios explains as suspicion gives him a second thought. “The movement expanded to other places because not everybody could make it to Wall Street. Wherever you are, occupy something; that was the motto: federal buildings, schools, military bases, whatever you want but let your message be seen. It is a movement that has given some headache to the US government. However, as I tend to say, it makes no heads or tails. Are we going to take over power or not?,” this anti-imperialist priest that responds to the Liberation Theology developed by Latin American scholars puts the question. He answers to himself: “Such has been part of my criticism (to the Occupy Wall Street movement). But I always join in because there is not better way to criticize than doing.”
Luis has been doing. He says he is the result of three institutions. First, his grandmother who did not know how to write or read but had a different way “to see the world.” Second, already mentioned, the Liberation Theology. “Since I was 13 years old, I have been exposed to a phenomenon saying that religion must be relevant and reverent to people’s struggle; people are the thermometer. And also that if there is a great beyond, nobody reaches there without passing by here. I learnt that it is good that we all have a home; that everybody can eat and have a job, a decent salary.” And then it was Luis’ activism in the Puerto Rican Socialist Party that turned him into a “Marxist” of “historical materialism.” His everyday challenge, following the Book of James, chapter 2, became “make people see God in what you do, in what you write, in what you say.”
Obama and the Obamacare
By the time Luis Barrios grants the Buenosairesherald.com the interview, there is the ongoing conflict regarding the US government shutdown and the Republican defiance to Americans’ budget already with a history of a financial turmoil that started in 2007 with no clear great finale ahead.
As he describes how he sees the government of Barack Obama, Luis seems to have his reasons to state that the current leader of the United States is “worst” than his predecessor. “I thought Bush’s government was the worst in the country till Obama came. This one is special,” he assures.
For Luis, it was banks and not people that the Barack Obama administration helped when the bubble burst and the sub-prime mortgage crisis broke out. “He did not finish his first month in office that he gave a first round of subsidies to banks, subsidies that were bigger even to the ones Bush had given. We are talking about billions; not thousands or millions. Meanwhile, the people were left without jobs, they could not pay their 200,000 dollars mortgages with banks immediately taking away their houses. Obama, do you know banks are doing this? At least, set a clause that says since I am giving you this money, which I am already gifting to you, don’t take houses away from people who fell behind in payments. Because why did they fell behind? Because they can’t pay. And why can’t they pay? Because they don’t have a job.”
And for Reverend Luis the Obamacare is simply a “capitalist project” in a country where “80 millions have no access to health services because they are privatized.”
“So he said I am going to come up with a medical insurance for poor people so that workers can also pay corporations. There is no way to implement the Obamacare without touching pharmaceutical and hospital corporations and Wall Street. Then you have 22 million in the Latin American community that won’t qualify for this plan. And when you sum up all the minority groups that will be left out from it you realize it is a disaster and has no use,” he explains and adds that if the medical system in the United States was to benefit all Americans with or without the Obamacare, then there would not be “buses taking white old people” crossing the borders in the South and in the North.
“You have a lot of people crossing the borders to get medical services in Canada. And in the South they go to Mexico but that does not come out in the news.”
Yet to come
An answer to everything. Luis says that the worst is “yet to come” in the US as the shutdown and budget crisis deepens.
“What is going on now is that the national deficit continues to increase reaching trillions. Now comes the debate about how to deal with the deficit. And there, Republicans and Democrats definitely do agree. To cope with the deficit you have to cut social investment. Those are the neoliberal policies, the policies of capitalism. You don’t try to take subsidies out from banks or Wall Street. You don’t take money away from the weapons industry, the Pentagon or the CIA.”
Barrios does not only like to give answers, his own, of course. He says he also likes to “make parallels” after he travels to different countries and gets the chance to compare those realities with Americans’ every day. Now that he is in Buenos Aires for a quick visit invited by the PIA Periodismo Internacional Alternativo news agency –International Alternative Journalism in English-, before he takes a bus to the province of Misiones to give some conferences, he gets the chance to say that “in Argentina there is more social investment that in he US.”
“There is more respect to people’s access to medical and educational services in Argentina than in the United States. I teach in a public university where students have to pay. It was supposed to be free, but they have already semi-privatized it and want to keep on privatizing education,” Luis Barrios, who is also a professor at the John Jay college of Criminal Justice in New York, says.