Alicia Beatriz Oliveira, human rights lawyerTuesday, April 8, 2014
‘Bergoglio is a good man, but he is fallible like anyone else’
Former human rights lawyer Alicia Oliveira first came into the global spotlight by becoming one of the staunchest defenders of Pope Francis from those who accused him of being complicit with the last military dictatorship. In an interview with the Herald, while drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in her favorite coffee shop in Almagro, Oliveira discussed her trajectory in the human rights movement and her relationship with the Pope whom she calls “Jorge.”
Why were you fired from your position as a judge?
They kicked me out one week after the dictatorship began, on April 5, 1976. They never told me why but someone explained to me later that they would fire people for three reasons. First corruption, second for being terrorists, and third for irregular family situations, such as being divorced.
What happened afterwards? You’ve said that Bergoglio helped you...
After I was fired, I was a woman without political or economic power and I didn’t have a job, which made it very hard to have real friends. And Jorge (Bergoglio) was a true friend. We were consistently confessing things to each other. But he wasn’t a saint, even though now everyone thinks he is a saint. He was a good man, but he is fallible like anyone else.
When did you first meet Bergoglio?
When did you first learn about the jesuit priests Orlando Iorio and Francisco Jalics, who had accused Bergoglio of being complicit with their 1976 kidnapping? (Iorio has died and Jalics has recanted, saying he does not blame Francis.)
It was rather simple, Jorge began to visit me two times per week, where he would tell me about his problems, about the priests from the shanty towns. He didn’t understand why they needed to go do social work there.
Did any CELS members suspect Bergoglio was complicit with the kidnappings?
Yes, in 1979, when I first joined, I would argue over this with CELS founder Emilio Mignone repeatedly. He told me my version wasn’t true, but I never knew his sources.
What about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo founder Estella de la Cuadra’s accusations that Bergoglio ignored her family’s calls for help?
That wasn’t Bergoglio’s jurisdiction, it was in La Plata and he just told her to speak with the bishop with a letter of recommendation. They don’t understand how the dioceses or how the Church power structure works.
What was (right-wing Peronist group) Guardia de Hierro?
Look, it has a very bad reputation. But what is true is that Guarda de Hierro made a deal with Massera. However, that doesn’t mean all of those part of Guarda de Hierro were crap because, for example, it wasn’t an armed group.
In ’74 it was officially dissolved...
Officially it didn’t exist, but it still existed...
There are rumours that Bergoglio was a part of Guardia de Hierro — is that true?
I don’t believe it. I don’t know, and I’ve known him for many years. But they want to try to discredit Jorge with that.
What do you think of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government now?
It’s not of my taste, but the opposition isn’t either. I don’t think anyone can replace her, they are worse.
How did you become part of the Union por Fe party that is run by rural workers’ leader Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas?
They are all Peronists who are angry with how the government is operating. My connection was much more sentimental than anything else. They had (former economy minister Roberto) Lavagna as a senator for the province, and they called me to ask if I’d become a Lower House candidate. I said ‘no way,’ I won’t be with a traitor — Lavagna is a traitor. But when he left, I agreed to become a senatorial candidate.
What is the Union por Fe’s politics?
Momo said he wanted to talk about security, and there was a faction that wanted to take a hard line on the issue. I refused, and so Momo said we wouldn’t talk about security.
What do you think of the book Bergoglio’s List that will now be turned into a movie and that claims Bergoglio saved hundreds of people in the last military dictatorship?
I haven’t read it. But I don’t think you can compare Schindler, who was a bum, with Bergoglio. I could never imagine they would make a movie about Jorge. They called me about that. They are currently carrying out interviews, and so they need a screenwriter. I asked who it would be and they told me it’s going to be (Raúl) Portal’s son (Gastón Portal).
Who is he?
He is the son of (former late dictator Jorge Rafael) Videla’s spokesman and is an intimate friend of Padre Grassi.
That’s strange, isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. It’s all mixed up. But it’s intriguing because he’s the son of Portal. The first question they asked me is what relationship Jorge has with Guardia de Hierro? And I told them I don’t know. But, if you want to know, why don’t you ask him then ask me. But it comes from there. You need to be careful with these types of movies.
Why didn’t Jorge ever align himself with the human rights movement?
He was for exiled in Córdoba for four years, did you know? He couldn’t communicate with anyone. He was of the Jesuits, a group that was kind of militaristic.
And why was he exiled?
I don’t know, some type of sanction or penalty that he received from the Jesuits.