Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Douglas G. Hartley
HARTLEY: In my area I don't think there were any. It was never a very politically active area. It was rather typical developing or less-developed areas that were traditionally dominated by one, two, three, or four families. There was a patronage system, and the whole bit. It wasn't like Rio and Sao Paulo, of course, where there had been active student movements. The students in the University of Salvador were a pretty quiescent bunch.. The only problem we had was when the government decided in 1981 to raise the bus fares. Then there were riots in the streets. They overturned buses and caused some mayhem. All in all, it was a relatively quiet time in Brazilian politics. The end of the military era and the beginning of the new era, you had the rise of the opposition parties. I found that after a couple of years, though, I had pretty much exhausted my resources in Salvador. I began to get a little restless. There's just so much you can do in a small post. There's not much to do in Salvador. It was culturally different and indeed fascinating. Salvador is the Brazilian center for Afro culture. There was little interest in classical music few concerts and I have to admit that I am geared to western European culture. Sondra was more into it than I was. Then, of course, there was the annual Carnival activities when the whole city ground to a halt. We used to participate though most of those who could do it escaped the city and the general noise and confusion. I found it a little boring. I didn't, frankly, find a lot of people as stimulating as I was used to in Europe. I missed Europe and I missed the States.
Q: You mentioned that you were looking at the role of the church there. We're talking about the Catholic Church. What were they doing?
HARTLEY: Well, there were factions within the Catholic Church. There were very radical priests and there were very conservative bishops. Dom Helder of Recife was a leading radical bishop. As I mentioned, the base communities had emerged. These were, I believe, a way to head off the protestant churches, the fundamentalist churches making inroads in the northeast among the poor there. The Catholic Church realized that it had to do something. Otherwise, they were going to lose out, lose congregations to the Protestants. So with the comunidade de base, they tried to get the churches back into the grassroots level, the village level by forming these communities that were socially active as well as being religious. So these were being established while I was there. The question was, “Were they effective? To what extent were they political? And were they really religious or were they a way for the left-wing church to infiltrate.” So there was that aspect of it, too. There was a seminary in the University of Chicago, apparently, that was pretty radical, a Catholic seminary. Some of their priests were coming down. There were some fairly hot-blooded ones. And there was also legitimate concern about poverty in the northeast; conditions in the drought ridden backlands was and is appalling. It's something that everyone is right to be concerned with. But there was a question about how politicized was this concern. This is one of the things that worried the embassy. We can be concerned about poverty and do the most we can to alleviate it, but we don't want the poverty to breed communist ideology. So that's, I guess, why I was particularly interested in the comunidade de base.