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Liberty, liberation and option for the poor

Francisco Aquino Jnior

Liberty and liberation are fundamental characteristics of human life, mutually implied. On the one hand, man is free to construct his life: each one goes about building his life one way or another, in as much as possible. On the other hand, liberty itself is a victory, fruit of a process of liberation: a person needs to liberate himself from the obstacles that complicate his realization. Without liberty and a process of liberation human life is simply impossible. It is a failed project. For this reason, the processes of liberation and the real conquests of liberty are so dear to humanity, particularly to persons and groups whose liberty is impeded and denied. It is there where the processes of liberation become more urgent and more fruitful: liberation economic, social, political, cultural, gender, sexual, ecological, religious, etc. It is there where liberty, liberation and option for the poor encounter viscerally united: the poor/oppressed are, simultaneously, the measure and real criteria of the degree of effective liberty of a determined society and the most appropriate and most fruitful conquest and accomplishment of liberty. Individual dimension As much as it is a part of society, that one be inserted in a culture and that one be conditioned by that society and culture, each person goes about building his life his own way. No one is equal to anyone else. Each one makes his own choices, options that configure his life one way or another. For this, it is necessary to guarantee (in a real manner and not just in an abstract way) a certain degree of liberty and, above all when this is denied or hampered, struggle to conquer it. In this sense, liberty and the processes of liberation have a strict individual dimension: it is the liberty to build ones own life one way or the other; it is the liberation from obstacles, and from impediments that make personal realization difficult. Societies and liberal cultures are particularly sensitive to this individual dimension of liberty, at least formally. In practice, what we see is that the great majority of individuals in these societies have a level of liberty extremely limited. In principle, ev44

Limoeiro do Norte, CE, Brazil

eryone can do almost anything; in practice, the great majority can do almost nothing. The Social Dimension Certainly, every person has to build his own life, one way or another. And for this, liberty and the process of liberation have an irreducible individual dimension that must be recognized, guaranteed and empowered. However, no one is born alone or lives alone. Human life also has a strict social dimension that speaks to both interpersonal relations and above all to the structures of society. The building of a life is a social project and not rarely, a conflictive project: my interests, my options, and my choices are conditioned and made possible by others and may enter in conflict with other interests, options and choices. And it is not only a question of interpersonal conflicts. The conflicts have a fundamental structural dimension, in as much as the structures of society exercise a determining role in the regulation and control of collective life, making possible and capacitating the few in the realization of their interests and making difficult or actually impeding the great majority of the population from satisfying even their basic necessities. Thus the exercise and the conquest of liberty are related to, in great part, the structures of society. And it is here, especially, that the option for the poor has a place and a fundamental function: to put a limit on the exercise of individual liberty (the necessity of the other is the limit of my right) and determine the priorities of the processes of liberation and of its mediations (what is necessary to do; in view of what strengthens liberty). The societies and traditional cultures (by the weight of traditions and customs) and the countries with a socialist regime (by the importance of the collective and by the weight of the State) are particularly sensitive to that social dimension of life, but wind up excessively restricting the individual exercise of liberty. The Historical Dimension The exercise of liberty and the processes of liberation, both in its individual dimension as well as its social dimension, occur by way of a historical process. They are historical processes. They are processes in as

Translation by Pedro Curran

much as they do not happen once and for all (liberty is not simply a fact, it is a permanent conquest), nor do they happen from nothing (certain levels of liberty empower and capacitate the exercise of liberty and the processes of liberation). They are historical, in as much as they constitute as processes both individual and/or collective appropriation and creation of real possibilities of functioning. Not everything is possible in any given epoch, place or situation ( to wish is not without more power!), but something is possible (there is always some possible margin of liberty, no matter how small!). And in as much as we appropriate the real possibilities that are within our reach, we open more possibilities for action and we enable ourselves to create new possibilities. This is where the importance of mediations come in, both theoretical and practical, in the exercise of liberty and in the processes of liberation. And it is here that once again the importance of the option for the poor appears. Be it as a criteria and measure of the degree of effectiveness of liberty in a society (light); be it as a criteria of the determination of the possibilities of action to be appropriated individually or collectively (way). The poor and oppressed are, always, the criteria and the real measure of the exercise of liberty and the processes of liberation. The Theological Dimension Finally, liberty and liberation have a strict theologal dimension ( involve and give access to God) and theological (with respect to God Himself). The presence and action of God in history and the consequent experience and interaction of persons and people with him occur in the historical process of liberation and conquest of liberty that make these same processes something profoundly spiritual, religious, transcendent, theologal, theological, it doesnt matter what you call it. As Juan Luis Segundo says, liberation and salvation are the cardinal terms to express the divine action and, in the New Testament, the mission of Jesus, the finality of his life, action and message. In the same sense the affirmation and insistence of Ignacio Ellacuria that, liberation is a concept that represents the very essence of the revealed message, of the salvific gift of God to men. And just as it appears in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, liberty and liberation are strictly tied to the situation and fate

of the poor and oppressed. For this very reason, Ellacuria says, this bond of liberation-liberty with the poor and poverty is one of the essential points of the concept of liberation-liberty; the reference to the poor as a defining concept of liberation, situates this concept in its proper perspective. In a way that, the liberation as a collective process, whose principle subject are the poor, is a Christian response to the problem of the collective liberty that makes possible and empowers personal liberty. In the Christian perspective, he says, there is no liberty without liberation and there is no liberation without an essential reference to the poor and poverty. And, as such, the option for the poor imposes itself as the only real and effective way to fight for the liberation of all and to guarantee the liberty of all. The universality of liberty (of all) comes about through the liberation of the poor and oppressed of this world (victims). Thus we see in the first place that liberty and liberation speak to the respect of individuals and peoples and, as such, should be lived and realized. Individual liberty cannot be thought of nor lived independently of the collective liberty and even less in contradiction to it. And it is here in the fundamental importance of the option for the poor that the exercise and conquest of liberty imposes limits, direction and priorities in its exercise. In the second place, we see that liberty and liberation are historical processes: fruit of the struggles and conquests; mediated by the appropriation of theoretical and practical possibilities. Finally, we see, that they have a theologal and theological dimension that speak to the experience of God that, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, is made up of a historical experience of liberation from many different forms of oppression and domination, or in any case, always occurs in historical processes of liberation and the conquest of liberty. This more encompassing and complex understanding of the exercise and conquest of liberty should capacitate us in the daily exercise of liberty and in the historical processes of liberation, that go beyond the individual or collective reductions, the idealisms and fatalisms, materialisms, spiritualisms and cynical and cruel universalisms that sacrifice thousands of lives on the altar of ones own interests The poor and oppressed of this world are witnesses and judges of our liberty and of our processes of liberation q