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Moral Re-Armament reaches Latin America

Luis Puig gives his perspective in interview with Alline Serpa

This page exists in:

Alline Serpa asked Luis Puig to give the facts as he understood them. She recorded him speaking several times, and the typed out the transcript-

Moral Rearmament reaches Latin America

In 1932, Frank Buchman visited Mexico and Peru, because at that time he wanted his ideas to reach Latin America. But it was in 1948, in São Paulo, that Leonor and Luis Villares got to know Moral Rearmament, today Initiatives of Change. In 1949, they decided to buy a large house in Rua dos Franceses to serve as a Centre for the movement in Brazil.  In this way they continued working for the idea. In 1950, Ernesto and Maria Widericksen, who ran a large textile company in São Paulo, started to pass on the ideas of Moral Re-Armament and several personal changes happened in their workers. Relationships improved. Then they decided to send a delegation from the Argos company to Caux.

In 1951 Buchman decided that an MRA group should visit Latin America and sent a delegation who visited several countries: Peru, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Guatemala. After this visit, Buchman thought that MRA in Latin America should begin with Brazil and so he sent a delegation of three dynamic young men from different countries and they began to work in the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Santos in 1951.

In that same year, José Figueres, then President of Costa Rica and on the point of leading a great rebellion in that country, met MRA in Miami together with a young trade unionist. This trade unionist was Luiz Alberto Monge who also became President of Costa Rica a few years later. In 1952, a group of pilots from Eastern Airlines, National Airlines and Pan American Airways visited several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, telling how these companies had resolved very serious labour conflicts in the United States. The local manager of Pan American Airways, Mr Wilson, was very taken by these stories and decided to send a delegation to Mackinac Island, the 2nd most important centre of MRA. He invited several people, including two men from the Air Services Union - the president and the disputes’ secretary. This disputes’ secretary was Luis Puig, also a member of the Revolutionary Action Party, which was giving Mr Wilson great headaches. This invitation provoked a huge protest from leftist groups and Puig insisted that the union should send a delegation. As a result, he was expelled from his position and also from being the president of the union, but Wilson maintained the invitation to them. This is how Puig and Herrera met MRA.

In 1952, the Santos dockers had already got to know the idea. At that time, shockingly it was discovered that the finance secretary of the communist cell operating in the Port publicly confessed that he had misused the union's money - and resigned. Everyone accused him of "traitor! thief!" and so on, but the oldest member of the Communist party stood up and said, "We must respect a comrade who has the courage to admit his dishonesties. I ask you to respect him." Everyone fell silent, and Carlos Anselmo, who had admitted embezzlement, stepped down. He began to work actively for MRA, resulting in the emergence of a team of MRA at the Port of Santos. A little later this team invited the dockers from Rio de Janeiro, where at the same time an amazing reconciliation had taken place between Nelson Marcelino de Carvalho and Damásio Cardoso, who were mortal enemies - one ran the legal union and the other the illegal union. Forty dockers from Rio de Janeiro met with the dockers from Santos at a place in São Paulo, and the change in the relationship between these two teams was self-evident.

The dockers from Rio went to Caux by chartered plane, paid for by the Villares family, who were, at the time  the owners of the largest steelworks in Latin America. In Caux, the dockers met Frank Buchman and told him the story of their change and the change in others too, both in Rio and Santos docks. Buchman stated that "Brazil is known for exporting the best coffee to the world. How would it be if Brazil exports the best idea?" This made them think and finally they decided to make a film, accepting Buchman's challenge. Thus "Men from Brazil" was born, a film funded through donations from various ports around the world, as well as from individuals who believed in the idea. The film was dubbed into 12 different languages and toured the world. Carlos Anselmo and his wife dedicated themselves to MRA full time, and travelled to various parts of the world, taking the idea with them, telling of their personal transformation, etc.

In 1955, an ex-communist called Péricles Martins made very significant changes in Santo André, SP, in the textile industry. He also gave himself full time to MRA. Shortly before, in 1954, Puig was appointed a delegate to the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. The President of Guatemala sent a delegate to an MRA assembly on Mackinac Island and also began to make some changes in the country, but he was assassinated in 1957. Since then, nothing has been done in Guatemala because of the succession of dictatorships.

In 1956, Puig felt he should help this idea, and decided to dedicate himself full time to MRA. There was a time when he was invited to England by Frank Buchman. In Caux, the founder of MRA made him sit in the first rows at events where important people were being received. He was treated with great ceremony, but he was not asked to speak. He wanted to speak, and was bored during the last days of the conference, so he decided to leave. But someone said to him, "Have you seen what Frank Buchman is trying to do to you?" Puig said he didn't understand, because despite sitting in the front row, Buchman never introduced him or let him speak. "It's just that he's training you," the friend said. Suddenly it hit him. Seeing all those ministers, union presidents there, etc., Puig stopped and started paying attention. From then on he started working in the USA, Canada and other countries.

In Uruguay, Omar Ibargoyen became very enthusiastic about MRA and started mobilising people across the country. José Alonso, one of the Alonso brothers who were world tennis champions, was married to an heiress of a large paint brand. They had assets, including houses in several places. The couple had a very difficult and rebellious daughter. She was with a boyfriend and her mother did not approve of the relationship, but just to spite her, she pursued the courtship. The family attended an assembly on Mackinac Island and during their stay, there was a very emotional reconciliation between them. The girl's name was Jeanette, and it was on this occasion that Luis and Evelyn Puig met her, and then they met Omar, whom Jeanette married.

Omar's change was really impressive. He apologised to his mother for all his bad behaviour.  He had his moment of silence every day in a very disciplined way. When his brothers were discussing the family inheritance - some farms, buildings - Omar had the thought to keep a certain house in the centre of Montevideo, and renounce the rest of the inheritance. The brothers thanked God, because that house wasn't worth much at the time. So he kept the house and the land next to it, as well as a farm far from the city. Later, a tunnel was built next to the house, leading to a growth in the local traffic and consequent rise in value of the property. Today, the Omar Ibargoyen Foundation is maintained by the rent from this property.

Jeanette, his wife, lives to this day in Montevideo, and is one of the founders (with Omar, Jeanne Azam and Bernard Paris) of the Gente Que Avanza movement in Uruguay.

In 1957, Bráulio Alanis, from Uruguay, went through a personal change and reconciled with his worst enemy. The two of them, with their wives, attended an MRA conference and told about their change then started a large campaign in Uruguay, culminating in the creation of a team of 30 to 40 people whom they mobilised across the country.

In 1964, after experiencing several changes in herself, Leonor Villares had the idea of buying a site, a place that could serve as a national centre. Contrary to what people thought, instead of São Paulo, Leonor thought of a place in Petrópolis, and thus Sítio São Luiz was born.

Sítio São Luiz, which had already been given that name by the then owner, cost a very high price at the time of its purchase. It was not possible to buy it at first sight, then someone suggested writing to the main owners, Mr. Frankl, who now lived in Australia. Frankl was president of the Brazil-Australia Chamber of Commerce, when he heard that the sale was to MRA, he sent a telegram to his brother, saying: "Make a 50% discount on the price, and sell the rest on credit, as I need to thank MRA ". It was never known what he had to thank the movement for, but the news was received with joy, and the Sítio was bought. There were other contributions to this purchase, such as one person who took off her pearl necklace and offered it as a contribution.

Banco Bradesco contributed 25% of the amount required, through the request of Leonor Villares, Elza de Araújo and other ladies from São Paulo, who visited Amador Aguiar, president of the bank at the time. Mrs. de Araújo, in the course of the conversation, said to Aguiar: "Do you believe in God?". He replied: "Of course! I am very religious". She continued, "Do you know that God speaks to people's hearts?" "Yes, of course, every day I dedicate time to listen to God," he continued. She went on, "Well, God has put it in my heart that you will contribute 25% of the value of the Sítio." Amador Aguiar was silent for a while and then said, "Give me 24 hours to think.  In 24 hours I will give you an answer.  And exactly one day later, Aguiar called and said: "You can go and get the cheque".

The dockers organised a big barbecue to help raise money for the purchase of Sítio São Luiz. Five hundred people attended, the venue was packed. The Mayor of Petrópolis gave a whole ox for the barbecue. The army lent the plates and some things to furnish the Sítio, since the place had no furniture at all at that time. Finally, after some time, Sítio São Luiz was paid for.

Puig went to Argentina to dub and subtitle MRAs films so they could be used in Latin America. It was then that he decided to ask Evelyn Fils to marry him. They got married in Peru, went to the USA and then to Brazil, for a short visit. In this country, they were invited to stay to work in Sítio São Luiz, which was, at the time of purchase, in very bad condition. Little by little, it became well used with meetings of port workers.

These same dockworkers, already more organised among themselves, intended to take their idea to other ports in the world. They wanted to go to Italy and other countries, but these trips would certainly be expensive. Someone set them a challenge: "Have a quiet time!” One docker came up with an idea: "Let's visit the owner of a shipping company". The owner of Costa Lines was temporarily in Brazil, and was enthusiastic about MRA.

Nelson Marcelino and another docker visited Mr. Costa and told him what they wanted to do in Europe. As a result, they got tickets not only to Italy, but to several other countries.

At this time, something had already been done in Mexico. There, an engineer working on the construction of large hydroelectric power plants was visited by a Swiss friend of Frank Buchman, owner of an electrical apparatus company in Switzerland, and so he got to know MRA. In the conversation, the Swiss man said that there is a lot of corruption in that area. He even said that he would not work with them, that he would not do the project. The corruption that was creeping into the construction of these hydroelectric dams brought Mexico to a halt. As a result, the engineer imposed the condition that in order to carry out projects such as hydroelectric dams, they needed to be built without any act of corruption. He, with his wife and children, lived the ideas of MRA until his last days.

The work across the country grew a lot. The action in Monterrey was very productive. However, a spirit of mistrust plagued the team all over the country. Frank Buchman, from the beginning of his visits in 1932, would pass on his ideas to anyone. Once, in a taxi, he chatted with the driver. There was such a profound understanding between them that the man was radically transformed. So much so that, 50 years later, some people of MRA went to Mexico and met the man, already old, who said: "I will never forget what Mr. Frank Buchman talked about to me." That gave direction to his life.

Once, Luis Puig and Jean Fortoyver, an Austrian baron, went to Mexico to obtain the imprimatur - official licence from the Mexican Archbishop for the publication of a book in Spanish. The book was about a priest and great Catholic philosopher who had written about the MRA.

Puig and Jean arrived in Mexico on a Saturday and the next day they went to Mass. To do so, they carried the missal in hand. Strangely enough, they noticed that many people were staring at them in the street.

When they returned to the hotel, the manager received them with a smile and said: "You are brave! You dare to go out in the street with that book in your hand!" Puig and Jean didn’t understand. "In Mexico it is forbidden." The men then began to ask more questions, and noted that this was an essentially atheist country. The constitution is atheist, and even includes the prohibition of any religious demonstration in the streets. Carrying a book that looked like a bible in their hands was a religious demonstration. They could have been arrested.

To perform the Day of Guadalupe, for example, the men would ride on horseback and use their revolver ostentatiously. They would ride alongside the Mexican procession, protecting this great celebration in Mexico. The country, even before those times, was divided by a very great atheism, but also by a very strong Catholic faith.

They visited the Catholic University, and were welcomed by some people. In the course of the conversation, they discovered that they were priests, but could not, at that time, wear the cassock or the Roman collar.

The work of MRA in Mexico has had its ups and downs. There was quite a big enthusiastic spurt, but then it died out. This happened a few times, and people believed very much in the progress of the work. Now, with a small team, there is hope.

In 1964, Peter Howard, Frank Buchman's successor, visited Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru, taking many other people on this mission with him. There was already a Moral Rearmament working base in these countries. In Brazil he spoke frankly to the dictatorship’s military personnel : "Your revolution will lead nowhere, because it does not touch the hearts of the people". He spoke at Itamaraty, to the military, to journalists, etc. In Chile there was already a team at work, as there was also in other countries.

Four or five days after being in Peru, Peter Howard fell ill and died, after a severe pneumonia due to the very dry and dusty climate. It never rains. When it rains, it drizzles, and it even makes the headlines. Howard received honours as head of state, the main hall of Lima City Hall opened to receive the wake, accompanied by his wife, who accompanied him in this mission.

With the seeds which were planted on this mission by Peter Howard, the Peru team grew considerably. The students of San Marcos were mostly leftist, but the hope of the Cuban leaders (the Castro brothers) was to create, in Peru, the second base for the operation of the communist party in Latin America. Cuba was the first. But the inner change that occurred with these students was significant. There was a man named Campos Lamas who was a student leader at the University of San Carlos. He was called the "eternal student" - exams came and he didn't show up. However, as a full member of the Communist Party, his task was to recruit more and more members among the students, preparing for the future of the party in Peru. It was already quite large in the country.

At this time the play "The Tiger", arrived. It was written by Japanese students who had been leftist. Lamas felt that many Peruvian students were enthusiastic about the idea and forbade them to watch it. Solomo Espinosa, his lieutenant, suggested to Lamas: "Why don't you organise a debate? If our idea is powerful enough, we will win that debate with the Japanese students. Campos Lamas accepted. The debate was to take place in the most distinguished hotel in Lima. Lamas wanted it to take place in a popular venue, but Solomo proposed, "Why not in the 'den' of the capitalists?"

So the meeting took place, a very long discussion, where the Japanese students presented their arguments on why, as revolutionaries, they had decided to change, putting their ideas in a very convincing way. Finally Campos Lamas said, "Well, our debate is getting nowhere. Neither you nor we are reaching any conclusion and so we'd better call it off." And at that moment, to his surprise, Espinosa asked: "Lamas, what's wrong with you? Are you afraid? We, as revolutionaries, are searching for the truth, and the most practical way to build a new world. It seems to me that Moral Rearmament has this new path. And if you are afraid, you are not helping the conclusion of this debate." Campos Lamas got worked up, saying "You are a traitor," among other things, and withdrew.

As a result, Solomo Espinosa and the left-wing students, who had been enthusiastic about MRA, stayed with the Japanese group, and Campos Lamas withdrew with 2 or 3 of the left-wing students. The fact is that the Peruvian students decided to write a play, each one telling his story Then a theatre director told them: "Put everything together in a single story," and that is how the play "The Condor" came about, with performances by the Peruvian students themselves. It had its premiere in 1965, in Petrópolis, at the Hotel Quitandinha. From there it went on to Italy, Switzerland, France, Canada, among other countries, and was a huge success.

In 1967, Luiz Pereira met the MRA and began to work with the favela communities. He had the inspiration to meet the Minister of the Interior and lay out his plans to help his community of Morro São João, to get people out of where they were. His plan was not accepted, and the Interior Minister decided to present a new plan: to build a block of flats in the Lins de Vasconcellos neighbourhood, to where the community was later transferred. Luiz Pereira continued to work for the communities, holding meetings in Sítio São Luiz to mobilise people.

In 1970, Puig started working at Varig Linhas Aéreas, although at first the team did not agree, as it meant leaving full-time MRA work. Puig defended himself saying that he would not leave his job but would dedicate himself to both tasks. Little by little, the leaders of MRA and the team agreed. He woke up at 4 a.m. and left the bus station in Petrópolis at 6 a.m., taking the bus to Rio de Janeiro, arriving at work at 7.30 a.m. After the day’s work, which ended at 5 p.m., After work, which ended at 5pm, he would take the bus back to Petrópolis. They didn't have a car then, nor a telephone. Luis Puig used to walk up the Nelson Marcelino hill at night. After a while, he got tired of all this, and proposed to his wife that they move to Rio de Janeiro. After that, other people took over the administration of Sítio São Luiz. The MRA team were visited in Latin America, such as Mexico and Guatemala. In the latter, the Minister of Labour, during the dictatorship, allowed a large “Meeting of the Americas” to be held in a government building, and it can be said that it was the first of many that have taken place up to the present day. People from Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, as well as Holland, England and countries from the African continent attended. A very important contact was made with the indigenous people when the meeting took place in Lake Atitlán, a very beautiful place in Guatemala. An arrangement was made, where indigenous and white people spoke their own language (Mayan and Spanish) and had simultaneous translation.

All of a sudden, a person appeared who declared himself the indigenous Mayor of a certain town, inviting people from MRA to go to his town in San Antonio Palopó, which meant crossing the lake. That was when people from different countries had the opportunity to speak with the indigenous people. On this occasion there was Dr Paul Campbell, from Canada, who met an indigenous doctor who told him of his difficulty in giving care to pregnant women in particular, as he had no equipment. The Canadian then offered Dr. Sakimuti all his equipment, as in Canada they used to renew all the clinic’s equipment every year, or every two years, discarding the existing equipment or giving it to other countries. Dr. Campbell managed to get the  discarded equipment from Canada to equip the tribe of Pajé Sakimuti, in Guatemala.  At first the work was going well in Guatemala, but then another dictatorship came and it was no longer possible to enter.

In El Salvador, one of the members of Gente Que Avanza wrote to his father-in-law about the idea of inviting two people from MRA and the father-in-law invited them to come. The visitors to El Salvador were received amidst machine-gun fire, rifle fire, blackouts in the capital, that is: guerrilla fighting in the middle of the dictatorship.  The men stayed in a half-lit hotel. They talked to the person who had invited them, Mr Molina, with his wife, who listened to them with great suspicion and very seriously. They took them to lunch in a restaurant in front of a big volcano. Sitting down, Molina told them: "Look at this volcano. Those guerrillas are hiding there, and nothing can be done against them, because they are very well hidden, well equipped. When they finished lunch, Mr Molina rolled up his sleeves, hugged the two men and said: "When do we start?" The men were stunned!  He continued, "You guys have convinced me. This idea will do something for my country.

His wife said, "I am afraid for my husband. She was Governor of a province in El Salvador, and all the men who had been governors of that province had been killed. No one wanted to accept the position. That's when she said, "I accept," at which time she became the only woman governor of Santa Tecla, and she was not assassinated.

Eduardo Molina did many significant things for El Salvador, and one of them was to organise a symposium called "Responsibility is the task of us all", inviting right, left and centre to the event. Amidst bombs and machine gun bursts, the symposium took place with the participation of several representatives of countries, including North America, various parts of the USA, Canada and even friends from England. What MRA had made possible was told at the symposium. As a result, some people in El Salvador began to change, and a team of 72 people was formed under Molina's leadership.

At meetings called by him at least 50% attended, usually at lunchtime on working days. He knew how many people were coming to a pre-chosen place and ordered the meals in so-called "quentinhas" boxes, and each participant paid for his meal. While they had lunch, the meeting took place. They were very interesting meetings, because there they decided what they would do, the next steps, etc.

They came into contact with people from the government of El Salvador and there was a meeting at the Supreme Court of Justice. The Court appealed to the guerrillas and to all sides to end the conflict, so that there could be reconciliation in the country. It is not known whether MRA had any influence or not.  But during a “Gathering of the Americas” organised in Brazil where Eduardo Molina and his wife were, the announcement was suddenly heard on television: "In Mexico, the guerrilla chiefs have made peace with representatives of the government of El Salvador." There and then they decided to celebrate peace in El Salvador, causing Molina to return to the country immediately: "I cannot stay here, so far from these events," he said. His friends there at the gathering helped him with the fee for changing the date of his return flight.

When he arrived in El Salvador and the plane had landed, all the passengers were asked to stay on board and that only the Molina couple should get up and go ahead. A little frightened because he did not know what it was all about, he obeyed and when they got off the aircraft, at the foot of the stairs there were two rows of United Nations soldiers. He walked down the “guard of honour” and at the end found his daughter: "Dad, sign here". He asked, "What's that?!" She replied, "It's an autograph". There he found out that he had been one of the three important people, alongside a former President and a famous Jurist, for the Truth Commission. For him, it was an emotional moment, as everything had been a surprise.

One of the left-wing men confessed that he had bought all the weapons he would need to join the guerrillas, but during a “Gathering of the Americas” in Brazil he discovered a better idea, gave up his initial plan and began to look at things from the viewpoint of Moral Rearmament. This young man became Mayor of San Salvador (capital of El Salvador).

From then on, the work in El Salvador continued until about 1978-79, or perhaps until the beginning of the 1980s, when they worked with judges, trade unionists, etc. Eduardo and his wife passed away and then there was nobody with the same drive to continue the work in the country. The team of 72 people disintegrated and contact was lost with MRA in El Salvador.

In Nicaragua various meetings and events were held.  One that stands out because of her personality is the one with Tita Aquino, a guerrilla fighter.  She was exiled during the dictatorship in Guatemala, and moved to Nicaragua, where the Sandinista government protected her. She went on to work at the Bank of Nicaragua. Evelyn and Luis Puig visited Tita, who showed them her library, with books such as Karl Max's Capital, among others. Her twin sister (really very similar physically) was very religious, quite different from Tita. With time, she began to change.

On one occasion, Tita made a risky visit to Guatemala. It turned out that she had sworn to kill her father. "The day I find my father, I'll give him a machine-gun blast," she would say. The point was that her father had abandoned her, and this daughter had not forgiven him. Her twin sister did forgive him, and even visited him, especially when he fell ill, helping him as much as possible. On that occasion, Tita went to visit him. When he saw her enter, he said: "Oh, thank God, it's good that you have come, I am paralysed, I feel alone, I have no one to talk to", etc. Tita stood looking at him and said: "I am not Menchi, I am Tita". The man turned white, for he knew that his daughter had sworn to kill him. Then she began to cry and said: "I have come to ask your forgiveness". At the end they embraced, cried and there was reconciliation.

Tita started working with MRA in Nicaragua. When there were meetings, they had to take place outside the houses, as it was very hot. So the meetings took place on the verandas, and people sat in rocking chairs, the 'abuelitas'.

At a meeting in the house of one of the team members, they noticed that across the street lived a family whose political ideology was leftist, supporting Sandinism. The mother of this family seemed to be watching the meeting in the house opposite. Behind her wall, she listened to the conversations of the meeting. Tita knew about this but thought, "Let's give her plenty of MRA so she can listen," and so the meetings continued.

One day, Tita heard that this lady had fallen ill, was in bed, and said: "Let's go and visit her". Everyone asked her about how they were going to visit a leftist woman, worried that she was against the group. She said, "It doesn't matter, we will visit her and offer support".

They made the visit and the lady was frightened. The division between the left (Sandinistas) and the non-left (non-Sandinistas) was already very big in Nicaragua, and it still is today. Tita said to her: "Look, we need a financial secretary in our small organisation! Could you help us to organise our finances? Mrs. Joana accepted the invitation and started working with MRA.

One time there with a meeting planned in Costa Rica but the team from Nicaragua could not afford to go because they were very poor.  Mrs. Joana, already part of the team, organised that her street be closed for a feast of typical Nicaraguan foods. With the sales, because many people participated, it was possible to finance the team’s trip to Costa Rica. Her Sandinista ideas had been left behind. She was 100% with MRA.

The work had progressed a lot. In one of the last meetings held in the country at that time, there was a public gathering in a government school, where many Sandinistas were invited. At this meeting, Michael Olson, an American, spoke honestly about his past life, about his relationship with his mother, how he had been honest with his family, in short, he told his story. At the end, Michael was surrounded by Sandinistas, including one in particular who was quite influential in the leftist milieu. He opened his shirt and showed him a medal. Michael came forward and said: "Ah, the portrait of Che Guevara?", and the other replied: "No, no, it is of Jesus Christ". He put the medal away and began to cry. The man wore the medal hidden. "That's the first American I've ever heard in my life being absolutely honest," he said, then told Michael about his own life. This led other Sandinistas, there, to open up as well.

It was in this way that MRA was able to reach the leftist group in Nicaragua up to a certain point, because later this access was cut off, making it very difficult to work from then on. Up to the present day, it has been very difficult to work there. The team disbanded, leaving two or three people with whom we still have some contact today.

Tita currently lives in Guatemala with her children and grandchildren, in contact with MRA through Killy Sanchez. She works with her with the indigenous people in Chimaltenango, among other things.

In Costa Rica, the Central American country where the work of MRA began, the transformation of Eliezer Cifuentes must be highlighted. He became involved in the struggle against the dictatorship in Guatemala and at one point the military gave an order for his arrest. Eliezer fled his home and on the way to exile in the Costa Rican embassy, they fired a machine gun at him. This explains why his right arm was paralysed for life. Despite this, he lives well.

After going to the Costa Rican embassy and staying there for a few days, he was given a "safe-passage" and taken to Costa Rica. Traumatised, Eliezer’s daughter, Périda, began to suffer convulsions. Eliezer was consumed by hatred against the military.

At one of the MRA meetings in Costa Rica, he met Laurie Vogel, an Englishman, who asked him his religion. "I am an evangelist, Protestant," he said. Laurie continued: "Well, you, as a Protestant, love everybody, love humanity". Eliezer replied: "Of course! I consider everyone to be a child of God." Surely Laurie wanted to get somewhere and continued, asking about the military. With his face burning and red, Eliezer did not answer and left.

However, that question left him thinking. Days later, he decided to visit the Guatemalan embassy in Costa Rica - something he had never done. In conversation with the military attaché, he apologised for his hatred. The man listened silently, looking at him, and when Eliezer finished telling the whole story, the man said: "The one who gave the order to capture and shoot you was me". The man apologised and they embraced.

Days later, this military man went to Eliezer’s house for dinner, and there, with his family, was his daughter, who had been so traumatised. One more step towards reconciliation took place.

Only after this did Eliezer manage to visit Guatemala after such a long time. This is where the change in his spirit began. Costa Rica was where a team was formed. Until today, Eliezer has continued to struggle, despite the ups and downs in the make-up of the local team. His daughter lives a normal life, has recovered from the convulsions, is married and living in the United States with her children.  He visits her and his other daughter regularly. His wife, who throughout the storm prayed daily for a change in his heart, was delighted with Eliezer’s attitude. Colonel Cicabiza, the military man who reconciled with him, was also greatly changed in his spirit and returned to Guatemala.

When they were young, Luis Puig and Cicabiza, who coincidentally knew each other, used to do target practice with a knife. This was before he entered military school. Cicabiza once asked: "Luis, why do we have to practice this rubbish?

Luis replied that they needed to be on their guard against the reactionaries, who might attack and take power. In fact, they were the revolutionaries, and the reactionaries were from the right-wing party. Cicabiza, with the knife in his hand, said, "No, Luis, I'm not going to practice that anymore." They didn't see each other again, but he entered military school, and their paths drifted apart. Luis Puig later became co-owner of a broadcast radio station that was called Radio Novo Mundo, with the clear aim of proselytising people. However, he realised that it was more of a commercial enterprise than a tool of influence. The left-wing government took advantage of this communication channel to make all the announcements of its state-owned companies, paying for the service, which included music, marimba, vignettes, etc, but no real proselytism.

Three or four years later, Puig told his partner, Humberto Gonzalez: "Humberto, I can't go on with you". Naturally Humberto asked for an explanation and Puig was honest. Despite his protests, Luis was convinced that he should not continue. He left that radio station and went to work at another called Radio International, which also broadcast in Guatemala. That was more or less the time when he met MRA.

Luis Puig even tried to take MRA to Humberto but, despite listening to him patiently, he was not convinced. He was relatively corrupt. At the time, as a politician, he had passed a law that prohibited North American ships from transporting Guatemala's bananas. This led to the halt of all exports of the fruit. Taking advantage of this, Humberto hired ships from Santo Domingo, Cuba, and other Latin countries, to do the transport. He made a lot of money.  

Humberto was even a candidate for President of the Republic but did not win. When the revolution took place in Guatemala and the right took power, he had to flee the country. Years later he returned - more corrupt than ever. He had a cinema that showed pornographic films, and with that he made a lot of money too. He never stopped conspiring and interfering with other people's activities.  As he lost contact, all Luis knew was that he was murdered with a blast of machine gun fire while he was casually standing somewhere.

The work in Colombia started in the years 1962-63. Contact was made with Colombian trade unionists, and in that period, many were killed as the situation in the country was very bad. In 1965, Luis Puig was living in Peru at the time and, shortly before he married Evelyn, was invited to go to Colombia, where work was being carried out with the coal and gold miners. There, a good MRA work was carried out, with a good team that travelled through several towns.

In Colombia there was a man, a cleric, with a great vision for the country. Mr Salcedo had a radio station where he tried to teach the poorest and the indigenous people to read and write.  At that time the team in Colombia was led by Peter Hintzen. When he married Digna, he did not know that he was actually marrying Latin America. Luis Puig and Peter were very good friends.

In Cali, Luis and Evelyn Puig attended a conference at a friend's farm. There were people from São Paulo and other places in Brazil, as well as local people. Evelyn, who loved to swim, saw a pool. She quickly changed clothes and dived into it. Unfortunately, the pool was not used by anyone and was infected, as the animals were drinking water there. Evelyn had a serious infection in her right ear, was hospitalized for a long time in Cali, and then transferred to Brazil. There she lost part of her hearing.

The work in Colombia grew little by little, so much so that they thought of doing something bigger. A lawyer, Mrs. Heyde Duran, fought valiantly for MRA in her country. She had been in India, England, Caux, Switzerland, in several countries, where she gave the news from Colombia then returned to Colombia to continue her work. In Latin America, Heyde went to in Argentina and also in Brazil attending several “Gatherings of the Americas”. Charismatic person that she was, she always helped with the local teams, and took many people from the slums in Colombia to get to know MRA.

In the midst of all this, a terrible attack happened to her. On the sixth floor of a hotel in Bogotá, there was a very beautiful luxury restaurant. She was having dinner there when guerrillas detonated a bomb at the base of the building. The building collapsed, and Heyde was found on the 2nd floor, under some concrete slabs.

Although she was one of the few people to have survived this attack, her recovery took a long time. Because of this, despite her great influence on the work of MRA there, the team in Colombia was shrinking despite Peter and Digna keeping the flame of MRA alive in Colombia and travelling there frequently.  But when Peter passed away, Digna was deeply affected.  After a while she regained her spirit and right up to the present day she is very active and close to the Latin American teams. Some people from that time are still active in the team, but others have left. The fact is that the connections to the past remain.

Later Helena and Bettina von Armin, mother and daughter, came closer to the idea and, together with other people, are currently working in the local team. Luis Carlos Ortiz, since Heyde's time, has not lost the spirit of MRA, but still remains a little intimidated by the shrinking team.

In Argentina, the work began in 1954-55, during the Perón dictatorship. Raul Migone, an Argentine, was in exile in Uruguay, as he was a right-winger. At a certain moment, he had the thought that he would play an important role in the country's future. He talked about it with some people from MRA, without being able to explain very well the reason for this thought. Three days later, the telegram came: "Mr Migone, you have been appointed Minister of Labour. We expect your immediate return to Argentina". It was from the military government that who had overthrown Perón.

Luis Puig, a trade unionist at the time, was invited by him to go to Argentina, along with a group of dockworkers from Rio de Janeiro, to get in contact with Peronist workers, who were very difficult. Some even formed terrorist groups after Peron's fall and exploded bombs in Buenos Aires. Among the dockers were Nelson Marcelino, Damásio Cardoso and others.

In Buenos Aires there was a flat on Figueroa Alcorta Avenue, where Luis and Evelyn met. One day, a German man came by and asked: "Is this the centre of the MRA? Receiving a positive answer, he continued: "Is this the same as The Oxford Group?", and again he got a positive response. "May I come in?". He went in, sat down and said, "I met the Oxford group. In this group, I was taught to think about the harm I have caused. About the good that I could do and to ask God to show me the way.” Puig listened to him, confirming what he said. The German continued: "Well, the years passed by and I reached the point where I concluded that I had done nothing wrong. Then I was silent and no thought came to me. What is your advice for me?".

Among those present, some offered some thoughts and even proposed that he work in Avellaneda. "I am technical head of the glass factory," one of them said. The German, Mr. Werner, left there, he said nothing more. Days later, he returned saying: "I had the thought to invite at least two people to talk to the Peronist workers". Luis and Bráulio Alanis stayed in his home with him.

For two months they could not get in touch with these workers. Puig was already thinking of giving up when, one day, Mr. Werner came to them rather excitedly and said, "I've got a contact with the Peronists!". Everyone gasped with surprise. He continued, "They were discussing among themselves who was more revolutionary, etc. I told them 'I know two friends who are more revolutionary than you'". The Peronists laughed in his face and doubted. Mr Werner took up the challenge and told them that same night there would be a trade union meeting where the two from MRA would participate. At the meeting, Bráulio Alanis (from Montevideo) and Luis Puig were welcomed by the group's treasurer, who quickly offered them something to drink and ordered: "Buy some Coca-Colas". Bráulio then spoke ironically: "Oh, Coca-Cola? You are revolutionaries and you are asking for an imperialist drink? They defended themselves saying that the soft drink had nothing to do with it, it was just a North American company. So, the conversation continued, with arguments and counterarguments, in a light and jovial atmosphere.

Then the meeting started for real and went on in the normal way. At a certain point the treasurer tapped the table and said: "I am a revolutionary, and I will tell you why.” And he told of the injustices that had been done to him. Everyone listened in silence. Another said, "I was very badly treated by the chief of staff." He was an artist, and he told how he had worked in the formative stage of glass, blowing, and shaping objects. One day, the head of staff came up to him, touched him on the shoulder and said: "You will work with me on the office work. Having been taken out of the artistic side and stuck in administrative work, the man was deeply embittered - for the next 10 years. He hardly spoke to his boss, who was Jewish.

Others told similar stories, the two from RAM told a little about the movement, personal experiences of transformation, etc. The group was challenged by the power of personal change.  They were left thinking. The next day, Luis and Bráulio met with Mr. Meyer, the head of staff mentioned in the story told by one of them.

Over tea, they asked if Mr Meyer remembered the man, he had removed from artistic services to the office side of the business. He replied, "Oh yes, he's a boy I like very much. I appreciate him a lot." Asked about the hurt, he did not understand and asked why. On hearing the explanation, he explained, "I couldn't let him continue working there because in the last medical examination the result showed that he had early signs of tuberculous. If he kept blowing glass, it would be the end for him. As I had always liked him very much, I took him away from that risk". Luis asked: "Did you explain to him why?", and he answered that he did not, because he didn't see the need, he simply ordered him to change his post. "But since then, because he didn't know that he has felt bitter towards you. That man loved his work, he was an artist.” Understanding what was going on, Mr Meyer was left thinking and suddenly began to cry. "I never thought that. I never thought," he said, "I'm going to make it up with him." The two met, each one explained himself to the other and they were reconciled.

Still in Argentina there was a man with whom Damásio Cardoso, a port worker, wanted to have lunch. He was one of the most aggressive, By this time, the MRA team had managed to make friends among the Peronist workers and were already more accepted by them, so the lunch was scheduled. The man arrived with a large overcoat and a hat at the restaurant located in the basement of a building. The place was completely full. The man ordered without blinking: "I want a table for me and my friends". As if by magic, a table was completely vacated. The Peronists were afraid of him.

Damasio, Puig and Bráulio sat down with the man and began to talk. Damasio began to tell his story of personal change and what happened in the port of Rio.  During the conversation and lunch, the man listened to everyone. At the same time, he was looking impatiently at his watch, in a typically nervous way. He wanted to interrupt Damásio, but he couldn't. There came a certain moment when he relaxed, took off his overcoat and hat and engaged in conversation with Damasio.

Months later, little by little seeing the change in this man, Luis Puig once asked: "Why were you so nervous that time? He replied, "I'll be frank with you. I was scheduled to enter the terrorist cell of the Peronists and place a bomb and kill several people. He explained how many and exactly where. "If I did that, I would be accepted into the terrorist cell," he explained. "The time came, the conversation was good, and I didn't go," he added. Luis Puig asked who he had intended to kill. "First of all, it was Mr Voizen, the factory manager. I had to put an explosive device in the ignition of his car. When he started it, the explosion would be sure to happen. And since it was inside the garage of the factory, naturally other people would die," he added. Puig wanted to know more, he asked how he could have known so many details about the factory. "Because I was the operator's boyfriend," he explained, "she would tell me the arrival and departure times.” Luis Puig claimed he had exploited the operator and challenged him: "Have you ever thought about apologising to this man? Have you ever thought about being honest with your girlfriend about how you used her?". Even though he saw some resistance, Puig convinced him to apologise for what he had done.  In the end he said, "I will be honest with them,".

He and his telephone operator girlfriend got married and went to Caux, Switzerland. In Europe with other Peronists, they visited miners in Ur in Germany, and told them the way he had changed. He currently lives in Buenos Aires, dealing with the symptoms of a stroke. Thirty years later, his wife - that telephone operator - is still grateful to Luis Puig. From time to time friends get in touch with her. They know that she is very devoted to her husband. They have two grown-up children.

Puig and Bráulio’s relationship with the Peronistas evolved. From then on, these workers walked with their friends from MRA through the tortuous and dangerous streets of Avellaneda, sort of escorting them. Once they were passing over a bridge, when they asked to stop and said: "There is our factory". The feeling of belonging existed because they had worked there all their lives.

When Luis and Evelyn's first son, Carlos, was born, they received a telegram from Mr. Voizen, the factory manager. It read, "Best wishes to your son and eternally grateful for something else!". Yes, Voizen was found and talked to by the one who was to be his murderer. When he heard from him what he was honestly intending to do, Voizen said, "Yeah, I was afraid that could really happen to me. But I didn't know it could be you". From that moment on, they redoubled the precautions they took with [LN1] him.

Something interesting and striking in countries like Chile and Argentina was the presence of foreigners.  Whenever there were people from other countries outside the continent - British, French, Indians, Africans ... the team remained energised. Many times these foreign teams left, and the local team shrank. Everything was going well, for example in Argentina, when there was a strong foreign presence. When the foreigners left, the team started fighting among themselves. Argentines are very suspicious of each other, sometimes thinking that the other has bad intentions, is stealing or is going to do badly, etc. The result is that, until today, the team is made up of small, separate groups that criticise each other for the good and bad actions of the others. Elida Mauri, one of the team members, is the hope of the work in Argentina. She does not share this kind of thinking, but unfortunately not everyone is like her.

The flat on Figueroa Avenue was too luxurious, so they moved to a flat on Castex Avenue, where full-time volunteers from different countries arrived to work. Luis Puig rebelled at this luxury. If they wanted to deal with the workers, it couldn't be in a luxury flat. It would be a purposeless showiness in the middle of Buenos Aires even with the argument that MRA also needed to approach people with high social status. Puig fought with the team, not accepting the fact. His level of nervousness was such that he even had gastritis. At a certain moment, everyone was called to a conference in Miami, but he did not want to go, and even declared that he would leave MRA.

The continuous discipline of a moment of silence, no matter what circumstances he was in, allowed a thought to come to him: "go to Miami". Only that, nothing else. He finally shared this with the Scotsman, Angus, who was running the local team at the time. "Ah, how nice!" the man exclaimed. Miami would gather a large amount of people, including those Japanese who wrote the play "The Tiger".

Luis Puig went to Miami and miraculously his gastric problem disappeared. People like Gen. Bethlem, Brazilian ambassador to Bolivia and Pakistan, Gen. Calimério, Maria Eduarda's father, Nelson Marcelino, Damásio Cardoso, among other Brazilians, were at the event. The President of Costa Rica, José Figueres, in one of his three terms, also attended. During the meeting, Bethlem said: "I have the thought to take the play 'O Tigre' to Brazil". With that play, they started a movement throughout Latin America.

Bethlem used his influence as a general and former ambassador to prepare Brazil to receive this play. He obtained accommodation and transport from the high echelons of the Armed Forces, taking the play to the respective municipal theatres of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, among other venues.

The demand grew quickly.  Queues formed to watch the play in various places. So, they thought of presenting the play in stadiums. "The Tiger" was a very dynamic play, for besides the dialogue, the actors relived the Japanese demonstrations in Tokyo, with students preventing the visit of Gen. Eisenhower.  The MRA team worked with these students, and many were transformed to such an extent that several visited Gen. Eisenhower in the US and apologised to him. That part of the play, is called "The Dance of the Serpent." At that moment, the dancers came off the stage and mingled with the audience - which was a scandal at that time.

The play, presented in Japanese, led to the invention of a system. The actors would speak in a low voice in their native language, and others from the national team would dub out loud, hidden under the stage, using a loudspeaker. Quite an achievement at the time. In this way, the group toured all over the Northeast, among other regions. The Brazilian Navy sometimes transported the cast, which was made up of 40 women, at a time when women were not allowed on board military vessels. The Air Force also provided transportation, taking the troupe to different Brazilian states.

At one point, they received an invitation from Peru. With the help of the FAB, (the Brazilian Air Force) the group went to Iquitos, where they performed, and then went with the Peruvian Air Force to Lima. They then took the play to Santiago, in Chile.

At that time, Eudocio Ravines was there, a Latin American and former member of the Comintern, in Russia. When he was a communist, he learned Russian and spoke to it fluently. He was director of the 2nd phase of the Spanish Civil War. That was when the communists made a mistake. When he was invited to Spain, he accepted but informed them that he was with his pregnant wife. The communists promised to take care of his wife even knowing the difficult pregnancy she was having. Eudocio then went to Moscow, received orders and made his way to Barcelona and Madrid under false names and a disguise, as Francisco Franco's dictatorship was growing in the country. Eudocio arrived only to direct the last actions of the communists, and his mission was to burn all the archives of the left in that country. Not a single paper remained. The idea was to protect the communists involved in the struggles inside Spain.

Mission accomplished, he returned to Moscow to inform the Communist High Command and then went to Paris to find his wife. To his surprise, he found her in terrible conditions, lodged on the 4th floor of a building with no lift. She ended up losing her son.

At that point, Eudocio ended up hating the communists. He went so far as to write down all the subterfuges of communism in his book "The Big Burnout", even though he had been a staunch communist from a young age. The leftists declared war on him, and burned his book, made bonfires of them. He printed others.

When Eudocio met MRA, the local team in Peru convinced him to go to Mackinac Island for one of their conferences. When he went and saw what was happening there, he decided to write a new book: "The Mackinac Way". He returned to Peru accompanied by Luis Puig, who worked for nine months in the newspaper that Eudocio edited, the "Vanguard". He wrote some articles, translated others.

In Chile with a theatre play, the first contact was made through trade unionists. Luis Puig and his friend, an Austrian, had arrived in Chile to make a first contact and, with a certain name they were looking for, they ended up falling into a den of convinced ex-Nazis, totally averse to the ideas of MRA. For this reason, the best way in was through trade unionists, especially those involved with the copper workers. They reached the management of the copper mines.

Even in the time of Pinochet's right-wing dictatorship, the group grew a lot, there were meetings of paramount importance in different parts of Chile. Quite determined and well-organised, they decided to hold a general meeting in a coastal town near Santiago, a meeting of trade unionists which was based on MRA. There were all kinds of people: right-wingers, left-wingers, communists, and non-communists. Some foreigners participated, like Mrs. Irène Laure, from France, and Mr. Villierge, from England, as well as José Veras, Nelson Marcelino and other Brazilians.

In the middle of the meeting, a sudden loud noise of cars was heard and suddenly a general in full uniform entered. He came on behalf of Pinochet, made a statement, and left. This fact greatly displeased the communists present – it made no difference when it was explained that this was not part of the programming planned by the MRA team there. The general's statement included an invitation to attend an interview with Pinochet the following day. A tense atmosphere soon set in, as nobody knew what this was all about. However, in 'enemy' territory, they could do nothing but simply comply with that request.

The best representatives of MRA quickly prepared themselves. When they arrived at the office, one of the dictator's assistants carried a bundle of papers – certain to be Pinochet's speech to the press. Little by little they began to speak. Mrs. Laure spoke about her hatred of the Germans and their subsequent reconciliation after World War II. Mr. Villierge spoke about his years of experience in the trade union milieu. Mr. Briseño, who ran the local trade union movement, hugged Luis Puig and said, "Now the spokesman for MRA is going to speak!" Puig was taken completely by surprise, but he needed to go forward. "General, we are fighting to create a new world. Whatever you think for the future of Chile, but I think the country has a big role in the destiny of Latin America. Anything we do for this country can interrupt that destiny or facilitate it." Pinochet looked at everyone present there. As a result of what he had just heard, he handed back the bundle of papers he had received moments before from his aide, and then said, "May I borrow that phrase?" They promptly replied yes. The dictator thanked them for their visit and dismissed the group.

The MRA team asked to avoid all the different types of journalists or cameras on their way out of the palace, as they did not want to be associated with Pinochet's politics. However, unfortunately, the press was there in full force, waiting for them. Pictures, television, radio, all the journalists. Mr Briseño again pointed to Luis Puig as the spokesman of MRA.

In those days, the left-wingers had done something quite unpleasant at the Dominican embassy in Peru. They held the diplomats who worked there under private arrest, releasing them only after they handed over a large amount of money. For this reason, the journalists asked Puig: "Who finances you?" He explained that the MRA group financed itself with its own means. "Here we have a very poor “favelado” who, with the contributions he received, was able to come to Chile to pass on his message," Puig explained. He was referring to Luiz Pereira de Araujo, who then said a few words. Other examples were given, of people in similar situations, and how they raised their resources. Puig added: "We are not like certain groups that resort to acts of terrorism to raise funds. We pay from our own funds because our revolution is financed by people who believe in this idea". The journalists took note.

The following day, to everyone's surprise, the front pages of all the Chilean newspapers published what the members of MRA said - word for word, their objectives, their principles, what they intended to do in Chile, etc. Alongside this article, without commentary, there was also Pinochet's speech. It included the sentence said by Luis Puig. Large posters were made and sent to every corner of the country.

This MRA delegation left the country, but without knowing for sure what would happen next. However, the group of trade unionists grew and continued to fight with strong actions in the copper and other metal mines in various parts of Chile.

The play "The Tiger", which was touring Latin America, had arrived in Santiago at the same time. At its first performance, there was a man who had a connection with Chilean history. He was Eudocio Ravines, a former communist. In the past, he had the mission of strengthening the communist party, leading to a modernisation of local communist processes in Santiago. For example, he excluded the red shirt and suggested that they wear shirt and tie and worked to raise finances. He and the group even won over a very rich lady, praising the horrible poetry that her son created. Through actions like this, little by little he began to take money from society. At the same time, in Eudocio's head was the thought, "How do I stay away from the communists?" Deep down, he hated the communists for what had happened in Paris, for the way his wife had been mistreated and had lost her son. However, he knew it would cost him his life if he left the organisation.

Then at the theatrical performance, Eudocio was in the audience and afterwards humbly apologised to the Chilean people for the damage he had caused when he reorganised communism in the country some time earlier. Many gave him a standing ovation, as he was known for his fame in Chile. Such a statement had an enormous effect on society.

As time went by, despite expectations that the work of the MRA in Chile would grow, the opposite happened: the work shrank. There are still 3 or 4 people who still think about the ideals of MRA - today Initiatives of Change - but do little to mobilise the next generation. Lamberto and Aquiles Petit still have contact with some people from the current IofC team in Latin America. They could mobilise and wake up what was once a great team in Chile.

All the work in Latin America needs a broader vision today. A way to finance it also needs to be found, not thinking of one country or another, but of the whole continent. It is necessary to find the sponsors who can help take this work forward. It’s also necessary to grow the desire among Latin Americans themselves to donate resources for the work of IofC today. As people themselves contribute to the work, inevitably the spirit grows.


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