Argentina

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The mystery surrounding the death of one of Argentina’s top officials illustrates the flaws in the Argentine justice system, according to law clinical professor Ariel Dulitzky.

Alberto Nisman, the official, was investigating a 1994 terrorist attack on the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. He died hours before he was scheduled to present evidence accusing current Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of playing a role in covering up the attack.

A majority of the Argentine society has a deep mistrust of the judicial system because of its previous track record, according to Dulitzky, who spoke at the College of Liberal Arts on Wednesday.

“Argentina is very deeply polarized,” Dulitzky said. “We cannot understand everything that’s published about Nisman, and we have to take [differing attitudes] into account.”

Norberto Zylberberg, a native Argentine and senior vice president at LatinWorks, an Austin-based advertising company, said he was frustrated with the judicial system’s inability to be impartial in the past.

“Why do we expect justice [in cases like these] when it is not well-deserved in Argentina?” Zylberberg said. 

The mystery surrounding Nisman’s death — whether it was a suicide or a murder — adds to the public’s mistrust of the government, Dulitzky said. 

Some Argentine citizens are encouraging their government to seek international intervention to solve the case, according to Dulitzky.

“An international presence could be useful in terms of providing some legitimacy to whatever is the result of the investigation,” Dulitzky said.

Kirchner is unlikely to be indicted because analysts cannot find any evidence she planned to cover up the attack, sociology professor Javier Auyero said.

“In the 290 papers that he wrote, there is not even one clue to prosecute the president,” Auyero said.

The outcome of the investigation has the potential to affect the future political landscape of Argentina because Kirchner will be up for re-election in six months, Dulitzky said.

“This issue will define how the Argentine democratic society is able to handle these very difficult matters in the context of a presidential campaign,” Dulitzky said. 

Members of Tango in Orange learn movements during their weekly dance lesson in the Texas Union on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

Argentinian music drifts from the Quadrangle room on the third floor of the Texas Union, where Tango In Orange, the University’s tango club, meets each week.

The LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collection will host “Celebrating Argentina,” an event to showcase local Argentinian culture, on Thursday. Among the evening events, there will be a lecture on Argentinian tango music, lyrics and dance. Following the lecture, there will be a performance from professional tango dancers Jairehlbi and George Furlong. Attendees can expect a short tango lesson and a reception with Argentinian food and wine.

“Through our Argentine programs, we try to educate the community about current political-social-economic events in Argentina but also raise awareness about cultural Argentinian issues,” scholarly programs director Paloma Díaz-Lobos said. “The idea was to have an event that could reach beyond academia, and we know that there are several people who are enthusiastic about Argentinian culture and tango.”

The lecture will be led by John Turci-Escobar, Butler School of Music assistant professor of music theory, and guest Julio Schvartzman, professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires.

“They will be talking about the literature of tango to analyze the contents in tango lyrics, the sexisms, the marginality culture and etc. and put light on those issues,” Díaz-Lobos said. “The lyrics, which are extremely hard to understand even sometimes for Spanish-speakers, use local dialect called ‘lunfardo,’ which Argentines spoke in areas of Buenos Aires.”

According to Turci-Escobar, it is believed that Argentinian tango originated among the Buenos Aires working-class, who were immigrants to Argentina in the 19th century.

“Argentine tango is dancing, but, at the same time, it is dancing with a feeling of usually missing a loved one,” said Christopher Tran, mechanical engineering senior and co-president of Tango In Orange. “In historic Argentina, when it was just being colonized, many immigrants left their families in order to come to Argentina. There are a lot of men missing their families, their lives, their children — you really feel that in the music, and you kind of dance to that feeling.”

According to geological sciences senior Keri Belcher, the co-president of Tango in Orange, Argentinian tango is a social dance that creates community.

“It’s a social outlet,” Belcher said. “You have lessons where you go and learn tango, and then you have ‘practicas’ where you go and practice tango, and then you have what is called ‘milongas’ where you go and dance to the rhythm, and I enjoy that.”

Originally, Argentinian tango was almost exclusive to the working class, but, today, there is a phenomenon known as the “tango craze,” where people have become attracted to the culture.

“If you look at any major city in the world, and you look up tango, you will see there are several places to dance,” Turci-Escobar said. “It’s an urban phenomenon.”

Turci-Escobar believes one of the biggest misconceptions people have of tango is thinking it is a hyper-sexualized dance.

“It is not as highly sexualized like the ‘roses, valentino-type tango,’” Turci-Escobar said. “Tango is a more elegant, refined and highly technical skill; it is more inward than outward. It’s a dance where you are looking for a close connection with your partner.”

Argentinian tango became the main topic of the event because Turci-Escobar’s research touched on the subject and because its mystery attracts people.

“All of this came together when we realized one of our faculty member’s latest work has been on tango,” Díaz-Lobos said. “We want to put in the spotlight the research of our faculty members; we want them to connect and we want to build community.”

Argentinian Minister of Defense Agustín Rossi visits the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Agustín Rossi, the Argentinian minister of defense, discussed foreign affairs and peace in Latin America at the LBJ School of Public Affairs
on Wednesday. 

Rossi, who spoke with a translator during the event, brought documents dated from the 1970s and 1980s to give to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. 

Introducing Rossi, James Galbraith, government/business relations chair and government professor, said Rossi has had a major impact on various social movements in Argentina. 

“Rossi was the prime mover behind significant social reforms in Argentina,” Galbraith said. “He is a great friend to many of the causes we believe in.”

Rossi said that, for the first time in history, the Latin American countries have been brought together by an organization called UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. 

“The establishment of UNASUR, which was born out of the effort of the Brazilian president, was the first time we were able to have all 12 nations of Latin America become member states,” Rossi said. “This promoted the possibility of more cooperation.”

Rossi said that soon after the creation of UNASUR, the organization was able to keep conflicting countries from going to war.

“The first secretary general of UNASUR was ex-president Kirchner,” Rossi said. “The first challenge that this organization took on was to avoid a diplomatic conflict that existed between Colombia and Venezuela.”

Peter Cleaves, president of DRG International, an international business advisory firm, said that he understands why it was necessary to create organizations such as UNASUR.

“The Argentine military and other militaries in the Latin American region are engaging in international cooperation [and] new kinds of projects, which, in effect, deflect their previous interest in watching the civilian politicians,” Cleaves said. “So all of these clubs, projects and mutual defense pacts are to keep the military busy doing productive activities, certainly more productive than plotting against the civilian regime.”

Argentina has made headlines for its attempt at keeping a territorial hold on the Malvinas Islands in the Southern Atlantic. Rossi said he supports Argentina’s stance on their right to the islands.

“Argentina claims sovereignty over these islands and will continue to do so," Rossi said. "As a matter of fact, it is part of our national constitution, which declares that we have sovereignty over the Malvinas and the South Atlantic region,” Rossi said. “They belong to Argentina, and we will continue to claim these rights in international forum.”

Rossi said that the Argentinian government has pushed to work peacefully with other nations over the past 40 years so that Latin America can propel itself forward.

Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger raises the trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Martin Meissner | Daily Texan Staff

Germany, on the verge of a penalty shootout ending with Argentina for the FIFA World Cup title Sunday, earned a victory from a strike delivered by substitute forward Mario Götze in the 113th minute of extra time, making them the first European nation ever to win a World Cup hosted in the Americas.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Götze, the FIFA Man of the Match said afterwards, “I don’t know how to describe it. I just took the shot and didn’t know what was happening. For us, the dream has become a reality.”

Germany dominated throughout the tournament. They had won their group, cruised through the round of 16 and quarterfinals and dismantled Brazil to reach the final. But against Argentina, it was a struggle.

There were times it appeared that the South American country would be the one hoisting the golden trophy. Moments like the 47th minute, when Lionel Messi was just feet away from the goal before he struck the ball and missed by the closest of margins.

There was also forward Gonzalo Higuaín’s miss in the 22nd minute, a shot that was taken from twenty yards out in a one-on-one situation with German keeper Manuel Neuer. The goal could have given Argentina the early lead in a very defensive contest.

But Germany had already proven many times this World Cup that if you let them stick around they will find a way to come out victorious. And that is exactly what happened at Estádio Maracanã in Rio De Janeiro.

They had put up their previous chances too. Defender Benedikt Höwedes’ header in the 46th minute was inches away from crossing the line, but bounced off the right goalpost instead. In the 91st minute, forward André Schürrle was just outside the box when Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero deflected his right-footed strike away from goal.

The scoreless draw was broken when a perfect lob pass from Schürrle in the 113th minute of extra time came down feet away from the goal line on Götze’s chest, from there he volleyed it past Romero for the latest goal in World Cup Final history.

A German side that had been awaiting this moment since their last World Cup victory in 1990 rejoiced, while Argentinians, who dominated the crowd inside of the stadium, saw their hopes of victory slip away. There would be no reliving the Diego Maradona 1986 glory days. 

“They left everything on the pitch,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. “These are very close matches and, when you make a mistake, you know it’s difficult to turn it around. But in general terms, I’m very proud and my boys played an extraordinary World Cup.”

With the heroic goal, Götze became the first substitute to ever score in overtime of a World Cup final. And for Germany, the team that played as sound and organized as any soccer team ever has, the World Cup title is now their fourth, only one behind all-time leader Brazil.

“We started this project ten years ago,” German coach Joachim Löw said. “We’ve made constant progress, we believed in the project, we worked a lot and, if any group deserves it, it’s this team. Every player in this team gave everything they had.”

Brazil vs. Germany – Tuesday, July 8 at 3 p.m. CT

No Neymar and no Thiago Silva. What will this mean for a Brazilian team that is making its 10th World Cup semifinals appearance? Brazil has yet to show their best, having made it to this point without any decisive victories. But perhaps that is where they find their peace going into Tuesday’s game against Germany. They know they can do better, which should be quite frightening for the opposing team. Replacing two of the most important players will be tough, but Brazil also has history on its side. The country has not lost a competitive match at home since 1975. And as shaky as they’ve been, they’ll need every ounce of advantage that they can get. Germany plays organized and disciplined, a style of play that has frustrated Brazil all of this World Cup. With a hard defensive line, Germany beats opponents by neutralizing attacks and striking when the opportunity presents itself. Players like Thomas Müller have been creating plays for the German side all tournament long. If Brazil hopes to reach its 7th World Cup final, scoring early, just as they did against Colombia in the quarterfinals, will be vital. The last time these two powerhouses met on such a grand stage was in 2002, when Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the World Cup.

 

The Netherlands vs. Argentina – Wednesday, July 9 at 3 p.m. CT

Through superstar Lionel Messi, Argentina is as close to winning the World Cup as it’s been since the days of the great Diego Maradona. The team has looked steady and Messi has been living up to his famed name. The country has yet to lose a match this World Cup, seeming to somehow always find a way to win. On the opposing side is the 2010 World Cup runner-up Netherlands, which has appeared to be the team of destiny so far. While they too have not lost a match this tournament, they have beaten opponents in nail-biting fashion, as they did in the penalty shoot-out victory over Costa Rica. Argentina has not made a semifinal appearance since 1990, and historically, they have only beaten the Dutch once. The Netherlands have the better numbers in both shooting and scoring for this tournament, with forwards Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie each having scored three goals so far. But they also do not have a player like Messi. Nothing will be as important for this Netherlands team as keeping the Argentinian striker at bay. Messi has the second most goals in the tournament with four, but has also constantly created scoring for teammates, which is where the true danger lies. The Dutch will need to disrupt Argentina’s world class passing attack. A more wide-open type of match can be expected from this second semifinal, and based on how both teams have played; a penalty shoot-out would not be surprising. 

Photo Credit: MichelleToussaint | Daily Texan Staff

Visiting professors painted sharply contrasting pictures of the treatment of undocumented workers in the U.S. and of immigrants in Argentina in two separate talks given Wednesday.

Pablo Ceriani, professor of law and coordinator of the Migration and Human Rights Program at the National University of Lanus in Argentina, focused on the improving legal status of immigrants in Latin America with his talk “Human Rights and the Politics of Migration.” He focused on Argentina, where he said major reforms are being implemented.

A recent appointee to the United Nations Committee on Migrated Workers, Ceriani said since Argentina implemented a new immigration law in 2004, the country has attempted to focus on the human rights of migrants in its policies.

“With [Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay], you can see the recognition of social rights to all migrants, regardless of their immigration status,” he said. “I mean access to education, health care and — an important thing to recognize — that migration is a human right.”

Lindsey Carte, a recent geography doctoral graduate, said learning about Argentina’s immigration policies made her want to compare them to the way migrants are treated in the United States.

“What I think is really interesting is how countries in Latin America have more and more progressive-seeming policies,” she said. “I really thought it was interesting to compare to our own context of laws.”

Despite Argentina’s laws and recent reforms, Ceriani added that immigration is still a sensitive issue in Latin America and these changes remain a work in progress.

In a separate talk, Sergio Chavez, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, presented the challenges faced by undocumented workers in America in his lecture titled, “‘Rooferos’: The Occupational Networks of a Highly Mobile Labor Force.”

Chavez interviewed nearly 40 migrant workers — 39 undocumented — from Guanajuato, Mexico, once they returned from working as roofers in the United States. He said the workers described the job as physically dangerous and mentally challenging.

“When you are [a] roofero, and you are on top of a rooftop, roofing plays a lot of tricks on your mind,” Chavez said. “So if you are thinking about your family, and all of a sudden you don’t see that you’re on gravel, you’ll slip and could break every bone in your body.”

Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, associate director of the Center of Mexican American Studies, said the mental health of migrant populations is an understudied issue.

“I actually think, in the body of scholarship, studies on mental health care are where we need to go next,” said Guidotti-Hernandez, who introduced Chavez. “Then we may be able to interact with them and better serve those communities, or provide support in those ways.”

A $2.7 million grant by the Lee and Ramona Bass Foundation has helped establish the Texas Invasive Species Program, which will research foreign species introduced into the state and methods to reduce their threat to native ecosystems.

Before receiving the grant, the group of researchers behind the program was already working as a part of the Texas Fire Ant Lab to reduce the ecological impact of the foreign ants that were unintentionally introduced into the United States from Argentina during the 1930s.

South American fire ants have had a great detrimental effect on Texas ecosystems, said the program research associate Edward LeBrun. He said the fire ants have displaced native ant species, including seed-harvesting ants that are the main food source of the Texas horned lizard.

“That’s why horned lizards are almost extinct in Texas,” LeBrun said. “They’re very, very rare now, and that [lizard] was a very iconic species in Texas for a long time.”

The grant from the Bass Foundation will fund half of the projected costs of expanding the Fire Ant Lab’s focus to other non-native species that threaten Texas. The Bass Foundation expects the program to match their grant with financial support from other private groups.

About 80 percent of the group’s budget will be used to pay salaries and benefits for researchers and technicians, said Larry Gilbert, professor of integrative biology and director of the Program. The rest of the sum is going toward other expenses, including travel and equipment.

The Bass Foundation awarded the grant for the founding of the program because of its experiences of working with its director in the past, said Pete Geren, executive director of the Bass Foundation.

“There is a long relationship between the foundation and Mr. Gilbert,” Geren said. “The foundation sees his work as important for the state of Texas in addressing an issue that often goes overlooked by many organizations that invest in environmental research.”

Gilbert said the program is attempting curb populations of invasive species by introducing a species into Texas that is a predator of a specific invasive species in its original environment. This method does not completely eliminate the presence of the targeted species, but does help to lower its population to a point where it is no longer considered a pest.

“That is the approach we’ve taken because we’re ecologists,” Gilbert said. “We’re working on ecological methods of controlling species as opposed to dumping poisons on them.”

The Texas Fire Ant Lab has already been using this strategy, LeBrun said. In order to curb the population of fire ants, they’ve introduced phorid flies, predators of fire ants in their native environment in Argentina. 

These flies target the foreign ants specifically, leaving native ant populations alone.

Gilbert said Invasive species like the fire ant are almost always introduced into a new environment by humans. Gilbert said sometimes species are introduced originally for commercial purposes before spreading out of control, like many species of exotic fish that are sold for aquariums. Often they are introduced unknowingly, riding in the cargo hold of ships or in potted plants. Once they establish themselves in foreign environments with few natural predators, they rapidly multiply, crowding out native species and reducing the diversity and overall health of ecosystems.

Among the invasive species the program is focusing its attention on is buffelgrass, a grass native to Africa that was originally introduced to South Texas for cattle to graze on but has now spread and become a fire hazard. One of the species the group is most concerned with is the tawny crazy ant, a newcomer to Texas that poses perhaps an even greater threat than fire ants.

“It’s very different from fire ants in many ways,” Gilbert said. “It is being spread around pretty rapidly now, and it’s really going to be pretty devastating to the wildlife where it lives. It even knocks out fire ants.”

The program is also studying species that have not yet arrived in Texas but could cause significant damage when they do. One such emerging threat is cactoblastis cactorum, a moth that acts as a parasite to opuntia cacti, which include prickly pear. The moth has been spreading through the Southeastern United States, where it has no natural predators.

“When they get to Texas, [the moths] will expand dramatically and cause pretty dramatic system changes,” LeBrun said. “Especially in South and West Texas, where opuntia cacti are such an important part of the ecosystem.”

Though intact ecosystems have many tangible economic benefits, such as naturally purifying water supplies, LeBrun said, this should not be the sole reason to be concerned about the damage to ecosystems caused by invasive species.

“People grew up with these systems, and they have intrinsic value,” LeBrun said. “They’ve been around for millions of years, and the wide-scale disruption of them and the loss of species diversity is something people should just be concerned about, because we care about things that are bigger than us.”

Follow Tucker Whatley on Twitter @tuckerwhatley.

Editor's Note: This column is the first in a series on higher education abroad from UT-Austin students who are currently studying outside the U.S. 

After having studied in both Argentina and the U.S., I’ve come to the conclusion that the U.S. has better research institutions, but that Latin American universities are more rigorous in their general course material. The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba and the University of Texas are similar in size, both are public institutions and daily life shows the common annoyances that students around the world face: unhealthy snacks on breaks from a jam-packed class schedule, students seeking refuge in outdoor areas and panicking over final exams.

However, the differences between the two institutions reflect a divergence in educational philosophy. These differences sometimes elicit moral judgments about the superiority of the U.S. and European university systems over Latin American universities, which are perceived as “politicized” and “old-fashioned,” according to the Economist article “Universities in Latin America: The Struggle to Make the Grade.”

But this parochialism prevents higher education institutions in the U.S. from learning from the strengths and the weaknesses of their Latin American counterparts. 

The strength of the U.S. system is its emphasis on originality, while its weakness is its tendency to downplay theoretical questions in the humanities. 

And while Argentine universities are solid on philosophy and critical thinking, they place more emphasis on memorizing eminent scholars than getting a head start on contributing to the debate.

Economics also drives differences between Latin American universities and American ones. 

Since the formation of the Argentine education system by President Julio Argentino Rocha in 1884, Argentina’s education has been both high-quality and free. This allows for student diversity. 

It has also made Argentine education more attractive to South American neighbors. However, a free system without much private money can easily be drained by high dropout rates (76 percent, according to Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, a private Argentine university, compared to 44 percent for the U.S., according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education), due in part to the lack of requirements for re-entry or repayment. 

This system is in stark contrast to the U.S., where students pay, and a system of private endowments maintains facilities and provides abundant funding for students like myself to study across the world.

Of course, the downside is that the quality of U.S. education and resources available has not risen with tuition, for example the 4 percent rise each year at UT before the tuition freeze.  Rising costs saddle students even from “affordable” schools such as ours with more than $24,000 in student debt in an economy with a youth (typically ages 18-25) unemployment rate, according to USA Today, of 16 percent. 

Another difference between the two systems? In Argentina, academic tracks are precise; specifying which courses will be taken which semesters. When I enrolled in fourth- and fifth-year courses simultaneously, there were more than a few raised eyebrows. 

And while, according to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in their book “Academically Adrift,” U.S. universities are offering less reading than they used to, Argentine courses provide a range of theory that U.S. students, in our obsession with case studies and practical application, tend to underemphasize. (Anyone who has attended a survey course can testify to its “breadth over depth” approach.) 

Cultural differences play a role in academic freedom and the student-teacher relationship as well. Professors in Argentina can seem distant, and many Argentine students are surprised when U.S. professors go out of their way to make themselves “approachable.” 

In Argentina, professors do not receive tenure, instead passing through “concursos” which re-evaluate their performance every few years. It is possible for professors to be replaced as a result of these “concursos,” for both academic and political reasons. 

While re-evaluation prevents complacency, some, such as Julio Durand, a Fulbright Scholar from Austral University in Buenos Aires who has studied the Argentine university system, believe this lack of stability negatively affects research quality and professor retention.

This has all created an image in the U.S. of Latin American universities as inferior (QS World Rankings are often used to justify this perception), and indeed, in areas like the natural sciences, where material resources such as lab equipment are key, Latin American universities are at a disadvantage. 

However, the inferiority generalization is a mistake. Resources do not make the student; the ability to think critically does. Instead of looking down on other systems, we must ask ourselves: How do we continue to capitalize on our ‘originality’ emphasis? Is our reading too light? Are we too focused on practicality over ideas? By recognizing what Latin American universities offer, as well as what they don’t, we can better reflect on and improve our own system.

Knoll is a first-year master's student in Latin American studies from Dallas.

Pope Francis is driven through the crowd in his popemobile in St. Peter’s Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

During the conclave to select a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, several UT students joined crowds of tourists at the Vatican hoping to snap a picture or grab a souvenir to commemorate the event.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina was selected as the new pope of the Catholic Church on March 13, taking the name Francis. He is the first Jesuit priest to be named pope and replaces Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned from the position in February.

Social work sophomore Emma Thompson, who was raised Catholic, was visiting Italy for spring break at the time of the conclave.

“Being at the Vatican during conclave is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she is optimistic that Pope Francis will be able to inspire Catholics.

“I hope that he is an engaging leader who can unite the diversity and huge numbers that are in the Catholic Church,” Thompson said.

History sophomore Julianne Staine, who joined Thompson, said there were large crowds of visitors throughout the conclave during the historic event.

“The atmosphere in Rome was pretty crazy,” Staine said. “When we got to the Vatican the media presence was insane. There were hundreds of cameras and photographers and newscasters, and it added considerably to the excitement of the whole thing.”

Religious studies and history professor Virginia Garrard-Burnett said since there have not been any non-European popes in modern times, selecting Francis from Argentina will be a significant change for the church.

“The selection of a Latin American pope is an acknowledgement of the fact that the center of gravity has shifted for the Roman Catholic Church from Europe to the developing world,” Garrard-Burnett said. “The Catholic Church remains very strong in Latin America and Africa, but it is no longer strong in Europe, where people tend to be very secular these days.”

Garrard-Burnett said the Catholic Church has been losing members in Latin America over the past three decades to evangelical Protestantism, and naming a Latin American pontiff may help to slow the movement of Latin Americans leaving the church.

Francis’ new role will not only affect Latin American Catholics but will also have a global impact, according to Garrard-Burnett.

“The selection of any new pope impacts Catholics in every part of the world,” Garrard-Burnett said. “Pope Francis does not seem to differ from the previous pope on social [and] church issues such as abortion, gay marriage, priestly celibacy or the ordination of women. That probably will not change. However, he is deeply interested in the interests of the poor and he’s made that clear already. That’s a departure from the Pope Benedict.”

Journalism sophomore Claire Hogan, who traveled with Thompson, said although she is not Catholic she could see the impact the conclave had on those in the Vatican.

“When we ventured to St. Peter’s [Basilica], it was almost overwhelming how much excitement there was on the matter,” Hogan said. “People had traveled from all different parts of Europe and the world to witness this piece of religious and cultural history.”

Published on March 20, 2013 as "UT students experience Vatican during conclave". 

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name of Francis, is the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is the first ever from the Americas, an austere Jesuit intellectual who modernized Argentina's conservative Catholic church.

Known until Wednesday as Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope last time, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags in St. Peter's Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening," he said before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world's Roman Catholics .

Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

"Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit," Bergoglio told Argentina's priests last year.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Kirchner couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage," Bergoglio told his priests. "These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

Bergoglio compared this concept of Catholicism, "this Church of 'come inside so we make decisions and announcements between ourselves and those who don't come in, don't belong," to the Pharisees of Christ's time — people who congratulate themselves while condemning all others.

This sort of pastoral work, aimed at capturing more souls and building the flock, was an essential skill for any religious leader in the modern era, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

But Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style was the antithesis of Vatican splendor. "It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome," Rubin said before the 2013 conclave to choose Benedict's successor.

Bergoglio's influence seemed to stop at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernandez, took over the Argentina's government. His outspoken criticism couldn't prevent Argentina from becoming the Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, or stop Fernandez from promoting free contraception and artificial insemination.

His church had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

This kind of demonization is unfair, says Rubin, who obtained an extremely rare interview of Bergoglio for his biography, the "The Jesuit."

"Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He's no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes," Rubin said.

Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Rubin.

That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship's abuses after the 1976 coup.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn't forget that side," Rubin said.

The bishops also said "we exhort those who have information about the location of stolen babies, or who know where bodies were secretly buried, that they realize they are morally obligated to inform the pertinent authorities."

That statement came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations of the Kirchners' era.

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.

Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio's later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.

But Bregman said Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn't know anything about it until 1985," said the baby's aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother Alicia co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies. "He doesn't face this reality and it doesn't bother him. The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Fernandez. Their relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what's wrong with society.

During the dictatorship era, other church leaders only feebly mentioned a need to respect human rights. When Bergoglio spoke to the powerful, he was much more forceful. In his 2012 address, he said Argentina was being harmed by demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power. The message resonated in a country whose president was ruling by decree, where political scandals rarely were punished and where top ministers openly lobbied for Fernandez to rule indefinitely.