Liberation theology is a progressive movement that developed in Latin America in the 1950s and 60s seeking to engage the Catholic Church in efforts for social change, with its core idea being the “preferential option for the poor.” Many theologians and Church historians consider it the most important, and certainly the most divisive, movement in Latin American Catholicism of the second half of the 20th century.
When debates over liberation theology were at their peak in the 1980s, proponents hailed it as a recovery of the social dimension of the traditional Christian notion of “liberation,” while critics dismissed it as Marxist class struggle sprinkled with holy water.
In a nutshell, Pacepa told CNA that liberation theology actually was “born” not in Latin America, but in the bowels of the KGB, as part of a broader strategy to promote Soviet influence in the region that included backing the National Liberation Army of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army of Bolivia, and, of course, the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.Further on, the article brings up something else I had never heard, that many Catholic officials in Latin America think the widespread defections from their flock to evangelical churches was the work of the US, which was responding to liberation theology.
Both seem unlikely to me, for reasons stated in the article – i.e., that there were more basic explanations for both phenomena:
In the case of liberation theology, it emerged at a time of deep tension in Latin America fueled by poverty and social exclusion, the rise of military regimes and police states, and widespread human rights abuses. It also came shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a global summit of Catholic bishops in Rome from 1962 to 1965, called Catholicism to a deeper engagement with “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.” […]
... today most Latin American Catholics concede that the fundamental force driving people away was a clericalist model of the Church within Catholicism itself, which often translated into a lack of basic pastoral care and a largely passive notion of the lay role.
The bishops commissioned an “exit poll” of 1,000 former Catholics in the early 2000s in which many said that if the Catholic Church had offered deeper Bible study, better worship, and more personal attention, they never would have left.Of course, that the movements were home-grown does not mean that outsiders couldn't have encouraged them, for their own purposes.