talking to

Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Argentina

First of all, thank you for accepting this interview for the Masonic Forum Magazine. It is a great honour for us. And as Argentina has been in the world’s attention, after the World Cup victory, I think it is important and also the right time, to talk about Freemasonry in Argentina, especially as I know it is an anniversary year for Freemasonry in Argentina.
Most Worshipful Grand Master Pablo Lázaro, tell us in a few words about the evolution of the Grand Lodge of Argentina from its foundation to the present day and about Masonic life in Argentina. How many Masons and how many lodges do you have, if there are rites of perfection or lodges in other languages, anything you can tell us. Please.

Well, first of all, thank you very much, it is an honour to have this interview and to keep in touch, I appreciate that we are doing this interview in Spanish, so it is a great joy. Yes, football and Freemasonry have a lot to do here in Argentina, there is a very important football club, River Plate, which was created by Freemasons, by my mother lodge – ­Liberi Pensatori, and that’s where I want to start presenting the history of our Grand Lodge.
The Grand Lodge of Argentina was born on 11 December 1857, and it has been operating continuously ever since. But one may ask, if it was born as a Grand Lodge in 1857, why are we talking about Freemasonry so much earlier, as, for example, in the case of the May Revolution, which is our liberating revolution against Spain? Because Freemasonry has existed since the beginning of our nation, in fact, in the various wars of independence that took place in the area, and in ­Argentina, there were Freemasons who were involved in the freedom of America. The Lautaro lodges are well known, the lodges Caballeros Racionales who were involved for the independence of America. The lodges that were distributed throughout our territory from May 1810 created a federation, what is to become the Grand Lodge of Argentina.

In 1857, the seven most important lodges, which were very active throughout the country, created the Grand Lodge of Argentina of Free and Accepted Masons. Later on, other lodges that were already associated and were constantly carrying out activities joined, and they included some very important people in Argentina, such as José Hernández, author of some very important books, such as Martín Fierro.
Taking a quantum leap 165 years later, there are now over 350 lodges across the country and over 10,000 active Freemasons. It must be remembered that during this time there have been periods of great convergence and division. Our Grand Lodge was ­divided into two Grand Lodges from the 1940s until the early 1960s when they reunited again. Our institution has suffered throughout its history as a result of the various dictatorships that the country has gone through, starting in 1930 with a succession of military coups d’état in the region, but especially in Argentina, and ending with the last military dictatorship in 1975, which lasted until the return of democracy in 1983.
Thus, the Grand Lodge of Argentina, from the 1930s until the return of democracy in 1983, lost more than 400 properties in the country, which were expropriated, many brethren lost their lives or were tortured, many have moved out of fear for the safety of their families and their jobs, which led to a decreasing number of Freemasons. Before the 1930s Freemasonry was a very active part of various political processes. In every town in Argentina there was the main square, the town hall, the church, the fire brigade and the Masonic lodge. The city of La Plata was designed as a Masonic lodge, but so were others, such as the city of Necochea.

Later, slowly, after the return of democracy, in addition to growing and becoming known, a very important current of Spanish Republican exiles gathered in ­Argentina, many of them becoming freemasons. Let us remember that in Spain, Franco’s dictatorship had a secretariat for the repression of communism and Freemasonry. Many Freemasons lost their lives, families, jobs etc, and some went into exile in Argentina. Remember that the Spanish Republic in exile functioned in the Prometeo Lodge here in Buenos Aires. Very many generations have underlined the idea of “don’t say you are a Mason because you may get into trouble”.
We are very respectful of the past, we understand very well a generation that had a very hard time, but our approach is different now, in the stage that started in 2020. We have nothing to hide because we have assumed our trajectory. Grand Master Jorge Clavero and Grand Master Nicolás Abrevia who took over the leadership in 2008 came with a new current, we are more open and we communicate more about the issues we are involved in, to make the institution and the different processes it participates in known. It is very important to make ourselves known.
Well, today, beyond the fact that we have been part of different very important political and social processes within our institution, such as the marriage law, the divorce law, the cemetery law, the proclamation of the Argentine League etc, the Teachers’ Lodge has drafted a very important law for Argentine education, Law 1420 – secular and free education, which has become a model in the region because it has allowed upward social mobility in our country. Much more recently, we, as the Grand Lodge of Argentina, presented to the National Congress last year the draft law on environmental education which was unanimously approved. We propose that at all levels of education – kindergarten, primary, secondary, university – there should be a subject on caring for our common home. Certainly, it was not easy to achieve unanimity in Argentina at this time, but with the ­Masonic method of working on what we disagree with, we achieved unanimity in the Congress of the Nation. This is a very quick summary, of course, of the 165 years of existence of our institution.

What has been the role of Freemasonry in the evolution of society in Argentina and what problems has it faced over time?
We are just at a time when Freemasonry, fortunately, thanks to our communication in the media, on social networks, thanks to our openness in different events, let’s say, what we call white paths, open to the public, thanks to our excellent relationship with women’s Freemasonry and working together with the sisters in many areas for the benefit of society – we are working together in the Lay Institute of Contemporary Studies, the Observatory of the Citadel, in matters of free thinking, we all work together in the formation of educational institutes, in other words, all of this has increased our membership, brought the youth together, and when there is youth, there is future, there are ideas, there is renewal, there is progress.
And throughout its history, as I said earlier, Freemasonry has faced many problems. Mainly, we have to say, with dictatorships, as I mentioned, loss of brethren, material losses, but above all, one of the great stigmas that we have is the prejudice that exists about what Freemasonry is.
Recently there was a very important march in ­Buenos Aires, and a group of people came to our headquarters and chanted that we are responsible for the pandemic. At the same time, there are also funny anecdotes, which, well, are not so funny, but for us they are funny. For example: in 2010, it was Argentina’s Bicentenary. We held a very important dinner at the Casa Histórica in Tucumán province, where ­Argentina’s independence was declared. We were able, through Freemasonry, to organise a dinner and a series of ­other activities to celebrate the independence of ­Argentina. The next day there was a news on the front page of the local newspaper: the Freemasons entered the House of Agreement and slaughtered a lamb. No, we ate it, we didn’t slaughter it, but there is this image that we went to do witchcraft. It was a dinner, someone brought lamb, we put it on the grill and ate it.
Well, this stigma of prejudice that the population puts on us I think is our great adversary and, yes, it is our mission to demystify. All of this, I think, is our great challenge.

What is the role of Freemasonry today, do you think the world today still needs Freemasonry as in the past? And if so, what are the reasons?
Of course. There is a writing by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentine hero who was the nation’s president and Grand Master, and who in his speech, when he resigned as Grand Master to take over the presidency of the nation says: many ask me, does it make sense that Freemasonry still exists (and we are talking about 1870 and something) because there are so many ideologies, such as racism, fanatical ideologies, magical thinking, extremism that is growing again in different parts of the world, not only in Europe where it is perhaps most visible. At the meeting point is Freemasonry, where some through their ideology may emphasize liberty, others equality, but the role of Freemasonry is to unite them in fraternity – liberty, equality and fraternity – and therefore it should be every day more necessary and of course the role of Freemasonry is fundamental.

What is the situation of the members of the Grand Lodge in Argentina knowing that there are countries that are facing the loss of active members or a decrease in number of people who want to be initiated into ­Freemasonry? What is the method of recruiting new members for the Grand Lodge of Argentina today?
In our region of South America in general, Freemasonry is growing, and in Argentina as well. We know that there are places where it is decreasing quite a lot, but in Argentina, for example in Paraguay, in Chile, in Uruguay, in Brazil it is growing, and it is growing very well. In the case of Argentina, our average annual growth rate is between 15 and 20%. Just think, when we took the road in 2008, there were 2,200 active Masons. Today there are 10,000, so we are talking about a fivefold increase in membership in ten years. We’re talking about a growth rate of about 20% a year and that’s due to the value of communication, giving young people a place, which is very important, because, if it’s youth, it’s growth and and there are activities. I noticed that in 2008 the average age was 60 – 65, of course in the statistics there are brethren in their 90s. Today it’s 30 years old and we have worshipful masters who are 23, 24 years old, and this is very important because it has generated a lot of scholarly activities and with groups of philanthropic activities. It’s exciting to see younger or older brethren going to philanthropic activities, supporting school canteens for children, and all of those activities are what attract people.
It’s not that there’s a recruitment method, people come when you show them the path. Look, that’s Freemasonry, he’s a Freemason, look what we do, look what we’ve done, our pages, our networks and so, we’re constantly getting contact requests through the web or social media. This generated some controversy at the time, but today it is the method that is more important because citizens write to you, with their personal details, expressing their idea to join and in an interview the Master Mason sees if they are really interested, or they are just curious, if they have the right profile for Freemasonry. Today we have a lot of applications for admission by electronic means, i.e. not only those who are recommended by a Freemason.
This is the Masonic secret – the initiation, the symbol and its interpretation, which is individual, but Freemasonry as an institution is not secret, it is discreet because it does not make propaganda and publicity, but it has always been an agent of social change.

Do you think that Freemasonry today is eroding, that it tends to become more of a charitable organization?
In some parts of the world, we have seen different Grand Lodges, not to mention or point the finger at anyone in particular, that today end up simply doing charity, not philanthropy. There are many organizations that do charity, and Freemasonry cannot be one of them. Freemasonry is an agent of social change, it has to sit down, debate the issues, point out the problems, not wait for them to be debated by others, look for solutions, try them out, possibly fund them and solve the problem. In other words, there is a very old phrase, which is not Masonic, but is very valid, that says that it is not a matter of giving a man a fish, but of teaching him how to fish. Well, that is the role of Freemasonry.
In different parts of the world, membership is declining, the average age continues to rise, and, in keeping with that, when we look back over the years, the ideologies of the Grand Lodge officers are more or less the same. There is no renewal. Primarily because we all already know each other, we already know what our neighbours will say, there are no debates because we already know each other. It is the renewal that brings new ideas, new ways of seeking consensus to create a better society, and when that method is generated, people generally come to us, and that is our experience.

Is there still interest in the spiritual aspects of Freemasonry, is Masonic philosophy and spirituality still important today or is the world more concerned with the material aspects of life?
This is a very good question. People in general are, of course, exclusively materially minded, but anyone who approaches Freemasonry quickly comes into contact with the spiritual world as well. Freemasonry understands progress as moral, spiritual and material advancement. Let us say that one does not go without the other in Masonic construction. And, of course, we work together with the other Masonic bodies, such as the Supreme Council of the 33rd degree, the Royal Arch, which started relatively recently and became active in March, the Rosicrucians. We have an English district in the southern part of Argentina.

What are the particularities of Argentine Freemasonry and of Latin American Freemasonry in general, that help it not to lose its identity in the “Universal Republic of Freemasons”, as Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire called world Freemasonry?
The Mason is a citizen of the world, a fellow citizen of man, as one of our rituals says. And, of course, there is a common thread: wherever you go, you are a Mason, you are welcomed as a member of the family. But, of course, each, not only each country, each city has its peculiarities. Here in Argentina, it is one thing to be a Mason in the city of Buenos Aires, which is more cosmopolitan and receives more visitors, it is more executive, so to speak, cooler, because we go to our activities, we eat, we leave, we say hello, and quite another when you are invited to experience, to visit a lodge in the interior of the country.
Beyond talking about other countries, within the same country there are particularities that have to do with region, with idiosyncrasies. But anyone who is in a lodge in Buenos Aires, Salsa, Ushuaia, Frankfurt, Washington or Romania is a brother. Beyond the particularities, it is wonderful to visit and get to know the different idiosyncrasies of the fraternity, because the Masonic essence for me is unique.

It is known that Latin American Freemasonry plays an important social role. Can you tell us, in a few words, what Freemasonry is like in your country, beyond the rituals? What role does it play in today’s society?
Well, there is a very important secretary from the 1960s who defined Freemasonry as the toolbox of the Republic, and not necessarily because it occupies positions of power, because there are Masons with power, but because the Mason is an active person, whatever role he has, whether he is a politician, a businessman, a teacher, someone who has a trade, someone who has a profession, is a person who, let’s say, is trained within our institution from the very first moment until he becomes a Master Mason or the Worshipful Master, is constantly encouraged to ask a very simple question that has overthrown empires throughout history: To ask why? , why everything, because nothing is self-evident.
So, the role of Freemasonry is to form better citizens, to be active, what today’s political marketing calls the red circle, I don’t know if it is in Romania as well, i.e. the person, the citizen who is informed, who is constantly asking questions. Well, Freemasonry is a citizen-former, in Argentina certainly, in the region as well, but not in the world, because of what I was saying earlier, that in some places it is perhaps more linked exclusively to philanthropy. That is Freemasonry in Argentina. It has given fourteen presidents, many governors, twenty-five vice-presidents, senators, deputies throughout its history, founders of neighborhood clubs, founders of soccer clubs, following the volunteer firemen of La Boca, which was the first volunteer fire station in South America (it was created by Freemasons), tango singers, cultural personalities… they were all freethinkers. This is the key – the question why?, asked by the one who takes nothing for granted and is encouraged to do so. Therefore, there is only this path within Freemasonry for the generation of citizens, written with a capital letter.

I would like to approach Argentine Freemasonry from an international perspective. With which other Grand Lodges in the world do you have fraternal relations or have you exchanged Grand Representatives?
We are regular, and within the Masonic regularity we are founding members of the Inter-American Masonic Confederation, CMI, which is a kind of Masonic Organization of American States, and which today has 96 Grand Lodges, perhaps the largest Masonic group, by number, that exists today. Apart from America, because of relations, especially Ibero-American relations, Spain, Italy, Portugal and France also belong.
The role of women in Freemasonry is very important nowadays, because if we talk about Freemasonry as an agent of social change, the Freemason cannot be so arrogant as to say that he can leave aside 51% of the world’s opinion, but we will dedicate ourselves to philanthropy…. The point is to debate, and when women in these times, and I’m not just saying that as a false marketing, as you can see, run countries, international organizations, corporations today, we are missing 51% of the world in this debate. Well, in Argentina, in the region, in general in South America, we have an excellent relationship with the big women’s lobbies and we continue to work together in international forums precisely for this kind of debate.
Then, apart from the Inter-American Masonic Confederation, the Grand Lodge of Argentina has relations with all the regular Grand Lodges in Europe, in the world, for example, we have a recently ratified, but very close relationship for a long time, with the United Grand Lodge of England, with the Grand Lodge of Spain, because of the relations I mentioned earlier, the Franco era and the return to democracy. We have an excellent relationship, we work very much on exchange of correspondence with both the Grand Lodge of Russia and the Grand Lodge of Ukraine in this conflict, and we know that the Grand Lodge of Poland, also a friend of ours, has done very important humanitarian work. In other words, we are connected with the world, in the concert of nations or regular Grand Lodges of the world.

In the same vein of internationalism, have you noticed differences between Freemasonry in Western and Eastern Europe, between Freemasonry in South America and Freemasonry in North America? What kind of Freemasonry do you think is closer to what Freemasonry should essentially be?
Well, there is nothing more subjective than asking a Grand Master what Freemasonry is like, because that is what Freemasonry is, it is for the country and we are free thinkers.
Free thinking generates personal opinion, which is as valid as that of a master in Portugal, or in the United States. Having said that, I think, as I said, a Mason is a Mason everywhere.
I have had the opportunity to do Masonic work in different places in the United States, in Brazil, in Europe, both in the East and in the West, I have an excellent relationship with the Grand Representative of Moldova in Spain, because he invited me at the time, and the truth is that Freemasonry in essence is the same. The festive board, the way we treat each other when we know that we are brethren, we talk in a different way, whether we are tourists, whether we are for business or for Freemasonry, is exactly the same.

It is easy to see that public perception of Freemasonry has changed over time. What do you think has contributed to this change? Is there a link between the change in public perception and the human quality of members? Have you noticed whether improved public perception leads to increased membership?
I understand that the relationship is direct. Obviously, primarily because when we Masons don’t make ourselves known, when we encourage people to say that it’s secret, that we meet at night, and we don’t explain why we meet at night, because we work during the day, it’s not like we have secret meetings at night, closed. No, we have to explain! I work, nobody makes a living as a mason, I work until six in the evening and then I go to the lodge and we open the door to the Grand Master. We must not play games, we must not encourage this secret, closed thing. Clearly it is diminishing because, especially in certain countries, like ours, where the influence, perhaps religious, is very strong, people who are afraid of these things have to show. That it has a secret side, which it’s not convenient to tell you, because it would be like telling you the end of the film, it’s the one you have to live, to interpret the symbols. But Masonic activity is not secret. So when you start to know, and this has happened to me personally having worked in very conservative environments, like the Ministry of Security, the federal forces, in my area that deals with crime, and which is dynamic, let’s say in a very conservative structure, when they see you (and here I mean from the Minister of Security, down to the last employee) they say: oh, but he’s a Mason, he’s a friend, he’s cool, he’s a good guy, he works, he knows. In other words, it demystifies the fact of making oneself known.
It has often happened to me that we Masons discriminate against ourselves by not saying we are Masons, which creates more problems. This is my interpretation of what I have observed and how I have grown up, as far as going in the opposite direction, we will see in a few decades how it has evolved.

How do you see the future of Freemasonry?
I see Freemasonry as an institution that is becoming more and more necessary precisely because there is the idea that it is something old, medieval, we are afraid… The world is going in the opposite direction to the values that Freemasonry propagates, and when it thinks like that, Freemasonry should tend to diminish. Well, in the region, at least when we become a meeting point for people who, although they have their ideologies, it doesn’t mean that they leave them aside, a meeting point for people who think differently, Freemasonry tends to grow. There are in the world, not in Argentina, in Europe totalitarianism, in the United States families divided by one candidate or another, issues that make noise and are clearly seen in the media, but in the middle there are millions of people who do not make noise, but who are tired of it. And that’s why Freemasonry is a place where, when you offer yourself, you don’t come with your ideology, and as long as you’re willing to listen to someone who thinks differently and doesn’t think you own the absolute truth, you’re welcome. What seems so simple is what for us, added to a communication policy, has increased our membership fivefold here in Argentina, due to the huge number of people who want to continue to debate politics, but not with a fanatic who doesn’t listen to you, but from the perspective of building a better society.

Having made this overview of Freemasonry in ­Argentina, it is appropriate to meet the man who is ­currently overseeing its development. Most Worshipful Grand Master, please introduce yourself, both as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Argentina and as a citizen of Argentina.
My name is Pablo Lázaro, I am a computer engineer, I specialized in cyber security and cyber crime some time ago. I’ve always been a technical person in everything related to systems or generally IT.
When I joined Freemasonry more than 20 years ago, I found my humanistic side, my more social side, something that someone in security doesn’t normally have, which is why I had to develop it. The truth is that here I met people from outside the field I work in, with different trades and professions, of different ages, and I found it fantastic. I joined and the first time I saw a ritual I said: I’m going to get bored because it’s going to be the same every day, I need something dynamic. But on the contrary, I’m happier every day because no two meetings are the same, even if it’s a ritual, a protocol. That first perception, that it’s always the same, was that I would get bored. But no, I don’t get bored at all!
As Grand Master I had the honour to serve the brethren, because the one who is in the Grand Lodge has the vocation to serve the other brethren.
I was initiated in a lodge of the Italian community in Argentina, which is Liberi Pensatori. There are lodges of different communities in Argentina, such as the Armenian one, there was a Romanian lodge but today it no longer exists, German lodges, lodges of the Jewish community, a lodge of the Italian community that created the River Plate club, that’s why I highlighted it at the time. Today it is part of another lodge, because Liberi Pensatori, my mother lodge, grew a lot at that time and we establish a new one, Prometeo, the Spanish republicans lodge. From there, our current took over in 2008. I had the honour of being the Grand Secretary, sort of the chief of staff of that Grand Master, Jorge Clavero, who started all this opening process, for seven years, which was his two terms and another year of his successor, the Mosst Worshipful Brother Nicolás Breglia. I was Senior Grand Warden for two years. Jorge Clavero was again Grand Master from 2017 to 2020, and I was Pro Grand Master. And in 2020 I had the honour that the brethren elected me Grand Master, in the midst of a pandemic (it was the first time an electronic vote, was held due to pandemia), but with all the procedures fulfilled. Together with my fellow Pro Grand Master Ramiro Dall’Aglio we are the first special formula from many points of view. It is the first time that there is a formula under 50 years old, I am 44 years old, he was 46 years old at the time, it is the first time that someone who is not a lawyer, or a doctor, but someone in the field of science, more of engineering, is elected Grand Master. It is the first time that the Pro Grand Master is not from Buenos Aires, but from the interior, in this case from the city of Santa Fe.
This responds precisely to a corollary of the policy that has been initiated, which is to bet on growth from within, and we now have a Pro Grand Master from the territory, on the low average age, which is why a person of forty years of age becomes Grand Master, and the diversity of professions of those who enter Masonry, which is why someone who is not a lawyer became Grand Master. Therefore, we say it almost in jest, although it is very real, it is the corollary of many years of work and it is a joy, and our institution, our lodges are more and more happy to serve the brethren and we are always looking for new ways to make Freemasonry known, because I’m convinced that many people don’t go into Freemasonry because they don’t know what it is, maybe it’s some myth, or some strange matter, but in reality it’s a school of citizenship that undoubtedly improves the quality of political life in the broadest sense of the word in our country. So I’m very happy!

This is important. Thank you very much for this opportunity to get to know Freemasonry in Argentina and to get to know you too. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us and I wish you strength for your work in the service of the brethren.
Thank you very much and I wish you a very happy 2023. We continue to work. It is an honour for me to have taken part in this interview and to be at your service. The interview is over, very good Spanish, I am very very surprised. Thank you very much for the honour of having this interview in Spanish.

Source: https://youtu.be/RrUylxmcLXk