ROME – Latin American communities “martyred” by mining came to Rome to describe their situation and discuss the care of the environment at the Vatican.
“All roads lead to Rome,” said Father Juan Carlos Osorio Arenas of Colombia. “Rome is a fundamental place in this caravan for integral ecology, since here are all the organizations of the Catholic Church, as well as the contacts that the church has, which can help with its political influence to combat this new threat to millions of Latin Americans who suffer the onslaught of multinational mega-mining.”
He said he hoped the Vatican would help them echo the cries and sufferings of so many Latin Americans who “are suffering the consequences of the extractivist mega-mining of the multinationals.”
The group of Latin Americans will also be meeting bishops and politicians in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Spain.
On Monday, the group held a series of meetings in the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.
“We are thousands, who are in organized resistance, demanding justice, demanding that colonialist impositions stop, demanding that our right to decide and to live in peace be respected,” reads the statement announcing the March 20-April 6 trip. “We demand that the violence stop and that those responsible for the pain, devastation, and death caused by these socio-environmental crimes pay.”
The group also visited the Commission for Latin America, in the hopes that, upon hearing “firsthand testimonies” of the impact mega-mining companies have in small communities throughout the continent, the Vatican would be moved to “put pressure on international organizations so that they too listen to the prophetic voice of Latin America.”
Constanza Carvajal, from the Colombian Amazon region of Putumayo, where oil wells coexist with coca fields, is fighting against a huge new copper mine and voicing her disappointment at the government for granting environmental licenses for 19,000 fracking wells in the Magdalena Medio region.
“A lot of blood has been spilled, activists have had to flee the country for their defense of the land in the region,” she said. “The territory has been devastated by oil exploitation for more than 100 years. Not content with that, they will now squeeze every drop of blood out of the earth.”
“The government did not listen to environmental movements and organizations, and approved this license that will fracture the land,” Carvajal told Crux. “We came to see if the Vatican, as a political power, can echo our voice to intervene with the Colombian government.”
The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the group argues, beyond being “devastating” for Ukraine, poses yet another challenge to Latin America, one that adds to the “historic depredation.” The impossibility of access to raw materials from Ukraine and Russia risks unleashing a “hunt” for the abundant natural resources of Latin America.
“[Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro has already claimed that ‘the war is an opportunity’ for mining, and even at the legislative level he is working for the exploitation of indigenous territories,” warned Brazilian Bishop Vicente de Paula Ferreira, auxiliary of Belo Horizonte, and member of the Brazilian Bishops’ Commission for Ecology.
“It must be said that this is a danger, the premise for a new devastation. We do not want to ban mining always and in every case, but this is a model that makes a handful of people wealthy, but certainly not the local communities.”
Father Dario Bossi, provincial of the Combonians in Brazil and a member of the Churches and Mining network that put together the visit to Rome, also expressed concern over the hunt for natural resources in Latin America.
“We who live here realize how true is the statement that speaks of a ‘resources curse,’ a situation that has been ongoing in the continent for the past 500 years: an economy based on extractivism, on a colonial and neocolonial model, where capital from the global north is used to ransack the wealth of the global south,” he said.
The group also wants to express its solidarity with the victims of the war in Ukraine and other conflicts, echoing Pope Francis’s contention that the world is currently witness to a third world war being fought piecemeal.
“The caravan brings the voice of the war declared against the Amazon, against the native and indigenous peoples, against the small farmers,” Bossi said. “We are bringing the message of integral ecology, and we also bring the cry of the poor of the earth. We want to commemorate the victims of the attacks on the environment, to sensitize the institutions, the church and civil society, to bring proposals for ecological conversion and energy transition.”
According to Carvaja, the Catholic Church still wields great power in its relations with political leaders in Latin America, and seeing that they have thus far been ignored by government officials, they hope that having knocked on the Vatican’s doors, the Vatican will now knock on the doors of politicians.
“We hope for openness on the part of the Vatican, that it will listen not only with its ear, but that its heart will be attentive to the voice of a people that suffers and comes in procession to Rome from different territories of Latin America,” she said.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma