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An indigenous Laudato Si is needed
Louisa Reynolds
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Indigenous and peasant leaders urge authorities to heed Pope’s message on climate change.

“It’s not enough for the Pope to visit Mexico and for the government to tell him what the people need (…) We need him to take a stance on difficult issues such as land evictions and the destruction of the environment. Mexico has been hit by violence, corruption and projects imposed by the government to favor corporations, ignoring our rights and devastating our territory to meet their interests,” said to Latinamerica Press the Mexican indigenous leader Claudia Solís Hernández.

Solís Hernández was among the indigenous and peasant leaders who attended the Latin American indigenous summit “With the Laudato Si encyclical we defend our right to land, territory and forests” that brought together 100 indigenous representatives from 15 Latin American countries and took place in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, on Feb. 13 and 14, within the framework of Pope Francis’ first visit to Mexico between Feb. 12 to 17.

Laudato Si (Praise be to you), the second encyclical of Pope Francis, published in June 2015, accepts the scientific consensus that global warming is man-made and blames the developed world’s indifference for the destruction of the planet as it relentlessly pursues short-term economic gains, arguing that nature cannot be seen as something apart from humanity or merely a place where we live.

“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values,” reads the encyclical. “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”

Latin America’s indigenous communities feel the Pope’s message echoes their belief in Buen Vivir (Good Living), based on a sustainable use of natural resources. “This is the first time the Pope has spoken out about climate change and the environment. The encyclical contains a key element: a recognition of the role that indigenous people have played, urging humanity to reflect on the fact that we share a common home. This way of thinking is very similar to the indigenous concept of Buen Vivir. Indigenous people regard Mother Nature as their universe, as their source of their livelihood because we have a spiritual bond with nature,” says Panamanian indigenous leader Cándido Mezúa, foreign relations secretary of the Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests (AMPB).

Indigenous voice
Arlen Ribeiro, a member of the Huitoto indigenous group in Colombia and a representative of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), added that the next step for Pope Francis should be the publication of “an indigenous Laudato Si that includes indigenous people’s ancestral knowledge.” According to Ribeiro, despite the fact that indigenous people play a key role in the conservation of natural resources, they are often ignored in the global debate on climate change.

Ribeiro admits that given that many of the countries that have signed International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples have failed to abide by its terms, ensuring that governments heed the Pope’s message will be no easy task. Nevertheless, he believes that an indigenous Laudato Si could be “a moral exhortation for states to assume their responsibility in terms of halting the road through which they are leading us, which is the road to destruction.”

“If indigenous people do not raise their voice to report wrongdoing and insist on their proposals, governments are not going to change of their own free will. We want to ask the Pope to convey indigenous peoples’ message to the governments. We have the advantage that most Latin American countries are Catholic and that can have a positive influence in terms of guiding policies,” adds Mezúa.

As part of his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis arrived in Chiapas on Feb. 15, where he had lunch with eight indigenous representatives who expressed their views on Laudato Si and raised the main issues discussed during the summit, including climate change, indigenous autonomy and the right to prior and informed consent.

During his visit, the pontiff visited the tomb of the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz (1924-2011), who once angered the Vatican by celebrating Mass according to local customs and in indigenous languages, and presented a decree officially authorizing local Church officials to celebrate Masses in the different indigenous languages spoken in Chiapas: Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Chol.

Pope Francis’ visit to Chiapas — the poorest state in Mexico and a state with one of the largest indigenous populations in the country — coincides with the 20th anniversary of the San Andrés Accords, on Feb. 16, which put an end to the conflict between the Mexican government and Zapatista rebels. The accords were based on respect for indigenous autonomy and diversity and the conservation of natural resources within indigenous territories, demands that have not been met, say the indigenous communities of Chiapas.

After his visit to Chiapas, Pope Francis went on to visit the state of Michoacán and the Ciudad Juárez, located on the Mexico-United States border, which has become the second deadliest city in the world as a result of drug-fuelled violence.

Although most Mexicans have welcomed him with open arms, his refusal to meet with the parents of the 43 students from a rural teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, in the state of Guerrero, who were kidnapped and disappeared in police vehicles in 2014, or with the victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases, has drawn criticism from human rights activists, including members of the Catholic Church.

Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo, who attended the indigenous summit, told Latinamerica Press that Pope Francis’ decision not to meet with these groups was “a mistake”.

During the pontiff’s visit to Chiapas, human rights activists held a Mexican flag with the number “43” splashed with red paint to voice their discontent regarding his refusal to meet with the parents of the Ayotzinapa students. They also refused to attend Pope Francis’ Mass in Ciudad Juárez in protest against the fact that the pontiff did not grant them a private meeting and that only three of the parents were invited to attend the service.

When questioned about his controversial decision not to meet with these groups during his return flight to Rome, Pope Francis said that “many groups” had asked to meet him some and that it was “practically impossible to meet all of them”, especially as they were “divided by internal struggles”. —Latinamerica Press.


Indigenous summit held in the framework of the first visit of Pope Francis to Mexico. / Adriana Naranjo
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