Letter from a Colombian Peasant to Pope Francis

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Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / September 6, 2017

Photo credit: Grain.org

You are going to arrive in a country that has been enormously blessed by Mother Earth. With beautiful mountains that still have perpetual snow in their highest peaks, with sacred lakes and lagoons from which crystalline and abundant rivers are born, which irrigate the exuberant jungles in the Pacific, Amazonia Orinoquia, as well as the fertile inter-andean valleys, plains, lowlands and savannahs, so immense that in those magical nights when the full-moon rises we feel like we can walk and grab it with our hands as it emerges. We also have beautiful deserts, we are blessed with the harmony and the geographic advantages of the warm Caribbean sea and the enigmatic Pacific sea. In the bellies of each of these wonders there are plentiful riches in the forms of hydrocarbons, metals, and precious stones. We’re the country with the third largest variety of live animal species; the first one in birds and amphibians, the third in reptiles. Over three thousand species of butterflies spread their wings here; 10% of the plants of the world grow in our soil and the largest amount of different orchids—our national flower. We enjoy all of the different climates and therefore we can produce, all year long, a huge variety of fruits, tubers, grains, our typical panela made with cane, and our smooth and delicious coffee.

And there is also the most important component of our country: 49 million Colombian men and women who had the fortune of being born in this paradise. We’re a multi-ethnic and pluri-cultural nation, with 102 indigenous peoples who refused to disappear since the Spanish invasion, maintaining 83 languages and their culture, identity, form of government and territory. Afro-descendant and Raizal peoples who still maintain their ancestral cosmovision, which they brought from mother Africa, resisting racism and discrimination, proposing autonomy, self-determination and territory. And the Roma people, who came to this country, fell in love with it and stayed.

And there is also us, the peasant men and women who are not protected by the Constitution. We live in the rural areas, we produce food, we strengthen the rural economy, we defend our Mother Earth, we have uses and customs that enrich the culture, territory and diversity of the country and with the sweat of our work we honor life, care for our seeds and seek peace.

As usual, there are expressions of faith and spirituality, sexual diversity, diversity of thoughts and political ideas; each and all with a special characteristic: happiness, work and in most cases resistance and struggle for a dignified life.

Now, Pope Francis, with your permission I’ll tell you about other aspects of our reality: you arrive in a country that has been punished since the arrival of the invaders over 500 years ago, who subjected our native peoples to exploitation, plundering, and marginalization–a situation that still affects us deeply: there’s an enormous inequality gap; the majority of our land is owned by a handful of people: 25% of rural property owners have 95% of the best lands in the country. 0.4% of these properties are larger than 500 hectares and make up 77.6% of productive fields. The sad thing is that these lands were appropriated by force of blood and fire, accompanied by legislation enforcing the plundering and defending the interests of transnational companies, big transnational capital, promoting foreign appropriation of land, implementing mega-projects, mono-culture, and, as a consequence, the loss of our autonomy and food sovereignty, the undermining of peasant culture and identity. Nowadays, those of us who live in the countryside don’t have access to good education health, or dignified life. Youth don’t have real opportunities and were forced to migrate to the big cities or join the military ranks.

Corruption is present in all spheres of the country, from the high ranks of government to Congress, military forces, justice courts, corporations, political parties, and so on. Sadly, common ethics have been lost. There’s no access to healthcare—instead, health is a lucrative business only accessible to those who can pay for it. Femicides and violence against women are a scourge of our society, paramilitarism (which is now being called “criminal gangs”) increases its presence throughout the land, forced displacements have uprooted over 7.7 million people over the last 30 years, 84,642 people went missing and we’re still looking for them, many children die of malnourishment, human rights are constantly violated, only last year 117 social leaders were murdered and from January to June this year 225 denounced threats, 52 were murdered, 32 were attacked, 18 were detained arbitrarily and 9 suffered judicialization as a form of political persecution.

The agreement that was signed between the national government and the FARC is a huge step forward, which relieves us and puts an end to an armed conflict that lasted over 50 years. These agreements are an important cornerstone for peace and therefore it is of utmost importance to fulfill them. The dialogues between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the oldest guerrilla in the continent, are also very encouraging—those of us who love peace hope this negotiation comes to a successful conclusion.

However, Pope Francis, we must remember that peace is not achieved just by signing deals—peace is achieved with the participation of society as a whole, discussing our problems, looking for solutions, sharing ideas and making the collective decision to contribute according to our individual capacity—this will surely solve the problems and lead us to an inclusive, fair country.

With all of this being said, Pope Francis, I dare to affirm that in Colombia there’s currently no peace, but the day when we all have access to dignified jobs, healthcare, housing, recreation, democracy, justice, reparation and non-repetition—only then will we be able to affirm we have achieved peace.

There are some people who cause a lot of damage, but there are many more who believe in forgiveness and reconciliation, who fight for a dignified life and for a land that we will pass on to our future generations.

Finally, Pope Francis, I just want to say that your experience and wisdom will tell you how to continue listening to those who nobody listens to, to help the destitutes and to be a voice for the voiceless in Colombia and in the world.

Bogotá, Colombia, September 3, 2017

Germán Bodoya, Colombian Peasant

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