Anarchy and chaos must never again be the protagonists in Colombia, bishops urge

Bogota Colombia Credit Dario Diament Shutterstock CNA Dario Diament/Shutterstock.

The bishops of the Pacific and the southwestern regions of Colombia spoke out about the current situation in the country last week, encouraging reconciliation, justice, responsible initiatives and the rejection of any type of violence.

A national strike called by leftist organizations in response to a proposed tax increase began April 28, and has since expanded to address other issues. The protests have been marred by violence and vandalism, and clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators and other incidents have left at least 50 dead and dozens of injured throughout Colombia. 

In a June 23 video posted on the website of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, several bishops addressed the current situation in the country. 

Juan Carlos Cárdenas Toro, the bishop of Pasto, urged that protests should be peaceful and non-violent.

Bishop Cárdenas said that the legitimacy of a protest “is compromised when violence becomes the protagonist. The authorities, organizers and participants need to take care that the demonstrations take place peacefully, preventing a few from distorting what they want to build.”

The bishop did not specifically refer to the national strike but said that "Violence is not a just response, violence is an evil, it is unworthy of man, it destroys what it seeks to defend: the dignity, life, and freedom of the human being.”

“Initiatives carried out with creativity and responsibility are welcome. Never again (must there be) scenes where the protagonist is chaos and anarchy,” harming the people themselves, he said. 

Cárdenas said that peaceful protest “is an inalienable and laudable right, which must be carried out with full responsibility.” Peaceful protests “must be done based on honest values and noble ideals such as respect for life, dignity and the common good.”

Addressing  young people, the bishop of Buga, José Roberto Ospina Leongómez, said in the video, “you are creative, you dream of a just country, in peace, with education; a country where there are job opportunities.”

“Make your dreams a reality,” he said, believing that “dialogue is the fundamental way to listen and express yourself. Don’t close yourself off from other possibilities and help us to build this country where not only we are but God is in the middle of things.”

Juan Carlos Barreto Barreto, the bishop of Quibdó in the Chocó district, which is the poorest in the country, noted that “it’s true that Colombia is one of the countries in the world with the most inequality, it’s true that half of Colombians live in poverty.”

“The young people who have decided to take to the streets to raise their voices demanding the right to education, work and other opportunities are right,” he said. “The time has come for there to be significant changes in Colombia and we have to make those changes through reconciliation.”

Barreto stressed that “it’s very important that we have the capacity to forgive and also to ask for forgiveness. Let's create change in the country through social justice and reconciliation.”

José Saúl Grisales Grisales, the bishop of Ipiales, said an important aspect in the current situation is to work together with the country's farm workers.

"As a Colombian society we are called to turn our attention to making real commitments to farm workers, gather round them and work as a society to create policies and instruments aimed at their protection and care," he said.

Such policies, Grisales continued, can protect them “from the middleman exploiting them and allow them access to good supplies because of the contribution they make to the entire food chain of the country. Let's defend our farm workers!”

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