Latin America and the Caribbean (80619-GM-R9999)
Add new resolution to the Book of Resolutions as follows: The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) to stay informed as to developments in the region and to encourage advocacy with the peoples of the region..
“I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. I will feed them with good pasture. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.” (Ezek. 34:12-16)
“As individuals are affirmed by God in their diversity, so are nations and cultures. We recognize that no nation or culture is absolutely just and right in its treatment of its own people, nor is any nation totally without regard for the welfare of its citizens. The Church must regard nations as accountable for unjust treatment of their citizens and others living within their borders. While recognizing valid differences in culture and political philosophy, we stand for justice and peace in every nation.” (Social Principles, ¶165A)
Latin America and the Caribbean are in a period of great transition. No longer existing as colonial territories solely dependent on others for social, political, and economic support, much of Latin America and the Caribbean are trying to create a new identity while continuing to struggle with recurring problems.
The economic state for many is dire. There is a severe lack of development for those living in rural areas and many are being forced to move into overcrowded urban areas to have a chance at survival. The United National Human Development Report in 2005 stated that those living in rural areas are facing increasing poverty with a decreased ability to access needed services. For example, the child death rate in Bolivia is almost two times higher for children in rural areas than for children living in urban areas. Additionally, farmers who chose to stay are at risk of being paid unequal wages at a time when the primary export of Latin America coffee is facing uncertain prices and unpredictable natural disasters. When the survival of so many is based on so few agricultural exports, the very lives of these farmers and their families are in jeopardy.
Environmental conditions within the Caribbean and Latin America are facing three great challenges: deforestation, urbanization, and fumigation. The fertile lands of Latin America are being depleted at an alarming rate of over 5.8 million hectares a year through deforestation by the mining industry.
Trade agreements such as NAFTA (North America Fair Trade Agreement) are also negatively impacting people. Privatization of public resources such as water, education, and healthcare makes it difficult for poor women and children to gain access to these resources. Low wage laborers also face difficulty as new economic plans have created a “race to the bottom” where laborers are being paid as little as possible for their work.
Human rights organizations report staggering rates of human rights violations taking place throughout Latin America. Colombia has the second highest rate of indigenously displaced people after Sudan, with 2.9 million people displaced by threats and reverse land reform between 1995 and 2005.
Other disturbing trends include violence against Protestant churches working to combat injustice and the rapidly deteriorating treatment of women with over 2,500 acts of femicide in the past five years in Guatemala alone.
Ranked 153rd of the 177 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index and with 80% of the population living in poverty, the country of Haiti begs for immediate attention. Poverty, when combined with an unstable government and continued conflict, has been a key factor in Haiti’s growing AIDS epidemic. Studies conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have found that some urban areas of Haiti have HIV rates as high as 10%. There is growing concern for the World Bank that “what has happened in Africa in less than two decades could now happen in the Caribbean if action is not taken while the epidemic is in the early stages.” In 2005, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), $76 million was provided to the Caribbean and Central America for HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and treatment.
While Haiti has been the focus of much attention within the Caribbean due to its current political and social instability, the Caribbean as a whole warrants additional attention. The ratio of income disparity between the richest 10% and the poorest 10% is 46:1 for the Caribbean, while sub-Saharan Africa has a ratio of 24:1 and most industrialized nations are at a ratio of 15:1. Many of the poor, both rural and urban, are unable to attain sufficient housing, healthcare, education, and employment. This is especially true of youth and young adult populations. One example is in St. Kitts where the percentage of
all people living in poverty is 35.5% and the percentage of people between the ages of 15 and 24 living in poverty is 65%. With a lack of development funds for education to prepare youth for the existing labor market, the education rate is decreasing while poverty continues to rise in the Caribbean.
The result of the “War on Drugs” is still unclear. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that while over 60,000 acres of legal crops were planted in 2005 to replace coca crops in Colombia, this constitutes only 9% of the coca growers. The USAID has budgeted upwards of $75 million for Alternative Development over the past five years and still cocaine production has seen an increase in cultivation.
More emphasis should be placed on sustainable alternative development plans that come from within the country. One example is Bolivia’s “Coca Sí- Cocaine No” campaign that recognizes the cultural/economic/religious importance of the coca plant to the indigenous people. Rather than completely eradicate a plant that also has numerous legal uses, the Bolivian government has begun a policy of “rationalization” where each farmer is allowed to grow enough coca for his family. As a result, there have been better relations with the police and an increased willingness to report illegal actions. The political trends in Latin America are moving more towards democracy through populist movements. These movements are in stark contrast to the elitists who have historically run so many Latin American countries. With the election of the first South American female president in Chile, Michelle Bachelet Jeria, and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, there is a transition underway to give a political voice and position to those who have traditionally faced oppression by these same governments. Additionally, countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Uruguay are all implementing social programs aimed at combating poverty on a widespread scale.
The United Methodist Church Response
As the United Methodist Church, we must support efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean toward social justice and spreading a Gospel of peace and healing. Efforts to build up local churches within Latin America must also create strong leadership and encourage ecumenical efforts. Organizations such as MARCHA (Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans) and CIEMAL (Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America and the Caribbean) are important in the movement towards sustainable development. We must also be in partnership with the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the Latin America Council of Churches as they work to provide ecumenical, creative and holistic approaches in response to social issues facing the region.
Therefore, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church calls upon:
All members of The United Methodist Church to act as a source of support and encouragement to our brothers and sisters working as peacemakers in lands of violence
- Methodist and United Methodist churches in Latin America and the Caribbean to advocate with government leaders to place people and justice at the center of any concerted efforts toward the eradication of poverty and toward sustainable and equitable development in the region. Special attention should be made to people who are marginalized: indigenous communities, Afro-Latinos, women and children.
The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministries (GBHEM) to support the growth of United Methodist churches and seminaries in this region through programs of leadership development and congregational development.
The General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global ministries to monitor programs of relief and development, with special attention to:
1. collaboration for implement of reforestation and reduction of pollution programs
2. funding specifically allocated to human development and HIV/AIDS programs
3. small farmers and landless workers, who are struggling to survive in light of globalization
4. internally displaced people who are losing their land and their livelihood in the midst of violence and insecurity.