World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement on Latin America

23 February 2006

WCC 9th Assembly, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February, 2006

The WCC Assembly meets for the first time in Latin America and would first
like to express its deep thanks to the Latin American churches for having hosted
the assembly, to the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) for its work in
the construction of unity among the Christian churches and to the National
Council of Christian Churches in Brazil (CONIC) who generously invited the
WCC to hold the assembly in this country. The present statement reflects issues
and concerns received from Latin American churches.

The assembly theme "God, in your grace, transform the world" recalls the different
transformations the region has experienced throughout its history; a history
where hope, life and joy prevail through the centuries as characteristics of the region
and signs of God's grace; a history of transformations which continue to take place
even now. Recent elections in Latin American countries have resulted in the first
Indigenous person to be elected as President of Bolivia and the first woman to be
elected as President of Chile. These new political signs in the region follow other
changes, which need to be interpreted in the context of Latin American history if
the presence of God who renews the whole creation (Rev. 21: 5) is to be discerned.

Recalling Latin America's history

After millennia of different indigenous cultures, with outstanding developments
by, for instance, the Inca, Mayan and Tiwanacota civilizations, the "conquista" by
the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the XVI century gave a common recent
history to this continent. This history, with a special recognition of the massacres
of various indigenous populations and the introduction of slavery by the colonizers,
was especially recalled in 1992, during the commemoration of the five hundred
years of the colonization by the Europeans. In the XVIII century, wars against
the Spanish and Portuguese paved the way to freedom for most Latin American
states. Hence, during the first half of the XIX century, most of the countries
achieved independence. However this political independence left different nations
still economically dependent.

Since the wars of independence, many political leaders have called for the unity
of the different Latin American states and in the last two hundred years many
attempts to develop a Latin American unity have been made. Today, in the framework
of the global political trends, which support regional integration, such unity
is vital. Churches in the region have clearly stated that current efforts to build
bridges between states should be based not only on economic trade agreements
but should also respond to the needs and rights of the people, especially the weak
and vulnerable. In this way, the path towards unity may be a sign of the brotherhood
and sisterhood to which God calls all human beings.

Several voices in the assembly pointed to the struggle for life and dignity, which
has been a constant experience of Latin American people. Throughout history
they have faced wars within and between states, confrontations, authoritative
regimes and dictatorships, as well as irresponsible policies by governments and
multinational corporations which have irreparably damaged their environment.

Tribute should be paid to the testimony of thousands of Christians and other people
of goodwill who gave their lives for human rights, dignity and care for the
creation. Monsignor Romero from El Salvador, Mauricio López from Argentina,
Chico Mendes from Brazil and Yolanda Céron from Colombia, are a few names
among thousands, most of them unknown. The blood of these martyrs has helped
to fertilize the seeds of God's kingdom, which have borne the fruits of solidarity,
life and democracy.

Overcoming poverty and injustice

Unjust distribution of wealth, natural resources and opportunities has generated
poverty, which dramatically affects the region. According to UN statistics, now
as for decades, more than 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty, while
20 percent live in extreme poverty. This cannot be considered separately from the
implementation of structural adjustment programmes developed by the governments
as a requisite from the international financial institutions like the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The privatization of state companies
brought in short-term relief and economic welfare in a few cases, but in the medium
and long-term perspective, many judge that the implementation of these
kinds of policies has worsened the situation of the region, with huge economic
crises in the late '90s and early 2000s occurring in several countries. Though in
the last years, at the macro-economic level, the region seems to have recovered
from these crises, poverty continues to be a challenge for governments and societies
and a scandal for the churches. Even in those countries where poverty is relatively
less, the gap between the rich and the poor is enormous and the distribution
of wealth continues to be unjust.

The external debt has been a heavy burden for decades. Churches in the region
have clearly stated the debt is unjust, illegitimate and immoral because it had
been contracted during dictatorships with the complicity of international financial
institutions and has already been paid. However, the need to continue to pay
the service of the debt has prevented the implementation of effective social policies
in most of the countries, seriously affecting education, health and work conditions.
Furthermore, as a consequence of the economic crises, migration has
increased and millions of Latin Americans are now living in other countries in
the region, the United States or in Europe, their remittances to family members
back home becoming one of the most important incomes in some Latin American

This economic situation further increases the exclusion of vulnerable groups such
as Indigenous Peoples, African descendants and rural populations. Indigenous
Peoples continue to struggle for the recognition of indigenous rights. African
descendants in Brazil, as well as in other countries in the region, still carry the
consequences of slavery, which has prevented them from fully exercising their
rights as they continue to suffer racism, violence and discrimination. In a region
where poverty has often been related to issues of land ownership, landless movements
in different countries, particularly in Brazil, have been claiming access to
land. Churches and the ecumenical movement cannot be deaf to the cries of the
poor and excluded in the region. Poverty is unacceptable in a region which is
extremely rich in natural resources. The tragedy is that these have often been
exploited in a way that has destroyed the environment through, for example, the
contamination of rivers in large areas. Indeed the whole planet is threatened
through the deforestation of the Amazonian region.

Healing the wounds of violence

Violence continues to be a major problem of the region. Some countries continue
to face the consequences of political violence. In Colombia, for example, the
armed conflict between political actors has largely affected the civil society. Because
of this confrontation, thousands, mostly innocent people, have died and more
than three million people have been internally displaced. The conflict has gone
beyond national borders, having a serious impact on neighbouring countries.

Colombian churches have strengthened their work with victims and have clearly
asked the Government of Colombia and armed groups to look for a negotiated
solution of the conflict which could bring peace with justice.

Close to the region and to the Latin American churches' concern, Haiti is another
country which has experienced extreme violence during the last years and
experienced a political crisis, because of internal and external factors. Despite of
the presence of a UN stabilization force, violence continues, especially in Portau-
Prince. The recently held elections, after many postponements, although
important in the need to re-establish democracy in the country, have not brought
peace. There is still an urgent need for a broad national dialogue and a process
of reconciliation to heal the wounds of the country. The international community
should strengthen its support to the Haitian people in their struggle against
poverty, for the reconstruction of democratic institutions and care for the environment.

The dramatic situations in which these countries live cannot be considered in an
isolated way. They reflect a larger phenomenon, which affects the whole region.

The new dynamics of militarism that have developed in the last years in the region
threaten to become even more apparent with the establishment of new US military
bases in different countries, such as Ecuador and Paraguay. However, the
influence of the United States in the region is not new. For decades the US has
influenced decision-making processes in politics, economics and culture, has supported
dictatorships and authoritative regimes, and under the concern for hemispheric
security the US has trained the Latin American military.

A particular focus of the US agenda for the region has been Cuba. A blockade
imposed in the sixties by the US Government has continued to seriously affect
the Cuban population. This blockade, condemned several times by the WCC, has
been hardened during the current US administration. Nevertheless, Cuba has
managed to develop effective policies regarding health, education and culture.
Civil and political rights need to be further improved if the country is to respond
to the process of economic transformation which is occurring. Spaces for dialogue
between the different sectors of the society and the government are urgently necessary.

Urban, domestic, ethnic, gender or youth violence is also experienced in Latin
America on a daily basis. Youth gangs ("maras") are spreading in most Central
American countries. The churches have especially addressed the major problem
of the proliferation of small arms. The Decade to Overcome Violence during 2006
will be the opportunity in the region to tackle some of the faces of violence and
bring the efforts of the churches together to build a culture of peace.

Struggling for life and dignity

The peoples of Latin America have struggled hard to build peace with justice and
achieve democratic regimes. Victims and human rights organizations, together
with churches in many countries, have been at the forefront of this struggle. The
Inter-American System should be strengthened to contribute to implement the
rule of law and to deal more effectively with human rights violations and impunity
in several countries.

Moreover, in recent years many countries have made significant changes through
presidential elections, as an expression of participatory democracy of the peoples.
Candidates and parties who have shown more sensitivity to the needs and rights
of the peoples have often been elected. New governments have stood up in a
stronger way in confronting international financial institutions, trade agreements
and subsidized agriculture in northern countries. Internal policies, more respectful
of human rights and addressing poverty, hunger and other social needs have
been developed. These governments have raised hope in the region and beyond,
though the strong limitations they are facing, and the contradictions and corruption
which threaten some of them, should not be overlooked.

Churches accompanying the peoples of Latin America

Christianity was brought to the region with the colonizers during the XVI and
following centuries and has not been without controversies. Many times the persecution
of those who did not accept the Christian faith caused thousands of casualties.

But through their history, the faith experience of the Indigenous, African,
mestizo and European descendants, has developed a Latin American face of Christianity.
For a long time, Latin America has been known as the Roman Catholic continent.

But the composition of Christianity has changed over the centuries. In the
19th century, for instance, the Protestant and Anglican churches came to serve
in the continent and the Orthodox Church was established and has contributed
to build the social fabric of different communities. In the last decades, Evangelical
churches, mainly Pentecostal ones, have been growing systematically and in some
countries have become important percentages of the population. Responding to
the need to grant equal treatment to all religions, raised by many WCC member
churches, improvements have been made in some national legislations to recognize
their rights.

Ecumenism has made important contributions to the history of Latin America,
particularly in recent times. Churches and ecumenical organizations in the region
have played a key role in struggling against dictatorial and authoritarian regimes
and defending human rights all over the region. The WCC, through different
programmes, and particularly through its Human Rights Resources Office for
Latin America, and together with CLAI, has been closely accompanying and supporting
the churches and ecumenical, human rights and victims' organizations
in their work to combat impunity, achieve peace agreements after civil wars,
strengthen democracy and build up reconciliation.

The struggle for human dignity by the churches can be traced back to the fervent
defence of the Indigenous Peoples by Christians like Fray Bartolomé de las Casas
in the 16th century. The struggle for human dignity has been a pillar of Latin
American theology ever since. This particular consideration for the poor, the marginalized
and the excluded in different societies throughout history has been at
the origins of the particular theological approach known as Liberation Theology.
Strongly incarnated in the social struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, more recently
it has expanded its foci towards the economic, ecological, gender and interreligious
dimensions. Therefore, nurtured in this theological methodology rooted
in a deep spiritual experience, Latin American Christianity has become deeply
involved in defending, caring and celebrating life in its multiple manifestations,
recognizing God's presence in every life expression and especially in human life.
This experience has been a gift of God to the whole church.


The Ninth Assembly, meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February, 2006:

a) Adopts the statement on Latin America.

b) Commends the Latin American churches in their work to overcome poverty
and injustice, heal the wounds of violence, struggle for life and dignity, grant
equal treatment to all religions in national legislations and asks them to further
develop their work and reflection on issues such as grace, economy, gender, youth,
disability, ethnicity, ecology and violence as part of their contribution to the ecumenical
movement and in preparation for CLAI's Assembly in 2007.

c) Invites churches, ecumenical organizations and other civil society groups to
have an active participation in the "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches
Seeking Reconciliation and Peace" which focuses this year on Latin America.

d) Appeals to WCC member churches and staff to emphasize the exchange with
Latin American churches and ecumenical organizations and look for new ways of
interacting with the churches and peoples of the region.

e) Encourages Latin American peoples to continue in their struggle to build new
societies which respect the dignity of the whole creation and pay special attention
to the most vulnerable and excluded, including Indigenous Peoples and
African descendants, and to share their visions, concerns and lessons learned with
peoples of other regions.

f) Calls on Latin American governments to strengthen their work towards a more
effective integration of the region to face the challenges of the present world; to
look for effective policies to overcome poverty, injustice and the degradation of
the environment; to strengthen the rule of law and the respect and promotion of
human rights and dignity and to continue to look for ways of enhancing democracy
in their countries.

g) Urges the international community, the states and international financial institutions
to recognize the illegitimacy of the external debt that burdens the region
as well as to revise the rationale of free trade agreements in order to effectively
respond to the needs of the population and to the concerns expressed recently by
the churches in the region regarding the consequences for peasants, workers and
communities' rights, the environment and citizen's participation.