Colombian Bishops Gauge Effects of War and Drug Trafficking on Countryside

Episcopate Analyzes Causes of Poverty in Rural Areas

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BOGOTA, Colombia, JULY 3, 2003 ( The Colombian bishops’ conference is focusing on the country’s armed conflict as a primary cause of the impoverishment and underdevelopment of the rural areas.

This was the core of the message of Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz, archbishop of Bogota and president of the episcopal conference, read at the opening of the plenary assembly. The letter was read by Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro of Tunja, vice president of the conference, in the cardinal’s absence.

«There is practically no region of Colombia where violence has not established its tragic and macabre empire, with the consequences known by all: forced displacement, ruin of traditional crops, abandonment of the land, and overcrowding in big cities,» Cardinal Rubiano said in his message.

About a quarter of Colombia’s 44 million people live in rural areas. Of these, 65% live in poverty — including 30% in abject poverty. This year alone the civil war caused the displacement of 53,000 people.

In his message, the cardinal alluded to the issue of illicit crops, «which have favored drug cartels and have meant a sociocultural change of a negative slant for rural communities.»

«It is no secret that the business of drug trafficking is managed by powerful, unscrupulous groups which take advantage of and exploit the peasants,» he said.

The state must safeguard and protect the quality of life and goods of the rural world, the cardinal said. «So long as the peasant does not feel really protected in his life and property, and rural workers are not guaranteed the opportunity to work, the exodus to the big cities will continue,» he noted.

This is a phenomenon that not only has its roots in «the violence of insurgency,» but also in inequity, which «drives the peasant to seek a different horizon which, in general, ends in a profound frustration when not finding in the city an opportunity for work and a worthy life,» he explained.

The cardinal added: «We, the bishops, will continue to give special attention to the rural pastoral program in the present situation of the country; we make our own the concerns and hopes of the peasants, and will continue to support initiatives that promote agrarian organizations.» The plenary assembly ends today.

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