Emilie Teresa Smith is a Canadian Anglican priest and theologian living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is co-president of the Óscar Romero International Network in Solidarity with the Peoples of Latin America.
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The Legacy of Liberation Theology
"THE CRY OF THE POOR rises to the heavens!” With one phrase, proclaimed at a conference of Catholic bishops in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, history changed in Latin America.
Fifty years ago, the “princes of the church”—with the support of Pope Paul VI, who opened the gathering, and embodying the renewal of Vatican II—agreed to dethrone themselves. A “preferential option for the poor,” they said, would lead the renewed Catholic Church.
Bishops and priests, religious sisters and brothers, began working to change the historic structures of inequality and abuse that had existed in Latin America since the 15th-century invasion of the rapacious Spaniards. Faith was no longer held captive by the educated and powerful elites; now laypeople were empowered to make their faith their very own bread and Word. Christian base communities emerged. Theologians got busy listening “from below.”
A name was attached to the Medellín movement with the arrival of Father Gustavo Gutierrez’ groundbreaking book A Theology of Liberation. Liberation theology, rooted in the economically and politically oppressed, became the first modern theological movement to emerge in the Catholic Church outside of Europe.
Canada's Shameful Exports
CANADIAN MINING companies have left a trail of destruction around the world—mostly in places where people are poor and vulnerable.
The earliest conflicts caused by Canadian mining exploded in Guatemala in the early 1960s when the nickel company Inco dug into the northern mountainside of Guatemala’s largest freshwater lake, Lago Izabal. Almost 155 square miles of traditional Kekchi-Maya land was expropriated to create Inco’s Exmibal mine. As the region descended into bitter war, Guatemalan oligarchs and their military, with the support of Canadian-mining and U.S. geopolitical interests, exterminated all popular dissent. Dozens of Kekchi leaders were killed or disappeared; four prominent leaders who had published a report condemning the Inco-Exmibal deals were brutally assaulted and two of them assassinated. The Exmibal mine operated for three years before Inco abandoned it, never paying a nickel in royalties to Guatemala
How the Canadian Government Has Shamelessly Dedicated Itself to Mining Companies
DOÑA DIODORA STANDS on the side of the mountain, shivering. She’s tending to her skinny cows. A simple adobe hut stands here on the edge of her land in the Guatemalan highlands—“so I can stay and look after the animals,” she says. “But I don’t know what I am going to do about water. They’ve taken away the water.”
Tears drip down out of her good eye. She dries them on a thin sleeve. The other eye socket, shattered where the bullet went through, seeps with yellow pus. “Me siento un poco triste—a little sad,” she explains in her halting, quiet Spanish. It is cold on the mountain, achingly so. And, mysteriously, the water has gone: Old streams and wells are dusty. The cows look ill.
Just down the crumbling mountain, the tailings pond from the Marlin mine glows a weird shade of neon green.
I first heard about the Marlin mine—operated by Vancouver’s Goldcorp—in 2005, before it opened. That year I was going to Guatemala with a youth group from my diocese, and we were warned: Don’t wear anything that identifies you as Canadians. What? Canadians? We’re supposed to be the good guys in the story. Well, not anymore.
Coming in From the Cold
JON SOBRINO LAUGHS ever so slightly at my question. His office in the Monseñor Romero Center in San Salvador is a paper cavern, a place where a theological archeologist digging to understand the highs and the lows of liberation movements within the church would find a mother lode of artifacts.
Where is liberation theology going from here under Pope Francis? Sobrino, perhaps one of the most prolific liberation theologians, is thin and thoughtful. He considers his words: Liberation theology is a way of thinking about how a Christian must live—in active, engaged struggle for the flourishing of all life. Liberation is the primary movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those baptized into the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ to live this out, immediately and urgently.
In March 2013, when Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Sobrino’s fellow Jesuit, became pope, liberation theologians and practitioners took a deep collective breath—what would happen next?
Canada's Mining Dominance
WEAK LAWS AND empty regulations in Canada allow Canadian mining companies to flourish in every corner of the world: Papua New Guinea, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, all over Africa—anywhere local conditions are favorable for producing “low cost” metals; that is, any country where local government control mechanisms are weak or nonexistent.
Today, Canadian companies account for 75 percent of mining worldwide, and their practices are rife with abuse. The companies promise sustainability, responsibility, and a “win-win” situation for all, but there is a fundamental contradiction between their claims and the reality of massive open-pit, cyanide heap-leach mining, which devastates surrounding communities and the environment.
The Thorn Tree Resistance
Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined ... They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing ... But where shall wisdom be found? —Job 28:1, 9-12
THE DIRT ROAD twists down into a gully at La Puya, Guatemala, and up the other side, slipping between the knee-high fields of holy corn. The river doesn’t run anymore at the bottom, but the butterflies gather in remembrance of the water of times past. Hundreds of them rest and then flutter suddenly up as a woman goes by to gather fresh basil or chipilin from the little herb and vegetable garden that grows in tires and the ground all along the blocked access road leading into the proposed gold-mine site.
La Puya is the curve in the road where a thorn tree used to stand, throwing fine sharp needles down on unsuspecting passersby. Now it is a well-ordered encampment of neighbors from the twin municipalities of San Pedro Ayampúc and San José del Golfo, 10 miles northwest of Guatemala City.
These women and men are here in a startling act of markedly Christian peaceable resistance. They have been at the gates around the clock and around the calendar since March 2, 2012, when a lone woman pulled her car across the access road to the mine, blocking some incoming machinery. Then a bus bumping down the main road stopped, and the passengers piled off when they saw what was happening.
Then more people came, and dozens stayed. They settled in for a long night that became a long season of resistance. Local communities had had enough of the obfuscation, lies, and manipulation from Radius Gold, a mining company based in Vancouver, Canada.
Can These Bones Live?
The spirit of the Lord set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. —Ezekiel 37:1-2
IT IS A March morning in Guatemala City: sunny, cool, windy. I walk down a dry, dusty lane, out along a finger of land jutting perilously between ravine and ravine. To one side, vultures circle in lazy spirals on the updraft, watching everything down below—waiting. We are near the garbage dump and the slums that surround it. Here, on the road through La Verbena cemetery, hospital waste trucks rumble by; when they reach the end they tip their pile down into the valley.
I am early, so I walk slowly, kicking stones through the rows of niche tombs, stacked five high, artificial flowers drooping down. I pass some of the nicer mausoleums, and then I am among the graves in the scrub grass, markers tilted over or gone. Some are simple piles of dirt; others are human-sized hollows, where the bodies have been removed and dumped into the bone pits.
I stand outside a cement block wall, papered with the faces of the disappeared. A few young staff members arrive and wait as well, under pine trees that are blowing wildly now, this way and that. They eye me, but we say nothing.
The “disappeared” stare at me from the abyss of silence. Many are women, their hair and clothes out of style now. The men sport moustaches from the 1980s. I imagine each one grabbed by murderers, thrown into a van, driven somewhere dark, filthy, disgusting, sticky with blood, urine, and feces. The women are raped, the men too, and all of them mutilated, burned, or electrocuted, and finally killed. Some are then brought here and buried.