Open letter to Cardinal Terrazas, Bolivia

On Sunday, April 13, Cardinal Julio Terrazas said in his sermon that he does not believe slavery exists in the Chaco region of Bolivia, and called on the government to provide proof. On Monday, April 14, the government in La Paz announced that it would provide the Cardinal with the proof he had requested. In Alto Parapeti alone, 13 families are holding 167 Bolivian families in slavery. 12 of them are in Ronald Larsen‘s hands.

Open Letter to Julio Terrazas, Bishop and Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Bolivia, from Rafael Puente

Translation: Machetera

Julio, old friend, now Cardinal of our Church:

Many of us are dismayed, and not just a few directly outraged, with your recent words that cast doubt on the existence of slavery on the haciendas of our country, still so full of evil and injustice. Of course you have the right, and the duty, to seek reliable information about this disgrace. The sad thing is that you say it in the manner of one who insists that this type of exploitation does not exist, as though those who denounce this kind of injustice are engaging in defamation and abuse.

Have you really never looked closely at our brothers and sisters who occupy the lowest levels of Bolivian society, already so unfair? Are they not the smallest of the small, namely the favorites of Jesus of Nazareth, and therefore worthy of our pastors’ greatest concern? Shouldn’t one expect a Catholic bishop to be the first to denounce this fact, instead of asking for proof?

Where were you, Julio, when the Church published the Pastoral Letter regarding the Land, back in 2000? Could you trouble yourself to re-read it and see what was said in that letter? It spoke of “disguised forms of slavery,” in a way that you can’t say that in your last sermon, you were referring to slavery as a means of production in the style of ancient Rome (or that of European Christian colonialism, not so far back) with chains and slave auctions: it was you, the bishops, who described disguised slavery as that which still goes on in our country with the so-called “captive communities.” What else is this hacienda regimen with hard and prolonged work (including for the children) in exchange for sustenance? And this criminal system of saddling people with unpayable debt? How do you explain the impunity with which these ranchers (likely Catholics) are allowed to physically punish, and even kill their rebellious peons without any consequence? Why do you not ask the Public Defender for Chuquisaca for the video showing the murder of the Guaraní Miguel Cruz in the hacienda belonging to the López’s in Huacareta? Why don’t you ask for information from a number of priests who are in solidarity with the captive communities and who might give you so much data you couldn’t help but weep?

Do you not read the United Nations documents that confirm what you pretend to deny? Or is it that for you, the United Nations is also a nest of unscrupulous agitators bent on putting some of your eastern parishioners in a bad light? Is it possible that you are at a level in the hierarchy that has distanced you so from the poor and those you defended in your youth, to the point of doubting what only the hacienda slaveowners dare to deny? Would you imagine Jesus of Nazareth asking for proof of the existence of social injustice? What Lord do you believe in now, Julio, Cardenal Terrazas? Where did that priest from Vallegrande go, who defended the poor and was accused of being a communist by the putschists in the seventies? What will you say at the Final Judgment when the Holy Father asks why you were not with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the immigrants and the new slaves among your people? Or could it be that you don’t believe any longer in the Final Judgment, nor in the Father of Jesus?

With great sorrow, but still with the hope that you will return to being the Julio of forty years ago, I send you my regards and call you to look us in the eye…

Rafael Puente Calvo, April 15, 2008

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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