“Destroying Patagonia puts an end to a culture, a history, and a people,” says Monsignor Luis Infanti de la Mora, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Aysén, Chile. He is committed to caring for Creation and the dignity of people in a natural paradise almost “at the end of the earth,” between the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean, the region of Los Lagos and Argentina.
“In Patagonia and elsewhere, water is a gift from God to everyone. It is a vital element that makes us realise the value of people and of all creation… It is also a means of sharing people’s rights and duties. It is certainly a human right since many people die because of a lack of water or from contaminated water. All creatures were created for a purpose and have the right to live off the natural elements.” Monsignor Luis Infanti De la Mora, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Aysén, Chile, speaks with serenity, conviction, and deep commitment.
Together with several local popular movements and associations, he opposes a hydroelectric project that wants to construct five large dams on the Pascua and Bakere rivers. For millions of years these waterways have run from the Andes to the Pacific Ocean. The HidroAysén consortium and Colbún, a company owned by the powerful Chilean Matte family, back the project. It plans to supply ‘blue gold’ to the capital Santiago and the mining areas of the north with a 2,300 km long and 100 metres wide conduit. It will include 6,000 seventy-metre towers and will cross 9 regions, 6 national parks, and 67 communes. The project also risks flooding 5,600 hectares of a rare forest ecosystem, with serious social and environmental effects and disastrous consequences for agriculture.
“These projects – says Monsignor Infanti de la Mora – are an affront to the dignity and everything the people of Patagonia believe, feel, live, and love. It is a serious matter if a company can carry out projects without considering the life, culture, and cost to the people of Patagonia. It is even worse when the economic and political powers of Chile back these projects. We increasingly feel the need to distance ourselves from these powers and make our voice heard. Destroying Patagonia means destroying a culture and a history. Anyone who lives in Patagonia loves the land. Its devastation also offends the responsibility we have to protect and value our resources. Life is hard in Patagonia, but we love these places whose natural beauty makes us realise the dignity of life and the beauty of a simple and peaceful life.”
With the slogan “Aysén, my problem is your problem,” the movement wants important decisions to be taken by the local population. It is not right, the activists insist, that others decide about “large projects that may bring about radical change in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the region.”
The Bishop says the protest is the result of “a lack of justice or care” for Patagonia. “The figures – he explains – show that Aysén is one of the regions with lower unemployment and greater economic growth, but the transnational companies reap the benefits, not the people.” He adds, “The voice of the people is an expression of the voice of God, a prophetic voice. The people of Aysén must be heard immediately.”
Monsignor Infanti de la Mora further developed the themes connected with protecting the environment and especially with managing water as a fundamental and inalienable good. He has not hesitated to take a stand against some projects to exploit water resources which could endanger both the natural environment and human beings in the territory of his Apostolic Vicariate.
“The expanding policy of privatisation – he says in his pastoral letter Give us today our daily water (2008) – is morally unacceptable when it seeks to gain ownership of a vital element such as water. In doing so it creates a new social class: the excluded. Those who are kept out because they don’t have access to water, education, health care, a home, technology, or knowledge. It is institutionalised injustice that creates more hunger and poverty, sacrificing the environment and threatening especially the poorest.”
The letter has become a manifesto for all those – not only Catholics – involved throughout the world in safeguarding Creation.
“We are living on a sick planet – the Bishop emphasises – and we are making it worse by polluting the environment and seriously damaging God’s creatures and not only humankind. We are increasingly aware that water, land, and air are essential for life and we cannot do without them. Yet, we live in a society where people seek profit more than the common good. There are big transnational companies trying to take the place of God and gain ownership of the goods that God entrusted to the cooperation of people for their growth. This is privatisation, a phenomenon with grave outcomes: by taking possession of these essential goods, some companies also want to own entire peoples and cultures. In such a situation, the people who feel they have been bought and sold for the interests of big businesses should react, hopefully in a peaceful manner. Our faith itself demands that we make our voice heard, the voice of the dignity of God’s children who feel they are part of Creation.”
In Monsignor Infanti de la Mora’s view, it is something basic “to have a religious and ethical vision of the planet and human life.” A vision, he insists, “that obliges especially those in responsible positions, or with authority, to accept the logic and purpose according to which God created all things to make them available to all. A logic and purpose based on a world in which no one is cut off from access to and use of such goods.”
Monsignor Infanti de la Mora went on to speak of one of the problems with political power. “The economic, political, and judiciary structures that play the power game are structures of sin. They want to replace God. They want to own things – creation, people, even consciences.” In his view, “The only way to defeat them, from the ethical and faith perspective, is to become people who are critical and aware, to create structures of life, not death. This involves participating in organisations that work to assist people to become aware of such situations and so help to defeat them. As children of God we must carry out this prophetic mission. Above all, we must feel the urgent need to be present in questions about protecting Creation, social justice, and solidarity. A sound ethical vision and a sound spiritual vision can greatly influence political, economic, social, and cultural decisions.” It is a decisive commitment, both in Patagonia and elsewhere. “I think – says Monsignor Infanti de la Mora – this must be a major theme in evangelising the present culture that tries to exclude God not only from the ownership of the goods of Creation but also from the important decisions of humankind.”
Maria Sara Torres