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Understanding is the key to success in Bolivia, pastor says

International peacemakers visit U.S. Presbyterians Sept. 24-Oct. 18

October 5, 2010

LOUISVILLE

A dozen international peacemakers from 10 countries around the world will visit congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from Sept. 24-Oct. 18.

They will share their stories about church-based ministries in their countries that seek peace justice and pursue peace in the name of Jesus Christ. This year’s international peacemakers come from Bolivia, Central Asia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sudan.

The International Peacemaker program is sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

The Rev. Luis Perez Alanoca is pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Bolivia and a professor of music. He is also the president of the Independent Presbyterian Church in Bolivia. He is in charge of the "Joining Hands for Life" network related to the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He works on issues of gender equality, water and air pollution, fair trade and poverty. Luis is married and has three sons.

Perez's responses were translated from Spanish by Janet Nunez, an administrative assistant in Compassion, Peace and Justice.

Q: Where will you be going?

Q: What is the situation in your country that you will be addressing?

"I'm going to talk about the situation in Bolivia. Five years ago, we elected a new president. This is the first indigenous president — Evo Morales. During the national election, he won by a majority.

"Bolivia has more than one million square kilometers and a population of 10 million inhabitants. Sixty percent of the population is indigenous from 36 ethnicities. The majority are Quechuas and Aymaras.

"The change that we are looking for is equality in society between indigenous people and Spanish-descent people so there is no discrimination. We don't want any kind of discrimination between races or different economic status or between women and men so there can be peace.

"Another problem we're working on is the environment. The mining companies are throwing chemical refuse into the rivers. And we also want to preserve the clean water in the rivers so the population has an idea and a consciousness about the caring of the water. We have a saying in Bolivia: Clean water is worth more than gold."

Q: How are the faith communities addressing this situation?

"The church and other organizations are working toward these causes. We also ask ourselves, 'What are the root causes of the poverty in Bolivia?' Bolivia is very rich in natural resources but we are poor.

"So we're talking about topics like globalization, external debt, political issues, environmental issues and other things. So it's not easy work. It’s very, very hard. It's a process.

"We work with other organizations (Joining Hands for Life, a network of the Presbyterian Hunger Program) as the Presbyterian Church on these issues. … We work together like ants. We say we want to help with a little grain of sand."

Q: What lessons from your situation are you trying to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?

"In my opinion, I believe the PC(USA) has good intentions to help. But it seems like the United States government doesn't share the same ideas. There is a political influence from the U.S. in Bolivia. So we see two things: the church works in favor of the poor and discriminated ones. But on the other side, we have the U.S. government pressuring our government to fulfill some conditions. It looks like these two powers — the U.S. government and PC(USA) — fight against each other.  

"PC(USA) can help us doing advocacy among the population, letting them know the realities that each of our countries live. Not by reading the news on the Internet but by going to these countries. The media now is led by the powerful, so they say whatever the powerful want to say.

"In my opinion, I think the U.S. government has good intentions to help but not in the right way. We don't understand each other. We can both have good intentions but do those intentions help us, really?"

Q: What is the primary message you want to communicate to U.S. Presbyterians?

"The message would be for us to look together to seek peace. For me, if we are searching for peace, that means to do good all the time. We probably won't find a perfect peace, but we have to work for that constantly. We can only find that peace together, knowing each other, accepting each other with our differences.

"We are looking for equality."

Perez gave an example: If you give a huge plate of food to an adult, he or she will eat all the food. But if you give that same plate to a child, he or she won't need to eat all the food. But in each case, each person will have gotten what they needed. Both sides don’t necessarily need the exact same things to be satisfied.

"In other words, what we want is to have everybody have the same rights and obligations."

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