Churches in Bolivia Hope for Peace Beyond Conflict

Churches in Bolivia are struggling to overcome the violence afflicting the country, says an ecumenical team sent by the World Council of Churches.

The "Living Letters" team is visiting churches in the country this week to learn about their difficulties, offer prayers for peace, and share approaches to violence that have proved successful elsewhere.

The major concern of the churches, the team heard, is ethnic and gender violence, the significant gap between the rich and poor, and the looting of the country's natural resources – Bolivia is home to the second largest natural gas reserve in South America but also the region's poorest country.

Bolivia has in recent years been the scene of conflict between President Evo Morales and rebel governors in the richer eastern provinces who are angry at the President's seizure of vast natural gas reserves through nationalisation and are pushing for greater political autonomy.

Ethnic diversity also underlines societal tensions, with the eastern provinces home to more Bolivians of European descent while the indigenous population tends to live in the impoverished highlands of the west. The eastern Bolivians are opposed to a new constitution proposed by Morales – the country's first indigenous president - that would include a "council of indigenous peoples" and confer greater rights on the indigenous people.

Jaime Bravo is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia. He told the Living Letters team that the key word to understanding the violence in his country was "change".

Against the backdrop of the political and social conflict, churches are uniting around a language of new beginnings as they seek to promote peace and harmony.

Bishop Javier Rojas of the Evangelical Methodist Church said the Bolivian people have been on a journey towards "re-founding Bolivia for a new millennium" since the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003.

Abraham Colque, rector of the Andean Ecumenical Higher Institute of Theology, believes it is time for people to join hands and build new symbols rooted in the social and indigenous movements.

They are hoping that an ecumenical declaration on just peace to be adopted at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011 includes a plea for governments to be consistent in their words and deeds, for a distributive economy, for laws protecting human rights, changes in political structures and a new global economical architecture.