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Pontiff decries corruption and destruction of rainforests

January 20, 2018

Speaking in front of thousands of indigenous people Pope Francis decried the reckless destruction of rainforests by mining. Later, with Peru's president and other leaders, he warned of another scourge: corruption.

Peru Papst besucht Völker des Amazonasgebiet in Puerto Maldonado
Image: Reuters/O. Romano

Pope Francis, speaking in a small town on the edge of a rainforest in Peru on Friday, sounded a stark warning about the future of the Amazon saying its peoples bore "deep wounds" and that they had "never been so threatened." 

He lamented "the pressure being exerted by big business interests that want to lay hands on petroleum, gas, lumber, gold" and on industrial scale farming.

While the pontiff has denounced environmental destruction before, it was the first time he had done so in a region such as Madre de Dios, where miners have dumped so much mercury into rivers that some fish are no longer considered safe to eat.

Wildcat goldmine in Amazon rainforest
An illegal wildcat gold mine near Castelo dos Sonhos in Brazil's Para stateImage: Reuters

Thousands of indigenous people from throughout the Amazon basin region of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia had traveled to see the pope.

"We ask you to defend us," said Yesica Patiachi, a representative of the Harakbut people — one of 23 indigenous peoples specifically mentioned in the pope's greeting at the start of the meeting. "If they take away our land, we can disappear."

Francis also lamented the "sexual slavery" that takes place in mining camp brothels deep in the jungle.

Pope condemns corruption

A few hours after drawing attention to the destruction of Peru's Amazon, Francis warned that another form of degradation was also pervading society: corruption.

"How much evil is done to our Latin American people and the democracies of this content by this social virus," said the pope. "Everything being done to combat this social scourge deserves our utmost attention."

The remarks were delivered in front of Peru's president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and high-ranking political leaders, several of whom are reported to be caught up in a regional graft scandal.

Pope Francis in LIma with president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Präsident
Pope Francis with Peruvian president Pedro Pablo KuczynskiImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Bianchi

The pontiff's remarks were delivered less than a month after Kuczynski avoided impeachment over $782,000 (€638,000) in payments made to his consulting firm by Brazilian company Odebrecht firm over a decade ago.

Several political leaders in Peru have been accused of failing to slow illegal gold mining. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's plan to "formalize" miners who comply with labor and environmental laws has been derailed by political crises.

The miners themselves, are often young men fleeing poverty in Andean villages.

Highs and lows of Pope's trip

On the papal plane over Chile, Pope Francis married two flight attendants on the spur of the moment. The gesture generated a lot of positive and warm press for the pontiff, but a conservative Catholic blog took issue with the marriage and criticized the pope for such a hasty ceremony.

 The 81-year-old pontiff has confronted sensitive issues almost every day since he began his visit Monday. He offfered an apology to victims of priestly sexual abuse and prayed with survivors of Augusto Pinochet's brutal dictatorship.

The sex abuse issue dogged him almost to the altar as he prepared to celebrate mass on Thursday. Questioned by journalists, Pope Francis reiterated his support for bishop Juan Barros who stands accused of covering up another priest's abuse of boys.

"There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?" the pontiff said.

Peru was the final leg of the pontiff's visit to South America

av/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)


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