In Andes, Bishop Pushes Peace Efforts: Gutierrez Hitches Hopes to Fair Emerald Trade, Spiritual Renewal. (World)

By Jackson, Stephen Flanagan | National Catholic Reporter, August 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

In Andes, Bishop Pushes Peace Efforts: Gutierrez Hitches Hopes to Fair Emerald Trade, Spiritual Renewal. (World)


Jackson, Stephen Flanagan, National Catholic Reporter


This emerald-rich and peso-poor little village nestled inaccessibly in the Andes Mountains some 150 miles north of Bogota has peace. In Colombia, a country of 40 million wracked by civil war for some 38 years, peace is a rarity.

Indeed, the entire western region of Boyaca, the state just to the north of Bogota, is one of the few areas in Colombia not embroiled in what Colombia's Nobel prizewinning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez calls "a holocaust of biblical proportions."

Bishop Hector Gutierrez Pabon of Chiquinquira celebrates Mass here in front of the dilapidated church, which is undergoing a slow renovation as funds trickle in. On a makeshift wooden platform supported by wobbly columns of red bricks, Gutierrez delivers a stirring homily for the thousand or so gathered in the brightly colored town plaza. He congratulates the people of western Boyaca for living in peace since 1990.

Since his reassignment from cosmopolitan Cali to this frontier outpost in 1998, Gutierrez has been a leader in western Boyaca's Peace Commission, known by its Spanish name, Paz Viva. The commission was created 12 years ago to halt the bloody "Green Wars," a vicious conflict of infighting between the emerald miners and dealers, compounded by the threat of a takeover of the emerald trade by the drug lords of Medellin.

In his homily, Gutierrez called for more attention from the federal government for the positive example set by the people of Colombia's "emerald rectangle," an area 185 miles from east to west and 36 miles from north to south in which the most important mines of Muzo and Chivor are located. Many herald the area as producing the finest emeralds in the world. The Chiquinquira diocese includes about 380,000 people, most affected one way or another by the emerald business.

After Mass, settling in for a cup of coffee at his rectory back at Chiquiquira, site of the Colombia Cathedral of the Virgin of Chiquiquira, Gutierrez said his dream is to build an enduring peace on the twin foundations of spiritual and economic renewal.

"The first need of our people is to be educated. People with guns and without education are dangerous," the prelate said in English. Gutierrez received his master of arts degree in journalism from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles after graduating from Javeriana University, the prestigious Jesuit institution in Bogota.

"Even before money and jobs, our people need a good education," he said. "We have organized formal and informal education for the people of all ages. The people are poor. They need not only education, but health care and recreation facilities.

"With all the rich, fertile earth around here, they need to develop sound agricultural practices," he said. "But I think the most important problem is to help the family unit survive, not only economically, but to cut down on the abuse of alcohol and other social problems."

Gutierrez, 65, is energetic and enthusiastic. …

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