POTOSÍ, BOLIVIA – In their strongest statement since Pope Francis’ visit last year, the Bolivian bishops recently issued a searing critique of the corrosive effects on public life of drug-trafficking and drug addiction, provoking an angry response from the government of Evo Morales.
The pastoral letter, entitled I Place Before You Life and Death, said narco-trafficking “threatens the peaceful and democratic coexistence of the country” bringing “violence, corruption, deceit, injustices and death” in its wake.
The bishops went on to point a finger at the state itself.
“In its strategy of expansion and impunity”, they write, “corruption linked to drug-trafficking has penetrated even state structures and the forces of law and order,” and has “undermined the credibility of authorities at varying levels who are tasked with the struggle against drug-trafficking.”
Defying the bishops to name names, Morales described them as having a “colonial mentality,” and of believing that “we’re still in the age of the Roman Empire, when they think they still have the last word.”
Morales is also the head of the union of the cocaleros, or coca-leaf growers, whose base is in the eastern region of Chimoré – the heartland of the drug-trafficking mafias. In a recent encounter with Pope Francis during a Vatican conference, Morales presented the pontiff with three books in Spanish describing the benefits of coca leaves, as well as a letter signed by the heads of two trade unions complaining about the Bolivian bishops’ denunciation of coca cultivation.
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