World Council of Churches

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AGAPE Consultation: Guatemala Declaration

10 October 2008

 Guatemala 6-10 October 2008

The Guatemala Declaration


An AGAPE Consultation on Linking poverty, wealth and ecology: Ecumenical Perspectives in Latin America and the Caribbean took place on 6-10 October 2008 at the La Salle University Residence Centre in Guatemala City. The meeting was convened by the World Council of Churches, the Latin America Council of Churches and the Christian Ecumenical Council of Guatemala.

The consultation began with a pre-meeting in which men and women of the faith, from the Youth, Women and Gender Justice and Indigenous Peoples pastoral services, responding to the gospel of justice, shared experiences about the situation we are living through in Latin America and the Caribbean, with regard to Poverty, Wealth and Ecology.

We approached and discussed the following issues from a faith perspective:

I. The global situation

The climate crisis

The climate crisis has been caused by human beings, especially by the industries of the countries of the North, which are mainly responsible for the greenhouse effect. Some countries have signed the Kyoto Protocol and other European Community agreements, but some countries do not have the political will to commit themselves to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Some of these agreements have set medium and long-term targets for the implementation of their policies, which is not enough to stop damage to the environment.

The ecological debt is due to the destruction of ecosystems for purposes of human consumption, especially irresponsible consumption in the North. This destruction is caused by oil, gas, mining and timber companies, hydroelectricity mega projects, agribusiness and others that exploit natural resources to sustain a model that endangers local communities and the planet as a whole. The international financial institutions also bear a lot of responsibility because they finance this extraction of resources while paying little attention to its social and environmental consequences. The situation is made more acute by the water crisis. Major and unprecedented droughts and floods have caused a lack of access to drinking water and sanitation.

There has been a marked increase of migration from rural to urban areas and abroad because of the lack of local opportunities to make a living. Political persecution is partly to blame. The result is broken families, violence and the uprooting of people from their cultures.

As a result of their forms of production and consumption, the mainly Northern post-industrial countries and the institutions that reproduce patriarchal models in our countries owe a social and ecological debt to humanity and the Earth. This debt has accumulated in the course of centuries of looting and depredation that have caused destruction, death and poverty. It has imposed on us a system that puts the market at the centre rather than human beings and nature, and this system is having a devastating impact on us.

"Food crisis"

Although the world exports agricultural produce valued at $500,000 million per year, eight million people die every year from starvation and diseases associated with hunger and 840 million people, including farmers and agricultural workers, suffer from a lack of food. During 2007, world production of grains increased four per cent in comparison with 2006. The problem of hunger in the world is not therefore due to a lack of food but rather to the fact that millions of human beings cannot buy it. The central problem (high production of food and increases in the price of food) results from the increasingly monopolistic concentration of the world agricultural-food industry.

At the same time, transnational companies are trying to control the other element that is essential to the cycle of life - water - increasingly presenting this as something normal and inevitable.

The search for non-fossil fuels has led to the increasing use of wheat, soya and corn for the production of agrofuels, which increases the price of grains and reduces the population's access to grains for consumption.

Financial crisis

The origin of the global financial crisis lies in the usury and endless accumulation that are in the very nature of capitalism. Exacerbated by neoliberalism, this system has had serious negative global consequences. According to the experts, the cost of the $700,000 million (or even more) United States rescue package for the banks will be borne by the people because of the capacity of transnational capitalism to transfer its crises to the system's peripheral countries. This domination by finance capital is unprecedented and goes hand-in-hand with speculation and the indebtedness of peripheral countries, from which the central countries extract immense flows of resources, thereby limiting social investment in, for example, health, education, housing, roads and drinking water.

Distribution of wealth

World per capita income has currently reached $6,954, which is eight times more than the poverty line and would comfortably satisfy basic needs and eliminate world poverty if there were an adequate social redistribution of wealth. However, 2,600 million people, equivalent to 40% of the world population, are living in poverty and among them, 1,000 million of these are living in extreme poverty. Far from easing, this profound inequity has increased on a world scale, reducing the share of developing regions, except for China and India. In particular, Latin America and Africa have seen their share of world income fall. The increasing social inequality in the world has been accentuated by globalization and the implementation of neoliberal policies on a planetary scale.

Latin America and the Caribbean

In addition to the inequality between countries, there are major social differences between people within these same countries. Latin America and the Caribbean are considered to be the regions with the greatest social inequality in the world and the evidence confirms that these inequalities have tended to become more acute in recent decades.

Imposition of the neoliberal model, which gives pride of place to individuals and capital accumulation, has increased inequalities between the few who are rich and the millions who are poor. This model has looted and destroyed creation with the only goal being excessive accumulation. This model has become a great machine to produce poverty and misery. Governments are also responsible for promoting the interests of capital and the economic power groups, to the detriment of the majority of peoples. Encouraged by the "developed" countries, transnational companies and governments have created administrative and legal structures that sustain the system, coordinate corruption and promote their own interests.

The neoliberal model promotes a drastic reduction of the state's role in the economy, fiscal austerity, privatization, the adoption of policies favourable to the free market and the opening up of the international economy.

There are 100 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Latin America. Ten million of these young people are unemployed, 22 million neither study or work for various reasons and more than 30 million work in the informal economy in precarious conditions.

The neoliberal economic model and its policies affect communities as a whole but have a greater impact on women, whose poverty is exacerbated by the privatization of health and education services, unequal pay, increased working hours and the increasing price of basic goods, as well as the destruction of their livelihoods. Their invisible and unrecognized domestic work subsidizes the global economic model.

In addition, the work-production-domination system results in various forms of exploitation, with human beings at the service of production rather than production at the service of human beings. Proclaimed by the Bible as a gift and source of human fulfilment, work has been diminished in terms of its dignity and spiritual content.

Despite all these processes of social, economic, religious and political exclusion, people continue to resist and provide alternatives for satisfying their goal of living well. Governments have emerged that defend national and popular interests and this tendency has become more pronounced in the region.

We long for the birth of a new world founded on: 1) The indigenous view of the world, which sees the Earth as a mother rather than as a collection of resources to be exploited and which sees human beings as part of creation. 2) The feminist principles that promote non-hierarchical decision-making models and gender justice. 3) The energy, enthusiasm and creative activity of youth.

To this end, we want to highlight the signs of hope in Latin America. In recent years, we have noted the gradual retreat of neoliberalism, which can be observed in: 1) The increasing strength of the movements of indigenous peoples, peasants and women, who are fighting for social, economic and ecological justice, especially for food sovereignty and who demand that their governments be made accountable. 2) The emergence of democratic governments in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Paraguay and of others who call for the economic independence of their countries and who promote social policies aimed at eradicating poverty and inequity in the region. 3) The development of regional initiatives that show an increase in South-South co-operation and solidarity between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, such as the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur), the Fund of the South (Fondo del Sur) and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA).

II. Our Alternatives and Commitments


  1. Implement food sovereignty and promote the solidarity and community economy, which values and promotes good living conditions, and in which surpluses are produced for the benefit of those involved rather than to make a profit.

  2. Create alliances with organizations who also want to promote cooperation and strengthen the dialogue between churches and social organizations with a view to increasing our impact in society.

  3. Create institutional forums in which women, indigenous peoples, youth and people with different capacities can actively participate in decision-making. Recognize their capacity to contribute to promoting just alternatives. Promote their role as political actors and strengthen them so they can transform their family, church and social environment.

  4. Promote the integration of people with different capacities into the life of the churches and society.

  5. Denounce the local and global ecological impact of transnational companies in the mining, oil and other sectors, which are destroying our livelihoods and making our communities ever poorer.

  6. Call for the unconditional cancellation of the External Debt and the implementation of audits in all indebted countries. Recognize that the external debt has been one of the mechanisms used by multilateral institutions (World Bank, IMF) and their allies to loot our countries, provoking the climate crisis and other disasters and also building up a social and ecological debt to our peoples.

  7. Announce and proclaim a gospel of justice and peace for all human beings and Creation.

From the perspective of women


  1. Use Latin American and Caribbean feminist pastoral theology to dismantle all the religious myths that perpetuate and justify the historic inequality between men and women.

  2. Give resolute support to the actions taken by women in the fight for their rights, and vigorously reject everything that generates any kind of violence against women.

  3. Delegitimize the fundamentalist discourse and practice of those who intervene in public affairs to punish, proscribe and prohibit sexual health initiatives, particularly those for women, as this has a major impact on reproductive health and increases the incidence of HIV/AIDS.

From the perspective of indigenous peoples


  1. Organize a world conference of indigenous people's churches to plan strategies to build a more just and solidarity-based model based on the perspective of indigenous peoples.

  2. Encourage the development of a national and international legal framework, including implementation of ILO (International Labour Organization) Convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and national constitutions, laws and regulations that guarantee collective rights.

  3. Raise the awareness of the churches about the need to support the return of ancestral lands and cultural property, and to commit themselves to denouncing the massacres and genocides suffered by indigenous peoples.

From the perspective of youth


  1. Raise the awareness of youth and churches with a view to generating responsible and healthy attitudes, moving from an attitude of protest to an attitude of making constructive solidarity-based proposals for action and accompaniment.

  2. Develop a consensus on new values that allows us to promote a new civilizing and communitarian model of thinking for young people.

  3. Promote the implementation of legal and institutional frameworks for youth by governments, social organizations and churches.

Let Jesus, who restores the dignity of all creatures who are indebted, impoverished or who have suffered violence, maintain our commitment until the day when we can see "the new skies and the new earth". Let the Holy Spirit, which encourages hope and promotes solidarity, strengthen the certainty of this prophetic vision. Let God, who encourages all efforts aimed at achieving the integral fullness of Life, make us fight tirelessly for the construction and installation of his Reign.

III. Recommendations to the Churches


  1. The Churches face a major challenge, starting with their first task of explaining the predatory and anti-civilization characteristics of the neoliberal model. Until people are clear about the inhuman and predatory nature of this model, they will not have the tools they need to try and change it.

  2. The Churches should actively accompany the people's resistance to attacks on their rights. This resistance is expressed in the various ways in which they defend their economic, social, cultural, political and environmental rights. It is expressed in the communities' defence of water, in their resistance against mining, in their defence of forests and rivers, in the resistance of the women's movement, the indigenous peoples' movement, the youth movement and the many social and civil society organizations. The diversity of resistance to the neoliberal model requires the Churches to develop strategies to accompany and participate in it, given the great dispersion of struggles and processes.

  3. The Churches should disseminate the results of studies on the inevitable ethical, economic and ecological limitations of capital accumulation.

  4. The Churches should convert all their ethical and spiritual capital into instruments to promote the wide-ranging mobilization and coordination of social movements and actors that will allow them to find a path towards the construction of another kind of logic for the reproduction of life.

  5. In the name of the faith that links us through love and makes us a single community, living in the world created by God, we challenge the Churches to raise their prophetic voice, denounce injustice and announce the Good News.

Participants came from the following countries:

  • Bolivia
  • Brazil

  • Cuba

  • Ecuador

  • El Salvador

  • Guatemala

  • Honduras

  • Jamaica

  • Mexico

  • Nicaragua

  • Peru

  • Uruguay

  • Canada

  • United States

  • Tanzania

  • Cote d'Ivoire

  • South Africa

  • India

  • Philippines

  • Australia

  • Fiji

  • Germany

  • Slovakia

Guatemala, 10 October 2008