Christian Base Communities Confront the Neo-Liberal Project
by Juan Manuel Hurtado
Juan Manuel Hurtado is a member of the theological commission of
the Christian Base Communities of Mexico. This article appeared in Spanish
in the July 1992 edition of Estudios Ecumenicos.
After the fall of the socialist bloc and its opening to the market
economy, it would appear that the only valid economic and political
model of society left to the world is capitalism. Neo liberalism (the
present model of capitalism) grows stronger every day and allows the
powerful to accumulate more wealth and power; it also generates hunger,
misery, under development and death in Third World countries.
The law of the market, of competition, is the law of the survival of
the fittest. Wealthy corporations and technologically powerful nations
join together to destroy their "enemies," basing their actions
on economic, political and even theological logic. From this perspective
we may analyze the U.S. invasion of Panama, the Gulf war, the economic
and political blockade of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and
the current blockade of Cuba.
This is the absolute law of the Empire which excludes anyone outside
of its reign, the law of the jungle which is directly opposed to any
democratic aspiration or struggle for human rights. And as somebody
has already warned: "If the law of the jungle rules, we are not
The number of poor people and the level of poverty is increasing throughout
the world. In Latin America, governments impose economic measures on
the poor in accordance with the requirements of the IMF (International
Monetary Fund) and giant multinational corporations rather than responding
to the needs of the impoverished majority. A good example of this subservience
to the rich corporations is Mexico in its rush to pass laws to pave
the way for establishing the Free Trade Agreement with the United States
Our cultures and our way of life have been inundated by consumer products
promoted by the multinational corporations, which canonize technology
and consumerism as the only model of society. This violates the cultural
rights of our peoples, particularly people of indigenous or African
descent, and the ways in which we express ourselves. If in the past
gold was traded for glass beads, today quality resources are traded
for alcohol and Coca Cola.
A People in Resistance
The failure of peoples of indigenous and African descent, farm workers
and marginalized peoples in the cities to assimilate into the great
neo liberal project is characterized by governments today as nonconformity,
backwardness, non compliance with the economic and political strategies
of the Nation, lack of understanding of the current economic model or
separation from the "national project."
The legitimate organization of the people to defend their interests
is seen as protest. The poor are only taken into account when their
culture and their creativity become objects of consumption, when their
hospitality and solidarity are noted, or when their cheap and docile
labor is required.
When the poor take responsibility for their own lives, when they want
to create their own social and economic project in accordance with their
past, their interests and their possibilities, then the governments,
the multinational corporations and the establishment press attack them.
Our peoples are resisting, and struggling to survive and to move forward.
Over the years the poor have responded to the assault of capitalism
with suffering and with organization. They have known how to conserve
the miracle of life. With ingenuity they have multiplied their bread
to feed their children and unmask the death dealing policies of the
powerful for what they truly are. The 43,000 people who die of hunger
each day in the world are both evidence of and an accusation against
the evil of this project of death.
Christian Base Communities
But neo liberalism is not the only model of society; there is an alternative.
The experience of the Christian base communities provides a model whose
primary focus is the life of the poor. Throughout Latin America and
the Third World, Christian base communities have appeared as a new and
authentic expression of Church and society which is more communitarian,
more committed to service and more rooted in the lives of the people.
Here the poor have found a place to express the rich potential of their
culture and their longing for liberation; here too the Gospel has taken
root in the history of our peoples. Because the Christian base communities
are rooted in the daily struggle of the poor to live, and because the
majority of the leaders are lay people, the communities provide an example
of a Christianity which offers an alternative way of life and hope to
Against the flood of neo liberal policies which subjugate our people,
another current flows quietly and unnoticed: the voice and the life
of the poor. This current cannot be mistaken for the flood; its waters
flow from another source. What are some of the characteristics of this
The People's Project of Life
The people who live in the Christian base communities possess another
logic of life, another language, another symbolism which goes beyond
the society of supply and demand, beyond "the god of free enterprise"
to which our governments, devoid of any moral stature, have rendered
What matters is the memory of our martyrs and the radical values of
Christianity. Sharing and solidarity, prophetic denunciation and silent
witness are fundamental examples of the culture of life of the Christian
base communities. All this creates a rich symbolism of life, rooted
in the immense creativity and joy of our people and their struggle for
a fraternal society.
The logic of the Christian base communities is the logic of hope, the
language is the language of bearing witness, and the utopia is the utopia
of the dawning of a new society. To return to our roots is to move forward
towards a future when people are reconciled with each other.
The new society is born at the base. It is in community that the model
of a new society is being constructed; it is in community where the
values of a new society mutual respect, equality, democracy, freedom
can be lived. In this sense the Christian base communities present a
model and a precursor of life in a new society.
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