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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 lion."

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 and Canada.

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 the poor.

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 current?

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 homage.

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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