Ever a region in turmoil, Latin America this week saw violent protests in Cuba, seems on the brink of violent rioting in Colombia, and heard the Catholic bishops of Nicaragua once again challenge the ruling class by urging politicians to shun personal interests in favor of the common good.

In Colombia, bishops say real solutions cannot be imposed

In view of anti-government protests called for July 20 in several Colombian cities to coincide with the start of a new session of parliament and the anniversary of independence from Spain, authorities have announced a plan by security forces to prevent violence and vandalism.

Behind the call for Colombians to mobilize is a “National Strike Committee” demanding a response from both the government and parliament to the humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that the country is experiencing.

Tuesday’s protest piggybacks on ones triggered by a proposed tax reform deemed unfair to the poor and the middle classes. Those uprisings morphed into weeks of widespread anti-government demonstrations over a range of issues, from poverty to mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. Though most protests were peaceful, brutal clashes between some protesters and the police led to at least 24 people being killed, though NGO’s have argued the real number may be twice that.

In a statement released July 18, the local bishops conference is calling on all Colombians to “walk together,” despite the fact that “we feel we are in the midst of a storm.”

“Let us listen to the voice of the Lord, ‘Do not be afraid’,” the bishops wrote, quoting from the book of Isaiah.

The statement, signed by the newly elected leadership of the conference that met in general assembly earlier this month, is titled, “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope,” and was published by the Colombian bishops on their website.

“True solutions are not imposed; on the contrary, we need each other to restore the course of life for others, each one contributing with his or her abilities and talents: institutions, civil society and each person,” the bishops wrote.

The bishops say they’re “pained by the suffering of so many families, the sick, our brothers and sisters who are hungry and have lost everything, of so many young people who see no hope for the future, of those who have been victims of violence.”

“This reality invites us to turn our gaze to the Lord of life, to feel the intimate embrace of his mercy, and the need to continue building together the project of an equitable and inclusive nation,” they wrote.

The bishops quoted Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, on human fraternity: “The effort to overcome what divides us without losing the identity of each one presupposes that a basic sense of belonging remains alive in all of us”.

In Nicaragua, bishops rue unscrupulous politicians

Two bishops of Nicaragua have continued their criticism of what they’ve described as the “dictatorial” government of Daniel Ortega, who in the past month has incarcerated opposition politicians, including six presidential hopefuls who had announced their bids to run in elections in November.

“Those who exercise power without compassion, live obsessed with keeping it,” said Bishop Silvio Baez, auxiliary of Managua on Sunday. “To achieve this, they strip the people of their freedom, condemn the people to poverty and repress [the people] in a criminal manner.”

His remarks came during the homily he delivered in the parish of St. Agatha in Miami, where he’s been living since forced into exile at the explicit request of Pope Francis in late 2019. Together with his family, Baez received a series of death-threats for speaking out against Ortega and his wife, vice-president Rosario Murillo.

The auxiliary bishop referred in his homily to biblical passages from the book of Mark, which narrates the encounter of Jesus with his disciples a moment after sending them on mission. He invites them to take care of themselves and to rest, because he is concerned about them.

“When there is compassion in politics, the dignity of each person is respected, the welfare of all is sought, freedom is promoted and social plurality is favored as a wealth,” Baez said. “When compassion is lacking, human rights are trampled upon, hatred and fear are sown, cruelty is exploited and ideological and partisan uniformity is sought to be imposed by force.”

Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Matagalpa said Nicaragua is approaching a “decisive” moment, without specifying what he was referring to, though most observers took him to mean the upcoming elections. He asked for the people in his country to be “attentive” to the proposals that will come in upcoming months, taking into consideration that “God and we, the people,” will always “have the last word.”

He also said that Jesus does not remain indifferent to men and women exploited by “unscrupulous politicians,” despised by “enslaving ideologies” and abandoned by the powerful of this world.

“Jesus does not remain indifferent to our pain, to the pain of the pandemic, of migration, of social, political and economic insensitivity,” Alvarez said. “Jesus does not remain indifferent to Nicaragua.”

In Cuba, Archbishop calls for non-violence

Archbishop Dionisio Garcia of Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city after Havana, asked during his Sunday homily that the existing differences on the island be resolved peacefully and never “never with violence and intolerance”.

“In the midst of the difficulties, the protests [and] the demonstrations of these past days and also due to those who have been imprisoned as a consequence, and due to the repression, we the bishops urge for the Church to pray for all Cubans and for all of Cuba,” he said during his first Sunday Mass since the protests began July 11.

Celebrating Mass in the National Shrine of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, considered the patroness of Cuba, Garcia said that his prayers are “above all for there to be no violence, so that the logical differences that exist in every town are resolved through dialogue, mercy and forgiveness, and never with violence and intolerance.”

The prelate also highlighted that the local Catholic hierarchy advocates the need to make “changes that give hope and confidence to our people, who need to feel respected every time they want to express their way of feeling and seeing our realities.”

Last week, the conference of Catholic bishops of Cuba released a defending the right of thousands of people who took to the streets of the island to express their dissatisfaction with the deteriorating economic and social situation. At least one person was killed during the unrest and hundreds have been arrested since then.

“Violence begets violence, today’s aggressiveness opens wounds and feeds resentment for tomorrow that will be hard to overcome,” the bishops wrote, inviting all parties involved “not to encourage the crisis situation, but with serenity of spirit and good will, to exercise listening, understanding and an attitude of tolerance, which takes into account and respects the other in order to seek together ways of a just and adequate solution”.

Last Sunday’s protests have been labeled as the strongest opposing the communist regime in the past three decades and came as the country is experiencing a serious economic crisis that includes severe shortages of food, medicines and other basic products and when the COVID-19 pandemic is at its worst, with new infections soaring.