The Latest: Pope decries sterilization campaigns in Peru
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’ visit to Peru (all times local):
Pope Francis is criticizing sterilization campaigns that have targeted indigenous people during a speech to Amazonian communities in Peru.
It’s a topic likely to strike a chord in a country where more than 300,000 women were sterilized during the 1990-2000 government of former President Alberto Fujimori. Officials said back then that the campaign aimed to reduce poverty.
On Friday the pontiff decried organizations that promote “reproductive policies favoring infertility” and said some continue to advocate for the sterilization of women — even without consent.
Many of the women sterilized during Fujimori’s administration were illiterate and came from poor, indigenous communities. More than 2,000 later came forward to complain that they had been forcibly sterilized.
Francis tucked his remarks into a footnote in his speech, perhaps knowing they would be politically sensitive.
Pope Francis is denouncing sexual enslavement of women in the Amazon who are trafficked and forced into prostitution, saying the “machismo” culture cannot stand.
Francis says in a speech to Peruvians who live and work in the steamy rainforest region that it is painful how “so many women are devalued, denigrated and exposed to endless violence.”
Many women work as prostitutes in the region’s bars, servicing clients who often work in gold mines and other extraction industries that are polluting the Amazon’s rivers, destroying its forests and upsetting its delicate ecosystem.
Francis denounced the “false gods” of the gold rush Friday and said that these “idols of avarice, money and power” corrupt people and institutions and ruin the forest.
Pope Francis has travelled deep into the Amazonian rainforest to demand an end to the relentless exploitation of its timber, gas and gold and the recognition of its indigenous peoples as the primary custodians to determine the future of “our common home.”
Standing with thousands of indigenous Peruvians in a riot of feathers and beaded jewelry, Francis declared the Amazon the “heart of the church” and called for a three-fold defense of its life, land and cultures.
The pontiff warned Friday that indigenous peoples are now more threatened than ever before. Francis added that it’s essential for governments and other institutions to consider tribes as the legitimate partners when negotiating development and conservation projects. He said their rights, cultures, languages and traditions must be respected and recovered.
Francis told the crowd: “You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”
Amazonian indigenous leaders in Peru are urging Pope Francis to help them protect the world’s largest rainforest from an onslaught of new threats that are dramatically changing the biome.
One of the leaders is Hector Sueyo. He tells Pope Francis that native peoples are worried about the Amazon as trees disappear, fish die and rivers become contaminated.
Sueyo said Friday that “the sky is angry and is crying because we are destroying the planet.”
Francis has previously spoken about the need to protect the Amazon, which he likens to one of the “lungs of our planet.”
Thousands of indigenous men, women and children, many bare-chested and wearing brightly colored headdresses are gathered in a coliseum to hear Francis speak.
Pope Francis is receiving a warm welcome in the Peruvian Amazon city of Puerto Maldonado, with supporters lining the streets to greet him ahead of the pontiff’s planned meeting with indigenous people.
Some are running up along the pontiff’s motorcade carrying Vatican-colored yellow and white balloons, while others cheer and wave.
Friday’s scene is a stark contrast to the pope’s visit earlier this week to Chile, where he drew smaller crowds and his presence provoked protests.
Indigenous leaders are hoping the pope will deliver a forceful message encouraging the government to recognize their land rights and clean up rivers contaminated by illegal mining.
Francis has previously spoken about the need to protect the Amazon.