“Visit of the Pope shows the great interest he has in meeting the indigenous people” – “Visita del Papa demuestra el gran interés que tiene por encontrarse con los pueblos indígenas”

June 25, 2017

David Martinez, bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado. Image: CAAAP

Mother of God is nowadays seen as the most complex region of the Peruvian Amazon. It contrasts its vast biodiversity with the levels of violence it registers. And now it is also the Amazon region that will host the visit of Pope Francisco to the country, in January 2018.

Illegal mining, informal mining, deforestation and contamination of protected areas, human trafficking and the situation of indigenous peoples are some of the inescapable realities when referring to this region of little more than 140 thousand inhabitants, the least populated country, according to official data.

In 2015 , David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea was named bishop for the region, through the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado, an ecclesial jurisdiction that includes Madre de Dios, but also part of Cusco (La Covention) and Ucayali.

“The Pope’s visit next year demonstrates the great interest he has in the Amazon and in meeting with indigenous peoples,” said the Dominican Bishop, 47, who was consulted by telephone on the news of the visit. All Puerto Maldonado (capital of Madre de Dios), took him by surprise.  And it is from the indigenous peoples of this part of the Southeast Amazon of Peru that we speak, and also from other subjects; not on this occasion but some time ago (in March of this year), as part of a meeting of the Panamanian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) that seeks to strengthen the work of the Church in the jungle from a more global and purposeful.

We then revive some points dealt with the bishop of Puerto Maldonado and that could guide you about what you can find today is this part of the Peruvian jungle.

Illegal mining operates freely in Madre de Dios, often on protected natural areas. Photo: EFE

Mining and Territorial Defense

As seen by the Dominican Bishop, the extraction of natural resources in the Amazon is generating enormous changes, being behind, in large part, “big companies, big capitals, international consortiums who are thinking about how to share what they find.”

It is known, by some investigative journalism that in the case of the illegal extraction of gold, the mineral goes to countries like Switzerland.  It has also been seen that there are links between large companies in that country and suppliers and suppliers operating in Puerto Maldonado, Cusco and other parts of the country.

Without elaborating on the implications of the crime, Martinez acknowledges that this “pressure on our territories, on our populations, both riparian and indigenous peoples, makes us have to defend ourselves”, and traces as a strategy – just as capitalism preaches – globalization.

But not the economic one, but the globalization of solidarity. He points out that as a Church they are addressing the issue – which he recognizes has great complexity because it is the faithful illegal miners themselves – in areas where precisely this activity operates.  He further maintains that mining today can be found in places where the Colorado parish, which is inside what is known as the mining corridor, and in the parish of Mazuko is present.

The problem of illegal mining in Madre de Dios is the problem of all Peru

According to data presented by the Ministry of the Environment, more than 70% of people who carry out illegal mining activity in Madre de Dios are migrants, mainly from Cusco and Puno. “They are people who leave a hell to get into another that is also terrible, and it is something that happens throughout Peru,” says the bishop.

It states that this reality can not be addressed without addressing the problem of poverty and the lack of work in the country. “It is true that there are people who are profiting greatly from gold, but there are thousands of people, tens of thousands who are surviving from mining.”

The problem of mining is the problem of a country that does not have the capacity to give jobs to its people, and has no capacity to seek a decent life. And the desperate people come out in stampede and look for their own uncontrolled solution and that is what is happening in Madre de Dios, it is a stateless area,” he acknowledges.

Indigenous Peoples

The familiarity that David Martínez has as the Amazon responds to a long experience. Born in the Basque Country (Spain), he came to Peru for the first time when he was very young, when he was already clear that he wanted to be a missionary. After returning to his homeland to finish his studies, he returned to the country in 2001, and later joined the Kirigueti Mission in the Lower Urubamba.  He worked for many years with native Machiguenga until he was made bishop. His position in relation to how a certain sector, mainly of authorities, sees the native peoples is of criticism.

“As we sometimes feel from our western world that the indigenous I like and I accept whenever you wear pens, as long as you carry your bow and arrow, but I do not let it intervene in politics,” he points out.

He then emphatically reflects: “That is, the rest of the nation can raise issues that may affect indigenous peoples; But that the indigenous people, that the natives can sit at the table and make some proposals that affect us to the rest of society, I feel like that does not like it so much. “

In Madre de Dios there are native communities of the Harákmbut, Machiguenga and Yine peoples. Photo: Internet

The Western world itself is considered to be an alternative for indigenous peoples, but what they live in does not consider it an alternative for us; And they have values ​​to contribute to redirect this world a little, which has led to chaos, “ends this part.


The REPAM is a young and regional network (which seeks to link the countries of the Panamazonia), whose aim is to “Amazon the world”; Under this slogan, its members have been organized in several axes (human rights, alternatives to development, communication, among others).

According to the bishop, “there is a need to get together different actors of the Vicariate, actors representing different issues.” So the parish priests, all religious have been summoned. “But besides,” says Martinez, “we have made an impact with those brothers who work directly with the indigenous peoples.”

It is a question of articulating the work within the vicariates themselves and outwards, with their peers in the Amazon, to make known the reality of the communities, more bearing in mind that today one perceives a special interest in what happens in this part of the world.

Going back to the present, it is easy to imagine that David Martinez was perhaps the person who most enthusiastically received the news of the arrival of Pope Francis to Mother of God.

In the telephone communication held on Monday, he announced that the Pastoral Council of the Vicariate met after meeting the visit to begin drawing up actions. “The visit of the Pope is to listen to the most vulnerable, and will bring a message of hope,” he concluded.