Deutsche Welle: Bishop Coter, you come from the Bolivian Amazon region. Since the election in Brazil, in which Jair Bolsonaro, under whom the deforestation of the Amazon reached record levels, was voted out, has the protection of the Amazon region been guaranteed again?
Bishop Coter: The outcome of the elections in Brazil gives us some hope for the Amazon. But experience shows that the destruction of the rainforest is not dependent on the specific person of the President. It is about state and economic interests. That was true for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, but it was also true for Evo Morales here in Bolivia. Both have massively burned down the rainforest. And it goes on. These days it was once again the case that scheduled flights could not land in the south of Bolivia because the smoke was so thick. The forests of the Amazon continue to burn. And time is running out.
The rainforest on the Amazon, which is important for the stability of the global climate, is endangered by slash-and-burn
In Brazil, actors who campaign for nature conservation or the rights of indigenous people are repeatedly murdered. Is there something similar in Bolivia?
Most victims among conservationists and human rights activists are in Colombia and Brazil. In Bolivia, legal action is more likely to be taken against defenders of nature conservation and those who urge climate protection. They are also being discredited by political leaders as a new neo-colonial movement. We hope for the young people. They think differently about nature and the integrity of creation.
Bolivia is rich in natural resources and yet one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Why is that?
The country’s political class has always looked after its own interests and not oriented towards the common good. Another bishop once said: The reason why the country is so poor is its wealth. That’s it. Just one example: one place was about avoiding waste. Dedicated people spoke to the mayor. And he asked: ‘What’s in it for me?’ When it comes to such issues, people are often corrupt or bribed.
There has been war in Europe for over nine months, since Russia invaded Ukraine. Has European politics lost its attention to Latin America since then?
That’s not the main problem for us. Above all, we feel the consequences of the war. Ukraine is one of the most important grain producers in the world. And Bolivia relies on imports from Ukraine. We need grain for the chickens, which are often the livelihood, the capital of the little people. The crisis in the world grain market as a result of the Russian blockade will lead to a price increase in our country after Christmas. Then at some point the supply of meat is missing. Everyone will feel that.
You visited members of the Bundestag in Berlin this week. But they also specifically visited Caritas projects that provide medical care for people who are poor or live on the streets. Why?
We support health projects in Bolivia. This goes so far that we ship medical aid to the people of the Amazon. Adveniat, the Latin America relief organization of the German bishops, covers personnel costs and medicines that are too expensive for the people here. Raising awareness of the right to health is important. This right is an element in the fight against poverty. I learned anew here in Berlin how to integrate volunteer work as an organisation. So our government should not be afraid to intensify the work in the health service in the service of the people, also relying on civil society forces.
In view of the abuse scandal, the Catholic Church in Germany is dealing with the question of church reforms. Is she too concerned with herself?
It is important to address these questions. The sexual abuse of minors by clerics is also one of the major issues here. We too have this problem. We have established prevention guidelines, work with and for the victims. But we must do everything possible to prevent this. And it has to be about systemic issues. And we cannot come to today’s questions only with answers formulated in 1965, at the conclusion of Vatican II, or even earlier. For the questions of the present, the church cannot rely solely on traditional answers. That is why we are looking with interest at the synodal path.
There was already an Amazon synod in the Vatican in 2019. Not much of the expected ecclesiastical reforms were implemented.
For us, the synod is not yet over. More than before, the Church is committed to the integrity of creation, to ecology, to human rights, to the appreciation of traditional ancient cultures…
…and the question of internal church reforms? The Amazon Synod left open the possibility of priestly ordination for viri probati, proven married men.
We have established a Church Amazon Conference (CEAMA) for two years. It involves lay people, indigenous people, priests and religious, men and women. It’s about the church, not about bishops, about church presence, not about episcopal presence. And we are working on an Amazonian rite of our own, there are new ministries, we are discussing the diaconate of women. The question of viri probati is not settled. But actually the question of the sacraments was left out at the synod. And Pope Francis has encouraged us to think beyond that and to look at our needs. The CEAMA conference is working on it. We are working on new ways in the church.
The interview was conducted by Christoph Strack
Born in Italy, Eugenio Coter (65) went to Bolivia as a priest in 1991. In 2013 he was called to be a bishop in the Amazon region. He is based in Pando and is responsible for many remote settlements. He is responsible for Bolivia in the church Amazon network Repam (Red Eclesial PanAmazonica), which works to protect the rainforest, among other things. He is currently visiting Germany as a guest of the Latin America aid organization Adveniat.