Years of civil war and arms imports since the 1980s have created a tough situation in Latin America, making prevention of weapons proliferation difficult.
This is how Professor Benjamin Cortes Marchena put the situation to a recent World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation in Antigua, Guatemala.
Cortes Marchena, who is a member of the faculty at the Martin Luther King University, Nicaragua, said that about 4.5 million small weapons were in the possession of the civil population in the region in 2007 and are still in circulation.
The consultation he was addressing was focused on developing an ecumenical response on peace and human security in Latin America.
The event brought together more than thirty participants from around twenty countries from November 30 to 2 December.
The consultation was organised by the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) in cooperation with the Latin American Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Christian Council of Guatemala.
Professor Cortes Marchena went on to say that the “challenge to stop the arms proliferation as well as combating drug trafficking in Latin America is essential for reducing the level of violence and setting conditions for human security, peace and development.”
At the conference, participants also noted that several Latin American countries have made progress in economic growth and social development, yet a sense of insecurity and vulnerability prevails among the people.
Addressing the participants of the consultation, Rita Claverie de Sciolli, vice minister for foreign affairs in Guatemala, said that an “increasingly polarised social order dehumanises people in many parts of Latin America, therefore the role of churches in protecting the dignity and security of the people has become valuable.”
“The role of churches in a country like Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of people from Central American countries are stranded as migrants, the shelter and care provided by the churches are valuable,” she added.
“Criminalisation in exploitation of natural resources, especially the land of indigenous peoples, is a common trend in many Latin American countries”, said Maria Sumire, president of a national indigenous women’s association in Peru and former member of the parliament.
“Mobility of indigenous people and their peaceful lives are threatened by transnational companies, who collaborate with corrupt politicians and rulers in several countries in Latin America,” she added.
“Human security concerns are critical in the Latin American region today. Initiatives to incorporate a human security orientation in regional and local development policies and planning are still very few,” said Prof. James Esponda from the Roman Catholic Church in Chile.
“A human security orientation demands that the needs of the vulnerable be addressed and integrated into development strategies,” he added.
In a thematic presentation on “peace and human security in an emerging geo-political context” the CCIA director Dr Mathews George Chunakara stated that “placing people rather than states at the focal point of security considerations is the need of the day.”
He said that “human security can be protected only in a society where security of the individuals and societies are valued.”