Courtesy Reuters

Ariel or Caliban?

Let me begin with a story. It occurs in a backward rural area of Panama. Perhaps it may help toward a better understanding, in simple terms, of the larger subject of the Americas.

Some years ago when I was Bishop of a poor rural Diocese in the Republic of Panama, a situation of conflict developed between the residents of a small town and the "campesinos" (poor farmers) of the surrounding district. The conflict was basically economic; but it took on many other aspects, became quite emotional and developed into situations of violence.

To understand the problem one must understand the area. The district is hilly, partly jungle, and undeveloped in that it lacks roads and, outside of the main town, electricity and running water. The town had about 600 inhabitants. It had a complete primary school. Most of the people in the town could get their children through primary school and even send them off to high school or vocational school, and some to the university, either in the capital of the Province or in the nation's capital. Most of these townspeople lived off their larger tracts of land; some made their living from the three or four stores in the town, or in government positions such as mayor, teachers, etc. But in the countryside the 10,000 campesinos who lived scattered over the more than 1,000 square miles of the district suffered from extreme want. The land was fertile, but very few of them owned any land. They used the slash-and-burn method, shifting from one place to another every two or three years as the land gave out because of the lack of fertilizer, insecticide, etc. Most were illiterate.

The main problem of the whole area was its inaccessibility. The rich produce-coffee, citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, corn, rice, sugar cane-was noncommercial because during the long rainy season of six to seven months it could only be shipped out from the main town by the few available four-wheel traction cars, or by light airplanes that

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