Mexico: Christians In Guerrero Expelled From Homes

Mexico City, Mexico – “Traditionalist Catholics” this week expelled 20 evangelical Christians from a town in Guerrero state and cut off the electricity and water supplies to eight Protestant families in Chiapas state, Christian sources said.

Authorities in Tenango Tepexi, Guerrero, on Monday (February 18) removed 20 Christians in three families, including 14 children, from their homes. Sources said the Christians were temporarily held in town offices, then loaded onto trucks and dumped on the edge of town.

Town leaders supportive of the “traditionalist Catholics,” who practice a blend of Catholic and native religion, told them they would be burned to death if they tried to return.

The reason for the expulsion of the evangelicals: failure to pay fees for the raucous, drunken festivals honoring Catholic saints. Contrary to the Mexican constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty, many indigenous communities obligate villagers to contribute to and participate in the “traditionalist Catholic” festivals.

To contravene the guarantee of religious freedom, autocratic town bosses or “caciques” cite a constitutional provision protecting local “uses and customs,” which Christian lawyers say is meant to prevent the government from prohibiting native practices – not force villagers to participate in them. On Wednesday (February 20), the mayor of the municipality to which Tenango Tepexi belongs, Tlapa de Comonfort, invoked the “uses and customs” argument to force the evangelicals to pay fees for the religious festivals, though they would refuse to attend.

“It is important that they participate in their cooperation [paying fees] to make the festival greater,” said Mayor Martiniano Benitez Flores.

He added that no legal action would be taken against the town for having expelled the believers. The mayor offered to house the refugees temporarily and provide food for them until they can find new means of livelihood, but they have lost their homes and property.

Expelled were Jose Gonzalez Gonzalez, his wife Francisca and seven children, plus Nicolas Gonzalez Perez, his wife Ernestina and six children, and Armando Morales Dircio, his wife Catarina and a 1-year old son.

Unresolved Cases

In Chiapas, in the Santa Rita area of La Trinitaria municipality, traditionalist Catholics led by Antonio Hernandez Aguilar and Rolando Aguilar Hernandez on Monday (February 18) cut off the water and electricity of 40 people from eight evangelical families.

The reasons were similar: Traditionalist Catholics insisted that the Christians pay not only for the religious festivals but also help fund repairs of a Catholic church building. The families had refused to pay a fee of 10,000 pesos (US$928).

According to the National Bar of Christian Lawyers, the Christian families have accumulated unpaid fees totaling 40,000 pesos (US$3,711).

Adan Aguilar Perez, an evangelical leader in La Trinitaria, said conflicts with traditionalist Catholics stem from government unwillingness to enforce laws against religious intolerance.

Evangelical leaders in Chiapas acknowledge, however, that the government has taken some steps to guarantee religious liberty, including formation of a committee to act as a liaison between evangelicals and the state government. Manuel Morales Agustin, who has worked to organize municipal committees across the state for all religious groups, has been named to head the panel.

Such baby steps have been long awaited. In another Chiapas town, Paste in Zinacantan municipality, believers have not had access to water since December 26, 2000. They have been surviving on water brought by occasional trucks.

“The Catholic majority of traditionalists decided to suspend the service in reprisal for professing the evangelical religion,” according to reporter Elio Henriquez of the newspaper Cuarto Poder.

Some communities have responded simply by capitulating. In the neighboring state of Oaxaca, which also has a large indigenous population, many evangelical groups have decided to pay whatever the towns require in order to keep peace, according to lawyer Enrique Ángeles Cruz.

Still unresolved in Oaxaca state is a case in Santo Domingo Nuxaá, in Nochixtlán, where town authorities simply took over the property of the Divine Redeemer church and are building on it without compensation, in spite of legal protests.

In light of such incidents, in early February more than 300 evangelicals took part in a human rights forum held in Frontera Comala, Chiapas, organized by the National Bar of Christian Lawyers headed by Alfonso Farrera Gonzalez. Also in attendance were leaders from state and municipal religious affairs offices.

The bar asserts that 39 cases of religious intolerance are unresolved in Chiapas, along with 15 others in other parts of Mexico.