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ANS – Protestant Christians amongst ethnic Huichol in Agua Fria, Jalisco state, western Mexico , are suffering severe persecution. (The Huichol are indigenous Indians descended from the Aztecs.) The village of Agua Fria has three Protestant groups – Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist and Apostolic – all of whom have been affected by the persecution. Compass Direct (CD) reports that villagers armed with machetes and clubs drove the believers from their homes, threatening to burn them alive. This threat was taken seriously as in February traditionalists torched the home of Hermelinda Vazquez de la Cruz, an evangelical, who suffered severe burns and is now disabled. She and her children barely escaped.

The believers of Agua Fria have fled for their lives across the state border into Tepic , Nayarit, and are being housed in the Seventh Apostolic Church of Tepic. According to CD, the first wave of 70 included 12 infants, with an estimate of some 300 refugees in total. The Christians were told they can return to their homes only if they renounce their faith and embrace indigenous Indian traditions and rites. Defending the expulsions, community leaders say communal statutes stipulate the believers can only stay within the community and on their land if they practise Huichol culture. Most locals practise a syncretistic religion, mixing the Catholicism of the Spanish colonialists with traditional Huichol rituals which involve sharmanism and the use of the hallucinatory drug peyote.

Traditionalist Catholics have perpetrated similar persecution against Protestants in the southern state of Chiapas for many years. In the central state of Hidalgo , locals at a town meeting in Cuateceometl agreed the authorities should ‘eradicate’ non-Catholics from the area. On 15 May, police accompanied by a Catholic catechist arrived at the Fountain of Heaven Church in Cuateceometl and arrested Pastor Francisco Sanchez Gonzalez along with a church member, Raul Bautista. The men were later released but fined heavily. The church members also were all fined and ordered to renounce their faith.

Though religious liberty is guaranteed in Mexico ‘s constitution, its abuse stems from a fierce emergent nationalism often expressed as anti-Americanism and anti-Protestantism, with an insistence on all things ‘traditional’. Many Mexicans are culturally Catholic, but nominal and syncretistic. However, in recent decades many Catholics have been discovering the Bible and turning to evangelical Christianity. This has generated hostility from the Catholic leadership who sense their traditional authority being threatened. Also since around 1995, significant numbers of Tzotzil Mayan Indians from Chiapas have been embracing the message of Islamic missionaries, who are predominantly Spanish with Arab funding. Most Muslim converts have been Protestant converts from Catholicism, who were persecuted by Catholics and then picked up by the Muslims.