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Persecution of Christians in Chiapas Accelerates

Syncretistic Catholics shoot at, expel and imprison evangelicals.

2/9/07 Mexico (Compass Direct News) – Persecution of evangelical Christians in the southern state of Chiapas “is accelerating daily in the indigenous regions,” according to the National Bar of Christian Lawyers.

Most of the problems stem from small town leaders’ insistence that evangelicals pay quotas for the festivals of “traditional Catholics” – a blend of native “traditional” religions and Catholicism – or else they will be expelled from their homes and their properties seized, said Alfonso Farrera, director of the bar.

The organization directed by Farrera has told the government it has records of 200 cases of unresolved religious intolerance in Chiapas , including “threats, intimidation, and robbery or expulsion from their communities, or death.”

Last January 31, three evangelicals from San Juan Chamula municipality were driving home from San Cristobal de las Casas when they were ambushed and shot at, requiring hospitalization. Authorities concluded that it was a case of religious persecution. Also on January 31, Reynaldo Gomez Ton, representative of the Alas de Aguila (Eagle Wings) church denomination, lamented that several evangelical families in Los Pozos, municipality of Huixtan, had not only had their water cut off but also lost the cash benefits of a government program to help small farmers called PROCAMPO merely for religious reasons.

Local leaders took heavy tools to destroy their water pipes, disrupting the service of 40 evangelicals. Later, on January 21, authorities forbade them to chop wood.

La Jornada newspaper also reported that another 10 evangelicals in Los Pozos were denied PROCAMPO (Program of Direct Rural Support) benefits because of their faith. In December, government agents intervened in the town to keep all evangelicals from being expelled from their properties, but that did not bring lasting results for those who had accepted a “new religion.”

In Chiepetlan, Tlapa de Comonfort municipality, three evangelical families are threatened with expulsion because of their faith. A similar problem exists in San Luis Acatlán, where leaders claim that evangelicals do not do their share in community affairs led by traditional Catholics.

In both places, state government representatives have met with local leaders insisting that evangelical families are backed by the law and should not be expelled. Evangelicals say they cooperate in community projects, often far beyond what is asked of them, but do not feel right about paying for religious festivals involving drunkenness and immoral behavior.

In another case, Fortunato Velasco Pérez had to flee with the eight members of his family from the town of Campo Grande after he became a Pentecostal Christian. The family cooperated with community obligations but refused to help pay for Catholic festivals, and in October authorities cut off their water and electricity. Two of their children were imprisoned for three days, Fortunato was nearly hanged, the family was threatened, and town leaders ordered them to pay a huge fine.

As a result, Fortunato and family had to leave their property behind and seek refuge in a community of evangelicals named Betania, in Teopisca municipality. His case, like many others, is still pending.

In a statement in Mexico City’s La Jornada newspaper published yesterday (February 8), the Roman Catholic bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Felipe Arizmendi, declared his church had no relationship with the “so-called traditional Catholics, who do not depend on our diocese, do not take into account the Bible nor the laws of this country, but are governed by their own agreements and traditions.”