Indigenous communities often force villagers of other faiths to participate in, and pay for, "traditionalist Catholic" festivals, rights watchers say, in apparent violation of Mexico’s constitution, which guarantee religious freedom. Evangelicals have reportedly refused to support the events dedicated to Catholic saints, describing them as "raucous, drunken festivals."
Compass Direct News, a Christian news service investigating reports of Christian persecution, said angry authorities in the town of Tenango Tepexi on Monday, February 18, removed 20 Christians in three families, including 14 children, from their homes. It quoted unidentified sources as saying that 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, allegedly told them they would be burned to death if they tried to return. There was no immediate independent confirmation of those statements. However in published remarks, Mayor Martiniano Benitez Flores reportedly said that "It is important that they participate in their cooperation [paying fees] to make the festival greater."
NO LEGAL ACTION
He told Compass Direct News that no legal action would be taken against the town for having expelled the believers, and offered to house the refugees “temporarily and provide food” for them until they can find new means of livelihood. They will not receive back their homes and property, the mayor reportedly said. The expelled Christians were identified as 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.
Pressure is also mounting on Protestant families in Chiapas, in the Santa Rita area of La Trinitaria municipality, where traditionalist Catholics allegedly cut off water and electricity of 40 people from eight evangelical families for their refusal to support festivals. 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, some $928. The National Bar of Christian Lawyers was quoted as saying that the Christian families have accumulated unpaid fees totaling 40,000 pesos, US$3,711.
In addition in Oaxaca state is still unresolved a case in Santo Domingo Nuxaa, in Nochixtlan region, where town authorities reportedly took over the property of the Divine Redeemer church and are building on it without compensation. Some 300 evangelicals reportedly took part in a human rights forum held in Chiapas state to protest the incidents. Rights watchers have documented nearly 40 cases of alleged religious intolerance are Chiapas, along with 15 others in other parts of Mexico.
The incidents have added to concerns of reported persecution in other areas of society, including the justice system. In December, on the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 45 civilians in Mexico’s Chiapas state, a new study revealed that the killings in Acteal village points toward the innocence of 32 evangelicals and other peasants serving prison terms.
The detailed study by historian Hector Aguilar Camin, published in Mexico’s Nexos magazine, said that “there are tens of innocent people in prison who had nothing directly to do with the fact" of the massacre in the hamlet north of San Cristobal de las Casas.
"For the past decade, the debate about how 21 women (four pregnant), 18 children and six elderly men were killed has revolved around whether the tragedy was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or resulted from a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels," Compass Direct News commented. (With BosNewsLife Monitoring and reports from Mexico).