(Newsday) Religious Bloodshed With bullets,

Lozier, John Douglas (JLOZIER@WVNVM.WVNET.EDU)
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 06:40:17 -0500

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lemaitre monique j <tc0mjl1@corn.cso.niu.edu>

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 1996 15:30:11 -0500
From: Mauricio Banda <mbanda@dch.mty.itesm.mx>
To: Multiple Recipients of List Mexico2000 <mexico2000@mep-d.org>
Subject: (Newsday) Religious Bloodshed With bullets, Indians defend tradition , against Protestantism

Article from Newsday, 01/21/96

In Mexico, Religious Bloodshed With bullets, Indians defend
tradition against Protestantism


San Juan Chamula, Mexico - Inside the cavernous Church of San Juan
in the highlands of southern Chiapas state, Indian men, women and
children live out their devotion to a centuries-old blend of Roman
Catholic and pagan rituals.

Rows of fresh flowers and clay animal statues capped with white
candles surround the glass-enclosed images of Catholic saints crowned
with bright ribbons. Instead of the sacramental symbols of bread and
wine, the Chamula people partake from hundreds of liter-size bottles of
a homemade rum, known as "posh," along with plenty of Coke and Pepsi,
which enjoy a sort of mystical status in religious offerings here. Amid
the haze of incense, local religious leaders distribute the small
glasses of a strong clear rum fermented from sugar cane that follows the
Tzotzil Indians from the time of their birth to the grave.

Villages like this one, with its 55,000 militantly traditional
inhabitants, have become a bulwark against the wildfire-like spread of
evangelical Protestantism, whose adherents in Latin America have jumped
from 5.2 million in 1960 to nearly 50 million today. In the highlands,
it is a conflict awash in the blood of innocents.

"The evangelists cannot reason," says Domingo Lopez Chacojchu, 63,
whose Protestant brother was expelled from Chamula four years ago.

"We are pure Catholics. We know how to pray, how to drink. They
don't believe in our traditions. They don't drink. If they return, they
will be met with bullets."

Several miles from Chamula, in a cinderblock evangelical settlement
known as New Palestine, Dominga Lopez Lopez lives with her four
children, including a 4-month-old boy who will never know his father.
She is a widow at 29.

Her husband, Domingo, a 33-year-old evangelical preacher, was
proselytizing in the village of Arbenza Oct. 18 when a group of armed
Chamula leaders surrounded the home of an acquaintance, she says. A
bullet fired by one of the men perforated a wood door and Lopez' heart.
Though the owner of the house and 15 other witnesses gave statements to
investigators, Lopez and local evangelical leaders say there was no

Her family fled the Chamula village of Tres Cruces five years ago.
"If we had not left voluntarily," she says, "they would have killed us.
Women were raped. Men were beaten and killed. There were kidnapings."

Under the cloak of tradition lie political and economic realities
that are fostering ethnic hatred, the expulsion of tens of thousands of
evangelical Protestants from the highlands and waves of bloodshed in
Mexico's poorest and most-divided state - the site of a 2-year-old armed
uprising by mostly Mayan Indian peasants.

The troubles in these lush mountains underscore the great divide
between Mexico's neoliberal, modernizing government and the country's
nearly 10 million Indian citizens - about 10 percent of the country's
ethnically mixed population. The government, critics say, has done
little to end the strife, allowing it to fester as a way of clamping
down on dissent in a turbulent region.

For the Indians of Chamula - the first in the highlands to be
conquered by the Spanish in the 1500s - rapidly spreading evangelical
Protestantism and its conservative ways threaten a culture long
protected by the political system that has ruled Mexico for nearly
seven decades.

More than 30,000 people have been expelled from Chamula and its
surroundings in the last 20 years for converting and giving up posh.
Forced to surrender lands inherited from their parents, they have seen
their farms and homes looted and destroyed. In Arbenza in November, a
dispute between Catholics and evangelicals ended with at least six
people dead, according to official reports, although some locals place
the death toll at 28.

Precise numbers for the dead are hard to obtain because many times
bodies are buried immediately after clashes, according to Andres Aubry,
a French anthropologist and historian who has studied the Chamula

Emilio Perez Velasquez, vice president of the local Ministerial
Alliance, a coalition of evangelical congregations in the highlands,
says 150 criminal complaints filed against Chamulans by his group in the
last decade resulted in one arrest. Mexican authorities say inquiries
have been hampered by cultural barriers, and that they've been trying to
bring Chamula and evangelical leaders together for talks.

"The evangelicals are seen as the provocateurs," Perez says. "The
government has allowed the impunity."

Chamula religious leaders, who control the manufacture and sale of
posh, stood to lose the most from the spread of evangelical
Protestantism in the highlands, says Perez, adding that families were
obligated to buy liquor and refreshments from local leaders.

But Aubry maintains that the spread of new religions in the
highlands threatened more than just the business interests of village
elders. Key links in Mexico's governing political machine were at stake.

Longstanding social pacts between Chamula leaders and Mexico's
governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, began to unravel
with the emergence of new faiths, Aubry says. Chamula
"traditionalists" were guaranteed "cultural protection" and a degree of
independence in return for turning out the vote for the PRI. In
October's local election, the governing party won with nearly 100
percent of the vote in Chamula.

"When those in power realized that religious dissidence also meant
political dissidence, they became fearful and protected the
traditionalists," Aubry says.

"Whose hands are dirtier?" he asks. "It is not the Protestants or
traditionalists, but the party in power, the state. What is dirty about
Chamula is the complicity and impunity on the part of the government."

In a meeting with national evangelical leaders in Mexico City last
week, President Ernesto Zedillo vowed to uphold the law in Chiapas. "You
can count on the president to combat political and religious
intolerance," Zedillo said of the long-simmering conflict in Chamula.

From the Chiapas highlands, however, Zedillo's government and the
region's indigenous inhabitants seem light-years apart.

At a new government-run clinic in Chamula, the four staff
physicians could not speak the native Tzotzil language. When the clinic
opened 11 months ago, religious leaders hired a local medicine woman so
Indian patients could feel comfortable around modern doctors. Dominga
Gomez Simchis, 56, a practitioner of traditional medicine since age 12,
keeps her own native birthing room. In the room the throat of a live
chicken is slit and its blood spilled over the spot where a child was

Of the 96 communities in Chamula, 17 still refuse contact with
doctors or other outsiders, clinic physicians say.

Social contact among Chamula Indians involves one or several shots
of posh. "They live, reproduce and die with a drink," says Leopoldo
Villafuerte Aguilar, 41, a surgeon.

As rain pounded Chamula's main square on the second day of a recent
religious festival, a young boy clung to his father as they staggered in
a drunken stupor through an arch in the center.

A short distance away, Diego Heredia Lopez, a 67-year-old medicine
man and former mayor, held up an incense burner before his private
altar adorned with calla lilies and gladiolus. He said his people will
fight to preserve their past. "When you finish praying and your
heart is dry, you have a Coke," Lopez says. "It is our custom. We
drink. We are happy."

Copyright 1996, Newsday Inc.

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