In one of at least three instances of persecution of Christians in southern Mexico’s Chiapas state last month, village leaders reneged on their agreement to allow 47 evangelicals who were expelled for their faith to return to their homes and land. In accordance with the agreement arranged by state officials, Protestants from Buenavista Bahuitz village on Jan. 20 tried to return to their community after syncretistic Catholics expelled them in 2012 for their faith. When the Protestants and Chiapas officials accompanying them reached Buenavista Bahuitz, community leaders again refused entry until the Protestants convert to Catholicism, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“Traditionalist” Catholics of the village who practice a blend of Roman Catholicism and indigenous customs involving drunken festivals have been at odds with the Protestant minority for years. Local authorities who are such syncretistic Catholics told them they could come back to their property only if they became Catholic and took part in their religious activities, including paying for the costly celebrations that involve large amounts of alcohol. In November those expelled from Buenavista Bahuitz together with other forcibly displaced Protestants from other Chiapas communities protested their plight with a peaceful sit-in at the state government building in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital. After state government officials gave the Protestants verbal commitments to address their concerns, the displaced ended their month-long action on Dec. 1.
Chiapas officials had assured the displaced group that they had negotiated their return, said Luis Herrera, director of the Coordination of Christian Organizations of Chiapas (COOC), in a CSW statement. The officials had told the Christians their freedom of religion would be protected.
But when the Christians and state officials arrived in the village by bus on Jan. 20, Buenavista Bahuitz leaders told the former residents that they must convert to Catholicism in order to stay. When surprised state officials then intervened with the village leaders, the syncretistic Catholics at last offered to allow the Christians to stay if they paid a high fine. The Christians declined the offer. They returned to church property in Comitán de Domínguez, where they’ve lived as displaced persons for two and half years.
The continued expulsion of the 12 families is among 30 active cases of faith-based persecution that CSW is tracking in Chiapas, an analyst from the organization told Morning Star News. The cases range from early pressure applied to villagers, such as having water or electric power cut, to local authorities denying children the right to attend school, said the analyst, who requested anonymity. Other cases, she said, include removing Protestants from a government benefits list. Extreme cases include bans on worship, forbidding even home prayer gatherings, destruction of houses and church buildings and outright expulsions. More