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The law of Chiapas

"The law of Chiapas" Continued...

Issue: "Day scare," Jan. 10, 1998

Outside groups have helped as well, including the Charlottesville, Va.Ðbased Rutherford Institute. The Christian legal advocacy group in 1993 filed a petition on behalf of the persecuted Indians in Chiapas with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a hemispheric court affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS). It demanded that the Mexican government explain the lack of enforcement in Chiapas of Mexico's constitutional religious freedom clause and requested punishment for perpetrators.

Once ignoring Chiapas almost as a matter of state policy, the Mexican government is taking a more constructive role in solutions there, according to Rutherford's international coordinator, Pedro Moreno. Still, Mr. Moreno told WORLD, Mexican officials have dragged their feet. The government did not respond to the initial complaint until 1995. "The Mexican government does not establish any clear parameters toward a solution of the ongoing persecution and does not commit itself to the prosecution of the perpetrators," Mr. Moreno complained to a congressional panel in 1996. Since that time, Mexican officials, together with members of the OAS, the human-rights commission, and Mr. Moreno, have made visits to Chiapas, and seen progress.

At a meeting of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, prior to the massacre, Attorney General Jorge Madrazo submitted a report on the region that detailed the governmentÕs failings, "point by point," according to Mr. Moreno, to deal with unrest and poverty. "There has been much progress in accepting responsibility for the situation, and it is a great part of the process of solving it," he said.

Since late last year Mexico City and OAS officials in Washington have been handing back and forth a draft agreement on Chiapas. Mr. Moreno said the Mexican government missed a Nov. 6 deadline but is expected to sign off on a final agreement by mid-January. Mr. Moreno says the agreement will reassert the right of children of evangelicals to attend local schools, will provide legal mechanisms for the return of evangelicals and some Catholics displaced by violence and persecution, and will reinstruct local officials on constitutional rights to freedom of worship.

The PRI is responding to changing political winds as well as to the Chiapas tragedy. The party lost control of Congress in 1997 amid mounting scandals involving top party officials. It also recognizes the growing clout of evangelicals in Chiapas. "The government is worried because many indigenous evangelicals, who for years have not received support from the official party, are choosing to vote for opposition parties," Mr. Tovilla told Compass Direct. "I think we are finally going to have political plurality."

Growing support for Chiapas was in evidence in Mexico City streets last week, where protesters continued to jam downtown and control the Angel of Independence monument, as they have since the massacre. Largely organized by leftists like Mr. Monsivais, the protests are as much about the frustration of liberal parties that have been locked out of government by seven decades of PRI victories. "Part of those protesting the massacre are sincere, and part are just looking for protagonists to further their own causes," said Baltazar Gonzalez, a Presbyterian pastor in Juarez affiliated with the evangelical churches in Chiapas.

Authorities braced for trouble from Zapatistas coinciding with the four-year anniversary of the ceasefire agreement Jan. 1. Already they face more immediate trouble from Chiapas. With more to fear from staying than going, over 5,000 Chiapas residents left the region last week, leaving behind a ramshackle existence and carrying their possessions in coffee sacks.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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