Waiting for action: An interview with a victim of forced displacement in Mexico

On 28 July 2019 four Protestant Christians were forcibly displaced from the village of Cuamontax Huazalingo in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. Community leaders told the victims that the expulsion was the consequence of their failure to sign an agreement that bans Protestants from entering the village.

Over a year after they were forced to leave their homes, CSW spoke with Uriel Badillo, who was among those displaced:

“My name is Uriel Badillo Lara. I am originally from the Cuamontax community, in the Municipality of Huazalingo, Hidalgo State, Mexico, but I am currently living in my sister’s house in Atlaltipa Tecolotitla, in the Municipality of Atlapexco, along with my parents, my wife and our new-born. I make a living doing odd jobs like helping with electrics and maintenance.”

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Following Biblical mandates carries a high price for religious leaders in Mexico

A religious leader and his colleague are kidnapped from a migrant shelter; they have not been seen or heard from since. Another is assaulted, extorted and threatened at gunpoint. Both provided protection to migrants and asylum seekers trapped on the border. In the same country, religious leaders warn that threats and attacks against them constitute one of the most serious problems facing churches today. Ironically, all this is taking place in what is considered to be one of the most religious countries in the world, Mexico.

The worsening situation for migrants and asylum seekers passing through Mexico has been exacerbated by the implementation of the US’ Migrant Protection Program (MPP) also known as ‘Remain in Mexico’ at the start of 2019.[1] The policy has made it increasingly difficult for migrants to win asylum cases in the US, only 0.1% of cases have been successful, and many have sought refuge in church-run migrant shelters across Mexico while they wait, especially at the northern border. On 28 February 2020, a US federal appeals court ruled that that the Remain in Mexico policy was illegal.

While many Protestant and Catholic leaders have responded to the rising levels of need in an outworking of their faith by following commands to help the poor,[2] shelter the homeless,[3] and love the foreigner,[4] their work makes them increasingly exposed to threats and attacks from organised criminal groups who prey on the vulnerable migrant population.

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FoRB on the Frontlines: “If I can kill a priest then I can kill anyone”

In several Latin American countries, religious leaders often take on the roles of community leader and human rights defender. As a result, these leaders often face harassment, intimidation and even violence at the hands of state and non-state actors. Over the next few weeks CSW will be presenting interviews with religious leaders working in the region to highlight their experiences on the frontlines of freedom of religion or belief.

Father Omar Sotelo Aguilar works in Mexico for the Catholic Multimedia Centre (CCM) documenting attacks against Catholic priests.

“In recent years Mexico has been a dangerous place for journalists, priests and other religious leaders. I have been a Catholic priest and a journalist for about 25 years now, so I face a double risk. But even without taking this into account, we are as exposed as any other person.

I decided to approach this work from a journalist’s perspective as it is an issue that was not very visible, but was a very harsh reality. Good journalism, like good advocacy, is based on facts, figures and documentation.

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Mexico’s Culture of Impunity Part 2: Lost years and missed opportunities

Last week, CSW’s Latin America Advocacy Officer detailed the culture of impunity that hinders the protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Mexico. In this post we put a human face on the effects of the government’s inadequate response to violations of FoRB, showing what happens to individuals when authorities delay or neglect their responsibilities to protect religious minorities.

Click here to read this post in Spanish.

One case which illustrates the deep rooted culture of impunity that surrounds attacks on religious minorities in Mexico is that of the community of Yashtinin in San Cristóbal de las Casas Municipality in Chiapas State.

Everything began in 2012, when several people converted away from the majority religion. Some members of the community were afraid that this new religion would damage their customs and traditions and negatively affect their children. On 10 June 2012 a large group from the community went to the house of a Santiago Hernández Vázquez, one of the men who had converted, and took everyone that was meeting there to prison, insulting them and threatening them with violence and even death in the process.

After imprisoning 16 men and boys in a space normally meant to hold a single individual, local teachers employed by the government falsified a document stating that the families had voluntarily decided to leave the community. The victims were forced to sign it and given three days to leave. Upon the expiration of the ultimatum, 12 families were expelled after villagers destroyed all of their homes and property. By 2015, a total of 28 families had been expelled.

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Mexico’s Culture of Impunity Part 1: Mediation in lieu of justice

While Mexico’s drug trade is far from vanished, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) recently stated that “there is no longer a war.” He has a new strategy. The president says they are no longer trying to arrest drug lords, but instead want to look at the causes of violence.

“We have not detained the bosses [of criminal gangs] because this is not our main function. The government’s main function is to guarantee public security…What is important to me is lowering the number of homicides, robberies, that there are no kidnappings. This is what is essential! Not the spectacular, because we lost a lot of time in this and it resolved nothing.”

To achieve this, AMLO appears to be looking to religious groups.

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