Pablo Salazar – a Light Amidst the Darkness of the Chiapas Persecution

Nov 18, 2002 03:00 AM EST

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO -- According to a story released by ICPress in Spain, persecution of indigenous Mexican evangelicals in the southern province of Chiapas continue on. However, the election of Pablo Salazar, a tireless worker for human rights as the Governor of the State shine hopes to the Chiapas.

Carlos Martínez García, a researcher at the Centre of Mexican Protestant Studies, warned at a recent international symposium in Lima that that the persecution of Chiapas could get much worse unless action is promoted through a peaceful co-existence within a pluralist society.

"Martínez highlighted the contribution that indigenous Christians have made to education and culture in the region, as well as persistent attacks against them by traditionalist Catholics, which date back as far as the 1950s," said the ICPress story. "In 1995, a section of the Protestant community fought back in another clash, leaving five Catholics and one Protestant dead."

Evangelical leaders persistently work to prevent Protestants from retaliating with violence; however, they note the lack of political help and failure of authorities to protect the religious freedom included in the Mexican constitution.

"The persecution of the evangelical minority in Chiapas has so far left many evangelicals dead, churches and homes burnt, and several thousand evangelicals forced out of the area. Faced with complete indifference to all this by the authorities, a pastor from Arvenza recommended that his people responded in kind to the attacks being made upon them, which led to the clash in 1995."

In a case of extreme persecution, an Indian pastor was sentenced to death by an angry lynch mob. A lynch mob, supporters of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), had arrested the pastor, Manuel Arias, a Tzotzil Indian. His detention took place shortly after the massacre of 45 Indians on December 22, 1997, in the town of Acteal in the Chenalho area of Chiapas.

However, his life was spared by the intervention of then Chiapas senator, Pablo Salazar, the first evangelical ever to be voted into the Mexican Congress since the revolution took place against Spain 170 years ago.

Five years after this incident, the two men reunited in an emotional "unity" conference organized and held in Tuxtla Gutierrez, by Latin American Indian Ministries of Orange, California.

Here, Pastor Arias, commented, "I was arrested because I was falsely accused of transporting weapons for the paramilitary groups who are opposing the Zapatistas. They had seen me helping the [Christian Indian] brothers and many times I had asked the president of the municipality to help me with transportation when I had food for the refugees."

"I think the real reason for my arrest was because they were angry with me as I had told my brethren not to get involved in any of the conflicts or fights because that's not what the Bible says. But they said that I had been involved in the conflicts, but I have not. Perhaps I was a barrier for the Zapatistas [who wanted support from his congregation] and that is why they arrested me."

"When I was detained in a town in the municipality of Chenalho, I saw that they were preparing the ropes to hang me because they thought if they killed me they would have the open space to bring all the other Christians into the fight. My little brother was there and saw what was happening and he discovered that brother Pablo Salazar was in the area. He ran to him and told him what was happening and thanks to him, I was liberated and thanks to God I am here and free."

Senator Salazar continued the story saying, "When I heard what was happening to Manuel, I told the Zapatistas and other groups there, 'I know Manuel. He is a pastor, a man of peace. He is a good man, a preacher of the Word.' I also said that I knew that he has never taken a weapon and he has never trained or helped anyone to be involved in conflict. I then demanded they liberate Manuel because he was unfairly detained."

"I told the Zapatistas, "Unless you liberate Manuel, I will denounce what is going on here in a national way through the media. I believe that it was not because I was a senator, that I should help him, but because I knew Manuel, and because I am a believer in Jesus Christ." Thank God, they did free him and he was not hung."

Manuel Arias then said, "What can I say? When I was liberated, I said to God, 'Thank you for this freedom and thank you for Brother Pablo Salazar, because it is because of him that I am a free man and my life has been spared."

Then, turning to the senator, he added, "I have known him for years and I know he has been chosen by God for the position of senator so he can represent God and the church here in Chiapas and also so he can help the Indian people."

Senator Salazar was later to address a conference in conjunction with Pastor Arias – the man whose life he helped save.

By Pauline J.