Huichol Christians Ordered to Leave Mexican Town

Monday, March 8, 2004

Indian families face second forced exile in two years.

by Elisabeth Isais

MEXICO CITY, March 8 (Compass) -- Eighteen families of the indigenous Huichol tribe in Tenzompa, Jalisco, Mexico, -- more than 80 adults and children, in all -- are threatened with expulsion from their homes for the “crime” of believing in the Christian gospel.

An official decision to expel them has been signed and will go into effect at the end of this school year. However, the men who signed the document do not live in Tenzompa, but in a different municipality, according to Adolfo Garcia, who has been helping to defend their cause.

The saga began in 1987, when the evangelical gospel message first reached the Huichol mountain area in Tuxpan de Bolaños, Jalisco, and other communities such as Cuamustita and Ratontita.

In 1988, a small group of Huichol Indians of the Santa Catarina zone who had converted to Christ began to construct a church building in Pedernal and Nueva Colonia. They suffered persecution, enduring jail, kidnapping and torture. Their ordeal was described in a July 1999 report appearing in the Zacatecas newspaper Angulos.

“The sentence was brutal: three days in jail subjected to the ‘tablita,’ irrespective of age or sex. The torture consisted of putting their feet into a piece of board with holes in it, pressing until the pain was unbearable.”

Among those who suffered mistreatment during four days in jail were 66-year-old Maria Gonzalez de la Cruz, Ismael de la Rosa Gonzalez, 25; pastor Paulino Avila de la Cruz, 25; Rito Lopez Flores, 28; Estela de la Rosa de la Cruz, 40; and Rosa de la Rosa Gonzalez, 27.

In addition, the newspaper reported, “inconceivably, Esteban Lopez, a six month old baby was tortured ... and all for being Christians.”

On August 24, 2002, the Christian families were expelled from their ancestral community, losing lands, houses, cattle and belongings. They took refuge in Tenzompa, four hours distant from their homes in the mountains.

They reportedly subsisted as best they could, hoping for the government to intervene in their plight. At the same time, they continued to testify of their faith. A strong movement of God produced many new believers, according to Adolfo and Rosy Garcia.

In December 2003, the exiles mustered enough boldness to ask for the right to land on which to sow their crops and build their homes in the new location, but the request was rejected. Town residents decided to expel them from Tenzompa to prevent them from claiming any more rights there.

Strangely, the expulsion decree was signed by indigenous leaders from Santa Catarina in the municipality of Mezquitic, despite the fact that Tenzompa is in Huejuquilla municipality. For that reason, says Garcia, the expulsion is not legal.

Garcia visits the exiled families several times a month from Zacatecas, taking supplies when possible.

On February 7, the newspaper El Sol de Zacatecas carried an article about the Huichol evangelicals entitled “They make them flee from their lands because of religious intolerance.” The writer commented on the “drama which they have confronted during the past 17 months.”

In fact, the drama has lasted five years. Unless the government intervenes, the 18 families expelled from their ancestral homes in Santa Catarina will be looking for yet another place to subsist, as soon as school lets out in the spring.