Mexico: Christians in Chiapas Town Deprived of Water

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More than five weeks after signing pact, Los Pozos caciques fail to fulfill accord.

LOS ANGELES (Compass Direct News) -- More than five weeks after town bosses in Chiapas state, Mexico, signed an agreement to restore water lines cut off from Christians since January, the Protestants still rely on dirty, distant wells and puddles for washing and drinking.

The April 23 agreement calls for the autocratic rulers or caciques of Los Pozos, 29 kilometers (18 miles) from San Cristobal de las Casas, to withdraw a threat to expel 65 Christians and restore the electricity and water services of several Protestant families. Another of the pact’s central aims is to keep “traditionalist Catholics,” who practice a mixture of indigenous ritual and Roman Catholicism, from forcing the evangelicals to help pay for drunken religious festivals that they consider idolatrous.

Evangelical pastor and attorney Esdras Alonso Gonzalez told Compass that the Protestants were glad the traditionalist Catholic caciques have ceased forcing the Protestants of Alas de Aguila church to participate in the saints’ day festivals, but that water lines cut since January 30 had not been restored.

“Everyone in the municipality is respecting the agreement, except in the matter of water – it’s horrible,” Alonso said. “We don’t know when they’re going to restore the water; the brethren have not been able to get good information.”

Chiapas state officials brokered the agreement between the evangelicals and the traditionalist Catholics of Los Pozos. Alonso said state officials are responsible for ensuring that local town bosses fulfill terms of the pact.

Informed that the Los Pozos Christians’ water lines still had not been reconnected, Chiapas Secretary of Government Jorge Antonio Morales Messner told Compass through an assistant that his office was looking into the matter.

Manuel Alvarez Martinez, president of the Huixtan municipality to which Los Pozos belongs, declined to comment about the failure of local caciques to restore water service to members of the Alas de Aguila church.

Maria Elena Gomez Ton, a 27-year-old mother of four, said she has been walking about a mile three times a day for water. Carmela Santis Lopez, a 38-year-old Tzotzil Maya resident of Los Pozos, told Compass that her children have become ill from lack of bathing and washing with water from a muddy well.

The Los Pozos officials had agreed verbally to restore the water lines as far back as February 28.

“We have suffered these months – we’ve been drinking dirty water,” Santis told Compass. “We’re not doing anything bad, it’s only that for accepting Christ and being evangelicals that we’re suffering.”

Previously Los Pozos town bosses had prohibited outside Christians from visiting area Protestants, disrupted Alas de Aguila church services and stopped visitors to the church to question and threaten them. Alonso said such harassment has stopped since the April 23 agreement.

“They were going to make the evangelicals contribute to the saint’s festival on May 3, and they were not forced to contribute,” Alonso said. “So the brothers say that even though they don’t have water, they’re just happy that they don’t have any interference in their worship services now.”

The agreement also calls for local authorities to restore firewood-gathering rights and resume distributing federal food aid and fertilizers they have diverted from the Tzotzil Maya Christians.

The signing of the agreement by the caciques, bosses from the municipality of Huixtan, evangelicals and state officials came nine days after traditionalist Catholics and civil authorities destroyed a Pentecostal church building in Ollas, a community of nearby San Juan Chamula municipality, on April 14.

The caciques and other traditionalist Catholics showed up for the April 23 signing with a proposal of their own negating nearly all the terms of a verbal agreement reached February 28. Their proposal would have obligated the Protestants to pay for past festivals and fines accumulated for refusing to contribute to previous traditionalist Catholic events, but state officials nixed it.

Reynaldo Gomez Ton, pastor of Alas de Aguila church in Los Pozos, said town bosses have falsely accused the Christians of failing to contribute anything at all to community funds.

“What really upsets us is that they deny that we’re contributing to the community funds, but it’s not true,” he told Compass. “We’re contributing to community services, but we didn’t contribute to the December 12 festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. So on two or three occasions, if we were having a cup of coffee with an outside Christian visitor there in my house, they would come and take him out of the house saying, “Where did this guy come from?”

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