Imprisoned Evangelicals in Chiapas Hope for Justice

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

CHIAPAS, MEXICO (January 30, 2001) -- Chiapas evangelicals accused of taking part in the Acteal Massacre are dismayed that after almost three years in prison, many among them have not received justice. But they remain hopeful that the state's new governor will see that justice is done.

Last week, Hector Tamez, an Open Doors minister-at-large, traveled to Mexico's southernmost state, where he accompanied several of the imprisoned evangelicals' wives and government officials on a visit to Cerro Hueco Prison in Chiapas' capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

"We had a wonderful time together," Tamez said of the visit. "Many told us they were elders, deacons and pastors. They hope Pablo is going to do something."

"Pablo" is Pablo Salazar, Chiapas' new evangelical governor, who is the first non-Catholic to hold a Mexican state's highest office. Salazar, a Nazarene, is making good on campaign promises to investigate the 1997 killings of 45 mostly women and children in the Chiapas mountain hamlet of Acteal. Although prosecutors failed to provide evidence against 81 supporters of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party who were accused in the massacre, a judge sentenced them to 35 years in prison. About half of those sentenced are evangelicals.

The prisoners hope the new government's probe into the atrocities will exonerate those who have been falsely accused. They seemed comforted that Salazar was seeing to it that their cases would be reviewed. "They have a lot of trust in Pablo," Tamez said.

"They recognize that not all of them are innocent. We hope justice is going to prevail," Tamez said. The prisoners told him that many perpetrators of the crime remain at large.

Tamez had a chance to encourage the prisoners, "not by giving hopes we cannot offer, but by telling them everything is in the hands of the Lord."

Life is hard for prisoners in Cerro Hueco. They need clothing. Their wives supplement the food as best they can, but that's not easy because Tuxtla Gutierrez is many hours by bus or car from their home villages. Without their husbands' income, providing for their families is difficult. Many are in poor health.

"They would say, 'We're sick and we don't have money to buy medicines,' and if they don't have the money to eat, how are they going to afford medicines?" Tamez asked. "It's a very desperate situation."

In addition to visiting Acteal prisoners, Tamez said that other prisoners not related to the Acteal Massacre approached the group, claiming they had also been wrongly accused. "I am an elder in our church. I am accused of killing," one said. Several Christians said, "Please do something. Nobody's listening to us. What can we do?"

Despite these prisoners' plights, their complaints were not hopeless, Tamez said. Above all, the evangelicals in Cerro Hueco wanted assurance that they weren't alone and forgotten. "Please tell the people to pray for us," they told him.

* This story was supplied by Open Doors USA. For more information on the ministry of Open Doors, write: Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799 or call: (949) 752-6600. The Open Doors USA Web site can be found at www.opendoorsusa.org.

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