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FALL 1999: v4i3 INDEX






FALL, 1999: Volume 4 Issue 3

CHIAPAS: This Time, “Divide and Conquer” Failed by Lisa Martens (reprinted from CPTnet)

July 4, 1999 Polho, Chiapas. On Sunday, July 4, Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) workers spoke with the elders of a Presbyterian Church, estranged from its wider Presbyterian community in Chiapas. Though rejected by its own, the congregation is entwined with Catholic and Pentecostal churches in the same community–Autonomous Polho–and their closeness is, literally, their wealth. “Here, we are united in our practice of justice,” Francisco explained, in a country whose government carefully paints the Chiapas conflict as fighting between indigenous communities of different religious denominations.

Dominant Mexican leaders would have the world think that the Chiapan war is religious infighting, rather than expose their gifts of guns and money to some indigenous people, severing neighbors, and making vulnerable the land and culture of the people. Autonomous Polho is a municipality mostly of people who have been driven from their homes by the very paramilitaries who, according to human rights monitors, are supplied with weapons by the government. Polho chooses to govern itself.

With dominant politicians paying for hearts, the Presbyterian elders speak in such a way that theology and access to resources are inextricable. “In 1984, we went to the national Palace to ask Mexican officials for the same benefits offered most Presbyterians,” explained Francisco. “We were rejected, as have been the wider community’s requests for basics like schools and electricity. We have electricity, now,“ he smiled, ”but we don’t pay for it.” Chiapas is the Mexican state which provides more than half of the country’s electricity, and has the smallest percentage of people being able to afford it. “Also,” our host continued, “we used to ask the government to come fix our electrical system. We would wait for weeks, and they would not come. Now we have electricity all the time because our own people have learned how to repair the system.” “Its not easy, but at least we’re no longer dying,” the elders said of their ecumenical struggle for existence as a community. Reminiscent of the early church, the citizens of Polho have little to spare, but continue to organize and share what they need in a town made up of 14 refugee camps. In regards to the difficulty of survival, Francisco said, “We realize that God’s people in the Old Testament were also refugees. We always look to God’s word for guidance.”

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. CPT has maintained a presence in Chiapas, Mexico, since June 1998. E-mail: cptmx@laneta.apc.org. Contact CPT, PO 6508, Chicago, IL 60680; tel: 312-455-1199; fax: 312-666-2677, e-mail: cpt@igc.org. For news or discussion of CPT issues by e-mail, fill out the form found on our webpage at http://www.prairienet.org/cpt/.