Threats target Jesuits, Ruiz as Mexican fight for power moves to polls

National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 1994

CUERNAVACA, Mexico - In the final week of the hotly contested Mexican presidential campaign, Jesuits here and Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia were threatened with death by a group that calls itself The Squadron for the Defense of the Catholic Faith and Peace in Mexico.

These threats, most analysts here believe, are a part of a deliberate right-wing campaign to frighten and, discredit any group that sides with the poor in opposing the government and the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Mexico for 65 years.

"The government sees everything in terms of the coming election," said a Jesuit source who asked to remain anonymous. "These attacks upon the church are all a part of a wider plan to discredit and divide the church. They know that if the poor are supported and encouraged, they will overcome their fear and vote. If that happens, the reign of PRI is at an end."

Almost 300 activist members of the opposition PRD, the Democratic Revolutionary Party, itself a poor people's movement, have been assassinated in the past six years, according to consistent public reports. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas is the candidate of the PRD.

This past week in major cities across the country, according to published reports, as many as 20,000 professionally prepared placards declared:


No more betrayal of the nation.

In El Salvador thousands of Indians died before the massacre of the Jesuits who were responsible for their deaths.

In Mexico, the Jesuits will die first.

Placards with similar threats depicting Ruiz as a rattlesnake have also been seen throughout the country, especially since the National Democratic Convention held in the Lacandon jungle last week. More than 5,000 attended the gathering in a remote region near San Cristobal in the southern state of Chiapas, where a peasant revolt against the government began last January.

The convention, a grassroots gathering and not a political party, called on the country to vote against the ruling PRI party and the right-wing PAN, the National Action Party.

Delegates also called for demonstrations and work stoppages if the elections are fraudulent.

Both the Mexican bishops' congress and the Mexico City archdiocese were taking the death threats seriously. Bishop Ramon Godinez Flores, secretary general of the bishops' conference, called the anonymous attack "cowardly" and the work of "ignorant people who know nothing of the word of God."

The Mexico City archdiocese responded with a letter to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the members of his cabinet, the pope, the Mexican hierarchy, human rights organizations and the media.

The letter stated, "Since the events in Chiapas, which began on January first of this year, the Mexican Catholic church has suffered a number of attacks. In particular there is an alarming ferocity against the Society of Jesus. Its members have been defamed and calumniated and even their houses have been ransacked.

"Since there is a worrisome escalation of a fascist tendency in our country," the letter continued, "these death threats, if they are carried out, could be the pretext of a much more open repression.

"We beg urgent action on your part so that what clearly appears to be a threat of a brutal repression may be stopped. This threat is being orchestrated against the Catholic church in Mexico and against other democratic institutions and especially against the Society of Jesus because of its work with the poorest people."

In an interview with NCR, a Jesuit theologian, who asked that his name not be made public for fear of government retaliation, insisted that this attack, far from being unique, was one of a series of threats carried out against anyone who sided with the poor in their fight against government policies.

Asked who authored these threats, Fr. Carlos Bravo, editor of the Jesuit magazine Christus, said, "It is fair to assume that they come from the same people who accused Bishop Ruiz of San Cristobal in January of being the instigator of the war in Chiapas. These attacks, we know, were the work of the Movement for Iberoamerican Solidarity, an affiliate of the Mexican Labor Party, which is, in turn, an offshoot of Lyndon LaRouche's international organization."

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit arrived in Mexico City Aug. 15 to demonstrate his support for the embattled Jesuits and Ruiz.

As the Aug. 21 election neared, there was growing speculation about an opposition victory by Cardenas, a sentiment reported in Mexico's three major newspapers. According to a poll reported Aug. 12 in El Financiero, Mexico's equivalent of The Wall Street Journal, if the election had been held that week, the opposition PRD would have taken 35 percent of the vote; the ruling PRI, 30 percent; and PAN, the right-wing party, 20 percent. The remaining 20 percent were undecided.

The government, meanwhile, was launching a furious attack on Archbishop Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara. The archbishop had disputed government claims that the death of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo in May 1993 was an accident resulting from a shootout between two rival drug gangs. Although Sandoval offered witnesses and other new information, the government flatly refused to change its opinion. Many Mexican analysts believe that officials of the ruling PRI party were involved in the cardinal's death.

Bishops urge peaceful, honest elections

MEXICO CITY - How the Mexican hierarchy will react to the outcome of the country's Aug. 21 elections is uncertain, but the bishops have been more outspoken than ever on the explosive potential of fraudulent election practices.

Church sources have told Catholic News Service that whatever the vote outcome, the members of the permanent council of the bishops' conference are most concerned with avoiding increased violence - especially given the examples of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas and the March assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio.

This year as never before, the bishops are collectively communicating their views on the vote and have already issued three pastoral letters dealing with the elections:

* On Feb. 14, a letter signed by the 16-member permanent council, titled "Values for Democracy," called "painful" Mexico's "not yet having attained credibility in the results of elections." The bishops said they hoped the balloting will be carried out in a spirit of "truth, generating participation, respect for the act of voting and engendering the justice that is the basis of lasting peace."

* On April 15, in a letter titled "For Justice, Reconciliation and Peace in Mexico," 91 Mexican bishops called on Mexicans to put aside differences because "only in a solidarity-minded and participatory society is true democracy possible." Rejecting violent post-electoral protest, the letter left the door open to "passive resistance" to fraud.

* On Aug. 3, the council issued a letter titled, "It Is Time for a Deep Reconciliation in Mexico" in which the bishops gave their tacit blessing to voter-registration lists that they said seemed untainted by fraud. At the same time, they called for Mexicans to work to ensure the election's "transparency" and an indisputable outcome.

COPYRIGHT 1994 National Catholic Reporter