MEXICO CITY (CNS) — A pair of priests have been denounced to the Interior Ministry for allegedly stirring up social unrest in a southern Mexican state rife with violence and vigilante movements.
Father Jesus Mendoza Zaragoza, vicar of the Archdiocese of Acapulco, told Catholic News Service the allegations against him and another priest, Father Mario Campos Hernandez, are false and politically motivated.
Father Mendoza, director of the archdiocesan ministry for attending to victims of violence, said the allegations against him pertain to his work with opponents of the La Parota dam near the resort city. The charges against Father Campos, he added, are related to his support of so-called “self-defense” movements, which have surged in Guerrero state (site of Acapulco) since New Year’s Day.
Although Mexico has improved relations with the Catholic Church and removed many anti-clerical laws, priests still are prohibited from carrying out activities considered political in nature.
The denunciations, lodged by a left-wing politician, Evencio Romero Sotelo, deepen the disagreements in Guerrero over resolving its security situation, which has deteriorated over the past five years as criminal groups compete for what has long been considered a corrupt and often lawless state.
Father Mendoza said the peasant farmers he worked with to block construction of the dam won court injunctions stopping the project in 2007, but the Federal Electricity Commission still wants to proceed with work.
Meanwhile, the criticisms of Father Campos are centered on the “community police” he helped found in 1996 to patrol often-problematic indigenous villages, which were plagued with crimes such as kidnapping, sexual assaults and robberies.
The Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities — the group Father Campos helped found –claims that it has driven down crime by 90 percent in the seven municipalities it patrols and even confronted drug traffickers and destroyed poppy fields.
But state and federal officials have never recognized the group. Tensions surged earlier in August with community police detaining soldiers and blocking highways over allegations the army was attempting to take away arms its members use on patrols.
“There’s been no dialogue between the federal or state governments and these groups,” Father Mendoza said, adding that officials have always wanted to bring the community police under their control.
Such community police groups are surging in other parts of Mexico, causing uneasiness for the group founded by Father Campos. Members of the group claim they act in an orderly way and respect human rights. Attempts to reach Father Campos, who works in the Diocese of Tlapa, were unsuccessful.
“The government couldn’t resolve this problem,” Father Campos told Catholic News Service in January of his motives for founding the community police.
“There is no security in the zones where there is the community police.”
Other groups formed by citizens grabbing guns began growing in Guerrero earlier this year in response to a rash of kidnappings and other crimes and what they considered an inadequate response by the authorities, who, they said often complied with criminals.
The groups appeared successful, causing even more to form. In some states, however, the groups appear to have links to organized crime.