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November 4, 1997
Today, November 4 at 6:30 pm, Bishops Samuel Ruíz and Raúl Vera were ambused on a country road between the communities of Guadalupe Joinopá and Belizario Domínguez in Chiapas State, together with a group of some 60 persons who were following in two flat-bed trucks behind the vehicles carrying the bishops. The caravan received several shots of weapons fired from a hill some 100 meters away. The attack took place within the ejido Crucero, known as an operations center for the paramilitary group "Paz y Justicia." Wounded in the attack were two catechists, José Pedro Pérez and José Vázquez and the sacristan of the parish of Tila, Manuel Pérez.
In addition to the two bishops, those riding in the vehicles included the parish priest of Tila, two religious women, several catechists and members of the parish, including the doctor of the parish clinic who immediately attended to the wounded and wrote a report on the situation. He later kept the wounded under observation.
Bishops Ruíz and Vera were on a pastoral visit to the troubled northern area of Chiapas and were returning to the municipal capital of Tila after celebrating Mass and Confirmation in the Tila parish community of Guadalupe Joinopá.
Several weeks ago, when the bishops' pastoral visit to the region, including Guadalupe Joinopá, was announced, Paz y Justicia began to threaten that they would block the roads so as to prevent the journey from taking place. A similar threat was announced when Bishop Vera was to visit the community of El Limar in May of 1996.
We fear for the security of the bishops during their visit to the area, since the visit is to last until Sunday, November 9. Similarly, we do not rule out systematic acts of aggression against the priest, nuns and catechists of the parish that the bishops plan to visit. We conclude that this is one more indication of what Paz y Justicia announced after the visit of Bishop Vera there in May 1996; namely, attacks on the communities visited which, since that May, have left a wake of violence: clinics and homes destroyed, cooperatives ransacked, churches profaned and 4,120 people displaced, as well as the murder and disappearance of several people.
This aggression against the bishops, far from being an isolated event, appears to be part of a plan of aggression against the Catholic Church. Against the will of the communities that they profess to represent,. Some local authorities are barring the visits of Catholic priests and other pastoral agents to several of the communities, and churches continue to be arbitrarily locked shut.
The Diocese of San Cristóbal, together with non-governmental organizations, have repeatedly denounced the unanswered acts of aggression carried out by paramilitary groups with the protection of the state and local authorities. We have similarly denounced, in the context of the non-compliance with the San Andrés Accords, the fact of a low intensity warfare and the effective absence of government in the state, repeatedly denied by the governmental authorities.
The attacks on our bishops and those accompanying them is one more fact confirming the dramatic crisis our state is suffering, underscoring as well the inefficiency of the bold measures announced by the state government to bring about a preaceful resolution in the troubled regions of Chiapas.
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