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As the death toll in Mexico's blood-stained southern state of Chiapas continues to rise, Protestant and Roman Catholic church leaders are intensifying their efforts toward peaceful reconciliation.

Starting in 1994, the Zapatista Liberation Army launched an armed campaign against the Mexican government. The Zapatistas are demanding greater autonomy for Mexico's 8.7 million Indians, who are among the poorest ethnic groups in all of Latin America. Much of the bloodshed has been concentrated in Mexico's southern states, including Chiapas, along the border with Guatemala. About 500 peasants have died in the conflicts, both in attacks by the Zapatistas and reprisal killings by government supporters.

TENSIONS INFLAMED: Since September 1996, official peace talks have been stalled. Last year, killings on both sides persisted, including two evangelical lay church workers ambushed and slain in November and 45 Indians massacred on December 22 in the Chiapan village of Acteal. More than 50 people face charges in the Acteal killings, including the community's mayor, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled Mexico since 1929.

The conflict has cut across many religious, political, cultural, and ethnic boundaries within Mexican society, and it has inflamed the long-simmering tensions between majority Roman Catholics and minority Protestant groups.

Evangelicals represent about 4 percent of Mexico's 96 million people. During the 1980s, evangelicals grew at three times the rate of population growth. Protestant evangelism has been concentrated not only in Mexico's cities, but also among Indian groups, which may be Catholic in identity, but are often animistic in their belief and practice. Pentecostals and Presbyterians ...

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In the Magazine

March 2, 1998

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