In the southern Mexican province of Chiapas, the site of chronic ethnic, religious, and political strife, the unimaginable has happened: An openly evangelical politician has been elected governor.

Pablo Salazar, a 46-year-old Nazarene, won election as the candidate of a six-party alliance and took office in December as governor. Salazar's image as a man of the people and foe of corruption made him a popular Chiapas senator who frequently clashed with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico's ruling party until last year. Those clashes led him to break from the PRI, to which he belonged when elected senator in the mid-1990s.

Both right-wing PRI supporters and left-wing Zapatistas seem to favor Salazar, in part because of his reputation for fairness to all sides. The Zapatista National Liberation Army is a leftist insurgency in negotiations with the national government over conditions in southern Mexico, the poorest part of the country.

Many evangelical rightists are moving to the political center as they put their confidence in Salazar's government. "All the evangelical brothers voted for him because he'd bring change and would pay heed to their needs," said José Manuel Díaz Díaz, assistant counsel for the State Evangelical Defense Committee of Chiapas (CEDECH) based in San Cristobal de Las Casas. "They have faith that Pablo can listen to their needs and support them."

Chiapan evangelicals want the state's help to stop widespread harassment and violence by traditionalist Catholics and local bosses, which has included expelling evangelicals from their communities. They also want an end to politically motivated Zapatista violence.

One of Their Own Evangelicals see Salazar as one of their own who, unlike other Chiapans ...

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May 21, 2001

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