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by Diego Cevallos

Poorly-Paid Mexican Police Tempted by Drug Mafia $$

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- A senior Catholic bishop's acknowledgement that drug traffickers contribute money and buildings to their communities, and occasionally seek out priests to redeem themselves, was merely a restatement of old news. The novelty here was the angry reactions from within the Church, experts say.

"Internal power struggles have been brought to light as a result of this incident, above all because of the intervention of the hard-line faction in the Catholic Church and of other religious denominations," Bernardo Barranco, a sociologist of religion, told IPS.

The president of the Mexican Bishop's Conference (CEM), Carlos Aguiar, said last Friday that drug traffickers spend part of their money on different projects and even church buildings for communities in his see, as well as seeking spiritual guidance from priests. However, he made it clear that the Church condemns drug trafficking and refuses alms from the cartels.

"Aguiar, who belongs to the sector most open to dialogue within the Mexican Church, never condoned drug traffickers, but his words were used against him to imply that he supports the mafias," said Barranco, a columnist for several print media and host of a radio program on religious issues.

Spokesmen for the archdiocese of Mexico, headed by Archbishop Norberto Rivera, who belongs to the most conservative wing of the Church, and has been accused in U.S. courts of protecting a pedophile priest, spoke out against the drug cartels, declaring that "dirty" money cannot be laundered through supposedly charitable works.

At no time did they mention Aguiar or defend his point of view.

"Rivera can't forgive the bishops for not appointing him president of the CEM, so he is attacking Aguiar (elected in 2006 for a three-year period) indirectly, by letting it be understood that Aguiar defended drug traffickers," Barranco said.

But other observers say that Aguiar, named secretary general of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) in 2000, and vice president in 2003, made a mistake, and do not connect the reaction to what he said with the power struggles within the Church.

Miguel Angel Granados, a columnist for the leftwing weekly Proceso and the newspaper Reforma, said that Aguiar had "given the traffickers of death a halo of respectability" by saying that they support good works in his communities.

Protestant churches also took up the issue. Arturo Farela, president of the National Fraternity of Evangelical Christian Churches, asked the Attorney General's Office on Monday to investigate the Catholic Church for suspected links with drug traffickers.

Meanwhile, Jose Sanchez, secretary of the non-governmental Observatorio Eclesial (Church Observatory), said that the CEM president's remarks were unfortunate, and "were not rectified by the Church hierarchy."

Aguiar, who represents all Mexican bishops, said that in poor rural areas, "where not even the government has funds to spend, drug traffickers carry out projects that mean a great deal to the community." But, he added, "I am not justifying them, I'm simply saying how things are."

The bishop also said that he was in favor of a law to protect and support drug traffickers who decided to give up their illicit activities.

Aguiar is considered a moderate bishop. He belongs neither to Archbishop Rivera's conservative sector of the Church, nor to the group of progressive bishops.

According to Barranco, "there is nothing new in what Aguiar said; other prelates have spoken about this in the past, and have even justified accepting contributions from drug traffickers."

"I think the president of CEM has been unfairly treated. His statements have been exaggerated, and a sector opposed to him took advantage of the moment," he said.

In September 2003, Cardinal Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara, Mexico's second most populous city, was investigated by the Attorney General's Office on suspicion of money laundering. However, by the end of that year, prosecutors abandoned the case on the grounds of lack of evidence.

In 2005, the bishop of the city of Aguascalientes, Ramon Godinez, said that "some donations received by the Church may come from drug trafficking," but that "when the money is used for good works, it is purified."

Elio Masferrer, an expert on religion at Mexico's National School of Anthropology and History, said that drug traffickers have such power in Mexico that "it would be very difficult to maintain that no one in the Church has any links with them, but to talk about an institutional relationship is, I think, an exaggeration."

During the government of Carlos Salinas (1988-1994), the then Vatican representative Girolamo Prigione acknowledged that he had met with drug traffickers, and even carried a message from them to the authorities.

The powerful drug cartels that operate in Mexico are considered to be responsible for trafficking most of the drugs that enter the United States, which has the biggest market for drugs in the world.

Many top drug traffickers are from rural areas, where people are extremely devoted to Catholicism. Different accounts indicate that traffickers can murder people in the morning and go to church in the afternoon.

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Albion Monitor   April 8, 2008   (

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