Christians in Mexico Face Violent Persecution and Harassment From Criminal Drug Cartels

In parts of Mexico, going to church is risky and dangerous.

Drug cartels are treading on the heels of churches in Mexico, extending their gripping power beyond the northern states where, for many years, they have been harassing entire communities ruthlessly.

A very common practice drug traffickers have implemented to control whole communities in the territories where they operate is a “tax” collection system used to charge churches and businesses for the right to exist.

“It is a very common practice of such criminal organizations to charge churches or businesses for the right to remain open or to be allowed to organize a public meeting—similar to a public license—to collect a percentage of the proceeds of a business just like an income tax or to charge for protection. These “taxes” are commonly known as derecho de piso (floor right) or venta de protección (protection rackets),” explains Dennis Petri, the Open Doors Manager in Mexico.

A couple of pastors who have been leading a church in the center of Cuernavaca for more than 15 years, and whose names are kept anonymous for safety reasons, mentioned in an interview with Open Doors that, “charging this ‘tax’ to pastors and churches is now a common occurrence,” they explained.

More often than not, the imposition of these unlawful charges by the drug cartels on churches and businesses goes unreported. This is the most common form of extortion in Mexico.

“This is a recurrent theme in most of the interviews I have conducted in recent years and by far the most significant threat on church life in Mexico,” says Dennis. “According to government officials, only 10% of the cases are formally brought to court. Most of the people I interviewed indicated that this is a massive phenomenon affecting virtually all churches, while many others appear too afraid to speak about it.”

Next to extortion, kidnapping for a ransom is another prevalent threat in Mexico. It is another income-generating activity carried out by criminal organizations, one which affects churches and businesses alike.

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