Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Tracy Wilkinson, Reporting from Mexico City
Bookmark:  Mexico Under Siege (Series)

Mexico Under Siege


In One Case, Archbishop Hector Gonzalez Calls Attention to a Drug
Trafficker in His Neighborhood and Accuses the Government of Ignoring
the Situation. The Prelate Later Apologizes for His Comments.

By Tracy Wilkinson, Reporting from Mexico City

In the tense state of Durango, Roman Catholic Archbishop Hector
Gonzalez announced over the weekend that the fugitive drug trafficker
who tops Mexico's most wanted list was living nearby.

And everyone knows it, he added. Except, it would seem, the
authorities, who fail to make an arrest.

A shocking revelation indeed. But in Durango, most local newspapers
and television stations declined to report the comments, and for some
reason national papers that contained the remarks did not appear on
many newsstands.

Was the prelate being censored? "We have no information on that," a
Durango government spokesman insisted.

Gonzalez undoubtedly embarrassed regional authorities in Durango, some
of whom have long been rumored to be lending support and protection to
the fugitive Joaquin Guzman, alias El Chapo, or Shorty. The
billionaire head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel has been on the lam
since escaping from a high-security Mexican prison in 2001.

Sinaloa and Durango are adjacent states, part of what is known here as
the Golden Triangle, a rugged patch where Guzman is believed to be
holed up.

As legislators demanded an investigation and associates expressed
concern for Gonzalez's safety, church officials said they were taking
steps to protect the senior cleric.

Father Manuel Corral, a spokesman for the Mexican Bishops Conference,
said Monday that priests in eight Mexican states have been threatened
with harm or death, presumably by drug traffickers. Although the
threats are anonymous, he said, most come via missives and third-party
go-betweens when priests have attempted to turn members of their
parishes away from the traffickers and use of drugs.

"It's always when the priests denounce violence, injustice and crime,
or when we try to get our people to leave the narco-menudeo," or drug
street sales, Corral said in an interview.

A small number of priests have had to be transferred from their
churches because of threats, but most traffickers remain discreet.

However, the potential danger hurts the church's work, he said. "The
fear is there."

The Catholic Church has a complex position in Mexico. It officially
supports the Mexican government's war on drug traffickers but laments
the spiraling violence. In some parts of the country, priests have
been willing to use money from traffickers to pay for church repairs
or other community projects. One senior priest was even quoted
praising drug lords' propensity to tithe.

Ismael Hernandez Deras, the governor of Durango, said in a communique
that if Gonzalez really has information on El Chapo's whereabouts, he
should report it to the attorney general's office.

He added: "By the same token, the attorney general's office should
guarantee the physical integrity of the archbishop."

With the pressure mounting, Gonzalez dropped out of sight, at least
temporarily, missing a "peace and justice" march that he had convoked.
Then on Monday he issued a written statement in which he apologized if
he had "scandalized" anyone with his assertions.

"They were based," he said, "on what people say, speaking to their
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