States in North Mexico, particularly the states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas (North-East) and Michoacán and bordering states (North-West), are so problematic that they are considered an Overlooked Hotbed of Persecution. North Mexico is one of the most violent regions in the world. Heavily affected by crime, the area is under the influence of extremely violent drug cartels such as the Zetas who install a reign of terror.
The population of North Mexico is relatively homogenous. The proportion of Christians in this area does not vary much from the national level: the vast majority of the population self-identifies as Christians (83.8 per cent Catholics and 7.6 per cent Protestants). Less than 60 per cent of all Christians, however, regularly attend church.
The persecution engine affecting believers in North Mexico is Organized corruption. Drivers of this engine are organized crime cartels or networks, sometimes with the complicity of corrupt government officials. Aggressive secularism and ecclesiastical arrogance are present throughout the whole territory of Mexico, also in North Mexico.
Elements of context
The whole country of Mexico has been plagued by consistent non-state violence and the rise of transnational networks and gangs related to organized crime and drug trafficking. This violence has become one of the main concerns for Mexican citizens and its government. The effects are clearly visible, distorting the overall functioning of society by creating a culture of fear and impunity and corruption. Especially in North Mexico, the existence of strong drugs cartels has generated chaos and extreme violence.
Squeeze and smash
Pressure (squeeze) is experienced by believers in the community sphere and by extremely high levels of violence. Extreme violence creates fear and pushes Christians and churches behind their front door. Indeed, violence (smash) is pervasive but affects actively practicing believers to a higher degree. Persecution of practicing believers is generally motivated by a combination of two elements. Organized crime views Christians who openly oppose their activities as a threat, especially when Christians get involved in social programs or in local politics. In addition, Christianity represents an alternative way, especially for young people, which make churches a direct competitor of criminal organizations. For example, one pastor in a village set up a very popular soccer team for boys under the age of twelve. You could become member if you had good grades in school. All these boys came from dysfunctional families which made them easy targets for criminal gangs wishing to recruit them. Some of these boys had already been recruited as ‘halcones’, watchers for criminal gangs to warn them of police presence. These boys also became part of the team and no longer wanted to work for the criminal gangs. This resulted in one of them, a 10-year-old boy being murdered. The pastor has to deal with threats on his life on a frequent basis.
The security situation in North Mexico will continue to be dire. National security forces have been incapable of adequately addressing the situation, in part because of the infiltration and cooptation of security and judiciary institutions. In spite of this bleak prospect, the growing commitment of Christians to pray and speak out against the violence could, however, lead to a positive transformation in the long term.