"Ramos also said that many in the highest circles of the hierarchy, the business community and the government believe that Ruiz and "his army of catechists" were responsible for the Jan. 1 uprising of the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, and that he [ Roman Catholic bishop Ruiz ]

is the real commander of the movement. "

From .............. National Catholic Reporter

May 20, 1994

page 7


By BILL and PATTY COLEMAN Special Report Writers

CUERNAVACA, Mexico - Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, the embattled leader of San Cristobal de las Casas diocese, jolted the country and set the speculation mills buzzing May 6 when he announced that he was immediately leaving for Rome.

Ruiz's recent actions - his support of a popular uprising in January and his criticism of the government - have placed him squarely in the center of several debates. This trip has set off yet one more round of debates.

Whether his visit was only to inform Roman authorities about the unstable Mexican situation or included questioning by authorities in Rome who earlier demanded his resignation is not clear.

There was also disagreement over whether Ruiz was invited to Rome or had invited himself. The announcement also caused another episode in the continuing and open contention between Ruiz and papal nuncio Archbishop Girolamo Prigione.

In a pastoral letter to his diocese, Ruiz stressed that he had been invited to come to Rome by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to discuss firsthand and face to face "the whole process of peace and reconciliation which God has placed on my shoulders."

Ruiz said he held Etchegaray in high regard since he had shown deep interest in all that was happening in Chiapas. The bishop also expressed his hope that he would see Pope John Paul II and ask for his blessing and prayers for peace and justice in Mexico.

Despite Ruiz's upbeat message, Alejandro Ramos Esquivel, a columnist for El Financero, speculated on Sunday, May 8, that "this meeting will be complicated and, according to Girolamo Prigione ...... Don Samuel will not only be censured for his departures from orthodoxy but he will be suspended from his episcopal functions."

Ramos also said that many in the highest circles of the hierarchy, the business community and the government believe that Ruiz and "his army of catechists" were responsible for the Jan. 1 uprising of the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, and that he is the real commander of the movement.

Prigione was quick to counter Ruiz's announcement. In a news conference in Colima where he was speaking to a diocesan meeting of priests and religious, Prigione said, "(Ruiz) has not been invited to Rome by anyone ........ He invited himself." Prigione also claimed that he had just talked with Etchegaray by telephone and that the cardinal said he was not a friend of Ruiz and would see him only as a courtesy. Sources close to Ruiz told NCR that the purpose of the trip was both to inform the Vatican of his role as the mediator between the Mexican government and the EZLN and to try to understand why Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, had asked for his resignation from the San Cristobal de las Casas diocese last October.

The sources also said Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Mexico City had planned to accompany Ruiz to Rome, but opposition to his presence with Ruiz in Rome was so strong that he withdrew his offer. These sources said they believed Prigione was behind the opposition to Corripio's accompaniment of Ruiz.

In Rome it was announced that Ruiz would meet with several high Vatican officials including Cardinals Etchegaray, Gantin and Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the Mexican ambassador to the Vatican, Enrique Olivares Santana. Two probable dates have also been fixed for a private audience with the pope, although the pope's health may make such a meeting impossible. In his announcement that he was leaving for Rome, Ruiz warned, "the path to reconciliation demands a national change of heart reflected in new laws that must do more than recognize legitimate authority and create more repression under the pretext of containing some emerging terrorism."

From the Chiapan jungle, Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of the EZLN, reflected some of Ruiz's concerns. "It is clear to us," Marcos insisted, "that the government is giving signals it intends to follow a hard line. If there is no democracy, there is going to be a civil war in this country, independent of the EZLN. The government appears to be taking this hard line with all the popular movement sectors of society thinking that this will solve its problems. We said in the dialogue that the government is making a mistake and the result is going to be a civil war in Mexico."

Ruiz leaves a country that is frightened of a new governmental get-tough policy and has lost confidence in the integrity of its leaders. This week the government's new policy appeared to be taking shape when 2,500 campesinos marched into the city of Puebla to demand a hearing with the governor about a water dispute. Before they could reach the town's center, the state police opened fire on them with more than 60 gas grenades, two of which fell into a nearby high school where students were preparing a Mother's Day program. More than 100 people, including 50 students, were hospitalized for gas inhalation; 77 more were injured and 19 arrested.

In Tijuana, public confidence was put to the test when federal police came to arrest Sergio Ortiz Lara, the assistant attorney general of Baja California, in stolen vehicles with outdated U.S. license plates. Ortiz was accused of protecting Mexico's most infamous drug lords, the Arellano Felix brothers. The police vehicles, both Cherokee Jeeps, were photographed by San Diego television during the arrest and when checked with California authorities were listed as stolen.

Ruiz's announcement came the day after he and Mexico's commissioner for peace and reconciliation in Chiapas, Manuel Comacho Solis, returned from the EZLN-controlled La Lacandona jungle. With the EZLN leadership they had planned the second phase of the peace dialogue. It will begin as soon as the EZLN concludes its consultations with all its members, probably in two or three weeks.