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Serving two (?) masters

6 May 2010

Mexico, as I’ve pointed out before, was the first country to explicitly outlaw slavery (1824).   And,  the first country to codify a complete labor code including the  things workers everywhere take for granted:  paid weekly day of rest and holidays, a minimum wage, mandatory rest breaks for shift work, and periodic timely payment for work in money rather than goods or services (1917).  Abuses still occur, and sometimes the abused — by custom (as with women sold into bondage under the fiction of indigenous “usos y costumbres”, or campesinos who rebelled when in the 1920s when their company stores were closed) or ignorance do not always receive the justice they deserve.  Often, the abused do not see themselves as abused — the spirit of the law may be willing, but the victim is weak.

Two recent cases making the news involve probable labor and slavery violations, but, both cases turning on religious conviction, are proving difficult to prosecute.

Casitas del Sur, a chain of youth homes run by the Iglesia Cristiana Restaurada since 2000, ran group homes and shelters for abandoned and neglected children throughout the Republic, often contracting with local governments to provide services.  There were suspicions for years that the Casitas were selling children or renting them out, and that “adoptions” from the center were not always above-board.  However, it was not until January 2009 that Based on complaints from the relations of eight children who were transfered from temporary shelters in the Federal District and subsequently disappeared that prosecutors were able to move against the shelter’s directors and personnel.  The case has been complicated not just by parents who had voluntarily given up their rights to their children, but by the age of the children, and the religious nature of organization controlling Casita del Sur .  How to prove that the children were not taking part in religious practices, especially when so many of them denied any abuse or involuntary servitude?  Federal District prosecutors have had to turn to things like prosecuting doctors for falsifying medical records, and financial irregularities, so far successfully , in building a case against human trafficking.  Or, rather, trafficking in minors, which carries even heavier penalties.

Federal Prosecutors have expressed their willingness to proceed against another religious organization, which also appears to have kept minors (and adult women) in servitude, one that may prove even harder to develop.  Missed in the on-going revelations about the personal sins of the late (and unlamented) Marcial Maciel has been the story of the “Consagradas” of the Legionaries of Christ’s secular arm, Regnum Christi.  The consagradas were — or are — although not called such, basically an order of nuns, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience ( includes a recruiting video).   In light of the personality cult that surrounded Maciel, and the revelations of his double-life (which may have been shared by other leaders of the order), the initial Vatican recommendations calling for what’s basically a spiritual form of Chapter 11 bankruptcy (putting the order into receivership and restructuring) stress that the Consagradas owe their allegiance to God, not to the Legionaires.

There are about 900 consagrados world-wide, a third of them in Mexico. The Mexican Consagradas are known to have made a sizable cash “gift” to Maciel –– whether it was extorted, or whether the money was raised by work done for no pay by the Consagradas, is a matter for the prosecutor.  And therein lies the problem.  In Mexico, with its strict labor laws and anti-clerical traditions, even nuns are paid for their labor (and they are, but what they do with their salary is their own business) and proving the consagradas weren’t — or, as is also alleged, that several of the women were minors when they entered the order (making it involuntary servitude) or were forced to perform work under threats of damnation.  PAN Deputy  Guillermo Tamborrel, who chairs the  Committee on Vunerable Groups, said that mental abuse of persons can be construed as means of involuntary servitude. And — it should be pointed out — PAN is the pro-clerical, conservative party.

Prosecutors are willing to go ahead.  But, they need a consagrada, as the victim, to actually make a complaint.  Or, barring that, if any of the women are minors, their parents.  Which, given the “voluntary” religious vows, will be much more difficult to find than in the Casitas del Sur case.

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