Aid Group: Drug Cartels Turning Parts of Latin America into Christian Persecution Hotspots

Two Christian-majority nations — Colombia and Mexico — appeared in the ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places to be a Christian in the world published by the Christian aid organization Open Doors this week.

The president and CEO of Open Doors USA, David Curry, told Breitbart News in an interview this week that drug cartels consider Christian leaders, particularly priests and bishops, “threats” to their lucrative trade, resulting in “very dramatic, violent” attacks against Christians in those countries.

The Open Doors World Watch List for 2021 ranked Colombia the 30th most dangerous country in the world for Christians. Mexico ranked number 37 on the list. The two countries outranked, in terms of their rate of persecution of Christians, countries like Mozambique, which is currently fighting an active Islamic State insurrection; Indonesia, which boasts a province, Aceh, governed fully by Islamic sharia; and Brunei, an Islamic monarchy run by an authoritarian sultan.

Colombia is about 93-percent Christian; Mexico is about 90-percent Christian.

Asked about the difference between Indonesia (ranked number 47 on the World Watch List) and Colombia, Curry told Breitbart News that Indonesia had experienced a reduction in violence against Christians, compared to the rise in drug-related violence against churches in Colombia.

“Indonesia does have the constitution that allows for religious freedom,” Curry noted. “You’re right that they’ve got extremists in the country, but Christians do have the right to meet in Indonesia and do some other things.

You have a drop in the number of violent incidents in Indonesia and conversely, what you see is that you have drug cartels which have been very violent and it seems to be spreading in the regions that they control.” The violence, Curry explained, “manifests by [attacks against] priests, bishops, Christian people who are speaking out to try to take some control over the communities in which they live.”

The victims, he said, “are just saying, ‘this isn’t right that you are taking the young people in our community and putting them into the drug trade. It’s not right that you’re doing all of this illegal activity.’ And the cartels are shooting, robbing, assaulting, just some very dramatic, violent incidents.”

“Church leaders are threatened, harassed, extorted and even murdered as a result of the violence perpetrated by guerrillas and other criminal groups, especially in the country’s more remote areas,” Open Doors explained in its description of the dire situation in Colombia.

“Christians are seen as impediments to the forced recruitment of people, especially youth, to rebel groups and to the drug trade and organized crime that pay for these groups.”

Colombia rose 11 spots on the World Watch List between 2019 and 2020. Mexico did not appear in the 2019 World Watch List rankings. Similar to Colombia, Open Doors noted. ” Christians [in Mexico] are perceived as a threat to criminal activities because they oppose corruption and drug use, or because they explicitly reject any demands or requests of criminal organizations.”

“Christians who are outspoken about the hope of Jesus in the face of drug trafficking and violence are often targeted by gangs to remove any obstacle in their quest for control,” the organization explained.

In Mexico, Open Doors also highlighted attacks by “people who believe Christians are bigoted, xenophobic or opposed to women’s rights,” largely represented by the ideological left.

“Churches have been attacked and graffitied by protestors, and reports on the ground suggest openness to Christian ethics in the public sphere is decreasing, even though Mexico is supposed to value pluralism,” the organization noted.

Speaking to Breitbart News, Curry noted that, while the overwhelmingly Christian populations in Colombia and Mexico mean that even some of those attacking church institutions or Christians who oppose drug cartels are Christians themselves, they create a hostile environment for those who nominally share their faith.

Groups like the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist terrorist organization in Colombia, openly boast Catholic members despite the inherently atheist nature of Marxism. High-profile Mexican drug traffickers like Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán have also made public displays of their alleged Christianity.

You have lots of, you might say, religious-identified people who might be in the drug cartel, and they’re attacking these priests because they are speaking out on a moral basis,” Curry told Breitbart News, “and they see priests and bishops and church structure as a threat to the drug cartel or to the drug trade. And so they are attacking them for that reason.”

Curry called it “an obvious red flag” that the Mexican and Colombian governments appear to have largely failed, for now, to suppress anti-Christian violence. “The first place these cartels are hitting is the churches and their leaders,” he noted.

Curry also urged the government of the United States to address religious freedom as part of international relations with all countries, to ensure that part of the basis of friendly relations are “some standards of human rights that are agreed upon.” Religious freedom, he noted, is “a filter by which we could look at how we address the problem. The reality is churches should be sacred places.”

The 2021 World Watch List found a significant spike in Christian persecution in 2021, in part triggered by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic resulted in governments limiting the movement of citizens which, in some cases, allowed hostile governments to monitor and repress Christians more efficiently. In other countries, limited access to health care resulted in discrimination against minority Christians suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

Open Doors noted this week that over 340 million of the world’s Christians faced “high levels of persecution” in 2020.