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Mexico: Indigenous Rights Advocate, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, Dies

Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia died in Mexico City on January 24th; he was known for his work among the poor and the indigenous Mayan people in Mexico. InfoChiapas [es] reported:

La mañana de este lunes falleció en un hospital de la capital del país, el obispo emérito de San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Samuel Ruiz García, a causa de complicaciones provocadas por la hipertensión y diabetes que sufría desde hace 10 años.

On Monday morning he died at a hospital in the capital, the retired bishop from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, because of complications caused by hypertension and diabetes that he had been suffering for 10 years.

On January 24 a ceremony was for Bishop Samuel Ruiz in Mexico City. His body would later be taken to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Image by Jesús Villaseca P. used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

Mexican bloggers quickly reacted to the news of his passing. Blogs from other countries also mentioned how important Samuel Ruiz was to his country; this is what Opinionated Catholic posted:

A very important and indeed controversial Mexican Bishop has passed on. That is Bishop Samuel Ruiz who was Bishop of the “Mayans”.

Samuel Ruiz worked mostly in southern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, where the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (in Spanish, “Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional” or EZLN) delcared “a war against the Mexican state” in 1994. The movement has a lot of support from the indigenous people in the state, since their struggle resonates with the history of the marginalization of indigenous peoples. Samuel Ruiz García defended and actively supported the rights of indigenous peoples in Chiapas; Ángeles Mariscal explains the bishop's role in this conflict [es] in the blog Animal Político:

En 1988 fundó el Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas”, instancia que hasta la fecha es uno de los organismo humanitarios más importantes de Chiapas, a través del cual los diversos sectores sociales denuncian las violaciones a sus derechos humanos.

Cuando estalla el movimiento armado de 1994, los gobiernos federal y estatal desplegaron una campaña contra el obispo Samuel Ruiz y su Diócesis, acusándolos de ser los causantes del conflicto y de resguardar armamento en las instalaciones de la catedral.

Sin embargo, ese 1 de enero de 1994, en un pronunciamiento público para fijar su postura respecto al alzamiento, los tres obispos de Chiapas, entre ellos Samuel Ruiz, cuestionan el uso de la violencia, pero refieren las palabras de Juan Pablo II, cuando señaló que la pobreza “es amenaza constante para la estabilidad social, el desarrollo de los pueblos y la paz”.

In 1988 he founded the Center for Human Rights “Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas,” one of the most important humanitarian organizations in Chiapas today, through which various social sectors denounce violations of human rights.

At the outbreak of the armed movement of 1994, federal and state governments waged a campaign against Bishop Samuel Ruiz and his Diocese, accusing them of being the cause of the conflict and of safeguarding weapons in the premises of the cathedral.

However, on that January 1, 1994, in a public statement to determine a position on the uprising, the three bishops of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz included, questioned the use of violence, and mentioned the words of John Paul II, when he noted that poverty is a “constant threat to social stability, the development of indigenous peoples and peace. “

Mariscal continues her post explaining [es] that Samuel Ruiz was frequently confronted by the conservative population of Chiapas, landowners, farmers and authorities from the Mexican government.

El 3 de noviembre 1999, al cumplir 75 años de edad, de acuerdo a los cánones de la iglesia católica, Samuel Ruiz firma su renuncia como obispo de la Diócesis de San Cristóbal.

On November 3, 1999, at the age of 75, in accordance to the canons of the Catholic Church, Samuel Ruiz signed his resignation as bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal.

Mariscal explains [es] that After leaving Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz moved to other parts of the country as he continued his labor with the Catholic Church, but he always returned to Chiapas from time to time:

Samuel Ruiz continuó llegando esporádicamente a Chiapas, invitado en algunas celebraciones, como sus 50 años de ordenación episcopal (enero 2010), o para presidir las reuniones del consejo del Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas.

En todo momento reivindicó la causa indígena y la aportación que tuvo el alzamiento armado de 1994. En una de sus últimas entrevistas dijo: “A pesar de no haberse resuelto el conflicto en sus causas, el esfuerzo por construir la paz con justicia y dignidad, en el que los actores han sido múltiples y diversos, es un patrimonio común de toda la nación y ha aportado nuevos avances y logros y nueva conciencia”.

Samuel Ruiz continued sporadically coming to Chiapas, he was invited to several celebrations, like his 50-year episcopal ordination (January 2010), or to preside over meetings of the board of the Human Rights Center Fray Bartolome de las Casas.

At all times he vindicated the indigenous cause and the contribution of the armed uprising of 1994. In one of his last interviews he said: “Although the conflict has not been solved in terms of their causes, the effort to build peace with justice and dignity, in which the actors have been many and varied, is a common heritage of the whole nation and has brought new developments and achievements and a new awareness.”

After knowing about the death of Samuel Ruiz, the indigenous people's organization Las Abejas (The Bees) published a letter saying goodbye to the bishop in the blog Las Abejas de Acteal [es]:

Nuestro Formador, te han llamado a descansar, porque ya hiciste lo que tenías qué hacer. Jtotik Samuel, aquí quedamos todavía tus hijos, tus hijas. Nosotros seguiremos caminando, nosotras vamos a seguir luchando por nuestros derechos, por la paz y la justicia. Claro, si no nos hubieras enseñado, si no hubieras vivido con nosotros y nosotras, no sabríamos defendernos. Si no hubieras venido aquí a Chiapas, seguiríamos viviendo como esclavos, ciegos y subordinados por el mal gobierno.

Gracias Jtotik Samuel, que nuestro Papá-Mamá Dios te regaló 86 años de vida. Dios te dio un alma y corazón grande. Nunca te dio miedo luchar contra los poderosos. Nunca le tuviste miedo a las armas. Los obstáculos que te pusieron los poderosos, pudiste todo superar.

Te vas al lugar donde Dios Papá-Mamá te llamó; pero tu espíritu, todo el trabajo que nos enseñaste y compartiste aquí se quedan en nuestras comunidades y en nuestro pensamiento y corazón.

Our Creator, our Maker, called you to rest, because you already did what you had to do. Jtotik Samuel, we are still your children. We will keep going, we're going to keep fighting for our rights, for peace and justice. Of course, if you had not taught us, if you had not lived with us, we would not know how to defend ourselves. If you had not come here to Chiapas, we would be living as slaves, blind and subordinated by the bad government.

Thank you Jtotik Samuel, our Father-Mother God gave you 86 years of life. God gave you a big heart and soul. You were never scared to fight against the powerful. You were never afraid of weapons. The obstacles the powerful put in front of you, you beat them all.

You are going to the place where Dad-Mom God called you, but your spirit, all the work that you taught us and shared is staying here in our communities and in our thoughts and heart.

In Vivir México [es], Pepe Flores concludes his post on the passing of Bishop Samuel Ruiz declaring:

A pesar de pronunciarse en contra de medidas como el matrimonio homosexual, sobrevive su legado como defensor de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas de México y de América Latina. Samuel Ruiz es, sin duda, un personaje crucial para entender dos décadas de tensas relaciones entre los gobiernos federales y las comunidades indígenas del sur del país.

Despite his opposition to measures like gay marriage, his legacy as an advocate for the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Latin America survives. Samuel Ruiz is, without a doubt, a crucial character to understand two decades of tense relations between the federal government and the indigenous communities in the south.

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