This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 20 January 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
This translation is dedicated to the memories of Mexican photojournalists Guillermo Luna Varela, Gabriel Hugé Córdova, and former photojournalist Estebán Rodríguez Rodríguez, and media worker Ana Irasema Becerra Jiménez who were brutally murdered together in Boca del Rio-Veracruz on World Press Freedom Day 3 May 2012. The State of Veracruz is possibly the most dangerous place in the Americas to practice journalism.
Hypocrisy in Juárez: PAN Councilmember Doubles as Evangelical Minister
by Gabriela Minjáres (DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)
Translator’s Note: For reasons of history and politics stretching back to the nineteenth century civil wars between liberals and conservatives, and beyond the violence of its twentieth century revolution, Mexico has sought to maintain a strict division between Church and State. Mexico’s federal constitution prohibits religious leaders from holding political office (Article 130, subsections D and E). And yet, as Gabriela Minjáres’ article demonstrates, a burgeoning alliance exists between the country’s politicians and its religious institutions — historically this alliance has been with the Catholic Church, but in some places, such as Juárez, it now involves powerful evangelical Christian movements. PT
Although he is registered with the Federal Interior Ministry (SEGOB) as a religious minister, pastor José Luis Aguilar Cuellar is currently one of the PAN’s leaders in Juárez’s city council. The holding of public or political offices by religious leaders is prohibited under Mexico’s Constitution, under the principle of Church-State separation.
Information from the Interior Ministry’s Director General of Religious Groups shows that Aguilar Cuéllar is registered as a religious minister and representative, or as the legal representative of a group called Rescue Mission de Mexico, located in Ciudad Juárez and registered under code SGAR/2285/97.
Those facts appear in the directory of religious ministers and religious groups, and may be found via the Internet at: www.asociacionesreligiosas.gob.mx.
When questioned about these facts, the councilmember asserts that he has neither asked for nor signed any documentation to confirm his status as a religious minister, although he concedes that he comes from a religious background and maintains a religious affiliation. That is why he helped form Rescue Missions, which is also established as a civil society organization.
“Yes, I helped establish this religious group. But I have not signed an application establishing that I am a religious minister. That’s the appropriate question, and that’s the appropriate answer,” he declares.
The councilman argues that if he had been registered as a religious minister he could not have run as a PAN candidate for city council on the ticket headed by María Antonieta Pérez Reyes during last year’s local elections. And the State Electoral Institute (IEE) could not have confirmed him during and after the elections, when he was confirmed as councilmember via proportional representation.
However, the PAN and the IEE assert that the councilman did not report his religious occupation and was unaware that he was officially registered by the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) as a religious minister.
The city’s Mayor, Enrique Serrano Escobar, also says that he was unaware of this matter and even showed his annoyance and surprise. He commented that he had not received any information about this case, nor had he analyzed it.
“This is an odd case. I haven’t thought about it. But it’s something that I did not do. Nor did I propose his candidacy. I did not choose him, but there he is,” he says.
After the Mayor personally checks the information on his own computer, he does not govern alone and that he does not have the power to place the council member on leave. Instead, the councilman and the party that backed him must resolve this situation according to the law.
Article 130 of Mexico’s Constitution establishes that unless a religious minister resigns from their position, they cannot hold public office or hold elected positions.
Article 14 of the Religious Groups and Public Worship Law indicates that while Mexican citizens who are religious ministers do have the right to vote, they cannot stand in elections for public office, nor can they undertake higher public duties, “unless they have formally, materially, and definitively resigned their ministry five years before election.” For higher public duties the time limit is three years, and for other public functions six months is sufficient.
However, up until now José Luis Aguilar Cuéllar has not distanced himself from his ministry, a role that has been fully documented by witnesses and using newspaper archives.
The pastor currently presides over the Rey de Gloria evangelical church, located in the Granjas San Rafael neighborhood, at kilometer 33 on the Casas Grandes highway. At his church he has developed a large social project focused on helping children and families.
Councilman Aguilar Cuéllar in fact participated in last Sunday morning’s religious service at the Rey de Gloria evangelical church. He took to the pulpit and directed the assistants. El Diario documented these activities.
In this marginalized neighborhood, residents identify the pastor with his good works over several years. His wife, Alma Guerrero, leads religious services on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as holding conferences and Bible study.
The pastor is also identified as the director of this neighborhood’s social center. For the past 14 years he has directed the Centro Familiar Ayuda civil society organization, a shelter for youth and also participates in a children’s center based at the some location.
Newspaper archives show that from 2000 to 2011 Aguilar Cuéllar identified himself as a minister. As President of the Evangelical Pastoral Alliance in Ciudad Juárez, he signed an open letter on 9 June 2009 addressed to then Governor José Reyes Baeza Terrazas.
Even with a lengthy social and religious trajectory, José Luis Aguilar asserts that he finds strange – and disavows – his formal inscription as a religious minister in the Interior Ministry’s registry. He queries his registration because apparently it is not up to date and he has never been provided with evidence of his registration, such that it is.
“I won’t say how it was. I participated in a civil association with its own constitution and in that religious association the minister is Lupita Varela de Páez, followed by José Ramón. I buried José Ramón about eight years ago because he died. So I think it could be that the Interior Ministry’s registry is not up to date. But I am not also going to say that the Interior Ministry is not doing a good job -although Talamás Camandari also appears on the list and he was the late Catholic bishop,” Aguilar Cuéllar explains.
José Luis Aguilar appears with six other people appear in the Interior Ministry’s registry for Rescue Missions de Mexico: these include Guadalupe Varela de Páez and José Ramón Macías Majalca.
But in a keyword search of the religious groups’ directory, José Luis also appears in the same grouping as a representative or legal agent alongside Aurelio Páez Varela and Guadalupe Varela Uribe.
And, as the councilman indicated for the case of Monsignor Manuel Talamás Camandari, his name still appears in the list of religious ministers under the diocese of Ciudad Juárez. Camandari died in May 2005.
The deputy director of Attention to Religious Groups for the Interior Ministry, Arturo Aguilar Aguilar reported by telephone that the registry “takes time to update.” In José Luis’s specific case he said that they would undertake a special review since the minister asserts that he has never registered himself.
Article 12 of the Religious Groups and Public Worship Law stipulates that religious ministers are “all those people over the age of majority whose religious group confers such status,” and that they should notify the Interior Ministry.
If religious associations, such as churches or religious groups fail to notify, “then it will be understood that religious ministers are those whose principal occupation is directing, representing, and organizing the group.”
The regulations associated with this law mention that to recognize a person as a religious minister requires specification of their nationality and age, as well as attaching an official copy of a document specifying their position within the group.
It adds that only the interested party can certify the ministers of the religious institution.
According to Jesús Antonio Camarillo, doctor in Law and political analyst, the Interior Ministry’s registry clearly demonstrates a conflict of interest and that José Luis Aguilar should not discharge his functions as an elected member of the council.
“The law is very clear: if there is convincing evidence that he is a religious ministers in his own association, he cannot hold elected office,” Camarillo says.
Since his registration as a PAN candidate for city council in March 2013, José Luis Aguilar Cuéllar was questioned about his role as a religious minister. Since then he has asserted that his wife was the minister and he was only a social worker, a fact that does not legally prevent him competing for public office.
María Antonieta Pérez Reyes, a contender for mayor of Ciudad Juárez during last year’s election, said the same thing: she asserts that nothing impeded Aguilar from being on her ticket. He was not registered as a religious minister and he was chosen fro his community work.
Hiram Contreras Herrera, the PAN’s local leader, conceded that they did not check if he was or was not registered as a religious minister because it is not a procedure regularly undertaken in the selection of candidates. In José Luis’s case, they favored him for his lengthy trajectory of social work.
“José Luis is a man well known for his social work, so we never focused on that. We did not know that he was a practitioner, actively working as a pastor,” he comments. So after winning the party’s primary, José Luis registered with the electoral authorities but he also overlooked his religious affiliation.
The State Electoral Institute’s spokesperson, Enrique Rodríguez Vázquez also mentions that they did not check the background or religious occupation of any of the candidates, including Aguilar Cuéllar.
“We only check their age, that their voter registration is current, and their place of residence. The rest remains to be investigated by petition, not as a matter of course. In this example, nobody challenged his candidacy,” he adds.
However, he mentions if there is evidence of this situation, the councilman must withdraw from his post and a stand in must take over which, in this case, is Daniel Ajuech Chihuahua.
The councilman dismisses whether he will request leave from his post. But he asserts that he will ask his legal counsel to investigate his situation with the Interior Ministry to confirm his legal status. He repeats that he has never requested registrations as a religious minister.
— When he is asked: Are you, or are you not, a religious minister?
— I am not registered as a religious minister because I have never personally requested that I should be identified as such.
— In practice, have you ever been a religious minister?
— Sometimes I give classes. Like every religious person who wants to practice their religion, I give conferences and talks. If that constitutes an illegal act then the Constitution has to define if I am a religious minister. But legally, registered legally then I should have made a personal application, and I have never done that.”
Journalist Gabriela Minjáres is a staff reporter for El Diario de Juárez. This article first appeared under the title, “Regidor panista aquí es ministro de culto,” available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-01-20_634668a3/regidor-panista-aqui-es-ministro-de-culto/.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.