MEXICO LOOKS TOWARD REFORM OF CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS

Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari marked the halfway point of his six-year term by announcing reforms to two historically sensitive areas: agriculture and church-state relations.In the annual state-of-the-nation address Friday, Mr. Salinas took the radical step of proposing a "new legal position" for the churches. Without being specific about the reforms, Salinas stressed the continued separation of church and state and continuance of a secular education system. The move is being interpreted as an effort to mend a decades-old rift. Since the mid-19th century, the state has sought to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church (90 percent of Mexico's population are baptized Catholics). Church lands were confiscated and property ownership forbidden. Churches have had no legal status. Clergy cannot vote nor, technically, comment on government policy. "It's not a question of returning to positions of privilege but rather of reconciling the definitive secularization of our society with effective freedom of religion," Salinas said. Salinas also plans sweeping changes to the agrarian system of communal land ownership, which had its roots in the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and is embedded in the Constitution. "In the past, land distribution was a path of justice; today it is unproductive and impoverishing.... The time has come to change our strategy." Without calling it privatization, Salinas indicated a desire to "build up capital assets" in farming areas to boost production. Debate over agriculture reform has been simmering for months, and there are indications the Salinas administration will allow more foreign investment and may let farmers lease land.

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