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France Rolls Out Red Carpet For "Cause Celebre" Freed From Mexican Jail



Florence Cassez, a French woman sentenced to 60 years in jail in Mexico for kidnapping, is on her way back to France.

Cassez, 38, is expected to land in Thursday afternoon in Paris, where she will be welcomed by France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, French daily Libération reports, a day after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that her rights had been violated during her arrest in 2005.

Cassez fue captada portando un chaleco antibalas antes de abordar la camioneta que la traslada hacia el AICM twitter.com/REFORMACOM/sta…

— REFORMACOM (@REFORMACOM) January 24, 2013

Tweet from the Mexican press: "Cassez wearing a bullet-proof jacket before she got in the van that took her to Mexico City International Airport"

In 2005, Cassez was arrested at a ranch near Mexico City with her former Mexican boyfriend Israel Vallarta, who was accused of leading a kidnapping gang called Los Zodiacos (the Zodiacs).

Cassez was then portrayed as a kidnapper by the Mexican police – something she has always denied -- and was involved in re-staging the event for a so-called "live" national broadcasting of the arrest, Le Nouvel Observateur recalls. The Mexican authorities subsequently admitted wrongdoing.

In 2008, a judge convicted Cassez to 96 years in prison in a closed-door trial with no jury, a sentenced which was then reduced to 60 years, before the Mexican Supreme Court ordered her "absolute and immediate freedom" on Wednesday, L’Express reports.

The case created diplomatic tensions between France and Mexico, reaching a peak two years ago when Mexican authorities cancelled a high-profile cultural event in Paris.

Florence Cassez became a cause célèbre in France, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his successor François Hollande both speaking out for Cassez’ liberation after seven years in jail.

The news has sparked contrasted reactions, ranging from joy – Cassez’ family, French politicians -- to outrage – families of Mexican victims of the Zodiacs gang; Cassez was freed, but not declared innocent or guilty.

WATCH the first images of Florence Cassez after she was freed from Mexico City's Tepepan prison:

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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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