<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español August 15, 2018 | Issue #48

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Las Abejas Civil Organization: 10 years After the Killings in Acteal, “We’re Still Hungry for Justice, Thirsty for Peace”

The Masterminds Behind the Massacre of a Pro-Zapatista Chiapas Community Are Still Free

By Raúl Romero
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

January 15, 2008

Acteal, Chiapas, México, December 22, 2007 – 10 years ago, on the December 22, 1997, the population of Acteal – in Chenalhó, Chiapas – was praying for peace in a local church after days of serious harassment in their communities by paramilitary groups in the area. The Indigenous Tzotziles who took part in the Las Abejas (“The Bees”) organizations’ prayers, despite having certain sympathies with the Zapatista movement, declared themselves “pacifist and neutral,” which did not prevent the community from fostering a strong organization from the church defending indigenous rights.

Acteal Ceremony, December 22, 2007
Photos D.R. 2007 Raúl Romero
The same day, at 11am, a group numbering more than 120 people, identified as members of the Red Mask paramilitary group, burst in and started to shoot at everybody regardless of sex or age. Those who managed to escape were chased and riddled with bullets. Women were raped. Most victims were tortured and even children were shown no mercy.

The result was 15 children – among them Guadalupe Gómez, 11 years old – 21 women and 9 men killed, a total of 45 people. The barbarism was of such magnitude, inquiry number AL7CISJI/657/947 penal code 361/99 reveals that autopsies of 4 women found to be pregnant had all had their bellies opened by machetes. Survivors tell of the paramilitaries extracting the fetus’ and playing with them. The message was clear, say inhabitants of the community, “to put an end to the seed of rebellion and threaten all communities with strong organization and relation to the Zapatistas.”

The massacre began at 11am and ended at 5pm. That is to say, it lasted more than 7 hours with no police or military intervention, despite Acteal being only an hour and a half from the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. This fact has led human rights organizations and families of the victims to affirm that the government was involved in the crime, “whether by action, omission, or inaction.” A fact that most reinforces this hypothesis is that an ex-solider was among the nine captured perpetrators.

Today marks 10 years since the events occurred. On the location where the paramilitaries piled the bodies of their victims now stands the Pillar of Shame, a sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot which helps, say the inhabitants, “to not forget, to remind us of our dead, to continue seeking justice.”

And of the 124 people involved in the massacre – all reported by survivors and inhabitants of Acteal – there are more than 40 still free, and of those caught, at the time of writing only 24 have been sent to prison. As for the rest, the future is still uncertain. However, the worst thing, say members of Las Abejas, is that the intellectual authors of the massacre still remain free and enjoy State protection. Before this report, a group of North Americans proposed writing to Yale University demanding the dismissal of Ernesto Zedillo, who was president of Mexico when the massacre happened and who is presently a professor of the institution.

Since December 20 a National Conference Against Impunity was called by Las Abejas Civil Society Organization, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center and the International Christian Service of Solidarity with Latin American People – Mexico (SICSAL-México). More than 600 people attended the event, among them representatives of 65 organizations from 12 different countries. The conference has served to ratify what is well known there, that there is “no forgetting,” that “ memory is opposed to weapons and injustice.” The community says: “we’re still hungry for justice, thirsty for peace.”

Among the special guests, who are called “community members” as well, are Bishop Emeritus Samuel Ruiz and Bishop of Saltillo Raúl Vera, both “committed to the people;s cause” and identified as close to liberation theology, a movement of great importance during the last three decades of the 20th century and which had strong links – including active participants – with the national liberation movements that appeared across América. In fact, Bishop Raúl Vera has been recently threatened with removal as Saltillo’s bishop by Vatican authorities for his affinity with the widows of dead workers in Pasta de Conchos. Raúl Vera and Samuel Ruiz read the summary of a report entitled Acteal, Remembering In Order to Not Forget, by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba, in its Spanish abbreviation), which Las Abejas have chosen as their legal representative in the case.

At the same time the national press reports that offices of the Human Rights Center in the Diocese of Saltillo, where Raúl Vera presides, have been attacked by two masked men, and Mariana Villareal Contreras, who was there, has been kidnapped. They also report that the attackers left with important documents related to cases the Center was investigating. The response was quick as the members of Frayba started editing a document condemning these acts and calling on the relevant authorities for prompt clarification.

Felipe Arizmendi, Samuel Ruiz, Enrique Díaz and Raúl Vera Lòpez (from left to right)
On the other hand, conference delegates also added that recently the Mexican State had wanted the massacre “to be seen as a consequence of inter-religious conflict between Catholics and evangelicals,” and with this “false” reading of things it wanted “to make the guilty look like victims.” It was also said that the support of academic institutions like the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies (ITESM) for paramilitary prisoners is proof that “the state was always behind this.”

Another conference resolution is to seek out every existing legal ground for the application of justice – although participants say they “have little confidence” in the Mexican justice system and declared they will keep looking for other ways. Furthermore, they indicated that they will be closely watching whatever resolution the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, which is already looking into the case, dictates.

Conference delegates also resolved to demand that the Mexican authorities make the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights into law, along with the demilitarization and disarming of paramilitary groups and the cessation of hostilities toward Bishop Raúl Vera.

Originally published in Spanish on December 27.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America