Survivors accuse Mexican state at Acteal massacre commemoration

Survivors and their supporters gathered in the mountain hamlet of Acteal in southern Mexico’s conflicted Chiapas state Dec. 22 to mark the tenth anniversary of the massacre of 45 unarmed Tzotzil Maya peasants by a paramilitary group linked to the ruling political machine. Las Abejas (The Bees), the Maya Catholic pacifist group targeted in the attack, said in a statement: “The massacre plan was designed by ex-president Ernesto Zedillo; by the ex-general Enrique Cervantes, ex-secretary of National Defense; [and] by Julio César Ruiz Ferro, ex-governor of Chiapas.” The statement charged that “the Mexican state” was responsible for the massacre through both “action and omission.”

The massacre victims consisted of 21 women (four of them pregnant), 15 minors and nine men. 87 Tzotzil linked to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have been arrested in the massacre, and 24 convicted (18 sentenced). Most of the rest remain in jail awaiting trial. At the time of the massacre, the PRI ruled Mexico, Chiapas and the local municipality, Chenalhó. Las Abejas and local human rights groups say the massacre’s “intellectual authors” remain at large. (La Jornada, Dec. 22)

The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, based in the local highland city of San Cristóbal, said in a statement that Mexico’s then-president Ernesto Zedillo had a “direct responsibility in the massacre.” The group’s attorney, Itzel Silva Monroy, protested on local W-Radio that no figures linked to the army or the state have been brought to justice for the “crime against humanity.”

“We are speaking of people like the ex-president of the republic, Ernesto Zedillo; the secretary of National Defense at the time, Enrique Cervantes; or the general Mario Renán Castillo, who was in charge of the Chiapas military region,” said the attorney. (El Universal, Dec. 22)

As survivors demand justice, a campaign of revisionism has been launched to portray the massacre as a “confrontation” between PRI supporters and rebels of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). A Dec. 22 blurb on Compass Direct News, which monitors global persecution of Christians:

On the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 45 civilians in Mexico’s Chiapas state, a new study on the December 22, 1997 killings in Acteal village points toward the innocence of 32 evangelicals and other peasants serving prison terms. The detailed study by historian Héctor Aguilar Camín, published in the last three monthly issues of Mexico’s Nexos magazine, concludes that “there are tens of innocent people in prison who had nothing directly to do with the fact” of the massacre in the hamlet north of San Cristóbal de las Casas. For the past decade, the debate about how 21 women (four pregnant), 18 children and six elderly men were killed has revolved around whether the tragedy was a “massacre” by numerous “paramilitary” villagers or resulted from a “confrontation” between a handful of neighboring peasants and Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels. In this month’s Nexos, Aguilar Camín argues that there was both a confrontation and a massacre. New evidence, he suggests, shows there was some overlap between the confrontation and the massacre, but that they were largely separate incidents. “Time has added testimony and evidence that requires adding pieces to the portrait,” Aguilar Camín writes.

As we noted in our last report on the Christian media’s coverage of the massacre, the responsible paramilitary group, known as Red Mask, was made up of Presbyterian converts. Las Abejas are sympathetic to the Zapatistas’ demands for indigenous autonomy and land reform, but reject their use of arms and are not a part of their organizational base. The Zapatistas themselves have maintained a ceasefire since the immediate aftermath of their January 1994 uprising, but continue to control many communities in the highlands and rainforest of Chiapas.

See our last posts on Mexico, Chiapas, and Acteal.

  1. Mexico’s ex-prez to face charges in Acteal massacre?
    Samuel Ruiz, Bishop Emeritus of the Chiapas Highlands, back in the state for the Acteal commemoration, called for “media pressure” for charges to be brought against ex-president Ernesto Zedillo in the 1997 massacre. (La Jornada, Dec. 22) His former Adjutant Bishop Raul Vera, also on the scene, called for formation of a “truth commission” for the massacre, and a campaign to have Zedillo removed from Yale University, where he currently serves as a professor of globalization. (UPI, Dec. 22)

  2. New arrest in Acteal case
    From Reuters, Dec. 23:

    Mexico has rearrested a man accused of ordering the killings of 45 Indians in the southern state of Chiapas, a massacre that shocked the country 10 years ago and which rights groups say remains unsolved.

    The Chiapas government said in a statement on Sunday that it had arrested Antonio Santiz, a paramilitary suspect who had previously been imprisoned. The arrest was made Saturday, hours after the state appointed a special prosecutor for the long-running investigation of the killings…

    The state justice minister, Amador Rodríguez, said Mr. Santiz was considered to be “the intellectual author of the massacre at Acteal.”

    Mr. Santiz was arrested for his suspected involvement in 2000, but a judge threw out the charges in 2001, ruling there was not enough evidence…