Twenty of the paramilitaries who were among the material authors of the Acteal Massacre in 1997 were released from prison on 12th August, and the cases of 37 more are under review. A week later, documents were declassified which prove that the Mexican government and its army authorized the paramilitary activity in Chiapas which led to the massacre. The Acteal massacre was, therefore, un Crimen de Estado (a state crime) perpetrated by the government of President Ernesto Zedillo. The message sent, that of impunity for atrocity, has encouraged the growing presence of armed paramilitary groups already active in the area. The men are members of the Army of God, an evangelical group. Violence is increasing and tension is high.
Twenty Acteal assassins released
“If they free the paramilitaries, they’ll come back to kill us”.
In Acteal, the oldest of the old say that those who die with their eyes open will always come back to point out their assassins….
Las Abejas, the Bees, are a grassroots Catholic pacifist organization of honey-gatherers and coffee growers, who support the Zapatistas’ aims and demands, but as a non-violent group, would not take up arms. They fled their homes in 1997 after repeated attacks from groups of armed evangelical supporters of the PRI, and took refuge at the Zapatista community of Acteal. On 22nd December 1997, they were gathered at the Catholic church praying for peace, when they were attacked by a group of armed men. The shooting continued all day, as the attackers scoured the hillside to ensure no one had escaped, while forty police officers in the nearby schoolhouse did nothing. Fifteen children, twenty-one women and nine men were slain that day, and four unborn babies ripped from their mothers’ wombs: “we must destroy the seed”. Both the killers and the killed were indigenous Tzotziles.. No senior official of a municipal, state or federal authority, or member of the army has ever been held to account, and the intellectual authors of the massacre continue to evade justice. Fifty-seven Tzotziles were eventually imprisoned, members of the local community, well-known to the victims and survivors. On 13 August, twenty of these material authors of the massacre were released on the grounds, not of innocence, but of procedural errors in their prosecutions. A judicial decision on the appeals of over thirty other prisoners is expected imminently. The Frayba Centre calls this release ‘a crime against humanity’. There are now very real fears that the freed killers will take revenge against the survivors. In effect it gives impunity to paramilitary groups. A complete mockery has been made of the whole Mexican justice system.
Fear and tension
Tension is now extremely high in the highlands area. Army and police patrols have increased. The president of Las Abejas has reported that the paramilitary groups are reorganizing and that EZLN insurgents are deploying throughout the mountains.
Comments from Amnesty International
“This is yet another example of the serious deficiencies of the Mexican justice system, which seems to be incapable of investigating, prosecuting and punishing through a fair trial those responsible for human rights violations,” said Rupert Knox, Mexico researcher at Amnesty International. “The Mexican authorities must begin a new independent investigation into the Acteal massacre in order to ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice. Without justice, the authorities are condemning the community to the danger of more violence.”
Documents prove government links with paramilitary groups
Newly declassified US documents, released a week after the freeing of the prisoners, confirm that Presidents Salinas and Zedillo, through the Mexican army, promoted and encouraged the development of paramilitary groups in Chiapas since mid-1994. This was as part of a comprehensive counterinsurgency operation against Zapatista support bases that included arming and training, co-ordination of intelligence, and protection from local authorities. The documents show that paramilitary groups, including those that participated in the Acteal massacre, were under the direct supervision of army intelligence agencies. The magazine Proceso has published the names of those responsible for the counterinsurgency, calling them ‘the contras of Chiapas’ At the request of the Pentagon, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) confirmed that paramilitary groups “were under the supervision of Mexican military intelligence during the time the massacre in Acteal took place, with Ernesto Zedillo holding the position of Executive” and in possession of “presidential authority”. Kate Doyle, Director of the Mexican Project at the National Security Archive, says these documents clearly contradict the official history of the Acteal massacre, which presented it as the result of an inter-community conflict. Ernesto Zedillo, supreme intellectual author of the massacre, is now Director of Yale University’s Centre for Globalisation Studies.
The Mesoamerica Project and the new super-highway
The new Palenque Integrally Planned Highway being built from San Cristobal de Las Casas to Palenque is the latest phase of the Mesoamerica Project, formerly known as the Plan Puebla Panama. This plan is designed to develop infrastructure to allow a dramatic expansion of trade, tourism, and multi-national corporate exploitation and plunder. The plan includes ports, airports, dams, bridges and roads. Central to this development in Chiapas are plans for the new Palenque Integral Centre (CIP), a massive tourist development to be located between the Agua Azul waterfalls and the ruins of Palenque, with hotels, restaurants, spas, travel agencies and a ‘theme park’. Construction of the 174 km road has now started near Rancho Nuevo military base. While the government remains secretive about the exact route of the new highway, the route will cut through indigenous territory, occupied by communities in resistance, members of the Other Campaign and Zapatista support bases, “opposed to sacrificing their lands on the altar of tourism”. This has already led to confrontations. The road-building will also destroy areas of cloud forest, and for 70 km pass through the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
The use of paramilitaries to facilitate building the road
In the area of the planned Palenque Integral Centre, the state and federal police are actively supporting, arming, and training a group called OPDDIC, the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights, with the aim of driving out or repressing into submission, the indigenous communities opposed to losing their lands and homes. OPDDIC members report to the police that Other Campaign members or Zapatista support bases have committed crimes, and the police detain and torture these people under the protection of the army. The crimes, such as highway robbery, have often been committed by the OPDDIC members. Members of the Regional Association of Coffee Growers of Ocosingo (ORCAO) have been harassing the community of Bosque Bonito in the autonomous municipality 17 de Noviembre, attacking them and selling their lands.
Evangelical paramilitaries in Mitzitón
The new highway is designated to start in, and run through the middle of, the community of Mitzitón, in the rural part of San Cristóbal de las Casas municipality . The majority of ejido members belong to the Other Campaign, and are in resistance to the road. A group of heavily armed evangelicals in the community, the no cooperantes, who already have a reputation for people trafficking, are in favour of the road. They support, and are supported by, the PRD state government. On July 21, Aurelio Díaz Hernández was run over and killed by a truck driven by a member of this evangelical group, while demonstrating against the new highway. At least 5 other members of the Other Campaign were injured at the same time. Alas de Águila 2000 (Wings of the Eagle) and el Ejército de Dios (the Army of God), are evangelical groups organized on paramilitary lines, who claim as members the paramilitaries who committed the Acteal massacre. The defence of these paramilitaries was organized by the religious leaders of these groups under the government-funded Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE). Again through CIDE, they and their commander-in-chief, Esdras Alonso, are suing the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Centre, community leaders in Mitzitón, and Hermann Bellinghausen from La Jornada, for defamation of character (calling them paramilitaries). In recent weeks the Army of God has become much more visible in the streets of San Cristobal, marching in military formation and military uniform, with military officers, demonstrating their force and power.
“The non-cooperating army of god, that killed our comrade, arrived with a truck full of migrant brothers. We want to prevent further smuggling in our territory, to make sure none of the people of our community will be run over or attacked again.”
Indigenous communities campaign together against the new road
A six-hour roadblock was held by over a thousand Other Campaign adherents in support of their demands for the cessation of the planned highway in August. This was followed by a press conference held by followers of the Other Campaign representing three communities seriously affected by the construction of the San Cristobal-Palenque highway: Mitzitón, Jotolá and San Sebastián Bachajón. Representatives denounced the current situation, saying they are faced with “bad neoliberal projects that offer no benefit to indigenous people in any way” and the plundering of their land which “threatens our very presence on it”.
Other Campaign members from Mitzitón condemned the fact that after a month there has been no arrest made in the murder case of Aurelio Diaz Hernandez. They also reported that paramilitaries continue to “threaten with their guns, firing them often into the air during the evening and night” and that public officials from the Ministry of Communication and Transportation have made new attempts to “trick us into signing a meeting certificate to give them permission to pass through our territory to build the highway to Palenque.”
Members of the Other Campaign in San Sebastián Bachajón demanded the “immediate release” of political prisoners Geronimo Gomez Saragos and Antonio Gomez Saragos, who were arrested in April. They also demanded that arrest warrants for another four people be withdrawn. They reported the recent “illegal occupation of their land by state and federal police” and said members of the Other Campaign have been threatened by OPDDIC. The Jotolá communal landowners have received similar threats and said OPDDIC members are “firing their guns, scaring our families and our children.”
In conclusion, the representatives of the three communities explained that they had met on this occasion to defend their land, their rights and their indigenous culture that “the bad government wants to destroy and continue destroying like they did with our ancestors.”
Sixth anniversary of the formation of the Caracoles and the Good Government Juntas
This event passed at the beginning of August with no word from the EZLN, who continue in silence. “The Zapatistas are only news when we are killing or dying”. Carmen Martinez Genis wrote an article in La Jornada, ‘the walking word’: “In silence, and facing attacks from paramilitary groups designed to remove all trace of them from their reclaimed lands, the Zapatistas continue to grow stronger day by day, building their autonomy and showing the world, through their example, that it is possible to build a better world where the concepts of freedom, justice and democracy are no longer empty words, but recover their true meaning.”
Gathering in Chiapas of people affected by mining
240 people from areas including San Luis Potosi and Guatemala gathered in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, at the end of August, to share their struggles against mining in their communities. An agreement was signed by representatives of 27 different social organisations, demanding the cancellation all mining concessions in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala, and respect for the voices of the people, taking into account their human rights, especially their right to public consultation .
Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration Ltd., which states it is “aggressively exploring and developing Chiapas”, is operating in the municipality of Chicomuselo, following little or no public consultation. The people of Nueva Morelia cannot use water from the river because of Blackfire activity, and report skin irritations if they bathe in it. There has been a protest outside the municipal headquarters since June.
More confrontations over land
Occupants of Casa Blanca, land reclaimed in 1994 in the Ocosingo area, were attacked recently by members of ARIC-UU who want to take the land for themselves. Several people were seriously injured with machetes.
Offices of Capise close
After seven years of dedicated work “defending the collective rights of indigenous peoples”, the offices of the San Cristobal-based NGO Capise closed in June 2009.
Officials of human rights organisation still being threatened
The Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Humaen Rights Centre continues to report acts of harassment, threats, surveillance, libel and slander against their employees, especially their Director and President. In a statement the centre described these actions as a ‘criminalisation of our work in the defence of human rights’.
Mexican state rewrites history again
All mention of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the devastating consequences, and the following colonial domination have been removed from new school history textbooks introduced this year as part of the Integral Reform of Basic Education (RIEB) in Mexico.
There are no human rights violations in Mexico!
During a press conference with President Obama, President Calderón challenged human rights organization to site “one single case” in which police, soldiers or other government officials had committed an abuse and not suffered legal consequences. National and international human rights organizations, including the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency, were quick to point out dozens of cases, including murder, torture and rape committed by soldiers and police, that have gone unpunished. 15% of the US funds for the Merida Initiative (Plan Mexico), were blocked due to Mexico’s non-compliance with the human rights provisions of the legislation. The State Department has since issued a positive report on Mexico’s compliance with human rights provisions, and La Jornada has reported that the funds have been released.
October 12th global mobilisation in defence of mother earth and indigenous peoples
In March 2009, at the World Social Forum, the Declaration of Indigenous Peoples of the World called for 12th October 2009 to be made the day of ‘Mother Earth’s global struggle against the commodification of life’. In May the 4th Continental Summit of the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala called for a Global Mobilization in Defence of Mother Earth and the Peoples from October 12-16, 2009. “against the criminalization of indigenous and social movements. We the peoples and our territories are one entity. We reject all forms of land division, privatization, concession, predation and pollution from extractive industries.”
Families of the victims of Acteal, still hoping for justice.
“We’ve become a country of assassinations,
massacres and genocides without culpability,
a country of innocents,
a country of irresponsible people who go through life without being accountable to anyone,
a nation mired in impunity.”
Chiapas Support Commitee, Oakland, California, USA
Thanks to J.D.