To the President: we are women survivors of the massacre at Acteal and we bring you greetings from our dead who live through us every day and sustain us on our path. The dignity that we demand helps us to recover the past.
We, the indian people, have been humiliated, mistreated, discriminated against and excluded from all kinds of government projects. For many years we have been calling for justice, peace, democracy and freedom, all of which have been denied to us for the simple fact that we are poor and indigenous. In response we receive only marginalization, poverty, imprisonment, death and repression at levels of government. That is why we have organized to defend ourselves and to demand that which is ours by right, if only to be able to live as human beings.
The federal government headed by Ernesto Zedillo, the ex state governor of Chiapas, Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, the new governor, Roberto Albores Guillen, and the ex president of Chenalho, Jacinto Arias Cruz, have all been incapable of meeting our basic demands.
Although Las Abejas (the bees) is a pacifist organisation, they have sought to repress and to kill us by arming paramilitary groups made up of indigenous members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Backed by the Federal Army and the Public Security Police, some of them are the material and intellectual authors of a low intensity war that is trying to exterminate organized indigenous people because they do not belong to the PRI. That is why they murdered our 45 brothers and sisters, men, women and children, on December 22, 1997. This massacre was neither personal revenge, nor part of an ethnic or religious war. This war has been planned and directed at the highest levels of government and turned into confrontations between indigenous brothers by the paramilitaries.
The massacre at Acteal was carried out by a paramilitary group that had the support of the authorities in the municipal presidency of Chenalho for the transportation of arms, the state government for their purchase, the Federal Army for training in their use, and the Public Security Police for the protection and movement of paramilitaries.
At 10 o'clock in the evening on December 21, 80 paramilitaries from the communities of Los Chorros, Quextic and Canolal, joined forces in the community of La Esperanza to prepare the massacre. At 10.45 the following morning they carried out the massacre in Acteal while we were praying for an end to the war. The shooting lasted for four hours. Those of us who escaped death telephoned the Diocese of San Cristobal, which in turn informed the Secretary of the Interior for the State of Chiapas, Homero Tovilla Cristiani, who responded that all was quiet and that nothing was happening. At 6 o'clock in the evening he was phoned again to request his intervention, but he responded that there had only been four shots. At 10 o'clock that evening, Bishop Samuel Ruiz phoned Homer Tovilla to ask for his help in rescuing the injured: he responded by saying that there had only been a few shots and one death. At three o'clock in the morning of the 23rd, the Subsecretary of the Interior for Chiapas, Uriel Jarquin, carried out the "clean up operation", taking our dead to the State capital, Tuxtla Guttierez, where they were hidden so that the press couldn't take photographs and they could disguise the fact that the massacre had been carried out with the complicity of the government.
Since May 1997 we had been warning the state government and the national and international press about the existence of paramilitary groups in Chenalho, but the government continued to deny it. We gave another warning in September of the same year before the massacre at Acteal when the paramilitaries had killed over 30 of our brothers, but again the government did nothing. That´s why the National Human Rights Commission sent a recomendation to the Chiapas State government stating that they should provide us with protection and support, but they ignored it.
The paramilitaries have also brought about the displacement of more than 9,000 of our brothers, forcing us to take refuge in different places under the protection of the Mexican Red Cross and Civilian Peace Camps made up of national and international brothers who are in solidarity with us.
More than 90 militants from the PRI and Cardenista Party have been detained since the massacre. However, the army and police have not disarmed the paramilitary groups who continue to terrorize and threaten us with another attack, because they continue to work along-side them patroling and firing shots on the paths close to our displacement camps. This is proof that the government is unwilling to search for a peaceful solution to the wave of terror and death under which we are living. Meanwhile the intellectual authors of the paramilitary organizations are still free and the government is unwilling to look for a peaceful solution to the wave of terror and death that we are living.
The army, instead of helping and giving protection to the victims, installed a military camp right next to the community well in X´oyep on January 4. When we go to fetch water they threaten to rape us and constantly harrass us saying that they are going to finish us off. We cannot take it any more. We respectfully ask you to intercede on our behalf with the Mexican government in order that:
1. They dismantle the paramilitary groups and punish the intellectual and material authors of the massacre;
2. They us guarantees that we will our return to our communities;
3. They remove the army and police from our lands;
4. They compensate us for the loss of our harvests, belongings and assassinated brothers;
5. They Fulfill the San Andres Accords so that our customs and practices are respected and we have democracy, peace, dignity and justice;
6. They promote non-partial development projects;
7. The Human Rights Commission name a special relator for Mexico;
7. They accept the visit of the Special Relator for Extrajudicial Summary and Arbitrary Executions.
On December 9 and 10, 1992, five comrades were unfairly imprisoned in the community of Tzajalchen, in the municipality of Chenalho, Chiapas, due to land problems associated with the family of Agutín Hernández Tabasco and his sisters, Juana and Catarina Hernández Tabasco.
The problems between the brothers and sisters began because they did not want to divide up equally the land that they had inherited from their parents. The women insisted, quite rightly, that they should receive a piece of land, and to that end sought the support of the Peasant Legal Solidarity organization (SOCAM) run by Cristóbal Vázquez Vázquez. For his part, Agustín Hernández Tabasco sought support from the Cardenista Front for National Reconstruction Party . After this things got much worse as the people who were supporting the women fenced off the land and started to grow maize. Agustín and his supporters then harvested the maize and began to arm themselves and look for the women. On December 9, 1992, they ambushed the women's husbands.
The community of Tzajalchen, however, did not agree with what was going on and gave counsel to the two groups so that the fighting would stop between the brothers and sisters and there would be an end to the violence. Tzajalchen provided assistance to the brothers that had been injured in the ambush and accused of carrying out the shooting. Five comrades were taken to prison in San Cristóbal: Mariano Pérez Vázquez, Sebastián Pérez Vázquez, Felipe Hernández Pérez, Antonio Pérez Gutiérrez, and Manuel Pérez Guttiérez. When the catequists realized that their leader, Mariano Pérez Vázquez, had been imprisoned, they began to organize themselves with greater resolve. They urgently organized a march from Yabteklum to San Cristobál to ask for the brothers' release. We were there for 15 days before we decided to come back because there had been no resolution of our demands and the government officials had already gone on vacation.
We returned with another march on January 5, 1993, because the press and the government robbed us of the first one by saying that we were Priistas [members of the PRI ruling party]. That is why we decided to cakk ourselves the Bees because they are are very well organized little animals. We were much stronger in this march because we were supported by brothers from other municipalities such as Pantelhó, Chalchiuitán, Nicolás Ruiz, San Cristóbal, Simojovel, amongst others. We left from San Cristóbal in the direction of the Social Readaptation Center (CERESCO) where our comrades were detained. On January 7 our comrades were released thanks to the strength that we had rallied. The prayers, songs and fasting that we had done had strengthened us. The governor, Patrocino González Garrido, and the municipal president of Chenalho, Antonio Pérez Vázquez, both left office while we were engaged in this struggle.
As we had seen that there is no justice in our municipality and in the whole state, we decided to continue our organization and to separate ourselves from the Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). Since then, we have continued our struggle independently. When the war started in 1994, some of our brothers from the Bees decided to join the EZLN, causing a division between us, and the Priistas started to say that we were the same as the Zapatistas. But we decided not to take sides and to promote peace. We elected representatives in each of Chenalhó's communities. They worked to promote peace both within and between communities and we began to take courses in Bachajón, where we were given peace credentials. We started to promote peace and dialogue with organizations from other communities and began to make progress through our representatives who were in charge of looking into land conflicts. We also named legal commissions, so that they could intervene if problems in the communities continued: this was also successful.
We worked in this way until 1997, when a serious problem started in the districts of Puebla and Yashgemel on May 24 with the murder of Cristóbal Pérez Medio. That was when the Priistas and Cardenisatas from different communities began to organize themselves to exterminate sympathizers of the EZLN. But we knew all about this and began to organize a public demonstration by praying and fasting for peace. Problems were occurring between indigenous brothers and we wanted to spread the word of God. The communities began to pray on special days every Tuesday and Thursday, but the violence did not stop.
It started up again on September 21, of that same year, 1997, when people were being killed two by two in various confrontations between Priistas and Zapatistas in the neighborhood of Majomut in Polhó. [This time] over a dispute about a gravel pit. These confrontations led to the displacement of many families from various communities connected to the Bees and the Zapatistas. The reason that there were so many displaced people was because the Priistas began to organize and cooperate in large numbers to force people to take up arms. But the Bees disagreed and defended their lives and their rights. They received death threats and were forced to leave their homes and communities. For example, the community of Yibeljoj belongs to the Bees and had to leave on November 16 to seek refuge in X'oyep. The communities of Yashgemel, Puebla, and Los Chorros also came to the same place. Other communities such as Quextic and La Esperanza sought refuge at Acteal, but the paramilitaries are distributed in various communities so that they can attack the Zapatistas. They began to rob many things and to burn down houses in different communities.
On December 21, 1997, the paramilitaries met in the center of Quextic to plan how they were going to attack the Zapatistas from the community of Acteal (who live in the neighbourhood of Cacateal) the next day. According to information provided by some of the Bees from Quextic, they began shooting at 11 o'clock in the morning of the 22nd. They were divided into groups and surrounded the community of Acteal. The paramilitaries arrived at the camp of the civil society the Bees where the people had been praying and fasting for two days, and murdered 45 men, women and children. But our organization has never feared violence and we began to protest these events to ask for justice and that the aggressors be punished. We seek more commissions to investigate the facts. We stand firm in the peaceful struggle of our organization, the Bees; we will never abandon our peace work, we seek no revenge - all we seek is that the true culprits of the massacre be punished.
CHENALHO CIVIL SOCIETY "THE BEES" ,
CHIAPAS, MEXICO, MARCH 1998