The Acteal Massacre And Another Arrest

On December 22, 1997, a decade ago, paramilitary forces attacked the village of Acteal in Chiapas, Mexico. The attack became known as the Acteal Massacre.  45 people, mostly women and children, who were attending a prayer meeting were killed.  The victims, including children and pregnant women, were members of the pacifist group Las Abejas (“The Bees”).

While the Las Abejas activists professed support for the goals of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), they had renounced violence. Many suspect their affiliation with EZLN was the reason for the attack.  Following the murders, there were charges of government involvement and complicity. Soldiers at a nearby military outpost didn’t intervene during the attack, which lasted for hours, and the following morning, soldiers were found washing the church walls to hide the blood stains. Wiki.

Join me across the jump.


The 1997 Funeral In Acteal

According to ZMag:

The horror began on December 22, 1997, shortly before 11 am, when 70 heavily armed men, all wearing dark blue police type uniforms, entered … the pine covered highland community of Acteal. They stormed into the church where village members along with refugees from nearby communities who had recently fled mounting paramilitary violence were kneeling in prayers of peace. As the shooting began, men, women, and children desperately ran to supposed hiding places- the river, the cornfields, and the mountains. A five-hour killing spree ensued, resulting in the deaths of 45 innocent people, mostly women and children. Survivors recounted the terror as the paramilitary group ruthlessly searched for victims, killing them at close range, often in the back. Women hid with their children in caves lining the nearby river. When a baby cried out in terror, armed men followed the screams in order to find those hiding and assassinate them. Special police forces observed from 200 meters away as the bloody events unfolded. They never once intervened. Instead, to cover up the magnitude of the event, they attempted to hide the bodies in a cave and in a ravine.

The EZLN and many Chiapas residents accused the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of complicity in the attack, and following the change of government in 2000, survivors asserted that the investigation was being stalled and that the authorities were refusing to question or arrest suspects.  There have apparently been at least 18 convictions in connection with the massacre.  Most appear to have involved possession of weapons restricted to the army.

According to IHT this weekend:

Since the Acteal massacre, on Dec. 22, 1997, dozens of people have been arrested and convicted. But the case remains as foggy as the community, which is so high in the hills that clouds sometimes linger at ground level and the lush vegetation can disappear into the haze.

Then-President Ernesto Zedillo, reacting to international outrage over the killings, ordered an aggressive investigation. What prosecutors found was ugly: While local government officials and police officers had not wielded the weapons that day, they had allowed the slaughter to occur and tampered with the crime scene afterward.

The killers had been members of the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The victims were Roman Catholic advocates from a group called Las Abejas, or The Bees, who sympathized with the Zapatista rebels who were in open revolt in Chiapas.

All involved were poor Tzotzil Indians, many of them related.

Mexico’s courts have apparently been severely taxed by the cases.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s courts struggle to handle what has grown into one of the country’s longest and most complex cases. A dozen judges have been involved in the trials and, now, the appeals of their convictions.

A year ago, the public interest law clinic at Mexico City’s Center for Investigation and Economic Studies began defending those convicted of taking part in the massacre. Lawyers say they have found that outrage over what happened to the innocents that day led to more abuses. They describe an effort to round up anyone, which sent many other innocent people to prison. “The Acteal case shows all the problems of Mexico’s criminal justice system,” said Javier Angulo, who teaches constitutional law at the center and supervises a team of students who are representing the Acteal defendants. “We solved the problem of the Acteal massacre by creating other problems and arresting people who did nothing at all.”

The case is an ideal one, Angulo argues, to show law students that every defendant ought to be treated fairly, even if there is great public dismay over a particular crime.

Which brings us to today’s news.  According to AP:

Authorities on Sunday said they re-arrested the alleged mastermind of a 1997 massacre of 45 men, women and children in southern Mexico.

Antonio Santiz was detained Saturday – the 10th anniversary of the killings – on charges he participated in a series of violent robberies in the days leading up to the Acteal massacre in the southern state of Chiapas, police said in statement.

Chiapas Justice Minister Amador Rodriguez Lozano called Santiz the presumed “intellectual author” of the killings and said he is believed to have provided many of the weapons used in the massacre.

The arrest, Rodriguez said, was an important step in an still ongoing investigation into the massacre.  Santiz had been arrested for his alleged involvement in 2000, but a judge threw out the charges in 2001, ruling there wasn’t enough evidence.

Meanwhile, the massacre was remembered on Sunday in Mexico City:

A convoy of cars has demonstrated in Mexico City to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the killings of 45 Teotzil Indians in Acteal.

A total of 15 cars carrying cardboard coffins on their roofs drove around the streets of the south area of Mexico City on Saturday.

The demonstration was organized by the political group ‘La otra campana’ or ‘The other campaign’, which supports human rightsm, AP reported.


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  1. I seem to be a fount of non-holiday stories about massacres this holiday season.  Despite that, I wish you all happy holidays.  

    • RiaD on December 24, 2007 at 16:16

    i’m sorry i just couldn’t read ver far in this….

    it took me till last thurs to find a wee bit of holiday spirit….

    tomorrow or the day after i’ll come back & read 🙂

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