Arrest Warrant Issued for Chiapas Priest Marcelo Perez, Who Worked for Peace in the Communities

Marcelo Pérez and members of the Pueblo Creyente. Photo: Pueblo Creyente

by Ángeles Mariscal

The priest has stood out for opposing the actions of organized crime groups in the indigenous region covered by the Diocese of San Cristóbal; in July 2021 he was a mediator in the conflict in the municipality of Pantelhó, when a group of armed self-defense groups was formed to expel alleged members of organized crime. Now, relatives of 21 people who disappeared, presumably in the hands of the self-defense group El Machete, seek to implicate him in these events, for which reason the Chiapas Prosecutor’s Office ordered his arrest.

The Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas announced that the indigenous Tsotsil priest Marcelo Perez Perez has a warrant for his arrest as a result of the accompaniment he has provided to villages and communities that denounce and confront criminal groups.

“Most of the areas of our Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas, present situations of conflict (…) by doing the work of accompaniment in the suffering of the people and seeking the true life for them, the interests of individuals and groups are affected (…) It seems that that is the reason for them to react with persecution, intimidation, threats and imprisonment,” the most important religious organization in Chiapas stated in a communiqué.

Through social networks, people who accuse the priest reported that the Prosecutor’s Office against the Forced Disappearance of Persons and those Committed by Private Individuals, issued an arrest warrant against Marcelo Perez, for the disappearance of the 21 from Pantelho.

The 21 disappeared from Pantelhó

It should be recalled that these 21 people were detained by the residents of Pantelhó in July 2021, presented in the kiosk of the central park and then taken to another place, as part of the actions with which the inhabitants of the municipality expelled alleged members of the criminal group called “Los Herrera”, who allegedly murdered some 200 inhabitants of that region, among them Simón Pedro, a member of the group Las Abejas de Acteal.

The 21 disappeared, according to testimonies of residents, participated in murders, sale of weapons and drugs, among other offenses. After their detention, they were taken to another place and were never seen again.

Relatives of the disappeared also accused Pedro Cortés, an elder linked to the Diocese of San Cristóbal, who was later named president of the Government Council; and the priest Marcelo Pérez, whom the Diocese named as an intermediary in the conflict.

The interventions of the priest, and other religious and human rights organizations, prevented the Mexican government from repressing the population, and succeeded in consolidating a Government Council.

However, just last May, the self-defense groups El Machete expelled the Government Council from Pantelhó. Councilman Pedro Cortés said that this was due to the fact that the municipal government refused to divert resources from the treasury to the self-defense group, and that this group applied justice by its own hand; he even filed a formal complaint with the State Superior Auditor’s Office.

Despite this background, the Congress of Chiapas dismissed Pedro Cortés and his Government Council, and the Attorney General’s Office arrested him last June 21, accusing him of the disappearance of the 21 from Pantelhó.

An arrest warrant was also issued against the priest Marcelo Perez Perez, who months earlier had been summoned to testify about these events.

Since December 2021, in view of the increase in the actions of organized crime groups in the indigenous municipalities of Chiapas, the Diocese of San Cristobal held an extraordinary assembly where it agreed as the main point “to take steps for the construction of peace from the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Church in the face of the violence of organized crime”, which included carrying out a diagnosis and having alliances with people, civil society organizations and institutions that agreed on this purpose.

A year earlier, in February 2020, in a pastoral letter, the Diocese had denounced that “organized crime occupies more and more spaces in the territory of Chiapas, painfully adding to the national situation, and there is a struggle between competing groups at the state and local level. In this area, human trafficking for pornography, the sale of organs and the sexual and labor exploitation of migrants and nationals stand out… These groups and forces, in many municipalities, manage to control the municipal authorities. All this has caused insecurity, violence, extortion and forced displacement of people and families”.

In its letter this Sunday, the Diocese points out that in Chiapas violence and insecurity have increased in recent months, and recalls the murder of Simon Pedro, former president of the Abejas of Acteal, of the indigenous Prosecutor Gregorio Perez, and last month, of the municipal president of Teopisca, among many others.

He explained that as the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas they will continue to accompany the communities and build the ministry of peace.  Priest Marcelo Perez continues to be in charge of the parish of Guadalupe, in San Cristobal.

This article was published on July 4th in Chiapas Paralelo. English translation published by Schools for Chiapas.

Concern that Chiapas Priest Marcelo Perez “May be Detained, Murdered or Disappeared.”

Priest Marcelo Perez Perez, was vicar of the Social Ministry of the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Photo: Archive

by Ángeles Mariscal

Father Marcelo Pérez Pérez, against whom the Chiapas Attorney General’s Office issued an arrest warrant for the crime of forced disappearance in Pantelhó, received expressions of support and solidarity from humanitarian centers and organizations that work for the construction of peace processes and the defense of human rights as well as from  indigenous peoples, campesino groups and social leaders.

In a public communiqué, 27 organizations, among them the International Service for Peace (Sipaz) and the All Rights for All Network (Red Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos – Red TdT), expressed their concern for the “possible detention, disappearance or murder of the human rights defender”.

They explain that the arrest warrant against the priest Marcelo Perez Perez, requested by the State Attorney General’s Office on June 21, 2022, “demonstrates that the justice system is being used in a biased and bad faith manner, lacking objectivity and loyalty to criminalize a human rights defender”.

They mention that Marcelo Perez has carried out innumerable acts in defense and accompaniment of organizational processes in defense of land and territory, in addition to facilitating mediation processes of peoples and organizations that suffer situations of violence, as he has done in Simojovel, Chenalhó, Chalchihuitán, El Bosque and Pantelhó, “which has allowed the decrease of violence in these areas.”

On previous occasions the Tsotsil priest has received threats, harassment, intimidation and physical aggressions, for which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued in 2016 precautionary measures in his favor, under the registration MC- 506-14. These measures are still in force, but according to the humanitarian organizations, “they are not sufficient for him to continue with his defense activity in a safe environment.”

The signatory organizations demanded that the Mexican government withdraw the criminal accusation and hold the Mexican State responsible for whatever may happen to the priest.

In separate letters, inhabitants of municipalities such as Tila, Oxchuc, Chilón, San Cristóbal, Tuxtla, indigenous people from the Highlands, Zoque and jungle areas, expressed their solidarity and support, thanking him for the accompaniment he has provided in their communities.

Also, through Facebook pages of accounts claiming to be of people from the municipalities of Simojovel and Pantelhó, continued attacks calling him “demon,” and “criminal,” among other adjectives.

The priest is accused by relatives and lawyers of the 21 people who were detained and disappeared allegedly by members of the Pantelhó armed self-defense group “Los Machetes,” which was formed to expel members of organized crime in this municipality.

Marcelo was an intermediary between the population of Pantelhó and government authorities to avoid armed confrontations between the army and self-defense groups, and for the consolidation of a Government Council in that municipality.

This article was published July 4th, 2022 in Chiapas Paralelo. English translation published by Schools for Chiapas.

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