Lynching in the Heart of Chiapas: Tzotzil Community Burns a Man They Accused of Robbery

By Carlos Maldonado

Silence has been imposed like a heavy stone for the residents of the municipality of Santiago El Pinar, in the heart of the southern state of Chiapas. One day after residents of the town, inhabited by Tzotzil Indians, arrested, tied up with wires, lynched and burned a 26 year old man in a bonfire, the authorities who have arrived in the area to investigate the crime have been met with absolute silence. No one speaks, no one saw or heard anything. The charred corpse was also buried in silence, and the relatives did not even allow a legal autopsy. What led the inhabitants of these lands to commit such a horrifying act? Robbery, the authorities suppose. The boy was accused, they say, of being part of a gang that stole cars. And so, with no evidence or certainty of having caught a thief, they took the law into their own hands. The state authorities also seem to have their hands tied and are limited to accompanying the investigation, which by “uses and customs” falls to the indigenous justice prosecutor’s office.

Early Thursday morning, a group of residents of Santiago de El Pinar, located in the highlands of Chiapas, left their homes in the midst of the thick fog that covers the area, a thick, wet and cold curtain, attracted by the capture of Lucas N. Very little has been gathered by the authorities of what happened in the impunity of that cold night. It has been learned that the 26-year-old was accused of robbery, his hands and legs were tied with wires, they sadistically unloaded the communal fury against him and in their orgy of retribution they formed a bonfire and set fire to the bloodied body. Images of the remains of the corpse circulated on social networks on Thursday morning, when it was still smoking. El Oficio de Tinieblas (the Office of darkness) Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos would call it, documenting in her work the brutality of the violence that can be unleashed in indigenous communities in Chiapas with a single assumption that alters the order in the region.

The news reached the corridors of the state prosecutor’s office in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital, which mobilized officers of the Preventive Police, Investigative Police and experts to try to clarify the atrocious event. But when the law is imposed by the hand of its own in these communities, there is little margin left for the authorities in their efforts to clarify what happened, establish responsibilities and bring the guilty to justice. The press release of the Prosecutor’s Office shows the fiasco suffered by those responsible for the order: when they began to inquire among the neighbors what they saw or heard, they were met with a heavy silence, as blunt as it was eloquent. The officers said that the villagers “did not know the reasons for his death.”

Before the group’s silence, the police —always accompanied by traditional authorities, according to the same note– arrived at the municipal cemetery, where the family of the murdered young man was burying the corpse. The experts asked for authorization to carry out the legal autopsy, but there is no judge’s order prevailing in the area: they refused. “However, when the body was examined, the investigative police and the experts found that he had third degree burn injuries all over his body,” explained the prosecutor’s office. The authorities have had no choice but to report that they will continue with their investigations “in accordance with the homicide protocol in order to establish responsibilities and that this fact will not go unpunished.”

Juan Manuel Zardain, who works as a human rights defender in Chiapas, resorts to a play on words to explain the daily life of these communities: “In these towns, authority has little authority and they rely on their traditions. Their local authorities have more power than the civil authorities, those of the State,” he says in a telephone conversation. Human rights advocates like Zardain also have little room to work. He says they visit the area, try to gather information and little else. All that is left for them to do is to make a report and present recommendations to the local leadership. “These are villages where things happen outside the law,” he says. With resignation, Zardain says it is possible that what happened will go unpunished. “The investigations become slow and confusing, because they protect each other and it is difficult for a prosecutor to prove the crime of murder when it is done this way,” he explains.

The Santiago El Pinar event is reminiscent of a similar one that occurred last summer in the community of Papatlazolco, in the state of Puebla, where 31-year-old Daniel Picazo, a political advisor, was lynched and burned. The family said that the young man, a native of the area, must have gotten lost among the indigenous communities, where he was intercepted by a mob that killed him. The neighbors accused him of wanting to take a minor, although the authorities did not believe this story to be true and no one could prove anything of the sort. Lynchings are common in Mexico, where in many rural communities neighbors take the law into their own hands. A study by the Universidad Iberoamericana in Puebla shows that 78 people were lynched in that state between 2015 and 2019. The lynchings, the researchers explain in that study, are related to poverty and inequality, but also to the neglect that means that in many communities a law is imposed that, without trials or formal investigations, punishes for what are considered serious offenses. And once this justice is imposed, the only thing left to do is to remain silent. An eloquent, ghostly, corrective silence, like the one that prevails in Santiago El Pinar.

This article was published in El Pais on December 30th, 2022. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Indigenous Tsotsil Man Lynched in the Highlands of Chiapas

by Elio Henríquez

San Cristóbal De Las Casas, Chiapas

An indigenous Tsotsil identified as Lucas Pérez Gómez, 26 years old, was lynched Thursday at dawn in the municipality of Santiago El Pinar, in the Highlands of Chiapas, reported the State Attorney General (FGE).

In a statement, the agency said that “after hearing the news, elements of the state preventive police, the investigative police and experts arrived at the municipal court of Santiago El Pinar, where the traditional authorities reported the death.”

According to the report, “moments later, the elements of the FGE, together with the traditional authorities, arrived at the municipal cemetery, where the body of Lucas N. was found, and asked the relatives for authorization to perform the legal autopsy, which was denied.”

However, “upon examining the body, members of the investigating police and experts found that he had third-degree burns.”

Meanwhile, the traditional authorities of Santiago El Pinar said that they “did not know the motives for the death” of Pérez Gómez.

The prosecutor’s office assured that it will continue with the corresponding investigations according to the homicide protocol, with the purpose of determining who is responsible.

Separately, police sources stated that there is secrecy on the part of the inhabitants and local authorities to provide information about what happened.

The institution, through the Indigenous Justice Prosecutor’s Office, initiated investigations against whomever is responsible for the crime of homicide and whatever else may result.

On December 22, armed men affiliated with the Coordination of Organizations for the Environment for a Better Chiapas (Comach) freed four young men who were about to be lynched; residents of Huixtán accused them of car theft and tied them up half-naked in the central park.

In the rescue, at least two people were shot and wounded, according to official sources.

The gunmen, whose numbers were not specified, arrived at the town center at around 4 p.m., after breaking the blockade maintained by the inhabitants while the community assembly was waiting for the accused to pay a fine of 355,000 pesos imposed by the townspeople.

This article was published in La Jornada on December 30th, 2022.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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