Paramilitarism in Chiapas in the “Fourth Transformation”

By Gilberto López y Rivas
Photo by Isaac Guzmán

On the April 30th 1999, as the then president of Commission of Concordance and Peacemaking, I filed a complaint, to the then Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR), regarding the existence of paramilitary groups in Chiapas, one of the which perpetrated the massacre of Acteal on the 22nd of December of 1997. That appeal denounced the implementation of a strategy of irregular warfare by the Mexican military, described in manuals of the Secretary of Defense and in the Chiapas 94 Campaign Plan, and the application of a counterinsurgency tactic known as the anvil and hammer, which consists of the military forces acting as passive containment (the anvil), under protection of the legal framework, while the paramilitary groups (the hammer) run, covertly, the active harassment against the communities and support bases of the EZLN. Additionally, Mexican strategists utilize an illustrative metaphor to explain the function of these paramilitary groups, arguing that you not only have to deprive the fish (insurgency) of water (popular support), but that you have to put more aggressive fish in the water. 

This allegation, incidentally, highlighted the presence of military or ex-military personnel in the Acteal Massacre in direct relation to the Secretary of Defense command. One was identified as Mariano Pérez Ruiz, who in June of 1998 declared before the PGR, according to the dossier 96/98, that ex-officials and leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are responsible for hiring military and police to instruct the indigenous communities of Chenalhó in the handling of weapons and paramilitary strategy, but then added an important clarification: 

“It is true what I have stated in that sense; it was the Military Police units that forced me to make this statement, because if I didn’t, they were going to disappear me; besides, I was still active military and had to abide by the orders of my superiors.” (GLR, “Viejas y Nuevas Guerras Sucias,” en El Cotidiano, 172, 2012, UAM-A).

Although the results of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Committed in the Procuration and Administration of Justice in the State of Chiapas, released in 2011, indicated without a doubt that a State crime had been perpetrated in Acteal, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation set  several of the material authors of this crime against humanity free, while the intellectual authors, accomplices and accessories, by omission or commission, were never prosecuted: then President Ernesto Zedillo, federal, state and local officials, the leadership and officers of the armed forces, in the chain of command.

Two decades after this denunciation, the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center, in an urgent communiqué, reveals the countless aggressions against the communities of Aldama, Chiapas, significantly, with the presence of the National Guard and State police. Based on direct  information from the Permanent Commission of 115 community members and displaced persons of Aldama, it describes constant attacks by high-caliber weapons coming from points located in Santa Martha-Miguel Utrilla, in the municipality of Chenalhó, Chiapas, acts provoked by the paramilitary group in complicity with the municipal government (…) in a context of terror where the children, women and the population in general survive in a torturous environment. Governmental actions have been insufficient, ineffective, and simulated as they do not guarantee the security and integrity of the population.” It is worthwhile to note that this respected organization in  defense of human rights has docemented, monitored and denounced this counterinsurgency war of attrition since the very first days of the Zapatista rebellion in January of 1994. 

For its part, the Civil Observation Mission, made up of 14 organizations of the National Network of Civil Organizations for Human Rights, All Rights for Everyone, accompanied by three international organizations visited communities in the North, Highlands and Coast regions December of 2020, where they documented critical situations of violations of basic rights, “with a concerning lack of will and empathy from the authorities (…)”. The Civil  Observation Mission had the opportunity to visit the communities of Chalchihuitán, Acteal, Aldama, Nuevo San Gregorio, Moisés Gandhi, Chilón y Tonalá where we gathered testimonies from those affected by situations of forced displacement, land dispossession, arbitrary detention, torture, harrassment, threats, and criminalization among other aggressions. (…) It is outrageous the structural violence that is condoned and even encouraged form the three levels of government and its little to no willingness to address the conflict, trivializing, discriminating against and criminalizing the communities. 

Is another State crime being prepared?

This piece was published in La Jornada on April 2nd, 2021. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2021/04/02/opinion/014a2pol This English interpretation has been published by Schools for Chiapas.