Thirty-five Years of Frayba

On March 19th, the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center for Human Rights celebrates 35 years since its foundation. It was born a year after the electoral fraud of 1988, in the time of Carlos Salinas and as governor of Chiapas, Patrocinio González Garrido.

At that time, major neoliberal constitutional reforms were looming, such as that of Article 27 of the constitution, which helped the Zapatista movement make the decision to launch an armed uprising a few years later. These were times of privatization and brutal repression against social, peasant and indigenous movements. There were dozens of political prisoners in the prisons of Chiapas and many others were murdered in the streets and fields of the state. Protests in indigenous municipalities were invariably repressed with arrests of leaders, beatings of protesters, and torture of prisoners. Frayba, as we affectionately call it, took up indigenous and peasant causes from its beginnings under the guidance of its founders, Don Samuel Ruiz García, bishop of the diocese of San Cristóbal, and the Dominican Gonzalo Ituarte.

Frayba dedicated many years to training and raising awareness on human rights issues. It carried out popular workshops in parishes and in the most remote communities. It published in at least Tseltal, Tsotsil, Tojolabal and Ch’ol the Universal Declaration and the most important instruments to defend the rights of peoples. This training was a vital hummus to vindicate human dignity in the region.

In its first years, the Frayba team valiantly defended indigenous people expelled from San Juan Chamula, for political reasons, who were dissidents from the local PRI chiefdoms. Likewise, it took on cases of indigenous women who did not inherit land because they were women, dissident teachers, trans people who were persecuted in the streets of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and families who were dispossessed of their land. I remember that we could no longer cope shortly after the center was founded.

In the late 80s and early 90s we formed broader links with human rights defenders, such as what was later called the Network of Civil Human Rights Organizations All Rights for All. This group was the result of the action of activists who had started working in the early 80s in the first human rights centers in the country.

The network was fundamental in the context of the Zapatista uprising to document and denounce the violations committed in the clashes of those months of 1994 and what later became the low intensity war carried out by the Federal Army with paramilitary groups trained by it.

The history of Chiapas in its last 35 years is largely told by the Frayba reports that punctually record the evolution of respect for human rights and its deterioration. The report ‘’Chiapas, a Disaster’’, from 2023, documents the suffering of the people experiencing re-militarization and the violence of organized crime, derived from the paramilitaries that remained unpunished and were reconverted into criminal gangs. One aspect of this violence is forced displacement, which is particularly faced by communities near the border with Guatemala.

In these 35 years, Frayba has been a reference on human rights issues in the state of Chiapas and the country. It has resisted the attacks of the Mexican State, direct and indirect attacks, and became a mirror and sounding board for social struggles, particularly indigenous people in the region. It has contributed to what we could call the school of San Cristóbal, where many people have reflected and acted for life, the defense of rights and territory, thinking about the resistance of women, the protection of Mother Earth and the autonomies of the territories of the Indian peoples.

Today Frayba celebrates with the people the struggle and life, the path taken and the horizon created with effort and hope. Being there is no small feat! Standing and dancing is everything. Congratulations to those who have walked and opened a gap. Tribute to those who have already left us and to those who remain stubborn in fighting for justice, despite everything.


Original article published in La Jornada on March 15, 2024.
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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