Three Decades of Las Abejas; 25 Years After the Massacre in Acteal

by Pablo Martínez*

December 21 and 22 will mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the civil organization Las Abejas and 25 years since the massacre in Acteal. For this reason it is worthwhile to remember a bit about both events, and to highlight the tireless and peaceful struggle they have led for the vindication and respect of indigenous rights.

The history of the Las Abejas organization begins with the struggle of three siblings, Agustín, Catarina and María Hernández López. Upon the death of their father, they inherited 120 hectares in the community of Tsajalch’, municipality of Chenalhó, in the highlands of Chiapas. This event occurred in a context in which there was a social custom that did not allow women to own land. Agustín sought to demand exclusive ownership of the property, ignoring his sisters’ right to inheritance.

This family conflict escalated to a political level within the community, and various organizations became involved, entering into a sexist struggle for the right of women to the family inheritance. It is in this conflict that Agustín, Catarina and María’s brother, shoots three men who support his sisters, wounding two of them and killing one of the men.

Without any repercussions, Agustín manages to get to the municipal judge, to whom he presents his machista problems of the inheritance, achieving a ruling in favor and the imprisonment of five men – Mariano Pérez Vázquez, Sebastián Pérez Vázquez, Felipe Hernández Pérez, Antonio Pérez Gutiérrez and Manuel Pérez Gutiérrez – all from the community of Tsajalch’en, who were taken to Cereso No. 5 in San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Faced with this injustice, people from various communities in the municipality of San Pedro de Chenalhó organized themselves and gathered 400 people. They organized marches to demand the release of the prisoners, and succeeded in being heard. This participatory act showed the population the level of organization that could be achieved. Thus, in December 1992, they founded the civil group Las Abejas, initially made up of 200 people from eight communities, all from Chenalhó.

Two years later, on January 1, 1994, the conflict in Chiapas formally began with the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). This movement seeks the recognition and respect of indigenous rights, and from the beginning, the civil society Las Abejas showed sympathy with the demands, although not with the armed struggle proposed by the EZLN. This is why the closeness of Las Abejas with Zapatismo is outside the armed movement, since they have always defended the peaceful struggle.

The open warfare lasted only a few days due to the pressure of national and international civil society, and on January 10, 1994, a non-aggression pact was signed between the Mexican government and the group that had taken up arms (the EZLN). This gave way to the need to hold dialogues in the following months, beginning in San Miguel Ocosingo, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and ending in San Andrés Larráinzar in 1995 with agreements signed, but not fulfilled by the Mexican State.

While representatives of the Mexican government sat down to discuss peace agreements, the Mexican Army implemented counterinsurgency strategies that had been inherited from the School of the Americas, the so-called low intensity warfare. This proposed the training of armed groups within the communities to do the dirty work that the Army was forbidden to carry out and to generate chaos within the Chiapas region.

This strategy of low intensity warfare had, among its objectives, to achieve a propagandistic development in the media and public opinion to discredit the insurgent movement, promoting confusion with the information produced by the autonomous and local media and incriminating the populations of the communities as terrorists for the State.

The escalation of the conflict led on December 22, 1997, to a group of Tsotsiles equipped with high caliber weapons shooting 45 members of the civil society Las Abejas (18 adult women, five pregnant women, seven adult men, 16 minors and four children) who were inside the church praying for peace in their communities.

Completely unarmed, while they were celebrating a day of fasting and prayer inside the Acteal community chapel, they were massacred by 90 paramilitaries stationed 200 meters from the church. There were no consequences for high governmental or military posts. Former President Ernesto Zedillo and high-ranking military officials shelved the Acteal case, leaving those responsible unpunished. Thirty years after the events, Las Abejas civil society continues to remember their dead, demanding truth and justice.

Names of the victims of the massacre:

María Pérez Oyalte, Martha Capote Pérez, Rosa Vázquez Luna, Marcela Capote Ruiz, Marcela Pucuj Luna, Loida Ruiz Gómez, Catalina Luna Pérez, Manuela Pérez Moreno, Manuel Santiz Culebra, Margarita Méndez Paciencia, Marcela Luna Ruiz, Micaela Vásquez Pérez, Josefa Vázquez Pérez, Daniel Gómez Ruiz, Victorio Vázquez Gómez, Rosalina Gómez Hernández, Lucía Méndez Capote, Graciela Gómez Hernández, Marcela Capote Vázquez, Miguel Pérez Jiménez, Susana Jiménez Luna, Rosa Pérez Pérez, Ignacio Pucuj Luna, María Luna Méndez, Alonso Vázquez Luna, Vicente Méndez Capote, Guadalupe Gómez Hernández, Micaela Vázquez Luna, Juana Vázquez Luna, Alejandro Pérez Luna, Juana Luna Vázquez, Juana Gómez Pérez y Juan Carlos Luna Pérez.

* Teacher

Original article published in La Jornada on December 22, 2022. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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