Who Are Las Abejas de Acteal, Chiapas? Find Out About Their Beginnings and Their Struggle

The group was founded some 30 years ago by the victims of the “Acteal Massacre.” According to its website, Las Abejas Civil Society Organization “is an autonomous group in resistance that fights peacefully to claim its rights, build its autonomy and defend its lands and territories.”

This group is based in the community of Acteal, Chenalhó and covers four municipalities of Los Altos de Chiapas, the majority of whom speak the Tsotsil Mayan language and part of them Tseltal Mayan.

How did Las Abejas originate?

The story began in 1992 with Agustín, Catarina and María Hernández López, three siblings who inherited a 120-hectare piece of land from their father in the community of Tsajalch’en, municipality of Chenalhó, in the Chiapas Highlands.

Agustín took advantage of the fact that social custom did not allow women to own land. He sought to demand exclusivity of the property and ignore the right of his sisters to receive their inheritance.

The family conflict grew when ideological groups and civil organizations became involved in struggles for women’s agrarian rights. Because of this, Agustín shot three men who supported his sisters; one died and two were injured.

However, Agustín blamed Mariano Pérez Vázquez, Sebastián Pérez Vázquez, Felipe Hernández Pérez, Antonio Pérez Gutiérrez and Manuel Pérez Gutiérrez, all from the community of Tsajalch’en, before the authorities.

The five people were arrested and taken to CERESO No. 5 prison in San Cristobal de Las Casas. In response, 400 Tsotsil, Catholic, and Presbyterian men and women from different communities in the municipality of San Pedro de Chenalhó organized marches to demand the release of the prisoners.

These collective actions led to the formation of a common front against the injustices of which they were victims. For this reason, in December 1992 they decided to group together as a civil society under the name Las Abejas, initially made up of 200 people from eight communities, all from Chenalhó.

The Acteal Massacre

Two years after the creation of Las Abejas, on January 1st, 1994, the conflict in Chiapas began with the armed uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Days later, on January 10th, 1994, a non-aggression pact was signed between the Mexican State and the insurgent group.

In the dialogues to seek an outcome of the conflict, Las Abejas actively participated in the peace cordons in support of the security of the EZLN command. Despite the actions to seek peace, the Mexican army began implementing a counterinsurgency strategy described as “low intensity warfare.”

This strategy proposes the training of armed groups within the communities to “look like the attacks are intra- and inter-community conflicts”, the official website of Las Abejas says.

By the beginning of 1997, the political conflict began to become more complex with the paramilitary groups, who increased their violent actions. The fear of the inhabitants of the different affected areas led to the displacement of around 9,000 people.

On December 22nd, 1997, a group of Tsotsils equipped with high-caliber weapons murdered 45 members of Las Abejas, including pregnant women and minors, and wounded 26; several of them resulting in permanent injuries.

These people, who were taking refuge in the Acteal community, were holding a day of fasting and prayer in the community chapel to ask for peace in the region. The attack was perpetrated by around 90 people and points “towards a direct responsibility of the Mexican State.”

It took 22 years and eight months for the Government of the Republic, during the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to recognize its part and take responsibility for the so-called “Acteal Massacre.”

In the Act of Acknowledgment of Responsibility, the Undersecretary for Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas, offered a public apology for the “deep offense.” In turn, the Ministry of the Interior and 30 victims of the massacre signed the Friendly Settlement Agreement to repair the damage and social reconstruction in Chiapas.

Originally published in Spanish in Heraldo de Chiapas (09/07/2021) at https://heraldodemexico.com.mx/nacional/2021/7/9/quienes-son-las-abejas-de-acteal-chiapas-conoce-cuando-surgieron-por-que-luchan-314764.html
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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