Mexico: The Shadow of Acteal

Source: La Jornada

How can one not think about what happened in Acteal 16 years ago, when one sees the caravan of displaced people reaching this emblematic site, accompanied by the melancholy music of Tzotzil musicians, being welcomed by a procession that carries on a platform the Virgin of the Massacre: symbol of the rustic chapel riddled [with bullets] by paramilitaries in December 1997? How could this not awaken memories and re-open wounds in those who lived through something terribly similar in those dark days? The Sacred Land of Acteal, as it has been known internationally since then, previously a small village ignored even in the maps, had been without the presence of displaced people since 2001, when hundreds of survivors of the massacre returned home, until 26th August, when 95 new displaced people from the colonia Puebla reached this land to gather under its protective shadow, putting themselves in the hands of the inexhaustible solidarity of their Tzotzil sisters and brothers.

Juan Vázquez Luna, son of Alonso Vázquez, the catechist leader of the community of the martyrs of ’97, welcomed the displaced people, for the second time offering the land of their elders to the persecuted fleeing death wearing a paramilitary face. Following him, a member of the board of Las Abejas told the displaced and the dozens of people in solidarity – Tzotzil and caxlanas [whites] – who accompanied them:  “Alonso is not dead, he welcomes you now through the voice of his son.” A stinging feeling that sways between fresh and cold pierces through the heart of those who hear these words.  Hope born of realisation that life overcomes death? Or an ominous sign that history repeats itself?  Hope certainly for those who celebrate the rite of resurrection on a concrete floor covering the graves of the 45. But the war is not over.

Since 29th April, when the followers of the ejidal commissioner, Presbyterian minister and former (?) paramilitary, Agustín Cruz Gómez, took the grounds of the Catholic church by assault, many voices have denounced and warned that the history of 1997 was being repeated. The warnings have been fulfilled like the inexorable rhythm of a clock: the end of April, intimidation and threats; from May to mid-July, complaints falling on the deaf ears of the authorities; 20th July, the sudden escalation of violence, three people about to be lynched; 21st July, the Catholic population is left without water and almost no food, mounted guards surround the community and prevent entry or access to it; 8th August, a caravan is stopped and violently prevented from entering Puebla; 20th August, the communal kitchen is burned; 21st August, the Catholic priest is taken hostage. Finally, on 23rd August, 95 people are displaced, and have to leave Puebla under cover of darkness carrying with them little more than the clothes they are wearing. Just as in ’97.

The uneasy truce after the Acteal massacre, which had, despite everything, made possible a life of relative calm in Chenalhó, began to break with the release from prison (courtesy of the judges of the Supreme Court), of the paramilitary perpetrators of the massacre at Acteal. On the 12th of August, Las Abejas recalled that four years ago, on this day, the judgment of the Supreme Court had freed the prisoners, whether or not they were guilty. On 10th April this year (what a tribute to EZ !) the last parcel of prisoners were released from prison (six still remain in custody). Amongst them was Jacinto Arias Cruz, the only paramilitary from Puebla who ended up in jail.  On 29th April the trouble began in this community.

They say that in politics there are no coincidences, and it would be something worse than naive to ignore this. But even so, the question of exactly what is behind these events still hangs in the air. Is it the deliberate revival of counterinsurgency in Chiapas? (To this day, it has never ended completely). Someone who lived through the Acteal massacre from the proximity of the Conai commented on the events in Puebla: there hasn’t been a single political initiative from the EZLN which hasn’t had a violent and provocative response from the State; the Acteal massacre itself appears to be a response to the Zapatista march [the 1,111] of September 1997. From this perspective, what is happening in Puebla could be part of the response to the initiative of La Escuelita [the Little School]. Another hypothesis, given that in 2013 the war is no longer centred in Chiapas, is that these events could be part of a broader plan to cause chaos? (Even more?). With all the narco problems, the rise of community self-defence and military involvement, the situation in Michoacan and Guerrero, and adding to this, with the setting off of the teachers’ protests, do they want even more chaos? Finally there remains a third hypothesis: counterinsurgency actors, such as paramilitaries, have their own life; so, there may not have been an explicit order to create problems in this place and at this time: the ejidal commissioner of Puebla simply ran riot through his own ambition, his political and economic interests, and perhaps even through his hatred for the Catholics. But although we cannot completely rule out this possibility, we must remember a paradox: counterinsurgency does not ignore this “life of its own”, and in their calculations enters the variable of the incalculable.

Despite all the uncertainty about what is behind the events in Chenalhó, looking at things from the realm of facts, one thing is clear beyond all doubt: impunity (courtesy of the justices of the Supreme Court) is at the root of the violence. The inciting of the young people of Puebla to violence by the commissioner has, according to eyewitnesses, this trademark: do not be afraid, nothing is going to happen to us regardless of what we do, just see, after what happened at Acteal here we are free. And today, as three months ago, just the smallest hint of proceeding against the offenders is enough to turn off their bravado and the water is back on track. The solution is so simple that if the authorities do not take it, the conclusion is inescapable, in the form of the dilemma: either their inability to govern is absolute, or they are unequivocal allies of the violent counterinsurgency (or both).