Sunday, June 8, 2008

From the Acteal Massacre to the Merida Initiative

by Rafael Landerreche, translation and footnotes by Kristin Bricker
La Jornada - November 10, 2007

Las Abejas from Chenalhó is an organization that professes non-violent principles. Time and time again they've declared that they don't want revenge for the Acrtal massacre, but that they won't give up their demand for justice so that incidents like that don't happen again.

It couldn't be a better time to review some tragic lessons from the Acteal case, since an agreement with the United States government known officially as the Merida Initiative is being cooked up right now.

The Acteal massacre almost ten years ago was the result of an operation meticulously planned and executed by a series of concentric circles, each one successively more distant from the scene of the crime than the one before it, but each one at the same time closer and closer to the true circles of power. In the first place, in the center of the concentric circles and in the material execution of the murders, are the armed indigenous people who attacked the Acteal chapel that December 22 while Las Abejas were fasting and praying for peace in their municipality. Immediately after this circle were the municipal council and the Chenalhó members of the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI in its Spanish initials), whose municipal president ended up in jail together with the people who carried out the murders. From here we can arrive at the Attorney General, although minimizing mention of the PRI.

The next circle is made up of the state Public Security forces and consequently the Chiapas state government. Their complicity with the people who carried out the massacre was very obvious; anyone who takes the trouble to review the testimony from the trial will be convinced of their evident participation. The height of this complicity is apparent in the presence of a state Public Security unit which was stationed a few meters from where Las Abejas were being massacred during the almost six hours in which the shooting lasted. Finding it impossible to cover up or deny this fact, the authorities had no other option but to affirm that those in charge of public security were guilty of negligence. From here we arrive at the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH in its Spanish initials).[1]

The third circle was a little more concealed than the one before it, because the Mexican Army was careful to not show itself in such a crude manner as the police did. It was careful to never appear officially as the army, and when uniformed individuals or people with military training who had participated in the training or arming of the people who carried out the massacre surfaced, it had to do with the institutional connection with the Army by means of the not-so-subtle dossier which confirmed that said individuals were discharged or on leave (sic). But even though the Army might deny its relationship with these individuals, it can't deny its relation to the Manual of non-conventional warfare. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center has demonstrated the manual's relation to the Acteal operation.

The last circle consists of the military and security apparatus of the United States which advises the Mexican Army.

The identity of the people who carried out the massacre is defined by its relation to these concentric circles. The uncovered relationship with the Army demands the logic and need to call them very clearly paramilitary groups. Inversely, the entire strategy of the government and its co-conspirators, from the Attorney General in 1998 to Héctor Aguilar Camín in 2007[2], consists in denying, covering up, or disguising the relationship between the first circle and the others; in this way those in first circle are tamely defined as "civilian self-defense groups."

Beyond these cover-up attempts are the tracks left by the murders. One in particular is of supreme importance: the brutality and sadism with which the victims were killed, particularly the pregnant mothers.[3] People in the government recognized this and for this reason tried to cover it up, just like they did with the dead bodies. On October 27, Aída Hernández Castillo recounted in La Jornada how they wanted to get a favorable report from the Social Anthropology Research and Superior Studies Center (CIESAS in its Spanish initials) and how a group of anthropologists maintained that that type of violence had nothing to do with community conflicts, that it didn't have anything to do with the Tzotzil culture, but rather with the "culture of counterinsurgency that has its roots above all in the training centers for special forces in Central America and the United States."

There is no doubt that many Mexican soldiers studied in the School of the Americas; apparently there is not the same certainty as far as their training in the Kaibil School.[4] Curiously, neither the Mexican government nor the army has denied it. And at the beginning of this year the Chiapan Cuarto Poder published an odd report about the kaibil school, where it was straight out confirmed that "53 soldiers from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua took course number 67 in the Kaibil School."

Ten years after the Acteal massacre, Felipe Calderón's government tries to impose an agreement with President Bush on the country so that he would bestow upon Mexico, amongst other things, military guidance in questions of security. With precedents like Acteal and others that we've cited, there are more than enough reasons to be worried. Therefore, getting to the bottom of what happened in Acteal is important not only for the Las Abejas in Chenalhó, but also for all Mexicans.

Rafael Landerreche is the former coordinator of the Analysis and Diffusion Department of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center. He now works in an indigenous education project in the Chenalhó municipality.

1. The CNDH is the government-funded but theoretically independent human rights watchdog in Mexico. It has been accused both of complicity with the government and ineffectiveness.

2. John Ross reports that Héctor Aguilar Camín is "a high profile journalist and author...(he has his own late night show on Televisa) whose three-part series 'Return to Acteal' published in Nexos, the glossy highbrow monthly he co-edits, seeks to debunk the Zapatista 'legend' that the 'mal gobierno' (bad government) was responsible for the murders of the Abejas. Aguilar Camin was the house intellectual during the reigns of Carlos Salinas (1988-94) and Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and has had a continued presence under PANista Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and his successor Felipe Calderon. 'Aguilar Camin always serves the princes,' sneers [Luis] Hernandez Navarro, op ed editor at the left daily La Jornada.

"Aguilar Camin's lengthy chronicle not only redeems Zedillo, who now heads Yale's Institute for Globalization Studies, but also neglects overwhelming evidence of his government's involvement in the events of December 22nd, 1997, instead ascribing the cause of the massacre to long latent 'inter-communal' and religious disputes that he suggests are inherent in Highland Maya culture and which were exacerbated by the Zapatista uprising."

3. During the Acteal massacre, paramilitaries murdered pregnant women and cut open their wombs to rip out and mutilate their fetuses.

4. Kaibiles are a special operations force of the Guatemalan military. They are infamous for their savagery and brutality. They are responsible for human rights abuses and various massacres that took place during Guatemala's Dirty War. They have a commando school called the Kaibil School. Kaibiles have trained Mexican soldiers and possibly paramilitaries, and Zapatistas report seeing them in Chiapas with Mexican soldiers. Mexico's ministry of defense also reports that Kaibil deserters have trained the Zetas, a group of ex-special forces from the Mexican military who now work as hitmen for the Gulf drug cartel.


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