The People of Acteal, Chiapas, Receive the Caravan of Peace with their History of Struggle
A Silent Cry Is Offered in Memory of the 45 Tzotziles Massacred and the 50,000 Victims of the Drug War
By Marta Molina
Special for The Narco News Bulletin
September 21, 2011
On September 15 and 16, the Southern Caravan of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity visted the community of Acteal. There, together with the civic organization Las Abejas, while most Mexicans celebrated their “Cry of Dolores,” another cry, not of independence, but of peace, was celebrated. With that they offered a shared commitment to construct a more dignified and just life through what Las Abejas calls nonviolence.
Five hours behind schedule due to a rainstorm mountain mudslide that blocked the only road to this community, around one a.m., the members of the Peace Caravan arrived in Acteal, where hundreds received them with open arms, smiles, food, vitality, respect and enthusiasm.
The members of Las Abejas live in a village in the town of Acteal where, on December 22, 1997, about 90 paramilitary troops (opposed to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN in its Spanish initials) brutally killed 45 of their neighbors while they prayed inside the local church. Sixteen of them were children and adolescents. Twenty were women. And nine were adult men. Seven of the women were pregnant. (Just this week, the then-president of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, was sued in the United States for this crime against humanity.) In spite of this atrocity in Acteal, which is in the Altos region of Chiapas in the municipality of Chenalhó, the civil society group Las Abejas has organized to struggle for their autonomy, to win back their rights, to defend their lands and, as they put it, “for the construction of good living.”
Around midnight Julian LeBaron and Teresa Carmona, representatives of the commission sent by the Peace Caravan to Acteal, arrived. They entered on foot. They had left their vehicle along the road where the landslide blocked the road. Some members of the Caravan decided to return to San Cristóbal de Las Casas. But convinced they had to be there, LeBaron and Caromona walked through the woods. The authorities of the community then organized a small contingent of men with shovels to go down and clear the road. This made it possible for other vehicles of caravan participants to arrive around 1 a.m. with other caravan representatives including Maria Herrera, Araceli Rodríguez and Father Miguel Concha Malo.
A rainstorm, a landslide, and a complicated road, but, in Acteal, nobody moved from their posts while awaiting the caravan. The benches remained full during the five hours of waiting and spirits were high. The patience of this community is an example of struggle, of its organizational capacity, the coherence of its discourse, in saying and in doing. Perhaps for its patience, its nonviolent actions are achieving results against the impunity of the 1997 massacre. Perhaps because of this patience they do not give up. Perhaps it is this patience that allows them to be organized, to have achieved the ability to live autonomously, and turn their backs on the system that they define as the evil government, headed at present by Felipe Calderon.
Earlier on September 15, while the local authorities Mariano, Antonio and Sebastián deliberated among them the when and how to grant an interview to Narco News, we took shelter from the rain in the church, where the 45 townspeople had been massacred. Meanwhile, in the local sanitation office (which also serves as the government seat), a group of Tzotzil women cooked enormous vats of beans and prepared coffee, sandwiches, potatoes and eggs for the visitors who would arrive (they hoped, soon). Below, among the benches, everything was prepared for the reception of the caravan, with 45 crosses placed to remember the 45 dead of the massacre of December 22, 1997.
445 crosses in memory of the martyrs of the Acteal massacre presided over the reception ceremony for the Caravan of Peace. DR 2011 Narco News TV
Antonio and Mariano informed us that they now had permission to speak. We did the interview in a small building because the rainstorm had begun to threaten. Behind them, on a wall, there was a “No more blood” sticker and an article about Charles Chaplin. The rain pounded down.
Antonio Vásquez said they awaited the caravan and Javier Sicilia because, like them, they are on a path to peace. “We, Las Abejas, have walked many years already, since we founded our organization 18 years ago. And since the massacre it’s been almost fourteen years.” The Caravan and Las Abejas are struggling for the same thing; to tell the government that they are tired of being deceived and to demand an end to the bloodshed, “because the blood of the 45 here in Acteal is also the blood of the 50,000 dead from this absurd war.”
Inside this church, paramilitaries massacred 45 residents of Acteal on December 22, 1997. DR 2011 Narco News TV
Las Abejas have spent these fourteen years struggling explicitly on the path of nonviolence. “We don’t use violent means because violence does not bring us life. It brings death,” said Antonio. “Weapons don’t bring life. They cause death and spill a lot of blood.” Nonviolence is their legitimate weapon to construct a Mexico with respect and justice, without discrimination, so that “they respect us as human beings, so that we have the right to express what we want to say and to work for an autonomy as we have been making for ourselves, not like those on the outside who live only for money.” Las Abejas do not accept any government funds or programs and they seek to construct their autonomy and authentic justice as indigenous people.
They await Javier Sicilia and all that accompany him in this crusade for peace throughout the South of the country. “The rain is cold,” comments Antonio, “but warm is the heart.” He added, “We do not invite people here unless they have a political vision of struggle for the wellbeing of the people. We await the Caravan because it seeks what we seek, it struggles for that which we struggle.”
The reception in Acteal, without a doubt, was the most organized and prepared along the caravan route. This community, in its struggle for complete autonomy and, that, in its tireless effort to bring to justice the material and intellectual authors of the massacre of its 45 citizens derives its strength from patience and converts its pain into struggle, offering a great lesson to the national movement of drug war victims.
|Mariano Pérez Vázquez and Antonio Vázquez Gómez during an interview with Narco News. |
DR 2011 Narco News TV
Las Abejas understand like nobody else the sentiment of the June Caravan of Solace in the Mexican North and of the Caravan of Peace in the South. They also cite the words of Javier Sicilia on the Mexico City Zócalo on May 9, his call to refound the Mexican nation. And they have put their community at the disposition of the struggle, a place where the nation also suffers an open wound, to begin to construct, with nonviolence, the path to peace with justice and dignity, together with everyone else in the caravan. As they said in the communiqué that they read on this September 16 dawn, “if we trust in weapons, in the Army, and in the so-called ‘National Security Law,’ these will only bring us more terror and will never end the spiral of violence in our Mexico. We struggle with the wisdom of our Mayan ancestors like the twins Junajpu and Ixbalanque, and, with the example of Jesus in nonviolent struggle. (See the full Las Abejas communiqué, here
And they understood, perhaps because they have been doing it for 18 years, perhaps centuries, perhaps because their level of organization is enriched by the organizing tradition of many communities up and down the country, maybe because they have learned to have patience, to not give up, in spite of the pain.
In general, we, in society, are not accustomed to being patient. Wait for five hours in our seats? Wait years for justice to be made? Wait centuries to win back our land and our homes? But they do not merely wait. They organize and struggle. That’s what Las Abejas does.
As Las Abejas said in their words receiving the caravan: “We don’t want to kill anybody. What we want is to take away their power to kill. We want the lords of death to cease to govern over our land. And the first step to cease their governance is to not obey them. That’s why we are in resistance and we are in agreement with the path of nonviolent civil disobedience that this caravan has made its banner.”
This visit to Acteal provided a classroom in organization and courage for the members of the national peace movement. As Julian LeBaron said the following day, in Palenque, Chiapas, after having spent the night in celebration with Las Abejas and the morning meeting with the Zapatistas in Oventik, “We must follow the example of Acteal and the Zapatistas, a people that doesn’t ask the government for anything that they are not ready to do for themselves.”
LeBaron also reflected on the words of Antonio Vásquez in Acteal when he said, “Mexico is our house and our politicians are like our servants. They have allowed the cockroaches and rats to enter our home and they destroy and lower the value of everything, yet every week they arrive for their paycheck and we, the Mexican people, have allowed this to happen. I believe that in the people of Acteal we have an example of dignity that we all must follow; an example of justice and compassion and forgiveness.”
In this sacred land of Acteal, that was “baptized by blood and not with water,” its dead, its pain, the indignation, have given strength to the rest of the movement to continue in the struggle and not remain silent. The national day of the Cry of Independence of Mexico, the 50,000 dead in the drug war have now united with the 45 martyrs of Acteal in a symbolic ceremony when they lit hundreds of candles around 45 crosses. But this is not just an allegorical action, but also the true acceptance of a shared commitment toward peace.
Symbolic ceremony in which hundreds of candles were lit for the 50,000 drug war dead and the 45 massacred of Acteal. Behind them, representatives of the community with members of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. DR 2011 Narco News TV. DR 2011 Narco News TV
Javier Sicilia did not arrive in Acteal, but they led his words, which began with some verses of a poem by Alberto Blanco which Sicilia read, for the first time, las May in Michoacán, on the first night of the Northern Caravan, when the movement was still barely a mobilization. The verses referred to belonging to “a large and strong tribe,” like that which those who struggle for justice in Mexico belong to, like Las Abejas, who now form part of the Movement for Peace. All are of the same tribe now. In Acteal the Cry of Independence was not celebrated but a Cry of Silence was, by this “tribe.” Sicilia recalled that after the signing of the San Andrés Peace Accords in 1996, “made for those for whom Independence has long been due, who have been betrayed and were crucified with the massacre of Acteal and the death of ‘many sweet and beautiful Abejas,’” that their struggle has been made visible and dignified.
Ceremony for all victims of violence and war in Mexico. DR 2011 Narco News TV
In Sicilia’s words, “Today, the Cry is empty of content,” because 60,000 deaths, more than 10,000 disappeared, more than 120,000 displaced, are now added to the thousands of dead and displaced of the indigenous peoples, and day after day those numbers rise.” Additionally, he noted that since the Movement met on June 23 with the President of the Republic, at least 2,867 more murders “have been the results of a war where, like a mud in which soil and water have been mixed, have erased the border between the criminals and those who govern. Underneath this horror, the Cry of Independence has been rendered unpronounceable.”
Las Abejas have inspired the peace movement’s will to struggle, its optimism, its strength, its dignity, and, above all, its form of organizing that, everyone hopes, will inspire all together to construct a Mexico where the epoch of evil government and violence give way to justice and peace; where, as LeBaron regularly repeats: “All of us will organize to be constructors of a dignified life.”
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