By: Blanche Petrich
Three weeks ago, the parish priest of Simojovel, Marcelo Pérez, started to tour the steep trajectory of at least four hours that goes from his parish to the border communities between Chenalhó and Chalchihuitán, in Los Altos (the Highlands) of Chiapas to verify what the inhabitants of those places were denouncing: attacks by paramilitary groups from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and from the officialist Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM); roadblocks and populations under siege; almost 6,000  people displaced in extreme conditions of vulnerability; shootings every night and dozens of houses burned by the aggressors.
He has returned several times: “And everything is true. When I saw children sleeping under trees, without anything to eat, many of them sick, I could not believe it. I never thought that I would see so much suffering again, so much sickness,” he comments in a telephone interview. He returned last Tuesday and was in several spots in Chalchihuitán collecting testimonies from the more than 5,000 displaced people. Wednesday in Chenalhó, there are almost 1,000 people who are in the woods.
This is the result of the census he took: there are 5,035 displaced in the municipality of Chalchihuitán; more than 800 from Majompepentic; there are 150 displaced from the so-called Fracción Polhó (a non-Zapatista split from what were the refugee camps of Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) bases displaced by the massacres of 20 years ago that settled in Polhó), among them six pregnant women; there are 205 families (more than 900 people) from Las Limas in the mountains, far from the towns, with 15 pregnant women. Además, dejaron sus casas Four families from Campo Los Toros, 30 inhabitants from Vayem Vacax, and four families from Yabteclum also left their homes.
On the other side of the dividing line, in the municipality of Chenalhó, a census was completed just last Wednesday night of more than 960 displaced people.
“The women and children are suffering much cold, hunger and sickness. It is a repetition of what happened in these same places 20 years ago, in the days before the Acteal Massacre. History already warned us what can occur here,” he warns in the telephone interview. “The massacre can be repeated.”
A warning that doesn’t make a dent in the Government
In 1997, residents abandoned a dozen communities in Chenalhó in September because of the attacks from PRI groups that, in the context of the counterinsurgency war against Zapatismo, attacked those who they supposed were Zapatista bases. In the freezing Los Altos winter, with the crops abandoned in the field and there were already thousands of displaced that were living in the mountains, sick and destitute of everything. It was the warning of what would happen on December 22. It was ignored.
The Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas and the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) have also warned: the events of Acteal can happen again. The warning has no made a dent in the authorities.
The director of the Frayba, as this non-governmental organization founded by Bishop Samuel Ruiz is known, maintains that the paramilitary groups that are acting today “are the same ones that committed the Acteal Massacre on December 22 and 23, 1997. It’s the cyclical violence that impunity generates.”
Father Marcelo coincides by pointing out: “The displaced point them out, they recognize them. Many of today’s aggressors, with high-caliber weapons just like 20 years ago, are the same ones as in Acteal. It’s true that others are not the same; there are also a new generation of paramilitaries.” But there is an aggravating factor today, he adds: “the narco-politics and arms trafficking, which is intense in Chenalhó and takes place under the complicit gaze of the authorities.”
In 1997 and 1998, after the Acteal Massacre and the wave of repression, militarization and displacements that there were, more than 30 paramilitaries were detained. A criminal process was initiated against them. Then Chiapas governor Roberto Albores contracted lawyers to defend them. Several of them confessed, and in 2007 were sentenced to 26 years in prison. But between 2009 and 2011, defended by a team of private litigators, all were released by decision Supreme Court of Justicia of the Nation (SCJN), which alleged “due process errors.” Several of the alleged killers returned to Chenalhó, to co-exist with their victims and survivors.
On that December 26, 1997, 15 children, 21 woman (four of the pregnant) and nine men were executed in Acteal. About 30 people were injured. Everyone had been fasting and praying.
They were disarmed.
Because of the terror, almost one third of the inhabitants of the municipality fled their homes and displaced themselves into organized encampments or simply to the outdoors, in the winter.
Now, the scenes of 20 years ago repeat themselves in the same places. There are communities, like Polhó and others, that are repeating the exodus that was forced upon them in 1997 and 1998, and in the same precarious conditions.
“State authorities reacted belatedly with sending humanitarian aid. For the moment only parishes in the la diocese and civil society are mobilizing food, medicine and blankets towards the camps. And it’s very complicated,” Father Marcelo explains.
Impunity, cyclical violence
Pedro Faro, director of the Frayba denounced to this media that the state government has demonstrated a total inability to resolve the conflict. “Among other things, Rosa Pérez, municipal president of Chenalhó, protected by the governor and imposed by means of fraud, committed in front of state government representatives to order the lifting of roadblocks on three highways that keep the Chalchihuitán communities under siege and to permit the Base of Mixed Operations to be reinstalled as soon as the aggressions started. She did not comply!”
The old conflict between residents of Chalchihuitán and Chenalhó was revived after the murder, still unpunished, of the Tsotsil Samuel Pérez Luna, on October 18, in a paramilitary attack. Pedro Faro explains: “It wasn’t the first case. There is omission by the authorities to resolve the border conflict that dates from 1979, in which 900 hectares are disputed because of an erroneous agrarian resolution of the then Secretariat of Agrarian Reform. Because of that the cycle of violence encourages impunity. Every once in a while violence erupts. The governor attained several agreements that have not been fulfilled at negotiating tables that have not been equal. There has been negligence and inability. In the coming days a resolution ought to be given from an agrarian tribunal that will decide if Chenalhó must accept 15 million pesos of indemnification in exchange for the allocation of lands to Chalchihuitán. I guess that’s why the paramilitaries were reactivated; as a form of pressure.”
The parish priest Marcelo Pérez adds the other ingredient of this time bomb: “Narco-politics is in this zone of Los Altos. Nobody wants to talk about it and nobody dares to denounce it, but it is known.”
 A previous article estimated that 7,000 people were affected by the current violence. That number apparently includes both the nearly 6,000 displaced, as well as another 1,000-plus affected (by roadblocks and nighttime shootings) but not displaced as of now.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Friday December 1, 2017
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee