By: Luis Hernández Navarro
A young woman carries in her hands the photograph of a little six-year old girl framed in wood. It’s a portrait of Silvia Pérez Luna. In the lower part can be seen the date of her birth and death: 1991-1997.
Silvia was one of the 45 people savagely murdered by paramilitaries in Acteal, Chiapas, on December 22, 1997. The victims, 7 men, 21 women and 15 children (one of them less than one-year old), were praying for peace in a small chapel. The murderers finished off the wounded and opened the wombs of the pregnant women.
The image of Silvia’s portrait of her family member is part of the protest in which relatives of the Acteal martyrs (themselves also victims) and family members belonging to the civil society organization Las Abejas (The Bees) participated last December 8. That day, in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Rutilio Escandón was sworn in as governor of Chiapas.
That day, as they have done for almost 21 years, they denounced that Acteal is a crime against humanity perpetrated by the Mexican State, in which justice has not been done, those responsible for the acts have not been punished and the truth has not been clarified.
They also remembered how, to the country’s shame, on August 12, 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation considered it more important to point out a technicality than to defend justice and it ordered the release of 29 paramilitaries sentenced to prison.
Also coinciding with the 21st anniversary of the massacre, a timely and shocking book about it was just published: “El dolor de Acteal, Una revisión histórica,” (Acteal’s Pain, A historical review) 1997-2014, written by Mónica Uribe M, a specialist in religious issues.
Despite being a work that rigorously utilizes the tools of the sociology of religion, history, anthropology and political science, its reading provokes a strong emotional impact. The pain, indignation, rage, anguish and horror that it generates is summarized on its cover: a reproduction of the painting The Scream (El grito), from the painter Edvard Munch.
To analyze what happened in Acteal, Monica Uribe uses documentary sources that are almost unknown or only partially utilized. Among others, there is the civil complaint that a group of 11 victims filed (contrary to the opinion of Las Abejas) in United States court against former president Ernesto Zedillo. It accuses him of criminal association to execute the Acteal Massacre and for its subsequent cover-up.
The book delves into the pages of the balance sheet of the special prosecutor for crimes committed in the procurement and administration of justice in the state and for the town of Acteal. Therein is included the statement rendered by one of the tragedy’s principal actors, the then [federal] Secretary of Governance, Emilio Chuayffet. In his responses, the official makes it clear that Ernesto Zedillo knew, since one year before, about the imminent violence, through the government’s institutional channels, as well as through the national press, besides the fact that the actors in the Chiapas conflict approached him to report and warn him about the possible consequences of the situation.
In the balance sheet is included Chuayffet’s telephone conversation integrated into the case record in which, according to the document, the co-responsibility and scheming about the facts with Liébano Sáenz, President Zedillo’s private secretary is evident.
El dolor de Acteal includes an interview conducted a little more than a year ago with Alejandro Vázquez, who, at the time of the massacre, was a second archivist sergeant, belonging to the National Defense Staff, and who worked directly for the chief of the assistants to the Secretary of Defense, Enrique Cervantes Aguirre. According to his testimony, the general secretary worked on Sunday, December 21, 1997, which was unusual. That day, he was attentive to the communications from Chiapas and instructions from the Presidency, via the red telephone. He was the one responsible for picking up the phone and taking part of the call.
According to Lieutenant Vázquez, they were told that they should keep quiet and they also had to work the next day. In Acteal –he assures– “personnel from the Military Police Brigade participated, as well as logistic services personnel coming from different military zones, not from Chiapas, dressed as civilians and whose backgrounds inside the Army were negative.”
Beginning with copious documentation, El dolor de Acteal exposes the informative maneuvers of several intellectuals and of Hugo Eric Flores (the leader of Social Encounter) to elaborate an account of the facts that was convenient for the power, discards that the massacre had a religious matrix and concludes that “Ernesto Zedillo is the one ultimately responsible for the events in Acteal.”
The survivors of the massacre in Chenalhó demand that the new president listen to them, like he did to the families of the 43 that disappeared from Ayotzinapa. 21 years later, Acteal still awaits justice.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Tuesday, December 11, 2016
Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee