Pantelhó, narco-paramilitaries and indigenous self-defense

Simón Pedro Pérez López

By: Luis Hernández Navarro

They executed Simón Pedro Pérez López at the market in Simojovel, Chiapas. The crime was the work of a professional. From a moving motorcycle, a hitman (sicario) shot him in the head with an accurate bullet. Helpless that July 5, his son watched as his father bled to death on the floor until he lost the last breath of life.

The 35-year old indigenous Tsotsil, father of seven children, Simón was a catechist in the parish of Santa Catalina, in Pantelhó. In 2020, he presided over the Board of Directors of Civil Society Las Abejas of Acteal, to which belong the victims of the December 22, 1997 paramilitary massacre, in which 45 people who were praying in a chapel were savagely killed. He was also part of the National Indigenous Congress (Congreso Nacional Indígena, CNI).

He was a good man, dedicated to defending human rights and to demanding justice. He had recently denounced the abuses suffered by residents of Pantelhó at the hands of a narco-paramilitary group dedicated to trafficking drugs, migrants and arms, as well as stealing cars. Just a few days before his murder, on June 26, communal authorities and agents of the municipality presented the Chiapas Secretary of Government, Victoria Cecilia Flores Pérez, a document that gives a detailed account of the relationships of the local authorities with criminal groups.

The one who controls the municipal presidency of Pantelhó has PRD membership. It’s not a new phenomenon. Without being the only one, that party in the state has served the paramilitaries for years ( He won three years ago, from the hand of Santos López Hernández, who was later put in prison for the crime of sexual abuse of two women officials of that municipal council. In his place they named Delia Janet Velasco Flores, wife of the mayor elected in the last elections with the initials of the Aztec Sun [as the PRD is called], Raquel Trujillo Morales (he says that they were divorced six months ago)

In 2019, inhabitants accused Raquel of usurping functions as municipal trustee, assaulting citizens and diverting more than 3 million pesos of public money to his benefit, in association with the treasurer. Since then, he is associated with the brothers Rubén and Daily Herrera to violently intimidate those who oppose him ( The clan’s patriarch, Austreberto, is in prison for murdering two people in the municipality in April 2015 ( In 2002 he wanted to name himself to be the local judge. H was the one who opened the door to organized crime.

The case of Simón Pedro is not the only one of a member of Civil Society Las Abejas killed in Pantelhó. In 2015, criminals murdered the catechist Manuel López. Despite the fact that the Chiapas attorney general’s office knew of the event, there was no progress in the investigation and the guilty parties were not punished.

With the support of gunmen from Campeche, Veracruz and Sinaloa, this group has won territorial control through terror, murders, disappearances, robberies, dispossession and forced displacement, carrying weapons and explosives for the exclusive use of the Mexican Army. He is no stranger to the criminal organization that operates in Chenalhó ( and the Chamula Cartel.

The violence unleashed by them inside the municipality was exacerbated within the framework of the last electoral contest. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center documented the murder of 12 people, including one child and one more disappeared, since March of this year. Countless residents have been displaced due to fear and the risk of losing their lives. Checkpoints, roadblocks and incursions of armed groups, in the company of police, are a daily occurrence. Different testimonies have revealed that members of the criminal group have driven National Guard vehicles (

In the midst of that climate of coercion, 11 Tsotsil parishes of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, headed by Father Marcelo Pérez Pérez, demanded postponing the June 6 elections in this municipality. “There is a silence in the municipal seat of Pantelhó. Nobody wants to say anything. They don’t leave the communities because they fear being murdered,” he warned after a meeting with pastoral agents. But no one listened to his warning.

Father Marcelo was not the only one to forewarn of the danger that lurked. It worries us, Chiapas bishops observed, that some power groups, linked to criminal activities infiltrate the political parties.

The straw that broke the camel’s back in the region was the murder of Simón Pedro Pérez Lopez, and that of being fed up with the pact of institutional impunity that protects the criminal group. Two homemade bombs were found in the home of the catechist’s murderers in the Nuevo Israelita community. Pushed to the extreme, on July 7 and 8 the El Machete Self Defense group of Pantelhó confronted the narco-paramilitaries and occupied the municipal seat to defend their lives. In this context, a convoy of soldiers and police was shot at while removing a road blockade.

The conflict escalated. Hundreds of indigenous Tsotsils sought refuge in secure places. The municipal seat of Pantelhó became a ghost town. Residents of the neighboring municipality of Cancuc blocked exits and entries. More than two thousand people are displaced in the region. The pretense of having a “sanitary cordon” to isolate Zapatismo and the indigenous struggles for autonomy by using narco-paramilitarism became a crisis.


[1] The last sentence of this article summarizes the counterinsurgency strategy succinctly: the government strategy for containing “Zapatismo” so that it cannot spread has been to surround the indigenous communities with narco-paramilitaries.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Sunday, July 11, 2021
English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas and the Chiapas Support Committee
Re-Published by the Chiapas Support Committee

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