Pantelhó and the videotaped [alleged] disappearance of 21 people


On July 26, 2021, in Pantelhó, 21 men were removed from their homes; the houses were burned and they were filmed while masked men tied their hands. Eight months later, they have [allegedly] not been located.

Proceso Magazine

By: Isaín Mandujano

PANTELHÓ, Chiapas – On July 26, 2021, in this municipality of Tsotsil people of the Chiapas Highlands, 21 men were removed from their homes; their houses were burned and they were taken by force to the central park.

In the park’s kiosk they were videotaped while masked men equipped with radios tied their hands and then took them from the municipal seat. They have now been missing for eight months, although they have been sought unsuccessfully.

As proof that the 21 people are alive, there is a 45-second video in which the subdued group is seen: all tied up with a green rope. The captors, dressed in civilian clothing, also carry radios and machetes.

Relatives of the 21 captured men affirm that in the video they are able to see the now president of the Pantelhó municipal council, Pedro Cortés López, under the kiosk.

Witnesses to the [alleged] kidnapping say that a few meters from that kiosk were members of the National Guard and the Army, who did not intervene despite requests for aid from the victims’ relatives.

In a letter sent to this correspondent, relatives say that the 21 men were moved to San José Buenavista Tercero community, the bastion of the El Machete armed group.

This armed civilian group –which the victims’ relatives identify as having a paramilitary nature and not that of a self-defense group, as its members call it– denied being responsible for the [alleged] kidnapping. [1]

In the 45-second video, three witnesses say they saw how the 21 men were taken away and they maintain that it was: “that El Machete paramilitary group.”

Relatives of the victims assure that they have fully identified all those who participated in the disappearance of the group, because in Pantelhó everyone knows each other “even when they try to hide by wearing a mask.”

“We cry every day due to the absence of our family members, something that wouldn’t want to happen to anyone –says the letter–. Every day we ask God and the Virgin of Guadalupe to permit the authorities to carry out their work, or that the El Machete paramilitary group that took them away, to soften their hearts and return our 21 relatives to us alive.”

What’s true is that nothing has been heard from them for eight months. Last February 8-12, personnel from the National Search Commission in the Interior Ministry, with members of the National Defense Ministry, the National Guard, the State Commission for the Search of Missing Persons in Chiapas and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) carried out search actions in Pantelhó without success.

By air from helicopters, and by land, members of the National Search Commission, as well as personnel from the Undersecretariat of Human Rights, Population and Migration and the National Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, have carried out other searches without finding the whereabouts of the group.

The lawyer for the relatives of the 21 missing persons, Humberto Cervantes Culebro, points out: “The only thing that the relatives want, the only thing they desire is their appearance, alive or dead, because the fact that they may also be dead is a reality that must also be contemplated, (although) there is a lot of faith that they will appear alive.”

The lawyer says that all the doors of different authorities have been knocked on so that the search can be generated in a timely manner and, although the families are already tired, they don’t stop looking for their relatives and will not do so.

Among the agencies they have approached he mentioned the office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Personnel from that agency visited the state recently. In addition, the Municipal Council is pointed out because it doesn’t collaborate in the search: “It has not been of any use, it has not helped at all.”

The Council’s president, Pedro Cortés López, is identified by the relatives of those missing as the father-in-law of “Comandante Machete.” However, they have asked him for his intervention as the municipal authority, but the official not only has not helped, but has hindered the search, they denounce.

“The municipal council president at no time has wanted to face the relatives,” Cervantes confirms.


The denial

On February 12, El Machete said, in a video published on its social networks, that it has nothing to do with the forced disappearance of the 21 people.

“We disagree because they did not permit us to take photos when the commission searching for the bodies that, according to them, disappeared in the municipality of Pantelhó. We as the El Machete self-defense group of Pantelhó have the support of more than 86 communities in this municipality and we are united to work together,” they assured.

As for the relatives’ complaint, the Secretary General of Government pointed out in an official letter sent by his press office that locating the people is a priority of the Mexican State and that the search will be the responsibility of law enforcement authorities. He also offered to comply with the urgent actions issued by the United Nations Committee Against Forced Disappearance for this case.

According to the state agency, relatives of the disappeared were informed that: “the Mexican State is in charge of the search for the disappeared and, in the process, the Chiapas Government has received guarantees from the Municipal Council that will permit unrestricted search in the geography of the municipality.”


[1] Pantelhó is the indigenous municipality in the Chiapas Highlands that formed an armed self-defense group, and last July expelled the mayor and other people accused of participating in drug trafficking and [other] illicit activities from the municipality. Residents accuse past, present and recently elected municipal authorities, as well as criminal groups, of the murder and disappearance of some 200 people from the place, among them Simón Pedro Pérez, the former president of the Las Abejas of Acteal organization, which occurred on July 5, 2021.


Originally Published in Spanish by Revista Proceso, April 2, 2022, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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