10 years after the Acteal Massacre….

Posted by Chris Treter

Few coffee co-ops we’ve come across in our adventures have the tragic yet inspirational story of Maya Vinic. On Dec. 22nd, 1997, many in the refugee camp of Acteal were off tending to their coffee fields while the women, elders, and children were praying and fasting for peace in their chapel. That morning, dozens of armed paramilitary climbed the cliff that marks the edge of the camp and surrounded the wooden chapel. Over the course of 5 hours they killed 45 mostly women and children; their penalty for pacifically struggling for indigenous rights and refusing to side with the paramilitary against the Zapatistas.

Most who were on the ground (see the documentary “The Damned War in Chiapas” if you don’t believe me!), knew that such a massacre could be imminent. In fact, although the government was informed by the community of Acteal a full month before the massacre that threats were being made, nothing was done to prevent it. The survivors tell us that the only thing the government did that day was block the road to traffic while the massacre took place and then tried to cover up its’ traces that evening.

The truth and the continued search for justice is being uncovered and pursued thanks to the perseverance of the survivors and their families, most of which make up the coffee growing co-op of Maya Vinic. Maya Vinic was formed in 1999 because they were members of the same coffee growing co-op as the paramilitary who attacked them. In the countless visits we’ve made to visit Acteal and the farmers of Maya Vinic we have repeatedly heard from them about the injustices they faced at the hands of paramilitary farmers.

This past week, as the farmers of Maya Vinic commemorated the 10th anniversary of the massacre, human rights groups are giving warning that the same conditions that existed in Chiapas in 1997 are present today. Many fear an escalation in violence is imminent. In his last public speech, Subcommandante Marcos, the masked military leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) declared that the time has come to end speaking in public forums and return to a preparatory and more clandestine stance to deal with increased paramilitary and military activities in the state. Upon the announcement, he stated, “The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has a smell. And now we are starting to breathe its fetid odor in our lands.”

In my many visits to Chiapas in the past two years I have traveled with CAPISE (The Center for Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations ) to hear the testimonies of various communities effected by paramilitary activity. Now, my contacts tell me that the situation has become increasingly more difficult. Threats of displacement and death are becoming common place. Visit these links to learn more:

– To learn more about the situation read “Zapatista Code Red,” by Naomi Klein

– To get up to the minute details and action you can take to support human rights in Chiapas visit Indymedia Chiapas

– Want to travel to Chiapas and document human rights violations? Then contact CAPISE


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