Massacre in Chiapas

Mexico: Pro Govt Squads Murder 45 Campesinos

Revolutionary Worker #939, January 11, 1998

It was just before noon on December 22, in the mountain village of Acteal in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. About 70 members of one of the pro-government and pro-landlord paramilitary groups entered this village of Tzotzil Indian peasants. The gunmen were heavily armed with AK-47 and R-15 combat rifles.

In a calculated and cowardly attack, the paramilitary forces began firing on the villagers, who had no way of defending themselves. Many were attending services at the small village church when they were gunned down in cold blood. Others were killed as they tried to flee toward a nearby river.

The shootings continued for several hours. By the end, 45 people had been massacred--21 women, 9 men and 15 children, including a baby less than a year old. Some of the children were shot at close range or hacked to death with machetes. Dozens of others were injured. The official state police were just outside the village--close enough to hear the gunfire--but they did not intervene in the bloodbath.

A doctor who treated many of the victims at the hospital in San Cristóbal de las Casas said, "I have never seen bullet wounds as large as these." The paramilitary gunmen apparently used expanding hollow-tip bullets. There is little doubt that these deadly ammunition and high-powered rifles used by the paramilitary assassins came from military or police sources.

Government Reign of Terror
in Chiapas

The group that descended on Acteal is one of the paramilitary forces associated with the PRI--Institutional Revolutionary Party, the largest ruling class party in Mexico, which controls the federal government and many of the state governments, including in Chiapas. Among the people locally, these paramilitary groups are known as "priístas." The attorney general of the state of Chiapas claimed that the massacre was the result of a long-standing "feud" between several families in the region. But one young peasant man quoted in the New York Times said, "It's not between families. It's the priístas."

In the aftermath of the massacre, top PRI officials, including President Ernesto Zedillo, denied that they had anything to do with the incident. These PRI bigshots might try to pin the blame for the mass murder on low-level officials. The local PRI official in Chenalhó, the municipality where Acteal is located, has been arrested in connection with the massacre.

Whether or not the top PRI officials had direct prior knowledge of the massacre, it is clear that what happened in Acteal on December 22 is the result of the policies of Mexico's U.S.-backed government.

Acteal is located in the Los Altos (highland) region of Chiapas, where thousands of Indian peasants rose up in arms on the 1st of January 1994, under the leadership of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). The Chiapas uprising electrified the whole nation of Mexico and sent shockwaves around the world. It focused attention on the poverty and oppression suffered by the peasant and Indian masses in Mexico--and on their demands for land and justice.

Since the uprising, the Mexican ruling class, with backing from the U.S. imperialists, have been carrying out counter-revolutionary dual tactics in an attempt to suppress the just struggle of the peasant masses. On one hand, the PRI-controlled federal government has held on-and-off talks with the EZLN and floated out promises of "reforms" and "economic development."

At the same time, the government has flooded the Los Altos region with thousands of army troops. The federal troops are laying siege to the EZLN bases deep in the Lacandón Jungle. In the villages and towns outside the Lacandón Jungle, the army--along with the police and the paramilitary groups--is carrying out a reign of terror against those who support the EZLN.

The use of the reactionary paramilitary groups is similar to the way the U.S.-backed government in Peru has formed "rondas" in the countryside and cities as a counter-insurgency tool against the Maoist people's war. According to a recent article in the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, the paramilitaries are recruited mainly among rural youth who have no jobs or land to farm. They are lured with promises of "prestige" of belonging to an officially backed armed group, regular pay, and extra income--from the theft and extortion of crops, domestic animals and other items from peasant families.

According to various news reports, the paramilitary groups have been stepping up their activity in recent months. The people who came under attack in Acteal had already been driven out of other villages. The paramilitary groups targeted them because they were members of a non-armed group called Las Abejas, which supports the political and economic demands of the EZLN.

After the massacre, the whole region was thrown into turmoil as thousands of peasants fled their villages because of word that paramilitary groups--together with the police and elements of the federal army--might be planning new attacks. The New York Times reported: "The people fleeing told stories of being under virtual siege in recent months by paramilitary groups. They said that the gunmen, who opposition leaders say are loyal to the nation's ruling party, have blocked off tiny dirt roads in several small towns that are the only supply route for food and have barred anyone from leaving. The gunmen also stole people's possessions and stole or extorted money, they said."

One of those fleeing, a 31-year-old man from the village of Chorros, talked about the threats from the priístas: "First they demanded 10,000 pesos. Where do I get that? Then they said, 5,000 pesos. If you didn't give them the money, you were going to die. They were going to shoot you."

The refugees say they are being forced to leave their homes because of dire shortages of food and other necessities. Many have had their homes burned to the ground by the paramilitaries. There are reports that many refugees, especially children, are suffering from severe undernourishment, diarrhea, respiratory problems and other illnesses.

The Zedillo government is now using the recent developments as justification to send even more army troops into Chiapas and further ratchet up the militarization of the region. The federal army has declared itself on "maximum alert," and thousands of additional troops have been moved into the southeastern jungle zone of Chiapas. According to one report, the army presence has increased so much in the municipality of Chenalhó that there is now one soldier for every 20 residents.

From a Strategic Reserve
to a Dagger Aimed at
U.S. Imperialism

The massacre in Acteal shows that the Mexican rulers and their U.S. backers have no real solutions to the problems faced by the oppressed people of Mexico. Their only answer to the demands of the masses is more militarization, more paramilitary death squads, more landlessness, more poverty. It is not just that the rulers are cruel and heartless. They cannot provide real solutions, because their whole system is based on ruthlessly exploiting and oppressing the people.

In the four years since the Chiapas uprising, the U.S. rulers have further tightened their imperialist hold over Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement. But they are also increasingly worried about the possibility of social upheaval and revolutionary struggle in Mexico. They are quickening the pace of the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. And the U.S. military and the CIA are providing Mexico's federal army with new levels of covert aid and training. This military aid is described as part of the "anti-drug" effort in Mexico. But the New York Times noted a few days after the Acteal massacre that there is "nothing to stop the transfer of American-trained army officers to similar special forces units that might be deployed against leftist insurgents in southern states like Guerrero and Chiapas."

The U.S. imperialists have long considered Mexico as their special "back yard"--a strategic reserve where they can freely profit off the backs of the oppressed and interfere in order to protect their interests. But as the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement pointed out right after the Chiapas uprising: "Revolutionary struggle can transform Mexico from a strategic reserve of U.S. imperialism into a strategic dagger of the world proletarian revolution aimed at the very heart of U.S. imperialism."

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