Acteal: Consecration of Impunity


La Jornada, 13th November, 2014

Survivors of the Acteal Massacre (1997), during a mass celebrated in December 2010 to remember the victims. Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

Survivors of the Acteal Massacre (1997), during a mass celebrated in December 2010 to remember the victims. Photo: Moysés Zúñiga Santiago

Yesterday the first chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of the National (SCJN) decided to release three of the five indigenous Tzotzil who served 17 years [of 40 year sentences] in El Amate Prison for their role in the massacre at Acteal. Their release took into account two sets of facts:

  • Investigations conducted at the time by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and local police forces were manipulated; and
  • Documentation of various violations of due process of the accused.

Thus, of the total incarcerated for the massacre of 45 Indigenous people on December 22, 1997, only two remain in prison. [Moreover,] it does not seem unreasonable that they might have a legal fate similar to that of the three released yesterday.

Regardless of the legal intricacies and the usual irregularities in the PGR’s investigations (which, in other respects, are common shortcomings in the system of the administration of justice that affects both guilty and innocent), it should be noted that these formal failures neither can, nor should they be, sufficient to support the innocence of the accused, who have, it bears recalling, been fully identified by survivors of the massacre itself.

Moreover, the allegation of formal deficiencies in the charges against the accused has served as a particularly convenient excuse for the political classes who have taken up defence of the official version of the events; namely, positioning the Acteal massacre as the result of a struggle between indigenous groups, in contradiction of documentary evidence that indicates participation of paramilitary groups linked to the government.

Yesterday’s court ruling results, moreover, in a consecration of impunity in the Acteal case. In the intervening years, this impunity has been nearly complete. The perpetrators caught, prosecuted and jailed after the massacre have gradually been released as a result of court rulings like that of yesterday. The authorities, on the other hand, have been remiss in the investigation and assignment of political and intellectual responsibilities of those who were working as senior officials in the government of Chiapas, military commanders and those [responsibilities] that could have been incurred by then President Ernesto Zedillo, his then Secretary of Government Relations [SEGOB], Emilio Chuayffet [now Secretary of Education]; former governor of Chiapas, Julio César Ruiz Ferro; Attorney General for Mexico at the time, Jorge Madrazo Cuéllar, and Generals Mario Renán Castillo and Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, responsible, respectively, for the Seventh Military Zone and the Secretariat of National Defence.

Victims’ relatives brought charges against Zedillo in U.S. courts; Zedillo was defended by both the Mexican and U.S. governments.

The fact that almost all the perpetrators of the massacre have been released and that the politicians responsible for it have not even been called to appear in court means that, today, the prospects for getting to the bottom of the Acteal case and enforcement of justice have vanished. This perspective is not only unacceptable to the victims of Acteal and their relatives, but for the entire country, to the extent that it reinforces persistent simulations of justice that have been reiterated in Aguas Blancas, El Bosque, El Charco; in repressive scenes of action, such as those in Oaxaca and Atenco [during Peña Nieto's gubernatorial administration] in 2006, and in recent episodes of the abuse of public power like the killing of civilians in Tlatlaya, and the murder and disappearance of the Ayotzinapa normal school students.

The institutions responsible for imparting justice in the country have returned to deliver another blow to their credibility, to the misfortune of the Acteal victims, their relatives and the entire nation.

Translated by Jane Brundage


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