Indigenous Massacre Remains Unpunished in Mexico

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Hundreds of indigenous people held a demonstration on Wednesday in Acteal to mark the 18th anniversary of the slaughter of 45 people. | Photo: Reuters

Eighteen years ago, gunmen crept down into the centre of the impoverished village of Acteal and killed 45 innocent people including 21 women and 15 children.

Hundreds of indigenous people held a demonstration Wednesday in the small village of Acteal in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, to mark the 18th anniversary of the slaughter of 45 people including pregnant women and children.

Demonstrators belonging to the peaceful group of “Las Abejas” (The Bees) decried the killing, labelling it a “state-sanctioned crime” and calling out authorities for the impunity marking the case.

“This state-sanctioned crime remains unpunished and the government does not investigate the intellectual authors … the Supreme Court ordered the mass release of the paramilitaries who killed our people, only two remain jailed," the group said in a statement released to La Jornada.

On Dec. 22, 1997 gunmen crept down into the centre of the impoverished village of Acteal and killed 45 innocent people, including 21 women and 15 children who were attending a mass service.

The case generated international outrage after prosecutors found that local authorities allowed the slaughter to occur and tampered with the crime scene afterward.

Former President Ernesto Zedillo claimed the massacre was triggered over a land dispute between residents of two separate ethnic communities. However, the survivors and relatives of those killed claim that the attack was politically motivated and an act of state-sponsored terror.

According to activists and survivors of the attack, government officials provided both weapons and training to a paramilitary group known as the “Red Mask” in an effort to wipe out the leftist Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which played a major role during the 1990’s in the indigenous communities of Chiapas.

According to independent investigations conducted by humanitarian organizations, the Acteal massacre was part of a counterinsurgency plan implemented during the government of Zedillo, who was sued in 2009 by the victims’ relatives in a U.S. court. However, Zedillo has not faced any charges due to the immunity provided to him by the Mexican government.

Hundreds of people have been arrested since 1997 but only a few have been sentenced.
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