A sad conflict among Las Abejas of Acteal

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By Hermann Bellinghausen

Postcards from the Revolt, La Jornada, 21st May 2016

“Friendly fire” has created a conflict in the mountains of Chiapas which can only be viewed as lamentable. The Civil Society Organisation Las Abejas, founded in 1992, and an active proponent of the Catholic Theology of Liberation, has, since the historic exodus of the Tsotsil communities from Chenalho and the Acteal massacre in December 1997, been a point of reference for peace in the turbulent river of insurrection, resistance and autonomy which flowed forth from the mountains of Chiapas in January 1994.

In October 2014, some members of the group, founded 28 years ago with the support of Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, decided to split from Las Abejas and took the name “Consejo Pacifista Sembradores de la Paz” (the Pacifist Council of Sowers of Peace.) The key difference was that the second group wanted to change the strategy in respect of the demands for justice and reparations which Las Abejas have maintained since the terrible massacre they suffered 18 years ago. “Ever since that date they have carried out violent actions against members of our Organization and especially against the Board of Directors,” Las Abejas declared on April 20, 2016.

It is not the first crisis of division the group Las Abejas has suffered. In 2008 a small group approached to negotiate with Juan Sabines, then governor of Chiapas, under cover of the PRD, when that cover already did not mean what it had done a decade before. At that time, the group tried to confuse the media and other organisations, but their own actions soon revealed their position. They kept the name “Las Abejas” but differentiated it.

A while later, around 2011, unidentified plaintiffs, presumed to be victims of the massacre and members of Las Abejas, undertook a noisy lawsuit against ex-president Ernesto Zedillo for his role in the genocide that took place in Chenalho in 1997. They also demanded financial compensation. The ambiguity of the process, which Las Abejas opportunely set itself apart from, culminated in something worse than a defeat: the confirmation of unrestricted impunity for former Mexican rulers at an international level.

The rift with the Consejo Pacifista, with all its peculiarities, has been less clear due to bold acts of identity theft, like stealing Las Abejas’ official seals [stamps] and contending for control of the space known as the “Sacred Ground” in the hollow of Acteal, Chenalho, which is where the massacre took place and where the victims are buried. This land is also the headquarters of [Las Abejas,] an independent and active organisation which has never relented in its resistance, its nonviolent response, nor in its demands for justice and reparations (in this order and not in reverse). It has never proposed that negotiation for economic resources or compensation or “support” should have precedence over its main demands; it is more that the lies and impunity of the state continue to taunt these Tsotsil Pedranos[1] who were massacred by a government which was just as strongly a member of the PRI as the current one.

According to information from the weekly magazine Proceso, members of the current Consejo Pacifista were among those who launched the case against Zedillo in the United States, although Consejo Pacifista deny this.

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Frayba also under fire

Another indication of this breakdown in relations between Consejo Pacifista and Las Abejas is a hostility towards those who have provided legal support and disseminated information for Las Abejas since its foundation. The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) and its president, Bishop Raul Vera Lopez, were sued in court by Consejo Pacifista and although the previously unheard of case was not substantiated, it left a painful precedent. Frayba considers it “risky” in that it opens a new flank in the incessant siege that centres like Frayba and organisations like Las Abejas suffer as targets of the everyday low intensity war which never ends in the mountains of Chiapas.

From this a war of words has followed aimed at “discrediting” this work. Frayba insists that the Consejo Pacifista “wages a smear campaign that seeks to delegitimatise the process of autonomy of Las Abejas of Acteal” and that none of this is about denial of information or discriminatory treatment.

On the 12th of May, the Centre, with its headquarters in San Cristobal de las Casas, clearly stated this: “Frayba daily confronts defamation campaigns and attacks on the credibility of its work defending human rights in Chiapas. An actor who recently joined those attacking our prestige is the Consejo Pacifista.” Frayba has accompanied the Civil Society Organisation Las Abejas of Acteal since its foundation in 1992, and in its process of seeking and constructing justice after the Acteal massacre in December 1997. During these 23 years of accompaniment, Frayba has respected and recognised the work of Las Abejas, its representative bodies, its decision-making and its authorities, such as the Board of Directors. At the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, Frayba was present as an observer at three meetings for dialogue between members of Las Abejas of Acteal. Also present were the Board of Directors, the only organ of authority and representative body of Las Abejas, representatives and coordinators of different work areas, and “members of Las Abejas who would later form Consejo Pacifista.”

The meetings, Frayba added, “had an end goal that through dialogue the distinct parties would resolve the problems highlighted by the now members of Consejo Pacifista.” The invitation to Frayba was to act as an observer, not a mediator.

The Board of Directors, along with representatives and coordinators of Las Abejas of Acteal, listened to the Consejo Pacifista people. When it was the time for the authorities of Las Abejas of Acteal to speak, the Consejo Pacifista members “refused to listen, suggested they would leave the organisation and declared the dialogue finished”. Nonetheless, Frayba “encouraged all parties to continue the dialogue”, but without success.

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Indictments in the Federal Court

“In January 2015, members of Consejo Pacifista and their legal advisor, who previously worked for Frayba, requested a copy of the dossier 12.790 Manuel Santiz Culebra and others (Acteal Massacre), which Las Abejas of Acteal, along with Frayba as co-petitioner, had presented to the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).” Frayba consulted the main petitioner of this case, Las Abejas of Acteal, “who through a general assembly agreed that Consejo Pacifista should obtain the requested information from the IACHR, as they are the appropriate body to safeguard and decide who has access to the documents”. Dissatisfied, members of the Consejo Pacifista asked to speak with Frayba’s Board of Directors, “and a meeting took place on 15th May 2015.” The position of Raul Vera Lopez and the Board of Directors was to “respect the decision made by the civil society organisation Las Abejas of Acteal, as well as that of the survivors in their role as the petitioners to the IACHR.”

The document stresses that “the historic and legitimate spokesperson” that the body accompanies in the Acteal massacre case before the IACHR is the Civil Society Organisation Las Abejas of Acteal “through their only authority, the Board of Directors, the body of legitimate leadership as chosen by the communities of the organization, as well as by the survivors of the Acteal massacre who continue to recognise the Board of Directors as their representatives, as established by their own rules and procedures”.

In June, members of the Consejo Pacifista and their legal representative Arturo Ricardo Lagunes Gasca filed a complaint via federal government agencies against Vera Lopez, in his role as president of the human rights centre. The Second District Court of Chiapas was presented with a suit for amparo “pointing to Frayba as the responsible authority” and insisting that the cited documentation be handed over, “which it affirms is currently with the IACHR”.

As they also made allegations of “discrimination and denial of the right to information,” Vera Lopez, Frayba’s Board and director “were required to answer with a detailed report as if we were a federal agency.” On 25th January 2016 the same request and terms were made to the Board of Directors of Las Abejas of Acteal.

La Abejas made a pronouncement about this on 20th April. Frayba now elaborates on the description of the acts which “turned out to be arbitrary on the part of the federal court because it [Frayba] wasn’t credited as a civilian human rights defence organization, nor was the Board of Directors of Las Abejas of Acteal; they were treated as a responsible private authority, with the risk of setting a precedent for human rights defence organizations in the country and creating one more mechanism for persecuting Defenders.”

The Consejo Pacifista and their legal representative likewise asked the IACHR “to join as co-petitioners the case 12.790, and for a copy of the dossier.” On 10 December 2015 the IACHR announced they were accepting new co-petitioners, and, “in this way the Consejo Pacifista got a copy of the case they had requested from Frayba and as they had at one time done [requested] from Las Abejas of Acteal”.

On March 16, the Pacifist Council’s suit for amparo was thrown out, because Frayba “is not a responsible authority.” Nor was it accepted that it had denied the right to information or committed any discrimination.

Frayba views this situation as “inconsistent”: Consejo Pacifista decided to sue Frayba and another organisation which Consejo Pacifista say “they have split from,” yet during the case, they say they belong to the organisation. This is a “usurpation of the functions of community leadership and authority,” to which is added “the undue use of logos, seals and the figure of the organization’s representatives.”

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Hostility and threats

In April, Las Abejas denounced the Consejo Pacifista as behaving in ways “contrary to the pacifist, autonomous and non-partisan spirit that they profess.” Further “they have a double standard: in public they speak of conciliation and peace and say that they want dialogue, but this is not true because they act threateningly and with hostility,” because “they want to take over the physical and symbolic spaces of our organisation in Acteal, the House of Memory and Hope”.

With respect to all of this, Frayba notes that Consejo Pacifista’s “behaviour is similar to how the Mexican government works against human right defenders, criminalising and persecuting our work nationally”. Additionally, their actions “create confusion, deepen divisions, fragment and weaken the process of building autonomy of Las Abejas of Acteal.”

The situation, Frayba concludes in its argument, “is a result of attrition from the war being waged by the Mexican state,” so that “it is regrettable” that Consejo Pacifista confuse, deceive and misrepresent the "dignified, historical and legitimate struggle" of the Civil Society Organization Las Abejas of Acteal, which Frayba “continues to accompany in its radical demand for truth and the construction of the Other Justice."

[1] From San Pedro Chenalho

Triste conflicto en Las Abejas de Acteal

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