The “Low-Intensity War” Against Autonomy (Part Three)

Paramilitary Impunity From Acteal to Copala. The Proof Exists: Videos, Photos and Testimony Prove the Deeds of the Death Caravan (Caravana de la Muerte). However, in all cases impunity prevails.

By: Daniel Arellano Chávez, Neri Martinez Hernandez and Ricardo Trujillo Gonzalez
December 8, 2010.
Translated by Erica Lagalisse

Acteal: Paramilitary Massacre

On December 22nd 1997 in Acteal, Chenaló a heavily armed paramilitary group assassinated 45 people found praying in the community temple.

In classic Kaibil [*1] style, the paramilitaries carried out this action with the complacency of authorities, who limited themselves to concentrating only on how these events had come to develop, and on making declarations that cleared them from any responsibility whatsoever.

(Part One) | (Part Two) | (Part Three) | (Part Four)

From that moment on, the only version of the story allowed has been that it was a balancing of accounts with inter-community motives. As days went by, the president of the Republic, the State Governor and the Attorney General’s office (Procuraduría General de la Republica) kept silent, limiting themselves to saying merely that they would investigate the case to find those responsible for the massacre. With these declarations they inaugurated one of the most intense stages of militarization that has been known ever since: The deployment of more than 40, 000 military personnel in the Zapatista area of influence, with the purpose, they said, of applying “the federal explosives and firearms law” via roadblocks to the effect of disarming antagonistic groups and ending the war of the poor against the poor, as was declared by the then secretary of government Francisco Labastida.

At root, what in fact began was the coordination of a subsequent phase of counter-insurgency war, with these new soldiers doing the familiar labor of cleaning up the image of the army and – via these same counterinsurgents’ accounts – making known the guerilla rearguard: the water of the fish. And so it was, according to an interview with ex-president Ernesto Zedillo in the New York Times, that the Mexican State had been “too soft, and I think that the dramatic events of December demonstrate that this is no longer appropriate”. [1] With that statement it was thus accepted that there would be a sharp rise in the war of extermination.

During 2009, the indigenous survivors of the Acteal Massacre began a campaign disseminating information and demanding that the assassins of their families not be freed. Harrowing testimonies of pain and tears foretold today’s reality: The assassins have been absolved. Incertitude and fear plague the survivors. Las Abejas (the Bees) [*2] now cry before the Court that rewarded with freedom the criminals and material assassins. Meanwhile, those who gave the order to carry out the massacre – ex-president Ernesto Zedillo, the ex-secretary of government Emilio Chuayffet, and Enrique Cervantes of National Defense, among others in the state and federal governments – no one even bothers to mention.

Bullets assassinate indigenous people in their towns, villages and communities; resolutions of the court deny them justice; power laughs contemptuously in the face of their families, impunity grows enormously with every moment, the assassins gain liberty, the victims are torn by sorrow, the dead cannot rest in peace. It was in this vein that on August 12, 2009 the National Supreme Court of Justice ordered the liberation of dozens responsible for the Acteal Massacre.

Acteal makes palpable the relationship between paramilitaries and the Mexican army. In the Plan de Campaña Chiapas-94 (Campaign Plan Chiapas-94), a directive issued by the National Secretary of Defense, the document urges “the secret organization of certain sectors of society, including cattle-farmers, small proprietors and individuals characterized by a strong patriotic sense, who will be employed on call to support our operations”. And later on, in a clear allusion to paramilitary groups, “Military operations include the training of local self-defense forces so that they may participate in security and development programs”. It is important to emphasize that at the moment of the massacre, the Mixed Operations Base of the VII Military Region was under the order of a graduate of the School of the Americas, Coronel José Luis López Ruvalcaba.

Among the cascade of paramilitary forces created by the State itself is one particular group worth mentioning here, which has “advanced training in logistics operations and the use of sophisticated arms and technology by way of specialized courses (rapid deployment by air, land and sea; snipers; hostage rescue, etc.) in the United States, Israel and Egypt: The Special Forces Aeromobile Groups (Grupos Aeromóviles de Fuerzas Especiales – GAFES), constituted by soldiers who had deserted the army” [2] – the base from which the Zetas were also constituted (the hired assassins at the service of the Gulf Cartel).

It should be noted that a GAFES detachment remained and was present in Chiapas at the moment of the Acteal massacre, not surprising given that this group was especially created to subdue the uprising in Chiapas.

Those responsible for the proliferation of paramilitary forces have not only received training in the United States, as the case of Oaxaca will demonstrate. Mexican military also receive training in other countries, such as was the case in the training of the Kaibiles for action in Guatemala.

Oaxaca 2006: The Death Caravan

Night arrives in Oaxaca alongside thousands of barricades installed by the mobilized population. The government, in response, sends its paramilitaries to the streets. Dozens of cars and trucks, some with official logos and some without, transport dozens of armed men; hiding their faces behind ski-masks they circulate the streets while firing at the townspeople who have no weapon besides their dignity. From August to November 2006 paramilitaries are used to try to stop the insurrection in Oaxaca. They act in coordination with State and Federal police bodies.

The actions of paramilitary groups in Oaxaca increase after the failed evacuation of the teachers of the Sección 22. [*3] Nightly gunfire aimed at the protest camps (plantones) and the burning of buses at isolated points in the city as acts of provocation were some of the many actions carried out by identifiable persons – infiltrators (porros) at the service of power elites within the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (Marcos Mateo Esteva Cruz – “Aladin”, Alejandro Vásquez Núñez – “El Perro”, and Ruben Marmolejo – “El Dragón” for example) as well as police officers and members of the military. “El Dragón” was recently executed alongside José María González Porras, “El Güero”, in broad daylight in front of the Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca this October 29th 2010.

Among the assassins that remain unpunished is he who murdered the architect Lorenzo Sampablo Cervantes, who was assassinated by the Death Caravan the night of August 22, 2006 when he was on his way to protect one of the radio broadcasting stations occupied by the people of Oaxaca – Radio la Ley. In the vicinity of this radio station he and other townspeople were shot at by armed men onboard trucks with official logos as well as other trucks without any marking at all – of this there is ample proof including video footage and testimony. Government functionaries such as Lizbeth Caña called this “cleaning the streets”, recognizing that this operation included at least 150 Ministerial Police, 150 State Preventative Police, and 100 Municipal Police, and was ordered by Lino Celaya Luria and Jorge Franco Vargas, in coordination with the Director of Municipal Police Manuel Moreno Rivas, and the coordinator of Public Safety, Roads and Transit of the City Council of Oaxaca Aristeo López Martínez – all of whom were under orders from the assassin Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Impunity for this assassination at four years and counting, the family of Lorenzo Sampablo Cervantes continues to demand justice and the punishment of those responsible.

The victims of paramilitary actions and those of official repressive bodies, who died assassinated in the streets, total at least 26 people. There is even photographic and video proof of the deeds of the Death Caravan; however, the results of judicial investigations have been null, whether regarding those who ordered and organized these acts or those who carried out the material acts themselves.

After the brutal repression wrought upon the people of Oaxaca in 2006, the diverse repressors involved have taken divergent paths, be they promotions, changes of jurisdiction, leaving the country, becoming fugitives, or death. Of these last, their homicides remain paradoxically unsolved.

Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, ex-chief of the Commercial, Industrial and Banking Auxiliary Police (PABIC) and Aristeo López Martínez, ex-coordinator of Security for the Municipal Police of Oaxaca de Juárez, were assassinated on January 30, 2008 and January 23, 2009 respectively.

At the time of his assassination, López Martínez held a function in the intelligence section of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI). Journalists’ versions of the story indicate that he acquired this post by the hand of Ardelio Vargas Fosado, chief of operations of the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) during the invasion of Oaxaca in 2006.

Among the police chiefs of 2006, José Manuel Vera Salinas and Manuel Moreno Rivas draw particular attention – both have been distinguished by distinct crimes and their names constantly resonate in the news and other media.

José Manuel Vera Salinas, lieutenant of the Mexican Navy and director of public security during the governorship of José Murat Casab, later to become one of the operators of the Death Caravan in the service of Ulises Ruiz in 2006, subsequently left Oaxaca silently only to reappear in the Yucatan Peninsula as the chief of the General Directorship of the Preventative Police, Transit and Firemen (DGPPTyB) in Cancun, Quintana Roo as of the 7th of December 2007.

In October 2008 he renounced this position, but would return as Director of the Municipal Police Academy to extend “his instruction” to the new police officers of Cancun.

In the middle of 2010, this same Vera Salinas was discovered to be the principal operator of a spy ring in Cancun. On April 14th 2010 espionage centers from which telephone calls and cellular text messages were monitored were found located in homes in Supermanzana 57, Manzana 6, Lot 18, the Privada Venezuela, and the Residencial las Américas in Cancun, and in Apartment 401 of the Xcaret condominium located in Supermanzana 20, as well as in Manzana 1, Lot 3, Edificio B, and Retorno Jaleb in the same district. In all of these places various artifacts used to tap and surveil communications were found.

The Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República – PGR) thus seized 55 compact disks and analyzed the hard drive of one computer where 240 audio files were found along with 13 recorded telephone calls. The PGR also confiscated 12 pen recorders and a piece of equipment used to tap and monitor telephone conversations and text messages. Beyond that the investigators discovered a truck equipped with telephone tapping systems.

Before these events Vera Salinas had been advisor to the mayor of Benito Juarez (Cancun), who was a perredista [*4] named Gregorio Sánchez Martínez and is now a prisoner in Nayarit Prison for alleged links to drug trafficking. According to the inquiry PGR/QROO/CAN/193/2010, Vera Salinas had 11 people within the directorship of municipal public security working with him in his espionage endeavors. When he was discovered he disappeared; his whereabouts are still unknown.


Kaibil 951 was the number of Manuel Moreno Rivas after having completed the “Training and Operations Course” in “el Infierno”, Guatemala in 1994. In 2006, during the insurrection of the peoples of Oaxaca he served as the director of the Ministerial Police.

One of his first public appearances was that of the faux attack on the life of Murat Cassab on March 18 2004. Subsequent investigations determined that what had in fact transpired was a staged self-attack. One police officer died in the process.

“The declarations of witnesses who were present all concur that no one saw anyone attack the vehicle, their stories coincide in that the person who fired after getting off the truck was the chief of escort (Manuel Moreno Rivas, then secretary of Public Security of Oaxaca), but there is no information that proves there was an initial attack.”

“Five of the projectiles were shot from a 9mm caliber pistol, whose trajectory was from within the truck toward the outside, and according to the forensic ballistics reports they were shot by the weapon carried by chief of escort Manuel Moreno Rivas”. Thus Moreno Rivas faced investigation for his alleged responsibility in crimes of falsifying declarations issued by the Attorney General’s office (the PGR): “As these are crimes against common law regarding the altering of evidence, harm to property, and lack of timely reporting to the Public Ministry of the possible committing of a crime (similar to that of obstruction of justice), we seek that the Attorney General of Oaxaca take action against Manuel Moreno Rivas, Eliberio Rafael Díaz Reyes (who smashed the window of the truck), Heider Hernández Castellanos, René Rojas, Gaspar Canseco Mendoza and Edilberto Fuentes Moreno”. [3]

During 2006 Moreno Rivas was put in charge of the Ministerial Tactical Operations Unit (Unidad Ministerial de Intervención Táctica – UMIT) responsible for the repression of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

The accusations against the ex-chief of the Ministerial Police, Manuel Moreno Rivas are endless: Aurora López Acevedo, ex-Government functionary with links to the pulpo camionero [*5] was picked up in the middle of 2010. Beyond being tortured, she was raped. She holds Manuel Moreno Rivas directly responsible.

General Otto Pérez Molina, ex-chief of the Estado Mayor de Guatemala [*6] and part of the governmental commission during the peace negotiations, confirmed that officials of Mexican armed forces had attended the annual course given in the Kaibil schools – the school of the elite counterinsurgency body within the Guatemalan army (La Jornada; September 20, 1996). Later, in June 1997, another three Mexican military men graduated from the XLVIII International Kaibil Course (Prensa Libre; June 16 1997). [4]

These repressors do not act in isolation, however, and not on their own account. They received orders and acted in coordination with Jorge Franco Vargas – known as “El Chucky” – during the time he was General Secretary of Government (a post he later left to head the state committee of the PRI), Lizbeth Caña Cadeza – a state attorney who later went on to be Comptroller General; Heliodoro Díaz – who substituted Franco Vargas when he became a federal deputy, and various other civil and police functionaries all under the orders of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Oaxaca 2006: Ardelio Vargas Fosado and Héctor Sánchez Gútierrez, Generals of the Invasion

Ardelio Vargas Fosado, who was in charge of the troops of the Federal Preventative Police that invaded Oaxaca in October 2006, is now President of the Defense Commission in the Federal Chamber of Deputies as well as part of the team orchestrating the transition of Governor Elect Rafael Moreno Valle (who will replace child molester Mario Marín) in Puebla.

Ardelio Vargas Fosado is a first-generation graduate of the UNAM National School of Professional Studies (ENEP – Acatlán) with a Baccalaureate in Law. He began his repressive career in 1974 as functionary of the Federal Judicial Power. From 1990 to 2005 he worked in the National Center of Investigation and Security (CISEN), holding the positions of Investigating Agent, Department Chief, Subdirector, State Delegate, Director of Intelligence, and Director of Counterintelligence.

Before leading the repression in Oaxaca, he held operating authority in the repression of the miners of the Siderúrgica (SICARTSA) in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán where Mario Alberto Castillo and Héctor Álvarez Gámez were assassinated, and he later headed the repression in Atenco, Estado de México.

In December 2006 he continued in the new federal government as Commissioner of the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) and Head of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI), where he worked on the much-awaited repressive project of the mandate – the creation of a singular and unified police. As of September 1, 2009 he has been a Federal Deputy and currently occupies the position of President of the National Defense Commission as well as is a member of the Justice and Public Security Commissions in the Chamber of Deputies.

This is the story of Vargas Fosado, member of one of the most feared families of the Northern Sierra of Puebla due to their cacicazgo [*7] and overflowing political power that they have held over the years, all demonstrated in their various political and military relations.

Héctor Sánchez Gutiérrez, for his part, joined the transition government in Zacatecas, headed by Miguel Alejandro Alonso Reyes of the PRI who assumed governorship September 12, 2010. Sánchez Gutiérrez will form part of the State Public Security Secretariat in the capacity of “advisor”.

Beforehand, Sánchez Gutiérrez was the Chief of Military Intelligence in the Head Staff of National Defense, Coordinator of Federal Support Forces with the rank of Commissioner General, and public security advisor to the governments of Tabasco and Campeche.

These two generals who led the federal troops in Oaxaca were exonerated in the National Supreme Court resolutions and are now each to be found as part of the transitional state governments of Puebla and Zacatecas respectively, where they will assume positions or function as advisors in matters of “security”.


The paramilitaries of the Union for the Social Well-Being of the Triqui Region (Unión de Bienestar de la Región Triqui – UBISORT) also receive training. Being well-educated, last April 27th they justified the criminal action of their arrested comrades by claiming there had been deaths on their side as well, and by saying that those in the caravan knew very well what was occurring in the zone when they entered: In this way they purport to legitimate the onslaught of major fire-power they directed against a caravan of Human Rights observers.

Concerning the complex situation the Triqui people have suffered for more than five decades now, we will refer to the in-depth investigation carried out in the book San Juan Copala – Dominación Política y Resistencia Popular: De las rebeliones de Hilarión a la fundación del Municipio Autónomo (San Juan Copala – Political Domination and Popular Resistance: From the Hilarion Rebellions to the Foundation of the Autonomous Municipality). The origins of UBISORT go back to the mandate of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon. It originated as a PRI organization that took as its motto that of the Zedillo’s presidential campaign – “Well-Being for your family” (Bienestar para tu familia).

From November 2009 to the present paramilitary violence has governed Oaxaca, subduing the Triqui region with increasing violence and carrying out a genocidal campaign directed at those who have supported the Autonomous Municipality. This Autonomous Municipality was created directly by the communities that, in the beginning of 2007 while PFP troops occupied Oaxaca City, followed thusly the accords taken by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) during the 2006 insurrection.

On November 28, 2009, a caravan of the People’s Front for the Defense of the Earth (Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra – FPDT) was heading for San Juan Copala with the purpose of spreading the “Twelve Prisoners” campaign – thus named for the twelve states which in that moment was demanding the freedom of twelve political prisoners of Atenco, which was working together with the APPO at that time.

However, that very day the FPDT would have to send out their next communiqué, one in which they “denounce[d] the harassment ordered by the bad government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz against the Freedom and Justice for Atenco Campaign in its tour of the state of Oaxaca, especially during their visit to the Mixteca region and the city of Tlaxiaco this November 28th 2009.” [5]

Initially threatened by UBISORT, which prevented their visit on the part of Atenco to San Juan Copala, “after having carried out their campaign activities and upon their return to the city of Oaxaca the FPDT caravan was detained and then followed.” [6] This persecution lasted for more than 3 hours and the escort, composed of various patrols of the State Preventative Police, followed them until they arrived at the final destination of the Atenco Commission at the Autonomous Self-Managed Solidarity House of Oaxaca (Casa Autónoma Solidaria Oaxaqueña de Trabajo Autogestivo – CASOTA).

With this action, UBISORT thus prevented the visit of the commission of the FPDT-Atenco to the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala, inaugurating the bloody paramilitary siege of this community which in that moment had already taken the life of a minor during the first armed offensives.

The combined paramilitary forces of UBISORT and the Movement for the Unification of Triqui Struggles (Movimiento de Unificación de Lucha Triqui – MULT) have driven the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala to devastation, committing dozens of assassinations, the armed attack on the caravan on April 27, 2010, and later on June 8th, 2010 the prevention of a second caravan’s entry to the Autonomous Municipality. These events clearly demonstrate the existence of paramilitaries which, with weapons in hand, stopped the advance of provisions and activists who, furthermore, were encircled by numerous contingent of state and federal security forces. Thus the paramilitary siege of the community continued with daily armed aggressions, rape and other barbarous offenses against the population.

With the arrival of November 2010, the community of San Juan Copala has been abandoned. Its inhabitants, displaced by this “low-intensity war” against autonomy, currently remain elsewhere in the region awaiting further displacement. Dozens of women and children have maintained for more than three months now a camp of displaced persons in the Zócalo of Oaxaca City. The crimes against them continue to be unpunished, alongside the paramilitaries responsible and their bosses in various levels of government.

In these attacks the following lives were taken:

Héctor Antonio Ramírez Paz, November 1, 2009. Nine-year old Elías Fernández de Jesús, November 28, 2009. José Celestino Hernández Cruz, April 17, 2010. Alberta Cariño Trujillo y Jyri Jaakkola, April 27, 2010. Timoteo Alejandro Ramírez y Tleriberta Castro, May 20, 2010. 72-year old Antonio Ramírez López Antonio Cruz García y Rigoberto González, August 21, 2010. Pedro Santos Castro, September 5, 2010. Paulino Ramírez Reyes, September 19, 2010. Teresa Ramírez Sánchez, the 4 month-old baby she was carrying in her womb, and Serafín Ubaldo, October 16, 2010. Héctor Antonio Ramírez November 1, 2010.

Finally we end by mentioning the coercion that forced the camp of displaced persons to withdraw temporarily from the Zocalo. With the November 20th military and government parade as a pretext, an enormous mobilization of police displaced the camp of the displaced during the night of November 15th. The camp later returned to the Zócalo of Oaxaca.


Translator’s Notes:
[*1] The Kaibiles are an elite special operations force of the Guatemalan military. They specialize in jungle warfare tactics and counter-insurgency operations.
[*2] Las Abejas, or “The Bees,” is the Christian pacifist civil society group of Tzotzil Maya formed in Chenalho, Chiapas in 1992 who later stood in solidarity with the Zapatista uprising of 1994, and whose members were those killed in the Acteal Massacre.
[*3] 22nd section of the National Union of Education Workers – SNTE.
[*4] A member of the PRD – Partido de la Revolución Democrática, the “leftist” national political party.
[*5] A public transit cartel.
[*6] The Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional is the technical and consulting center of the Guatemalan army.
[*7] A cacique is a local “political boss”.


End Notes:
[1] Ibid. 80
[2] Carlos Fazio, “Los Zetas y la limpieza social”, La Jornada, November 30th 2009.
[3] La Jornada, June 5th 2004.
[4] Gustavo Castro Soto. SOA, La Escuela de las Américas, November 5th 1999, CIEPAC
[5] Harassment of the government of Ulises Ruiz against the caravan of the FPDT Atenco. November 28, 2009. Oaxaca, Daniel Arellano Chavez for Kaos en la Red
[6] Ibid.