Breaking the Silence: The Mexican Army and the 1997 Acteal Massacre

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 283

by Kate Doyle –

Research Assistance: Susana Zavala and Emilene Martínez-Morales

Washington, D.C., August 20, 2009 – As Mexicans debate last week’s Supreme Court ruling vacating the conviction of 20 men for the Acteal massacre, newly declassified documents from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency describe the Army’s role in backing paramilitary groups in Chiapas at the time of the killings. The secret cables confirm reporting about military support for indigenous armed groups carrying out attacks on pro-Zapatista communities in the region and add important new details. They also revive a question that has lingered for almost 12 years: when will the Army come clean about its role in Acteal?

Since the brutal attack of December 22, 1997, the Mexican government has offered multiple versions of the military’s involvement in the conflictive Chiapas zone around Acteal. The problem is the accounts have been incomplete or untrue. The most important of the DIA documents directly contradicts the official story told about the massacre by the government of then-President Ernesto Zedillo.


Acteal: Statement from Las Abejas Community on the release of paramilitaries

Translated by Scott Campbell

Las Abejas [The Bees] Civil Society Organization
Sacred Land of the Acteal Martyrs, Chiapas, Mexico
August 9, 2009

To the Inter-American Human Rights Commission
To all Social and Political Organizations
To all Human Rights defenders
To all the people of Mexico and the World
To the National and International press
To the Other Campaign
To public opinion

In response to reports that have been spread by some media outlets that the Supreme Court is about to make a ruling that would allow the freedom of 40 of the paramilitaries responsible for the massacre in Acteal on December 22, 1997, we want to state the following:

We are the members of Las Abejas Civil Society, from the San Pedro Chenalhó municipality, Chiapas, and based in the Sacred Land of Acteal in the same municipality.

Our organization formed in 1992 to confront the repression that then-governor of Chiapas, Patrocinio González Garrido, launched against indigenous communities, among them our own community of Chenalhó that saw several of their founding members, among them the current President of the Board of Directors of Las Abejas, unjustly imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

Autonomy Indigenous Repression

EZLN Communiqué suspending the second phase of the Other Campaign

Communiqué from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee—General Command of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation.

September 22, 2007

To the People of Mexico:
To the adherents of the Sixth Declaration and the Other Campaign:

Brothers and Sisters:
Compañeros and Compañeras:
The EZLN communicates to you the following reflections and decisions we have made:

I. Reflections


At this time, the state government of Chiapas and the federal government (of the PRD-PRI and the PAN respectively) are waging a campaign against the Zapatista communities. “Official” evictions, paramilitary attacks, invasions sponsored by officials, persecutions and threats, have become once again part of the surroundings of the indigenous communities, the Zapatistas, who have set upon constructing their own destiny and improving their living conditions, always without losing their indigenous identity.


Remembering Acteal

December 22nd, 2006 – Tennessee writes: 500 people took the streets today in Huajuapan de Leon to denounce the detainment of 23 political prisoners from La Mixteca, and to demand the liberation of political prisoners and the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz. We were hoping that by this morning more prisoners would have been released, but as far as we know they are still being held in jails close to the city of Oaxaca.


October 30th EZLN Communiqué

Communiqué From The Clandestine Revolutionary Indigenous Committee Of The Zapatista Army Of National Liberation

October 30, 2006

To The People Of Mexico:
To The People Of The World:
To All Of The Other Campaign In Mexico And North Of The Rio Grande:
To All International Sexta Adherents:

Compañeros y compañeras:
Brothers and Sisters:

As has been made known to the public, yesterday, October 29th, 2006, Vicente Fox’s federal forces attacked the people of Oaxaca and their most dignified member, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, the APPO.

To the date, federal forces have killed at least three people, among them a young child; left tens of people wounded, among them many women from Oaxaca; and tens of people have been detained and illegally moved to military prisons. All of this in addition to the dead, detained, and disappeared since the beginning of the movement to demand the resignation of Ulises Ruiz as governor of Oaxaca.