Ten years after the Viejo Velasco massacre the crime remains unpunished. On Sunday 13th November in Palenque, Chiapas, various people, some from organisations or on their own, marched together in the “Pilgrimage for Memory, Justice and Truth”
Participating in the Palenque march were communities such as Nuevo Tila, Lacanjá Tseltal, Limonar, Chamizal, Francisco León, Arroyo Granizo, Ojo de Agua, Chamizal, Nuevo Jericó and national and international human rights observers. More than 500 people came together to denounce impunity in the country.
“We march to commemorate our pain and our memory which fights and is justice.”
Viejo Velasco: Massacre, Torture, Disappearances And Forced Displacement
Ten years ago, on 13 November 2006, at approximately 6 o’clock in the morning, a group of about 40 civilians heavily armed and dressed in military- and Public Security-type uniforms violently entered the community of Viejo Velasco. Coming from the communities of Nueva Palestina, Frontera Corozal and Lacanjá Chansayab, they are members of the so called “Lacandona Community”.
These 40 armed civilians were accompanied by 300 agents from the Chiapas State Public Security forces, who were armed with high powered weapons that are for the exclusive use of the army and known as “goat’s horns” (AK-47) and R-15. They were also accompanied by 5 Prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 2 specialist detectives, the Commander of the State Investigation Agency Jungle Zone along with 7 subordinates and a representative from the Secretariat of Social Development. Displaced people’s testimony agrees that the coordination of this brutal aggression was led by Engineer Rafael Armando Arellanes (then Sub-secretary of Political Action for the Chiapas state government) and Professor Gabriel Montoya Oceguera (who was serving as a government delegate for the Lacandon Jungle).
All of these hostile parties encircled the community, where later they looted the houses and committed 4 extra judicial executions, 1 illegal detention along with torture, 4 people were forcibly disappeared, and the forced displacement of 20 men, 8 women, 5 boys, 3 girls who had to escape to the mountains to survive the attack.
Communities from Palenque, Ocosingo and Chilon, and members of the X’inich organisation gather in the rain at the Mother Chol statue in Palenque from 8 in the morning to begin the Pilgrimage for Memory
Between The Ecological Pretext And The Agrarian Conflict In Montes Azules
The goal of this massacre was to plant seeds of terror in the families living in the community of Viejo Velasco, Ocosingo municipality. The aggressors wanted these families to abandon their land, and they framed it as a regional agrarian conflict in the Lacandon Jungle. And this is also how state policy using the ecological pretext to “guarantee the conservation of the Montes Azules Biosphere Nature Reserve” has been transformed into an intense process of territorial dispossession. More than 30 indigenous villages – Tseltal, Tsotsil, Chol and Tojolabal communities – have suffered forced relocations and violent evictions. At the beginning of 2006, negotiations with this small village Viejo Velasco broke down, owing to the fact that the residents would not accept forced relocation. On the 28 of March 2006, the Secretary of Agrarian Reform announced its decision about this unjust agrarian process, and the beneficiaries were only the people belonging to the so-called Lacandon Community (whose members are Maya Caribe and Tseltal people from Nueva Palestina and Chol people from Frontera Corozal). The government then began a process of forced relocations and threats of violent eviction in all of the Lacandon Jungle. In the area of Valley of Santo Domingo and La Cojolita, the repression was concentrated in four villages: Viejo Velasco, Flor de Cacao, Ojo de Agua Tsotsil and San Jacinto Lacanjá.
The State is Responsible
According to a denouncement before the International Tribunal of Conscience of the Peoples in Movement the state is responsible both in action and neglect.
On 4 November 2010, the Viejo Velasco massacre case was presented before the International Tribunal of Conscience of the Peoples in Movement to demonstrate and denounce the responsibility of the Mexican State in the events which took place on 13 November 2006. According to the compliant the State is responsible for:
– action, for ordering and carrying out on 13 November 2006, an operation in the community, as indeed the government itself confirms in response to an application for information by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This operation was provoked by the failure to resolve in a just manner, and one following international law the situation recognising and regularising the community lands of Viejo Velasco and the “Zona del Desempeño”.
– omission, further, despite all the calls sent to the Federal and State government bodies by the Xi’nich Committee for the Defence of Indigenous Freedom, “Maderas del Pueblo”, and the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre among other organisations about the risk of violent aggression in the area, the State neglected to respond and never intervened to prevent this violence and resolve a situation which every day grew more tense. In addition to all this, after these horrendous events, the official investigations have proven to be insufficient and ineffective. There was a long, unexplained delay in sharing the findings of the analysis of the skeletal remains found 6 July 2007, as well as obstacles planted by the intervention of independent specialists.
Symbolic act in front of the Jungle District Attorney General’s Office. “Justice will not come from above. We, the people, are the peace-builders. Here we have only seen impunity. It was from here that the protectors of the 40 civilians dressed in official uniforms left to go massacre our brothers and sisters in Viejo Velasco.”
To finish, a communique was read:
Communique Ten Years After The Massacre
“…it is very hard to remember that terrible violence that we lived through, because the day it all happened, I was there.”
“…I was four months pregnant, I left running towards the mountains, in the road I met some people from Palestine community, and they began to shoot at me. I don’t know how many shots they fired at me, but thanks to God none of them hit me.” (Testimony from the families and victims)
To the General Public:
Ten years after the cruel massacre in the community of Viejo Velasco in Ocosingo municipality, Chiapas, we are making this pilgrimage with pain and outrage in memory of our brothers and sisters who were murdered at dawn on the 13th of November 2006. This massacre was perpetrated by 40 civilian sub-comuneros from Nueva Palestina and from the Lacandon community. They were accompanied by a group of 300 agents from the Chiapas State Sectoral Police, five Prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, two specialist detectives, the Commander of the State Investigation Agency Jungle Zone along with 7 subordinates and a representative from the Secretariat of Social Development. They carried high calibre weapons. The outcome of this injustice was the death of: Antonio Mayor Benito Pérez, Filemón Benítez Pérez and María Núñez Gonzáles and four people missing: Miguel Moreno Montejo, Antonio Peñate López, Mariano Pérez Guzmán and Pedro Núñez Gonzáles. All are indigenous Ch’ol and Tseltal community members who lived in Viejo Velasco.
Owing to these violent events, one day after the attack, health promoter Diego Arcos Meneses, and other good-hearted residents from the community of Nuevo Tila, which is located an hour away, came to help the victims. They cleaned the wounds of the injured; fed people with beans and fruit from the countryside. They brought clothing to cover the children and adults. During this, the community was overcome by surprise by the State Police who unjustly detained our brother Diego Arcos Meneses. Arcos Meneses was in jail for a year accused of homicide, and arrest warrants were issued for Juan Peñate, Antonio Álvarez, Domingo Álvaro and Alejandro Álvaro, all from Nuevo Tila community.
Eight months after the massacre, in June 2007, skeletal remains along with a rope and clothing were found covered in overgrowth on the road from Viejo Velasco to Paraíso. The Public Prosecutor’s office took charge of recovering the remains. Without respect or compassion they collected the bones, treating them like animal bones. The two remains were put in a single blanket and taken away, then they denied us the right to know the truth for four years.
As a first attempt, we pushed our petition to the Public Prosecutor that they give us the studies of the skeletal remains that they had found. They only thing they told us was that the disappeared from Viejo Velasco massacre had gone to the United States to work. On top of that, they give us bones with bits of fresh flesh on them, which did not match what we had found in June 2007. For us, this was a complete mockery, and what the Public Prosecutor has done is not respectful. Denying these families their legitimate right to the truth is abuse on the part of the Public Prosecutor.
Faced with the neglect and inability of the three levels of government: Federal, State and Municipal, in 2011 the communities, families and victims succeeded, with the support of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, in having the studies from the remains found in the massacre zone identified as Pedro Núñez Gonzáles and Miguel Moreno Montejo. We gave them a Christian burial in November 2012. The other two brothers remain missing until now.
Ever since the first days after the massacre, we have gone to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to request precautionary measures to ensure that the Mexican State look for our disappeared brothers and protect all those affected in the attack. From that time until now, in all of 10 years, we have not had any result. In 2010 the IACHR raised the precautionary measures to a formal complaint against the Mexican government, who now must respond about their responsibility.
Owing to all this, we demand:
- The return of our disappeared loved ones alive, “You took them alive, we want them back alive.”
- The clarification of the massacre which took place in the community Viejo Velasco, in Ocosingo municipality, Chiapas.
- Investigation and punishment of the intellectual and material authors of this crime, among them Professor Gabriel Montoya Oceguera (who was serving as a government delegate for the Lacandon Jungle), Engineer Rafael Armando Arellanes (then Sub-secretary of Political Action for the Chiapas state government), the 2006 Special Commissioner of Agrarian Reform Marta Cecilia Díaz Gordillo and the sub-comuneros of the communities Nueva Palestina and Lacandona.
- An end to the harassment of families and survivors of this case by the office of the Chiapas Procurator of Justice
- We place the blame for the 2006 massacre in Viejo Velasco on the three levels of government.
- We ask that national and international civil society remain informed about the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- We invite all Mexicans to open your eyes to the terror and crime which comes from the three levels of government.
- We call on the National Indigenous Congress to keep informed about what happened, and to echo our struggle for memory and truth.
Families of victims and survivors of the Viejo Velasco massacre,
Coordinating team of social organisations CDLI- Xinich’, Tsoblej Yu’un Jwocoltic, UCISECH and Misión Santísima Trinidad.