Slaughter in southern Mexico Chiapas murders: Setback for Zedillo's crusade for rule of law and reform.

December 29, 1997

GUNMEN who invaded the village of Acteal in southern Mexico and murdered 45 Tzotzil Indians last Monday, wounded the hopes for democracy and rule of law in Mexico. The reform administration of President Ernesto Zedillo is back to Square One in attempts to restore the credibility of Mexican institutions.

There has been corruption of police and the army in fighting narco-terrorism, political murders at the highest level, stolen elections, a currency crisis impoverishing millions and now this. Several dozen gunmen identified by survivors as local supporters of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), bearing weapons associated with the army, occupied the village that attracts refugees from the conflict in surrounding Chiapas State.

They shot and hacked nine men to death, along with 21 women and 15 children including a two-month-old baby. A priest telephoned state authorities but no police from nearby barracks investigated for five hours. The state governor has been too busy denying the existence of paramilitary forces to curtail them.

The adult victims were associated with civic activists called "The Bees," who support land reform for landless Indians and autonomy. These are the demands of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which launched a quixotic and briefly murderous rebellion in Chiapas, seemingly led by outsiders, four years ago.

Peace talks with the Zapatistas have been suspended more than a year and, as a result, the violence has picked up on both sides.

A replacement for the governor, disarming of the paramilitaries, speedy justice for the true murderers and resumption of substantive negotiations on disputed land ownership are all necessary to restore Mexico's self-respect and international esteem. President Zedillo has no other problem as urgent as this one.

Pub Date: 12/29/97

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