From Global Exchange:
ACTION ALERT: LETHAL PARAMILITARY ATTACK in VIEJO VELASCO, CHIAPAS
In the early morning of 13 November the indigenous community of Viejo Velasco Suarez, Chiapas State, was attacked by armed individuals, many of whom were wearing security force clothing. About 40 individuals in civilian clothes and armed with machetes and bats first arrived in Viejo Velasco Suarez from Nueva Palestina that morning. About 200 individuals followed soon after, armed with high caliber firearms usually commissioned by the military. Some reportedly wore military clothes, some wore uniforms of the State Police (Policía Sectorial) and others wore balaclavas.
Two men and a woman died during the attack. According to testimonies, the woman was raped before being killed; she was six months pregnant. According to the testimony of a woman from Viejo Velasco who had been held hostage in the nearby community of Nueva Palestina for two days after the attack, three men – one of them her father – were killed when she and the three were taken to Nuevo Palestina. The community reports four men missing that might include the ones the woman reported as having been killed. However, their bodies have not been found for which they are considered disappeared. 39 people, including 5 children, from Viejo Velasco who only recently had returned to that community are displaced.
On 14 November Diego Arcos Meneses, a resident of a nearby community, was walking near the site of the attack when he was threatened and detained by agents of the Attorney of the Selva Region (Fiscalía Regional, Zona Selva]. Diego Arcos Meneses was reportedly forced to load the body of a dead woman onto the agents’ helicopter before being taken by them to the office of the Prosecutor in Palenque to be questioned as a witness to the attack in Viejo Velasco Suarez.
Diego Arcos Meneses, who does not speak Spanish very well and who cannot read Spanish, gave testimony verbally in Spanish and was not provided with interpretation. He refused to sign the written version of his testimony because he could not confirm its accuracy. As a result, he was reportedly beaten severely and was put into preventive custody. He remains in custody and the Fray Bartolomé Human Rights Center and the Center for Indigenous Rights are taking on his defense.
Reportedly one man from Nuevo Palestina also died in the attack and another who was injured was taken into custody. This man in his declaration to the police confirmed that the attack against Viejo Velasco had been planned and deliberate.
Recently a group of subcomuneros had carried out provocative actions in Viejo Velasco, such as cutting off the water supply to the community. The community demanded that they leave and they signed a document stating that they would leave the community on November 11. Two days later they came back as part of the aggressors against Viejo Velasco.
In the first reports of this attack the survivors denounced 11 deaths of people from their community, including 2 children, and 4 from Nuevo Palestina. These numbers were the result of the total confusion and chaos in the community as people dispersed fleeing into the mountains. When they gathered again, they assumed all the people missing as dead. The families remain displaced in various communities in precarious conditions.
There have been threats by the Lacandon community that events like this attack against Viejo Velasco could “repeat themselves” if five communities (among them Viejo Velasco) are not relocated.
Conflicts around land issues in the Selva Lacandona, Chiapas State, have brought violence to indigenous communities for decades, starting with a presidential decree of 1972 that granted 614.000 hectares of land to the Lacandon community, disregarding the presence of other communities in that same region. In 1984 an agreement was signed that relocated Tzeltal and Ch’ol communities such as Viejo Velasco to the region where they are at present and where this most recent attack took place. Following another agreement in 2005, the Federal and State government committed to regularize the land rights of 28 communities, including that of Viejo Velasco Suarez. However, since April 2006, conflicts began again because four communities were being left out of this regularization and the local government, allegedly with the support of pro-government militia groups and individuals from communities such as Nueva Palestina, began to threaten these communities with forced evictions and relocations.
[Note: In August 2006 Global Exchange organized a delegation to isolated communities in Montes Azules, Chiapas two hours hike from the closest road. Upon their return, the delegation participants wrote a report on the history and current situation in Montes Azules, describing vulnerable communities faced with frequent illegal and somethines violent eviction attempts.
Click here to see full report.
Please take these actions recommended by the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center and Amnesty International:
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Spanish or your own language:
- urging the authorities to charge Diego Arcos Meneses with a recognisably criminal offence or to release him immediately and to investigate his reported beating and arbitrary arrest on 14 November;
- calling on the authorities to ensure the safety of the displaced inhabitants of Viejo Velasco Suarez, following the attack of 13 November by a group of armed individuals, some of whom wore security forces clothing;
- calling on the authorities to take emergency measures to establish the whereabouts of those who seem to be missing, and to ensure the safe release of those reportedly held hostage in Nueva Palestina;
- calling on the authorities to identify without delay those who were killed and to ensure a full, prompt and impartial forensic examination and secure protection of all evidence;
- calling for a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the violent confrontation of 13 November, in particular reports of official involvement, with the results to be made public and those responsible brought to justice.
Attorney General of Chiapas
Lic. Mariano Herrán Salvatti
Fiscal General de Justicia del Estado de Chiapas
Libramiento Norte s/n, tercer nivel, Colonia Infonavit “El Rosario”, CP 30064
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, Mexico
Fax: + 52 961 61 657 24
Salutation: Estimado Sr. Fiscal/Dear Attorney General
Governor of Chiapas
Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía
Gobernador del Estado de Chiapas
Palacio de Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas
Av. Central y Primera Oriente
Colonia Centro, C.P. 29009
Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, México
Fax: + 52 961 612 5618/612 9189
Salutation: Dear Governor/Señor Gobernador
Federal Attorney General
Lic. Daniel Cabeza de Vaca
Procurador General de la República, Procuraduría General de la República
Reforma Cuauhtémoc esq. Violeta 75, Col. Guerrero, Delegación Cuauhtémoc
México D.F., C.P. 06 500, MEXICO
Fax: + 525 55 346 0908 (if a voice reply say: “me da tono de fax por favor”)
Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Señor Procurador
Minister of Public Security, Chiapas State
Lic. Horacio Schroeder Bejarano
Secretaría de Seguridad Pública
Libramiento Sur Oriente Km. 9
C.P. 29070 Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas
(01 961) 61 7-70-20
Fax: + 525 55 961 61 7-70-20 ext. 16045
Salutation: Dear Minister / Señor Secretario
Human rights organizations
Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas A.C
Brasil No. 14 Barrio Mexicanos, CP. 29240, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Embassy of Mexico in the United States of America
1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington D.C. 20006
Carlos de Icaza, Ambassador
Phone: (202) 728-1600
Fax: (202) 883-4320
Salutation: Dear Ambassador /Señor Embajador