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Acteal Prisoners

A friend, Alicia, is on a 6 month missions trip to Chiapas. [Chiapas, state (1990 pop. 3,210,496), 28,732 sq mi (74,416 sq km), SE Mexico, on the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.] Here is a portion of her update letter about some Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned:

“On the way back to Chiapas, I was able to catch a ride with David, Blanca´s “spiritual father”, who leads mission groups to Chiapas to visit the prisoners of Acteal, and their families.  I had no knowledge of Acteal before last weekend, but it is a fairly famous case of unjust imprisonment of Christians.  Briefly, on Dec. 22nd, 1997, a group of 45 people, mostly women and children, were fired upon and brutally murdered.  They were catholics at a prayer meeting in their church.  There had been political unrest in the area, and it is known that the perpetrators had close ties to the government.  Because of the fued between Catholics and Christians in the area, the Catholics blamed the Christians, and the government, needing a scapegoat, arrested and imprisoned innocent men and boys, – almost depleting the village of males- some of whom were just walking on the streets, or taken out of their homes, with no evidence that they were a part of the massacre.  This is my sketchy understanding of the situation. These men (over 70) have been in prison for over  10 years and just within the last couple of years have had their sentences of 25-35 years handed down to them.  There are lawyers and international groups trying to help them.  Here is a link if you want to read more:


If you are interested in all the nitty gritty details, try looking up “Acteal”, or “Acteal prisoners” on the internet.

So David took a group of 14, 15 including me, to visit these prisoners in the town of Cintalapa, Chiapas.  However, he was only able to have 10 people visit the prisoners, and so I and 4 others spent the day
shopping in Cintalapa while the rest visited and ministered to the prisoners.  And then that evening I was dropped off here at the Terrell´s, and the rest of the group went on to Acteal to visit the prisoner´s families.”

This is new from Alicia.  I asked if I could publish part of her update and this is what she told me about the situation in Acteal when she gave her permission to reprint:

 “The big news of this week is that the Supreme Court did indeed hear their case last week, and is going to release 40 of the prisoners tomorrow.  It’s a huge deal after 12 years of false imprisonment.  We are going to house them here, and they will trickle slowly back to the town where they come from.  The government wants to moniter the reaction of the townspeople, many of whom lost loved ones in the massacre.”

Click here for an article about the releases by Compass Direct News. Pray for the safety of the released men and those who are going to house them.  There is much anger toward these men by the relatives of the people who were killed in the Acteal massacre.


5 Responses

  1. Please, please, get your information right. There were irregularities in the case from the beginning and those are the loopholes through which guilty people are being set free.
    It is a tragedy: the prisoners were indeed used.The murderers were indeed used because of their poverty and despair, but they were trained and armed and committed a hideous crime. The masterminds must come to justice too. But the guilty people should not have been left free, as 20 did this week. Even the ministers who set them free agree they are not saying they are innocent, they are just using as an excuse irregularities in a procedure that has been all irregular, from the moment the bodies were moved before the police arrived and they were trying to wash the blood from the place. One of the released men is a confessed perpetrator of the crime.

    I do know about this, since the crime took place and from years before, when the conflicts started. I know what I-m talking about and there is loads of evidence about it. Please do get your facts right.
    Thank you.

    • If you reread my post, you will see it is just a reprinting of a missionaries letter, not my opinion or a reporting of the facts of the massacre. Here is the only comment I made, and it was in relation to what the missionary said, “some Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned.” I will update this situation as Alicia updates me by letter. Regardless of who is and who is not guilty, local police are remiss in their duties if they round up and imprison people just because they happen to be loitering around at the moment. One cannot call it justice if the innocent are imprisoned along with the guilty just because they happened to be there at the time of arrests. A second crime against the community does not bring justice to the first.

  2. Of course I agree with you in the sense that no innocents should be in prison! How can we not agree on that? The problem is that they are leaving free people who have been clearly identified by survivors of the massacre and relatives of the victims, and that in order to make this decision the Supreme Court has listened to the prisoners, their lawyers and their families, but did not even grant access to the victims’ relatives in order to hear what they had to state. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has ruled against justice in Mexico. Impunity in my country is unfortunately endemic. The whole thing is incredibly complicated and quite awful, that’s why it’s so important to look into the details in order to get at least a glimpse of truth…

    Thanks for answering. All the best,


  3. Of course we all agree with the idea of not having innocent people in jail, regardless of their political or religious affiliation. What we are missing here is the political context of the massacre. This is yet another case of a counterinsurgency operation, quite similar to the ones that took place in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador in which the government trained and armed (and this is ongoing in the case of Mexico) members of the same community or area in order to confront them against groups or organisations that the government perceives as a threat. This is then masked along the lines of inter-ethnic or inter-religious conflict. True, there might be tensions between the different groups, but the training, the weapons and at this point, the sofisticated legal advise (and in this case media support) come from somewhere else. This is, unfortunately much more complex than it seems and even when I do not doubt that some people report on it with their best intentions, it does take some time (and a lot of pain) to understand that Mexico is being swallowed by a swirl of injustice, violence and corruption that comes from the top.

    • Injustice is wrong. Everything should be judged based on facts and truth by those who are unbiased and honorable. No one should spend 10 years in jail because they happen to be on the street when the police want to put on a show. We want to see the guilty brought to justice, but not like this. It’s never right to do wrong to do right. Yes, corrupt governments need to be held accountable. But it’s wrong to hurt innocent people to make a point – no matter which side you are on.

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