Paramilitary violence escalates in Chiapas

Tensions are fast mounting in Mexico's conflicted southern state of Chiapas following a new outbreak of paramilitary violence. Protests have been held in the state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez over the past weeks to demand the return alive of 21 residents of the highland village of Pantelhó, who were abducted July 26 amid raids by a self-proclaimed "self-defense force" in which houses and vehicles were also set on fire. On Aug. 10, the state prosecutor who was assigned to investigate the case, Gregorio Pérez Gómez, was himself gunned down on a street in the highland city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. An anonymous defector from "El Machete" self-defense force told national TV news program En Punto on Oct. 7 that 18 of the 21 missing men were publicly beaten to death in the Pantelhó village square. He said their bodies were buried near San José Tercero, the outlying hamlet that is the paramilitary group's principal stronghold. Family members of the abductees have adopted the slogan from the infamous Ayotzinapa case, "They were taken alive, we want them back alive."

El Machete reportedly accused the abducted men of being members of Los Herrera, a criminal gang that allegedly has links to the Pantelhó municipal government. The paramilitary group is demanding the ouster of Pantelhó's mayor, Raquel Trujillo Morales of the center-left PRD, and instatement of a system based on usos y costumbres, a taditional indigenous model of government without elected leaders. (Mexico News Daily, La Jornada, Animal Politico, Proceso, Chiapas Support Committee)

Receiving far less coverage from Mexico's national media, paramilitary violence is also escalating against followers of the Zapatista rebel movement, which continues to observe a truce with the government. The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) issued a communiqué Sept. 19 listing a series of recent attacks on members of their support base. In the most serious, two members of the Zapatista base community of Patria Nueva (in the "official" municipality of Oxchuc) were said to have been abducted by gunmen from the local ORCAO paramilitary group on Sept. 11. The two men were freed eight days later following mediation by the parish priest of Oxchuc, but 6,000 pesos in cash belonging to the Patria Nueva autonomous administration was stolen. The EZLN communiqué warned that Chiapas is at "the brink of civil war." (Enlace Zapatista, Radio Zapatista)