Testimonies collected by the Bridge of Hope Caravan
Polhó, Chenalhó -- Zapatista Autonomous Municipality
December 30, 1997
On the afternoon of December 30, the caravan we were on collected testimonies in Polhó, Chenalhó, Chiapas. Our caravan delivered tons of humanitarian aid----blankets, clothing, medicine, food----to Polhó. There is a need for more aid in the area. At that time, there were about 8,800 displaced persons in Polhó. In the schoolyard, for many hours, several people spoke of their experiences in their native Tzotzil.
It is evident from these testimonies that the massacre at Acteal of 45 people, mostly women and children, on December 22 is only a piece of a much larger story. This story is best told by the people who live it. These testimonies are from people displaced from many communities and leaders in Polhó. Please help distribute this as widely as possible.
--Woman survivor of Acteal
"When the authorities saw the people from the Zapatista base communities leaving, the community land authority started to sell the belongings of each person----our land----and they burned our houses. They sold everything amongst themselves. They say that if we return to the community, they will kill us. We fled because we heard the PRI--istas say, 'We're not afraid because the governor of Chiapas has sent us. He bought us lots of Goat Horns (AK--47s). We have enough bullets to kill all the Zapatistas.' We are displaced and thank you for the aid you have brought."
"Since May 24th, they began to run us out of town----men and women. They started with Xochjeme, Zanembolom, Los Churros, Vajoventic, Aurora Chica, Chimich, Yvenjo, Yabteclum. Many people have been suffering from hunger; there is no food or medicine. In the community of Scumunu, they have been here two days already. Three babies have died already from the cold. They have killed many people from the Zapatista base communities. December 22 in Acteal, they were in the mountains praying to God. They had no weapons. We are not an army. We have no troops, but we are a Zapatista base community. Here our towns need more support. We receive nothing from the government because we have seen that they give a little bit, they publish something in the newspaper, put something on TV, and then they don't give any more. So we don't take any of that support. The paramilitary, PRI--ista groups and the municipal president are organizing every day to help run people out. I thank you a lot. You have heard the displaced people say they are not the only ones. There are people displaced in other communities. Thank you for showing we are not alone and for bringing us help."
--Representative of the Autonomous Municipality of Polhó
"When the shooting started, we didn't know where it was coming from until we traced the trail of bullets. They were like rain coming from the sky. The paramilitary groups followed us. I had a daughter, and I lost her while I was escaping. The paramilitaries went into the coffee fields. They robbed us of all our belongings. Because we know how to work, we have cows and pigs, but we had to leave all that behind. My 'nahua' (slip for a skirt) came off in the coffee fields, and I came out naked."
"They started to shoot in Bajoventic, and we fled to communities like Comumal. Since we escaped and went into hiding a week ago, we have been safe. But the state police arrived with many paramilitaries and have been shooting nearby. For a week we haven't eaten for fear of being shot. For one week we have gone without food."
"There is much need. They having nothing to sleep under and no houses where they can stay, and that's why the children die in the cold. They have no means to make the tortillas and tamales. The displaced need help to build houses. They need corn, beans, rice, cooking oil and many other things. They have many grinding mills, but only one motor. Some days they eat nothing because there is no place to prepare the food. They need medicine, ampicillin, erythromycin, antibiotics, and tranquilizers. There is much fever and sickness, and we have run out of medicine. Some medicine has arrived, but not the kind we need. We need medicine for rheumatism, skin infections, intestinal infections and bronchitis. There is much danger in the communities for everybody. Even for some of the PRI--istas that don't want to participate with the paramilitary groups. They are threatened with death if they don't participate or they don't give money to buy weapons for these death squads. They are in a bind."
--President of the Autonomous Municipality of Polhó
"I have had a disease in my leg for three years. When the paramilitaries arrived, my husband carried me up the mountain. But when they were about to catch us, I began to run, bearing the pain. When we arrived in Polhó, the doctor had to cut my foot off because it had gotten worse during the escape."
"We are afraid of the bullets. One of my babies died recently because of the cold and the illness caused by going to the mountain. We had to cover the mouths of all the children with cloths so the paramilitaries couldn't track us. One man hid himself in a cave in the mountain and he fell asleep. They took him out, half paralyzed; he looked drunk. Every time he saw people, he began yelling out of fear."
"When we left our houses, the shooting started. We fled into the mountains. I show you here the skin of my little boy, which is burned from the bullets. I had another boy that died today from the cold and the illnesses that are common here in the mountains. We covered the mouths of our children with cloth so that the soldiers, state police, and paramilitary groups couldn't hear us. I had my coffee field, my barn, my animals. I had everything, but what happened? They stole everything. Who took all my belongings? The state police and all the armed groups. I had just taken my belongings out. I have a big store with many valuable things, and they took everything out and burned my house. Thanks for your presence here and please take all this information to the national and international press."
"I am a woman from the community of La Esperanza. I was in a church asking forgiveness from God and for peace in the world when I saw three trucks of PRI--istas pulling up that were cooperating with the state police. All of the people who were in the church escaped to the coffee fields and streams. We dispersed. When we escaped, I already had harvested 10--15 sacks of coffee beans because this is coffee season. All of the paramilitary PRI--ista groups managed to take everything out of our houses with the help of the state police. When the shooting finished, we started walking slowly, covering the children's mouths with cloth so that they would not hear us. In the road many companeros and companeras died. They managed to kill six people from La Esperanza -- the ones who couldn't escape."
"I come from the community of Pichiquil. On November 19th we saw the PRI--istas arrive to shoot at the community, and with all those bullets they destroyed our houses. I was escaping, but I didn't make it. You can see here where they shot my tooth off. Look, my tooth is gone. But thank God that they didn't kill me. This is the truth that I show you that doesn't need witnesses because you are looking at it. I had my house. I had my valuables. They stole everything and burned my house. That is all I want to state. I was there. We can't make statements because they ask us to write down what we say. They ask us for witnesses. I cannot present my complaints because I can't speak Spanish. If I state this to the Office of the Public Minister, they don't believe that these things are happening. They say they need proof and witnesses. As I don't speak Spanish, I can't argue."
"The PRI--istas are happy thinking that they have our things. They are laughing already. They think that they have won, now that we have all left. They think that our things----our coffee----is theirs. I think not, my friends. You are going to return; we are going to return to our community. But we have no houses. Many houses were burned and many things were stolen from us. Now the PRI--istas are rich; they are millionaires with the things they have taken. Their houses are full of our things. Why? Because they have taken it all by force, even the coffee lands they took by force. It's true, my friends, but what are you going to do? What are we going to do if we stay here? Because of this, we left our community.
We have no solution as to how we are going to live, how we are going to return because we have no houses. We are without homes, without blankets, without everything, but we want to live. We cover ourselves with small pieces of nylon or anything because all of us are suffering, and we have nothing. What we want is help to return to our homes, that the PRI--istas aren't left laughing. Now they are happy because they are left alone. They think they we aren't going to return. They think that they are going to be left alone and we are far away. I think not, my friends. Try to help us solve our problems because we are Zapatistas. All we want is a little help from you who can give aid in each nation and in each state. You who are here are helping us now. Together we are not just two or three, we are a mountain of people; we are many. There are many men, women, and children here, my friends. What we want: We want more help because we are displaced----we have no houses, we have nothing. Thank you all for coming here to visit us. It has done us good to be here together in the new municipality that is autonomous, here in Polhó, Chenalhó, Chiapas. Thank you my friends."
"They killed these people in Acteal, and the following day, the 23rd, when they went to recover the bodies, they took them directly to San Cristobal without letting us, the autonomous municipalities, know what had happened. The municipal judge was going around on a tour all day on the 22nd. The same judge went to get the dead bodies without letting anybody know until the rebel municipal council found out, so they told us to wait. When the families started making their accusations, when the dead arrived, we, as an EZLN base, received them right here. The following day, the 24th, we moved the bodies and buried them there in Acteal. The paramilitary groups are in their communities, but they want to keep after the displaced that are here now, here beside us they came shooting in Acteal, also there were explosions.
But what happens is that the state police are involved with the paramilitary. We have always seen it, the proof of the problem what the displaced have in Yaxemal. Three times they were run out of their houses by the state police and the indigenous paramilitary groups that they are creating and arming heavily. We just got information that there are 245 people in the paramilitary groups that are from the town of Miguel Utrella Los Chorros, from the town Puebla, from Yaxemal, Pichiquil, Ixaxal, Xahalukan, Kanali, and the community of La Esperanza. But the most important ones are in the county seat of Chenalhó, where the headquarters are; those who started organizing paramilitaries are there in Chenalhó. The municipal president is in with the paramilitaries and the caciques who are Victorio Cruz Velazquez, Cristobal Vasquez Perez, Alberto Ruiz Garcia, Luis Augilar Gomez and Edy Yakteklub. So the municipal president told them to buy arms and ammunitions, and he gave them out like food in boxes, saying it was food for the Zapatistas. But what is going to happen? It is not food, but bullets to finish off the Zapatistas. This is the information that people from the community have given.
That was how they killed these 45 people with high caliber ammunitions. The proof that we have is that they brought us a lot of shells here that are from the soldiers and the state police. The day before yesterday, other movements of people began because a lot of people had stayed behind in Los Churros. They are surrounded by the PRI paramilitary groups. The day before yesterday, the PGR (the department of justice) went to rescue them. They brought out 337 people and left them in the hands of the autonomous municipal council. Now the displaced people are here, and we formed a caravan to go find the people displaced from Xhumumal. We went and brought them back here, but they are very sick, looking very pallid. Yesterday a baby died from the cold and today at 6 a.m. another baby died. We have many problems here; we are beset by many health problems. The refugees here are very afraid of the soldiers. The day before yesterday some people arrived from the Human Rights Commission. They brought food, but the people didn't want it. Why? Because suddenly the government will send something that isn't food. So the refugees fled again. When the Human Rights Commission arrived, the soldiers and state police weren't here yet; but everybody is very afraid. We hope no more people die.
Yesterday they went to rescue the refugees from colonial Puebla, Yaxemal. Now those who were kidnaped are here, but they are very afraid because the soldiers and the police are here. For all of us here in Polhó, we are afraid of the federal soldiers because we have seen what happens. The police don't protect us but together with the paramilitaries and the white guards, they are killing us. If the people see the soldiers or police, they run because they know they can start firing like in Yaxemal. Three times the people had to hide there----men and women had to run to Poconichil, and the next day they returned to their houses and were shot at again. The paramilitary groups attack like that. A comrade died the 2nd of November, and that's why they don't want to see the soldiers or police."
--Genaro, Autonomous Authority of Polhó
"I am from the first neighborhood, Miguel Utria los Chorros. I saw how the shooting started. The people who were part of the EZLN, all of the men and women, fled. They were killing the women, the boys, the girls, and the men. We escaped into the mountains and when they saw us leaving the EZLN bases, the authorities the police department assigned to the ejido (communal land) started to sell everyone's belongings, and they sold our land. Where I was building my house, first they burned the house and then they sold the land. They sold it among themselves. They said that if we return to our community that they will kill us. I heard what the PRI--istas said: 'We have no fear; we have orders from the governor and he has bought plenty of AK--47s.' That is what the PRI--istas said. 'We have plenty of guns to kill Zapatistas. We are not afraid; if they return, we will kill them.' That's what we were able to hear. Now we are displaced from our community. We have nothing to eat and no clothes. Thank you for bringing us clothes and for coming to visit us. The municipal president ordered the bullets and bought the arms. I want to mention that I am very scared because if I say this they are going to punish me; they are going to kill us. I want to say the names of the people who have guns, who are the murderers, but I am very afraid."
"I work with medicinal plants. I am a midwife. The women formed a cooperative store. During the shooting here in Majomut, they robbed the cooperative store and all of the medicinal plants were stolen. The soldiers, the PRI--istas, and the public security took everything from all the small stores near the road. We had plenty of medicine to treat all of the women in Majomut. Thank you very much for your presence."
--Midwife from Majomut
"We were harvesting coffee. I was with my children who are 12, 13, 14, and 15 years old when the shooting started in Aurora Chica. My four children were not able to escape. They died there in the coffee field. I am very sad because I have lost my four children and I am here, displaced. We were not robbing anyone. We were not killing, but they killed my house, they stole my pigs and took all of my chickens. The PRI--istas that came to do the shooting in my coffee fields were from other communities."
--Woman from Aurora Chica
"I am not afraid to say my name. I have gone to make my statement in many offices so that all nations will hear what is happening here. My name is Yolanda Tortuj Jimenez. They killed 8 members of my family. First my father died, then my brother, my little brother, and then the rest of the family. I am not afraid. I came to this land. I didn't come to live; I came to die. These are my complaints: My little brother Alejandro was innocent. He used to work in the store. We had a store that supported us. We earned 50,000 pesos. We had all kinds of things for sale, and they took everything. I am not afraid to expose them. This is my anger: Listen to the damned lies of the government. It is a bad government that ordered them to rob my store, that ordered them to kill my father. The public security police came to make sure that they had stolen everything from our store. This same government and the municipal president sent the public security. This is what I want to tell the public and the world."
--Woman from Tzajalukum
Another man adds:
"Everything she says is true. They had a truck to supply their store. Who burned it? The public security police. They took everything from the store. I was able to rescue my wife, but when they found out they tried to kill me. I'm not scared to tell everyone what I saw. I'm not scared to speak before the government. The government attorney's office would not accept my complaint. They didn't believe me. They asked for my statement, and I gave it completely, but the public minister does not believe it. The public minister says it's a lie. They asked me for witnesses, but what other witnesses are there? I saw it. I am the witness of what I saw. The public minister said, 'No, I want another witness.'"