Las Abejas, or "The Bees," is a Christian pacifist civil society group of Tztotzil Mayan people formed in Tzajalchen, Chenalho, Chiapas in 1992 following a familial property dispute that left one person killed. When members of the community took the injured man to the nearest town for medical attention, they were accused of attacking him themselves and jailed. When family members realized what had happened, they began a pilgrimage on foot to San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Along the way, Christian pacifists in other villages joined the group, which is dedicated to peace, justice, and anti-neoliberalism. Las Abejas freed their companions and grew as an organization.
When the Zapatista Army of National Liberation uprising took place in 1994, Las Abejas stood in solidarity with the demands for justice, democracy, education, health, land and dignity for the indigenous people as expressed by the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN). However they separated themselves from their violent means of achieving change and proclaimed themselves as "active nonviolent" civil society organization.
They paid a high price for their support however, when on December 22nd, 1997, forty-five of their members were massacred while praying in a church, in what's come to be known as the Acteal Massacre.
The Las Abejas logo, often used in the press communiques, symbolizes the sufferings and hope from Acteal (and its "Columna de la Infamia" or 'Pillar of Shame' at the center of the world.
Mayan Cultural Identity
Those living in Acteal are indigenous Mayan-Tzotzil. This means that while they belong to the larger Mayan culture-their specific identity lies in the Tzotzil language and traditions associated with groups living in the central highlands of Chiapas.
The worldview of the Tzotzil culture is focused on veneration of ancestors and those that have died. Acteal is considered sacred land, or Tierra Sagrada, because of the massacre of 45 community members on December 22, 1997. The blood of the community members that died acts as a pathway between the living members, the deceased, and God. Blood is a symbol of life. By creating a shrine and tomb for the massacred, the community members keep the memory of the deceased alive. The Mayan-Tzotzil people of Acteal believe that although the 45 community members have physically passed away, they are still very alive and present. The massacre is not forgotten. It is instead kept alive with the collective memory of the community.
The people of Acteal also believe in the acceptance and welcoming of outsiders as long as they are respectful and attentive.
The people of Acteal fight for justice and memory—justice for indigenous peoples and against impunity of those who committed the massacre and those who continue to wage wars against the Maya of Chiapas.
The members of Las Abejas are Christian in faith so when they talk about the the massacre that occurred on December 22nd, 1997, they compare it to the death and then the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of this belief comes from the teachings of the Diocese that have referred to the massacre as an act of salvation.
The strength of community members comes from their deep faith. This faith has allowed them to struggle and resist against the evils of impunity. Those that died have been called the martyrs of Acteal. Their deaths have not been in vain, but instead allow those who have survived to continue the struggle in their name. Las Abejas considers itself a group chosen by god to fight for peace in Chiapas.
Political identity The political ideology of Las Abejas, which is connected to its religious identity, is opposed to neoliberalism, which they believe keeps them economically oppressed, and militarism. The resistance of Las Abejas is characterized by nonviolence, which distinguishes it from other groups, particularly the EZLN, which have used armed revolution as a means to obtain their demands. While sympathetic to the EZLN, Las Abejas has maintained its independence from the EZLN as well as from all political parties and, particularly, from the Mexican government.
Much of the advocacy of Las Abejas has focused on their right to continue their agricultural work, which they feel has been threatened by national policies and by international trade agreements. Land is central to the identity of the members of Las Abejas. "The land," one member of Las Abejas told researcher Marco Tavanti, "is our life and our freedom." The land is closely tied, in their minds, to their dignity as indigenous people.
Role of Women
Women have an important role in indigenous communities. They are seen as essential for life and survival of families and community in Acteal. Women obtained strong leadership roles within the Zapatista movement as well. The matriarchal structure of indigenous movements is a resistance against politic, military, and economic power monopolized by males in government. The indigenous people of Chiapas created an alternative to the patriarchal system.
The perpetrators of the violence in Acteal sought to shame the powerful roles of women in the community. 32 of the 45 killed were women and 5 of them were pregnant. The paramilitaries utilized a common weapon of war—by killing women and children, they were exercising political extermination and murdering future generations. Also, by murdering the unborn children of pregnant women, they seek to take life the seed of future generations of indigenous people. The idea is that you take the “mothers of Acteal” and their children away and the community is left without its cycle of life.
In order to combat the death and trauma of the massacre, the sought to create new life. The formation of new kinship is an act of therapy in that it helps strengthen the relationships that have been broken in the community.
In response to international attention, the government of Mexico ordered an investigation into what had occurred at Acteal. The report cited what were, at best, egregious errors made by governmental officials at various levels, including Governor of Chiapas Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, who "spurned repeated pleas for help with the escalating violence from Indian community leaders in the weeks before the killings, even when they came from members of his own political party."
While committed to forgiveness, reconciliation, and nonviolence, Las Abejas has also been clear in its demands for justice in light of the massacre at Acteal. While many have been arrested in connection with the massacre, there are many others whom members of Las Abejas say were involved in the massacre whom have not been brought to justice, including those whom they consider the intellectual masterminds of the massacre.