Yesterday, the world’s tinfoil fringe thanked its various deities for the fact that their gross misunderstanding of the Mayan belief system did not in fact bring the world to an end. In Mexico itself, meanwhile, tens of thousands of people acknowledged a much more worldly significance to the date: the eve of the anniversary of the Acteal massacre 15 years ago.

On December 22, 1997, close to four years after the armed insurrection by the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) against the government of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), militants allied with the PRI crept into a poor Indian village in Chiapas State whose residents were known to be sympathetic to the Zapatista movement. There, they gunned down 45 defenseless civilians while they prayed for peace in a chapel, among them 21 women — five of them pregnant — and 15 children.

Last year, relatives of victims of the massacre, under anonymity, filed suit in U.S. court against then-president Ernesto Zedillo for crimes against humanity (Zedillo currently lives in Connecticut and teaches at Yale, serving as director of the Center for the Study of Globalization). The suit contends that Zedillo’s administration walked away from peace accords signed in 1996 and resorted to a military crackdown after a report from Chase Manhattan Bank counseled the Mexican government “to eliminate the Zapatistas.” Zedillo, the complaint alleges, had knowledge of and promoted the formation of the paramilitary group that carried out the slaughter, then covered up his involvement after the massacre. (Some allege that the case is part of a political vendetta against Zedillo, speculating the involvement of his predecessor, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.)

The U.S. State Department has recommended immunity for Zedillo in the case.

After 12 years out of power, this month marked the return of the PRI to the National Palace in Mexico City, in the person of newly elected President Enrique Peña Nieto. His inauguration two and a half weeks ago was received with massive street protests by thousands of people all over the city, including violent confrontations between hundreds of protesters and police immediately outside the barricades erected around the Legislative Palace to protect the new regime from an anticipated civil uprising and to prevent disruption of the ceremonies.

Yesterday, thousands of Zapatistas donned the movement’s trademark black ski masks and converged on the centers of cities, towns and villages all over Chiapas to memorialize the massacre and demonstrate opposition to the PRI’s return to power.

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EZLN groups in this action have gathered by foot and by bus into the municipal centers of Ocosingo, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Las Margaritas, and Palenque among others. Preliminary estimates project a total possible mobilization of 30 to 50 thousand people from the Los Altos and Jungle regions of Chiapas. The action was nonviolent and extremely orderly. Men, women, and children wore black hoods covering their face, with a red bandana around their necks and green, white, and red ribbons, well known as the three colors of Mexico’s flag. ‘Subcommandante’ Marcos, the famous and outspoken public relations officer for the EZLN, did not make a presence.

Yesterday marked the end of the Mayan calendar and the beginning of a new cycle. It may also have marked the beginning of a new cycle of resistance in Chiapas to the resurrected hegemony of the PRI.

Photo: Trailofdead1, Creative Commons