Catholic mass to demand justice for renewed paramilitary violence in Colonia Puebla. San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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BITTER FRUIT


Then the seeds of violence began to revive, seeds that have grown, and we are seeing their bitter fruit...


–Las Abejas de Acteal, 8/22/2013


Just before Christmas, 1997, 45 unarmed refugees were murdered by a paramilitary group in the village of Acteal, Chiapas. The Acteal Massacre occurred at the height of what is known as the "low-intensity war," a wave of violence and militarization that began in Chiapas after the Zapatista guerrilla uprising of 1994. Those killed at Acteal belonged to Las Abejas, a Catholic pacifist organization that rejected the Zapatistas' use of violence but sympathized with their demands. Since 2009, the Mexican Supreme Court has released 54 of the paramilitaries who were jailed for the massacre on the basis of procedural errors.


In 2013, wartime divisions began to resurface in Colonia Puebla, a town close to Acteal. That March, a dispute over a plot of land owned by the Catholic church led to escalating aggression against the community's Catholic minority - many of whom are members of Las Abejas - and within months nearly a hundred of them had fled for their lives. They spent the following year living as displaced persons in Acteal, taken in by the Abejas leadership and survivors of the 1997 massacre.

Displaced families and supporters pray at a sit-in protest. San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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A Jesuit missionary drives a displaced family home to Colonia Puebla one month after a series of violent acts had prompted them to flee the town. The caravan turned back after a group of men blocked the road outside Colonia Puebla and threatened more violence if the families returned. Chenalhó, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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Displaced children from Colonia Puebla play with improvised kites in Acteal, where they were given refuge by survivors of the 1997 Acteal Massacre. Acteal, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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Alberto and Axel, who were displaced from Colonia Puebla, spend the morning with a cousin who visited them from home. Acteal, Chiapas. Mexico. 2014.

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Children run on the road above Acteal. In the 1990s, the Chenalhó region was one of the most violent in Chiapas, and camps were filled with thousands of internally displaced people. Acteal, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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Juan, his wife Marcelina and relatives return from harvesting coffee in Colonia Puebla. After five months of displacement, the families risked a trip home to harvest their coffee crops, which were going to waste. Colonia Puebla, Chiapas. Mexico. 2014.

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Marcelina's mother holds her granddaughter Azalia, who Marcelina gave birth to three months earlier in Acteal. She didn't meet Azalia until Marcelina returned to Colonia Puebla for the harvest. Colonia Puebla, Chiapas. Mexico. 2014.

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Juan and his daughter Yesenia rest at his mother's house, where they stayed during the coffee harvest. Like the other displaced families, he and Marcelina found their house ransacked when they returned home. Colonia Puebla, Chiapas. Mexico. 2014.

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Juan and Marcelina's son Saul plays with his cousins during the coffee harvest. Colonia Puebla, Chiapas. Mexico. 2014.

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The 9 men, 20 women, and 16 children who were killed in the 1997 Acteal Massacre are honored in a tomb beneath Acteal. The painted words read: "Faced with impunity and forgetting, memory and hope. They took away their futures but today they live among us, demanding justice." Acteal, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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Juan Vazquez Luna, who survived the Acteal Massacre at age 14. When the displaced families decided to permanently return to Colonia Puebla in April 2014, Juan said, "We know the government doesn't bring justice. Our friends are going home, but they're going right into the tiger's den, into the midst of the paramilitaries. I feel sad for them, because their lives aren't going to get better. They're going to have very hard lives." Acteal, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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Las Abejas de Acteal protest the release of prisoners allegedly involved in the 1997 Acteal massacre and the resurgence of paramilitary violence in Colonia Puebla. Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. Mexico. 2013.

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