Displaced families and supporters pray at a sit-in protest in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. September 11, 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.

Catholic mass to demand justice for Colonia Puebla in the city of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. September 12, 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. August 20, 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 the nearby village of Colonia Puebla. Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. August 21, 2013.

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Displaced children from Colonia Puebla play with improvised kites in the village of Acteal. On August 26, the survivors of the Acteal Massacre welcomed the displaced to Acteal, where Las Abejas has its headquarters, and took them in until they could return home.

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The 9 men, 20 women, and 16 children who were killed in the 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."

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Marcelina and her son Alberto walk to harvest coffee in Colonia Puebla. After five months of displacement in Acteal, the families decided to return home to Colonia Puebla for 20 days to harvest their coffee crops, despite the risk of retaliation, because the harvest was going to waste. January 24, 2014.

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Marcelina's mother holds her granddaughter Azalia, who Marcelina gave birth to in Acteal. She didn't meet Azalia until she was three months old, when Marcelina returned to Colonia Puebla for the harvest. She later said that when she had found out her daughter's family was going to Acteal, she was "sick with sadness" because she knew that many people had been killed there and thought the same thing was going to happen to them. January 25, 2014.

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Marcelina's husband Juan and daughter Yesenia watch TV at his mother's house in Colonia Puebla, where they stayed during the harvest. January 26, 2014.

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Juan and Marcelina's son Saul plays on a construction site with his cousins during the harvest in Colonia Puebla. January 24, 2014. 

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Dogs outside a home in Colonia Puebla. January 25, 2014.

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Alberto and Axel, two of Juan and Marcelina's sons, spend the morning with a cousin from home who visited them in Acteal at the home of María Vázquez Luna. The family lived with María, a survivor of the Acteal Massacre, during their months of displacement in Acteal. March 8, 2014.

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Juan Vazquez Luna, who survived the Acteal Massacre at the age of 14, speaks in mass at the beginning of the families' stay in Acteal. The two communities grew close as time went on, and when the families decided to return to Colonia Puebla in April 2014, Juan feared for them. "We know very well the government doesn't apply justice," he said. "Today they're going home, but they're going right into the tiger's den, into the midst of the paramilitaries. I feel sad for the lives of our friends, because they're not going to get better. They're going to have very hard lives." 

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Normelina receives communion on the day before the displaced families' return to Colonia Puebla. Tension was high in Acteal as the return drew near, with rumors circulating that the opposing group had singled out seven people to kill once the community was no longer being scrutinized, including Normelina's husband Macario. April 13, 2014.

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