After 17 years in prison, Lorenzo Ruiz Vasquez has been declared innocent in the Acteal massacre, and the Supreme Court in Mexico City ordered his immediate release from prison. Together with Lorenzo, two other Acteal prisoners, Alfredo Hernandez Ruiz and Jose Guzman Ruiz have also been released. Join the families in thanking God for their release!
On December 22, 1997, in the village of Acteal, an armed confrontation resulted in the senseless killing of 45 Tzotzil indigenous people (20 children, 18 women and 7 men). According to the official version, spread by the government of then president Ernesto Zedillo, the assault followed a disagreement between local groups after the formation of an autonomous municipal council in the Chiapas highlands.
They reported that a band of “paramilitary” Tzotzil Indians armed by Mexican army officers ambushed members of a group known as “Las Abejas” at a Catholic hermitage near the village. Las Abejas, who supported the revolutionary agenda of the Zapatista Army, had reportedly organized a prayer vigil that day to pray for the peaceful resolution of a local land dispute. The attackers allegedly surrounded the building and opened fire through the windows of the hermitage.
A cursory police investigation the day following the shootings produced scant evidence supporting this version of events. No bullet marks were found on the interior walls of the hermitage, many of the bodies had apparently been moved, and the guns allegedly used in the attack did not bear the fingerprints of the accused.
Sadly, the authorities failed to properly investigate; instead, officials ordered the mass arrest of unsuspecting Tzotzil peasants and charged them with the crime in order to quell international outrage over the murders. Some 90 people were arrested and imprisoned, including five young men who admitted to taking part in the Acteal firefight.
Hugo Eric Flores, a Harvard-trained attorney from Mexico City, concluded that religious intolerance and government apathy triggered the tragic series of events at Acteal. Officials will probably never know the real story of what happened at Acteal, but a crucial element in the case is the long-running conflict that provoked the Acteal shootout in the first place.
Time has passed, and information about the case has been continuously surfacing. Some news media declared that paramilitaries were released and that the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation is only protecting the authorities. However, those who have worked closely with all the prisoners and know their stories well confirm that none of them are paramilitaries; they are only victims of injustice and false accusations.
In 2002, Open Doors became indirectly involved in the Acteal case when it began giving support to the women and families of the prisoners and contributed financially to the legal defense. Then, in 2003, Open Doors assumed the direct counseling and legal defense of the Acteal case.
A break for the defense came on August 24, 2007 when two of the men convicted of the massacre informed officials about the place where the arms used in the assault were hidden. “We feel sorry for the innocent. That’s why we decided to confess,” they said.
On July 2, 2008, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (the highest federal court in Mexico) decided to take on the Acteal case, stating the reason that the case “shows a superlative interest, concerning the possible influence or alteration of social and political values, or in general the society and welfare.”
Over a year later, on August 5, 2009, the Court gave a verdict that there had been manipulation of the judicial system in favor of the State. Finally, on August 12, 2009, the Supreme Court ordered the release of 20 of the prisoners as their convictions were based upon evidence and witness’ fabrication.
Since Aug 12, 2009, nearly all of the unjustly accused men have been released.
Father, we praise You! Thank you for the release of these men. Father God, we ask that You help guide them as they return to their homes, their families, and their community as free men. After 17 years, we are aware that this may not be easy, but we ask that You stand steadfast with them. Fill them abundantly with godly wisdom, and help them to forgive those who unjustly accused them. May this be a time = of great joy, and may Your Name be praised for years to come. In the name of Jesus, who protects and rules with justice and mercy, Amen.