Ghosts of Acteal

Ghosts of Acteal

Reportage made possible by financing from the Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C.

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Shot seven times, Catarina Mendez-Paciencia bled out helplessly in the church in the village of Acteal as right-wing paramilitaries rampaged through the village on December 22, 1997—the penultimate act of a massacre that would consume 49 lives. The memory of that massacre, whose roots lie in the low-intensity Zapatista conflict, haunt Mendez-Pacienia to this day. She watched her mother die before her very eyes. Image by Jared Olson. Mexico, 2018.

Memory Defiant

One of the survivors lost his sister. Another, his entire family. A third one explains, her voice barely audible against the hush of the rain, how she was shot seven times, and watched helplessly as the paramilitaries slit open the stomachs of the pregnant women around her with bayonets.

“When I saw all the people around me dead,” she says, “I began pleading for God to help save my life.”

Seated in a spartan and empty church in the remote village of Acteal, high in the scalloping blue-green mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, three survivors of the Acteal massacre recall the gruesome details of the fateful day, nearly 21 years ago, when 49 people were murdered by a state-allied paramilitary less than 20 yards from where we now sit.

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