Blog Entry

The Abejas de Acteal Receive the 2021 Mariano Abarca Environmental Award

Val Croft

Communications Lead

Acteal, Chenalhó, Chiapas, Mexico November 27, 2021

Original post by Otros Mundos Chiapas in Spanish. All photos from Otros Mundos. 

On the 12th anniversary of the murder of environmental defender Mariano Abarca, during an emotional ceremony in the sacred land of Acteal, the Abarca family presented the third Mariano Abarca Environmental Defence Award to the Civil Society Las Abejas de Acteal in recognition of their peaceful struggle for life and territory.

The Mariano Abarca Environmental Defence Award recognizes, year after year, a community, collective or organization in the State of Chiapas, Mexico for their efforts to defend the rights of nature and people, and recognizes those who work towards dignity and who remind us that there’s hope and that other worlds are possible. Thirty-five national and international organizations endorse this award.

The Civil Society Las Abejas de Acteal is an autonomous group in resistance. They peacefully fight to assert their rights, build empowerment and defend their lands and territories. The organization was created in 1992 by Tsotsil Indigenous people from eight communities in the municipality of Chenalhó, Chiapas. Since then, its main objective has been to fight against injustice.

Las Abejas have set an example for peace, justice, and freedom, as well as speaking the truth and protest. In the midst of a difficult context, las Abejas seek paths to build food sovereignty, access to water and justice. They have stopped an oil exploration project in a community and continue fighting for their human rights, the right to health, education, communication, and their territories free from violence. In the region of Los Altos de Chiapas, they have made visible the harm related to the Itzantún, Chinín and Chacté hydroelectric projects.

Because of their public stance in favour of human rights and against injustice, members of Las Abejas de Acteal have been persecuted, harassed and threatened. Nevertheless, the organization continues to be a place of refuge for all families and collectives who suffer persecution. Their unwavering stance in favour of the noblest causes has made them the target of severe attacks. The most recent deadly attack against one of their members took place on July 5, 2021, when Simón Pedro Pérez López, former President of the Board of Directors of Las Abejas, was murdered. He was considered an influential leader and defender of human rights.

In the presence of collectives and organizations from Chiapas, the III Mariano Abarca Environmental Defence Award was presented to the 24 communities and three municipalities of the Highlands of Chiapas who belong to Las Abejas de Acteal. The event called for #JusticeForSimónPedro and #JusticeForMariano. It remembered the legacy of the environmental defender from Chiapas Mariano Abarca, co-founder of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA). International solidarity organizations also presented 9,015 signatures to Las Abejas de Acteal and the family of Simón Pedro. The signatures are part of a global petition demanding Mexican authorities investigate Simón Pedro’s murder and criminally prosecute the material and intellectual authors of the crime.

Below are the words from Las Abejas de Acteal.

Statement by Las Abejas de Acteal

Sisters and brothers:

From this Sacred Land, we salute all the organizations who fight for life and territory and who defend Mother Earth. She generously gives us what we need to survive every day, against the interests of the powerful who only want to extract from her resources for profit, while leaving all things sterile and destroyed and sentencing to death all living things on this planet.

Our heart is happy today because 35 organizations, movements and collectives from Mexico and other countries around the world thought of us. They recognized our struggle, one that we have carried out daily – even as our organization is still small – for almost 29 years, as the civil society organization Las Abejas de Acteal, helping to care for and protect our territory.

Our efforts have been woven into an extensive network. Today, this movement for the defence of life has brought many compañeros and compañeras to our headquarters to celebrate this yearly award. It allows us to never forget our brother, Mariano Abarca, who was persecuted, imprisoned, and assassinated by the Canadian mining company Blackfire exactly 12 years ago. He participated in the struggle and collective resistance against barite extraction and its impacts on their lives and lands in Chicomuselo, Chiapas. Our history has led us down a path very similar to Mariano's. We tell you today, Mariano, that we will continue to follow your example.

Our organization was founded in December 1992, while the Pueblo Creyente de la Diócesis de San Cristóbal de las Casas was fighting to free five Tsotsil catechists from jail in our municipality. They were wrongly accused of murder in an effort to scare and discourage those who, like them, dared to speak openly about the injustices committed by the government in our Mayan Tsotsil communities. Thanks to pilgrimages, sit-ins, fasting and prayers by our communities, they were released. This experience showed us that united, we had more strength, and we had more support from other solidarity organizations to free our comrades. We decided to form a civil society organization and call ourselves "Las Abejas." We named representatives in each of our communities to keep everyone informed and defend ourselves together from the issues we were facing, like threats to campesinos through the reform of Article 27 that Carlos Salinas undertook in the 1990s, and efforts to parcel and possibly sell communal lands. In 1993, we organized to protect our territory from the threat of oil exploration for extraction in our lands and our hills. The government sent exploration commissions to our communal lands without asking our permission. Brothers and sisters from the municipalities of Pantelhó, Chalchihuitán and Chenalhó organized a pilgrimage march and prayed with our elders in the sacred hills to ask their protectors to stop the government in its tracks, so they would leave us in peace. That is how we stopped the invasion – in their studies, the engineers found only water instead of oil.

That year we also learned that the government was drafting a Free Trade Agreement with other countries to make it easier for them to access our riches (gold, oil, gravel, etc.), which would lead to the contamination dispossession of our lands. On January 1, 1994, we heard that the Zapatistas staged an uprising against the government. In the days following, we made it clear that we were unarmed civilians. By carrying out different actions inside and outside of our communities, we demanded they reach an agreement through dialogue and stop the war – actions that the PRI and Cardenistas in our municipality did not like.

We were persecuted because of our non-violent struggle and our refusal to collaborate with the government's counterinsurgency war against the EZLN. We were displaced from our communities for several years. We saw how paramilitaries of the above-mentioned parties, cruelly murdered 45 of our brothers and sisters, as well as four unborn babies – whose rights were violated before they were even born – on December 22, 1997. These crimes were financed and covered up by high officials in the three levels of government and the Mexican Army.

Since then, las Abejas have become strengthened through the blood of our martyrs and the solidarity of many brothers and sisters who have identified with our pain. We have strengthened each other. Such is the case of our Tseltal and Ch'oles brothers of "Xinich" in Palenque, with whom we organized a pilgrimage on foot to the Basilica of Guadalupe in 2001 to ask the Jme'tik - the Virgin, who is our mother - and the Mexican State to respect the agreements signed with the EZLN in San Andrés that recognize the autonomy of Indigenous peoples in the Mexican constitution and, with it, to respect our life and territories.

Through this non-violent struggle, we have shown solidarity in different ways with various brothers and sisters who fight to remain on their lands and in their homes and protect their ways of life, but who are threatened by the interests of capitalism. For example, the compañeros of Temacapulín, Acasico and Palmarejo in the state of Jalisco, who continue to struggle against the El Zapotillo Dam; or the comrades of the Council of Agrarian Authorities of the Montaña de Guerrero, where our brother Simón Pedro represented Las Abejas de Acteal. He was cowardly assassinated on July 5, 2020 for his tireless work in the defence of human rights and for his non-violent support for people defending their land from the violence of organized crime, mining, hydroelectric dams, and large mega-projects.

We want to take this opportunity to inform the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Prosecutor on Indigenous Justice that today, there are thousands of eyes watching their investigation into the murder of our brother, Simón Pedro. As we have demanded justice for nearly 24 years for the Acteal massacre, we will never stop demanding that the material and intellectual authors of Simón's murder be found and punished. Today, we also invite all solidarity organizations to accompany and support us on this path, so we can fulfill our promise to never abandon the family of our brother, Simón Pedro.

Sisters and brothers, although they continue to assassinate and persecute us, attempt to silence us and exterminate us, we continue to be here and will continue being here – keeping the memory alive and fighting non-violently, with truth as our only weapon. Today, we want to say to the family of our brother Mariano Abarca that his memory and his struggle are still alive through our voices, by speaking the truth, and through our resistance. We want them to know that we will continue to support the struggle so that they can have the comfort of justice.

Mariano Lives! Simón Lives! Long Live Las Abejas de Acteal!

From Acteal, House of Memory and Hope,


The Civil Society Organization Las Abejas de Acteal