Human Rights and Civil Society · Transparency & accountability

Former President of Mexico Goes to Court for Alleged Actions in the Massacre of Acteal

01/10/12– Former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-2000) appeared in a Connecticut court today to face charges that he is responsible for crimes against humanity in the massacre of 1997 in Acteal, Chiapas. The lawsuit was filed by the law firm Rafferty, Tenenholtz, Kobert, Bounds, & Hess, headquartered in Miami, Florida, on behalf of four women and six men, all survivors of the massacre now residing in the United States who are collectively seeking $50 million in damages. Zedillo is being charged with “conspiring with then Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar to hide the role of the federal executive before and after the massacre of Acteal.” As international organization Amnesty International found in 1998 following an investigation into the incident, “Compelling evidence shows that the authorities facilitated the arming of paramilitaries who carried out the killings and failed to intervene as the savage attack continued for hours.”

The Acteal massacre occurred in September of 1997, allegedly by paramilitaries acting with the support of the state authorities to suppress and attack indigenous populations in some of the states that had been previously declared ‘liberated’ by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which rose up following the 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Acteal massacre lasted several hours as the alleged state-sponsored paramilitaries killed 45 members of the indigenous community there, including children. Despite the events currently unfolding, immediately following the massacre, Zedillo condemned those responsible for the murders and urged the facts to be investigated, while promising to find and punish those responsible for the killings. The incident forced the resignation of then-Interior Minister Emilio Chuayfett and then-Chiapas Governor Julio César Ruiz Fierro. It was during this time that it is suspected that Zedillo and then-Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar hid the identities of those responsible for the killings.

Zedillo’s lawyers filed a motion to dispose of the recent lawsuit, which states that Zedillo, now director of the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, was not responsible for the murder of the 45 people in Acteal and that, regardless, he has immunity since he was a former leader of a sovereign nation. The government of Mexico also asked for U.S. support of Zedillo’s appeal for immunity. However, a judge from Spain’s National Criminal Court (Juez de Audiencia Nacional), Baltasar Garzón Real, stated that he does not believe that sovereign immunity applies to “those people who are outside the exercise of power,” meaning Zedillo cannot use this caveat. The judge, a friend of Zedillo, is well known for his involvement in trying to bring former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to trial for his state-sponsored violence against not only his own people, but also the alleged torture and murder of Spanish nationals residing in Chile at the time. That case, brought in 1998 by Garzón Real, is the case from which he drew his current opinion of the circumstances Zedillo faces.


“Apoya México inmunidad para Zedillo en caso Acteal.” La Crónica de Hoy. January 10, 2012.

Ávila, Édgar. “Inmunidad no aplica en caso de Zedillo: Garzón.” El Universal. January 10, 2012.

Flores Olea, Víctor. “Ernesto Zedillo: el genocida invisible.” La Jornada. January 10, 2012. 

Rose, Fred. “Ex-President Zedillo Faces Charges for Overseeing State Violence in Mexico.” North American Congress on Latin America. January 10, 2012.

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