NEW HAVEN, Conn.--()--A former Mexican federal prosecutor, in sworn testimony, has implicated former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon as directly responsible for the 1997 slaughter of 45 children and adults in Acteal, Mexico.
“Mr. Leza corroborates other documents and accounts that implicate officials at the highest levels of the Zedillo government with direct knowledge and involvement in the Acteal Massacre”
Former prosecutor Ariel Jesus Maldonado Leza gave two sworn statements to Rafferty, Kobert, Tenenholtz, Bounds & Hess, P.A., the Miami-based law firm representing 10 massacre survivors in a Connecticut federal court suit filed in September 2011. Leza’s declarations were filed with the court today, in Jane Doe v. Zedillo, Case No. 11-CV-1433-AWT.
The victims seek damages for their relatives’ murders and their own injuries, and want the U.S. court to declare Zedillo responsible for the massacre’s planning, execution and cover-up.
Zedillo, president of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he teaches at Yale University. The lawsuit is based on the Alien Tort Claim Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which give jurisdiction to U.S. federal courts over such claims.
The suit accuses Zedillo with overseeing a scheme to suppress an insurgency through illegal means, abusing government power and resources through non-government proxies to allow plausible deniability of the slaughter of unarmed, innocent civilians. The assailants – paramilitary groups armed and trained by Mexican military personnel – shot or hacked to death 45 unarmed indigenous civilians, plus four unborn fetuses, while wounding dozens more, in the village of Acteal in remote southern Mexico.
“Mr. Leza corroborates other documents and accounts that implicate officials at the highest levels of the Zedillo government with direct knowledge and involvement in the Acteal Massacre,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Roger Kobert. “Given these highest level discussions, including foreknowledge by the Mexican Attorney General, this operation – not to mention the ensuing coverup – could not conceivably have taken place without Mr. Zedillo’s participation and approval.”
According to the lawsuit, the Acteal Massacre sprang from the Zedillo government’s implementation of the “1994 Chiapas Campaign Plan,” a secret Mexican government document outlining a plan to crush the insurgent Zapatista movement of the 1990s. Central to that plan was the creation and deployment of paramilitary and civilian forces to assist military operations, including illegally arming civilians with military weapons. The suit also alleges that Zedillo later conspired with Attorney General Jorge Madrazo to cover up Zedillo’s role before and during the Acteal Massacre.
At the time of the massacre, Leza was General Director of Inter-Institutional Coordination, representing the Attorney General’s Office in inter-departmental meetings with the Secretariat of National Defense and the Center of Investigation and National Security (“CISEN”), Mexico’s security service, concerning the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, which began several months before Zedillo began his presidency in November 1994.
Leza confirms in his sworn statements that he attended two meetings at CISEN and the Defense Secretariat some two to three weeks before the Acteal Massacre. Top officials of both branches were there, including CISEN’s General Director, Jorge Tello Peon; CISEN’s Director of Protection, Rear Admiral Wilfrido Robledo Madrid; National Defense Secretary’s personal secretary, General Tomas Angeles Dahuare; and National Defense’s Chief of Staff, General Juan Heriberto Salinas Altes.
At both meetings, with Leza present, Defense Secretariat representatives declared unacceptable a highway checkpoint manned by Zapatista rebels in Polho, near Acteal. The representatives vowed that elimination of the Polho checkpoint and assumed “bases of social support” in Acteal was required, despite being aware that Acteal village contained refugees. Leza’s reports on these meetings were delivered directly to Attorney General Madrazo before the massacre.
After the Acteal Massacre, Leza advised his superiors of the apparent connection between the Acteal Massacre and the Defense Secretariat’s plans to eliminate the Polho checkpoint. Leza also expressed concern over the Defense Secretariat’s participation in the subsequent investigation. Leza’s superiors in the Attorney General’s Office instructed him to not get involved in the investigation. In his statements, Leza further confirms the existence and application of the 1994 Chiapas Campaign Plan, which called for using paramilitaries in the anti-Zapatista campaign. The Defense Secretariat has previously denied the existence of that plan.
Kobert’s firm, along with the Hartford law firm of Matthew Dallas Gordon LLC, represents 10 surviving massacre victims in the lawsuit against Zedillo, alleging war crimes and other crimes against humanity. Rather than face the charges brought against him, Zedillo has asked the U.S. State Department to grant him immunity as a former head of state, hoping to have the lawsuit dismissed. The State Department is expected to file a “Statement of Interest” with the Connecticut court this Friday, September 7, announcing its view as to whether Zedillo should be granted head-of-state immunity from all charges related to the Acteal Massacre.
Additional information, including Mr. Leza’s declarations, a copy of the Complaint, and certain key documents and photographs can be found at acteal97.com.