Washington – Relatives of some of the 45 Tzotzil Indians massacred in 1997 in southern Mexico are suing former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo for alleged complicity in the killings and an ensuing cover-up, The Hartford Courant said.
The Miami law firm representing the 10 plaintiffs told the Courant it filed the suit last Friday in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where Zedillo now lives.
The former head of state, who governed from 1994-2000, teaches at Yale University.
On Dec. 22, 1997, a contingent of men toting assault rifles killed 45 unarmed people, including 15 children, praying inside a church in Acteal, Chiapas state.
The victims were all members of a grassroots Roman Catholic group known as Las Abejas (The Bees).
Though pacifist in philosophy, Las Abejas supported the leftist, Indian-rights agenda of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, whose January 1994 uprising brought national and international attention to the impoverished state bordering Guatemala.
The massacre forced the resignation of Chiapas' then-governor, Julio Cesar Ruiz Ferro, and the ouster of Mexico's interior minister, Emilio Chuayfett.
Human rights organizations said the killings resulted from acts of both commission and omission by allies of Ruiz.
Some groups went even further, calling the slaughter a "state crime" and attributing the ultimate responsibility to then-President Zedillo.
The lawsuit filed in Connecticut maintains that Zedillo's government abandoned talks with the Zapatistas - whose armed uprising lasted only about a week - in favor of a violent crackdown after a report from a U.S. bank cited instability in Chiapas as a negative factor for the Mexican economy.
Zedillo, according to the suit, conspired with former Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar to hide the president's connection with a covert operation involving the use of police, soldiers and civilian paramilitaries to crush the Zapatistas.
"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," Amnesty International said in a 1998 statement on Acteal.
The Chiapas state government said in October 2009 that a special prosecutor appointed to review the Acteal case had found "new facts which prove the probable responsibility of former state and federal public servants, as well as that of civilians."