Acteal is a small village in the Chenalho municipality
. When you hear this word, however, people are probably talking about the massacre
that happened there and not the village itself.
At around 11 am on Monday, December 22, 1997 local paramilitary groups (armed and aided by PRI officials) started shooting their guns into the air outside Acteal. This was common practice. In their campaign of "low intensity warfare" the paramilitaries regularly fire random shots into people's homes. This time they didn't stop at that.
First the paramilitaries herded everyone (including many refugees who were camping on nearby hillsides) into a small area of the village. Most people went into the chapel to pray and/or get out of the rain. At about 4:45 the troops began firing their weapons into the chapel, also shooting or hacking with machetes anyone who ran out of the building. Afterwards they stripped and mutilated most of the bodies. At the end, forty five (almost all women and children) lay dead, with many more injured.
There is plenty of evidence that many PRI officials, including the Governor of Chiapas, knew beforehand that the massacre was going to happen. There were also rumors on the street. Zapatista sympathizers from the nearby town of Polho had gone to Acteal earlier to warn the refugees about a coming massacre and they managed to convince some to leave the area. People in San Cristobal also heard rumors and tried to call the governor's office to ask him to intervene but were put off with bland reassurances.
The massacre focused international attention on Chiapas for a while, and also created an even larger refugee population, as more people fled their homes in fear.