Juana Vasquez Luna, at eight months old, was the youngest to be gunned down three days before the Christmas of 1997.

Fasting and at prayer, the members of the civil movement La Sociedad Civil Las Abejas “The Bees” were stormed in the local Roman Catholic church by about 90 members of the paramilitary groups, Paz e Justicia (Peace and Justice) and Mascara Roja (Red Mask). Of the 45 indigenous people killed, 21 were women, 15 children and nine men, mostly elders. Four unborn babies were murdered.

The 12 hour killing spree by these paramilitary groups through the small highland town of Acteal on December 22, 1997, was in response to the movement’s efforts for autonomous development.

In 1999 the Producers’ Union Maya Vinic – a coffee producing cooperative of more than 500 families – was born out of this civil movement, in recognition of their traditional, cooperative ways of organising their communities.

Coffee farming had begun back in the 1900s down in the lowland country where indigenous highlanders were recruited as lowly paid workers during coffee harvesting periods. Seeds were taken by the workers back up to the highlands where they began to produce their own beans.

Maya Vinic’s members are now drawn from 38 different highland communities across the municipalities of Chenalhó, Pantelhó and Chalchihuitán, in Chiapas. They each farm on about one acre and produce 400 kilos on average of coffee beans from each family’s plot. They are organised through the ultimate authority – a General Assembly – and below that an Assembly of Community Delegates works in close conjunction with the Producers’ Board of Directors.

While the coffee the Maya Vinic members produce is registered under the Fairtrade brand, the people of Acteal still believe that those responsible for the act of genocide have not been brought to justice.

In all, 54 children were left orphaned from the massacre. Their cooperative has given them economic autonomy even when political power was out of reach.

IYC Yearbook feature: https://ica.coop/en/iycbook