By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – July 22, 1995

TEPETIXLA, Mexico (AP) _ A massacre of civilians by soldiers two decades ago set off one of Mexico’s rare modern rebellions, pitting a strong-arm governor against a guerrilla leader in this rugged western state.

Now history threatens to repeat itself.

Many worry that last month’s massacre of 17 peasants by police working for Gov. Ruben Figueroa Alcocer could spark another revolt in impoverished Guerrero state.

“It was after just such a massacre that Lucio Cabanas armed himself and went to the mountains,” said Cirilo Placido, a leader of the Guerrerense Council of 500 Years in Resistance, an Indian rights group with thousands of members statewide.

Placido referred to the uprising Cabanas led against Figueroa’s father, then-Gov. Ruben Figueroa, after soldiers massacred eight people at an anti-government rally. The 36-year-old Mixtec Indian was a boy when his mother told him of the guerrilla’s daring raids and kidnappings.

The June 28 massacre could ignite the same pent-up anger. Community leaders and human rights activists say political repression and poverty make Guerrero ripe for revolt.

Nearly half of the state’s 3 million people have dirt floors, no plumbing, no potable water. Many survive on small plots of corn and beans.

With its marijuana and opium poppy fields, rural bosses and family feuds, disputes in the state’s remote mountain villages are often settled with machetes, bullets or a rope hanging from the bough of a tree.

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party says 40 of its activists have been killed and another 33 “disappeared” since Figueroa took office in 1993.

Placido showed the scar on his leg where a horse ridden by a policeman stepped on him last September. He was one of about 50 marchers injured when authorities broke up a march in the state capital of Chilpancingo.

Figueroa has ignored a government human rights commission call for him to suspend the state police chief, Cmdr. Manuel Moreno Gonzalez, during an investigation of that incident.

Moreno also was present at the June massacre 20 miles north of Acapulco. It was the first of three violent incidents over a 10-day period. In all, 35 people died.

Witnesses say the 17 peasants were riding in two trucks that were stopped on an isolated dirt road by as many as 300 state policemen. Authorities say the peasants attacked first with machetes. The peasants say the police started firing without warning.

Two police commanders and eight other officers were later arrested in connection with the killings. Human rights activists say the suspects are receiving special treatment in jail, a charge the state government denies.

“I would say that things are worse than they were in the 1970s and that (current) Gov. Figueroa is just like his father,” said Javier Mojica of the independent Center for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, based in Acapulco.

The massacred peasants belonged to the Peasant Organization of the Southern Sierra, which considers Cabanas a hero. But leaders of the group, known by its Spanish acronym OCSS, say it opposes armed struggle.

“Our only war is the war to find enough food to feed our families,” spokesman Jose Asencio Dominguez said outside the organization’s headquarters in this town of dirt streets and mud brick houses. “We don’t have enough money to buy food, let alone arms.”

But others worry.

“A new guerrilla war is possible,” said Florencio Salazar, former federal deputy from Guerrero for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, in comments published Tuesday in the Mexico City daily La Jornada. “There are conditions and radical elements seeking violence to change the order of things.”

Even Figueroa, a member of the ruling party, has accused the OCSS of links to Cabanas’ Party of the Poor, which kidnapped his father for 4 1/2 months in 1974.

OCSS leader Benigno Guzman Martinez, who went into hiding shortly after the massacre, also talks tough.

“If Figueroa wants revolution, we’ll give it to him,” Guzman declared earlier this year after meeting with the governor to demand that jailed group members be released, the Proceso newsmagazine reported.

During a protest in Atoyac de Alvarez earlier this year, OCSS members held the city council for 24 hours to demand the return of a missing group member.

Figueroa has admitted that on June 28 he sent state police to dissuade OCSS members from marching in Atoyac de Alvarez to demand fertilizer and government farm credits. But he said he never anticipated violence.

OCSS members deny ties with remnants of Cabanas’ group or with the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which rebelled in the southern state of Chiapas just six weeks before the OCSS was formed on Feb. 14, 1994.

But their complaints are similar.

“Generation after generation we remain in poverty,” an OCSS declaration says. “Thousands of children still die of curable illnesses.”

Cabanas’ guerrilla war began on May 18, 1967, in Atoyac de Alvarez’s main plaza, where parents gathered to criticize the school principal for insisting that students buy uniforms.

As Cabanas spoke, troops fired into the crowd, killing eight. That night, the schoolteacher fled to the mountains to plan a guerrilla war.

As many as 16,000 soldiers scoured Guerrero’s rugged mountains for Cabanas and his 400 men before capturing and killing him on Dec. 2, 1974.

A recent National Human Rights Commission report said that the government “disappeared” some 530 people in Guerrero during that period, burning some bodies or tossing them into the sea.

Guerrero “is heading down a very dangerous road,” said Mojica, whose group is investigating the June massacre. “Armed struggle may be inevitable.”

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