The Abejas were formed on December 10, 1992. The organisation came into being following a dispute over the right of a woman to inherit land.
In 1994 when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (The Zapatistas) – and indigenous movement in Chiapas – rose up to declare was against not just the Mexican Government but against the North American Free Trade Agreement and the neo-liberal economic model that they believed was a death sentence for Indigenous Cultures, The Bees made their position clear: they supported the objectives of the Zapatistas to defend their lands and basic rights, but not the use of arms. They therefore decided that they would continue in their efforts to bring about transformational change and justice through non-violent means.
In 1995 the Mexican Government’s military campaign against the Zapatistas and the region’s indigenous peoples in general intensified and arrived in the highlands.
In 1996 The Bees actively participated in the peace dialogues between the Government and the Zapatistas, providing ‘peace-chains’ around the delegates. The Bees were present in the discussions concerning Indigenous Rights and Culture and were present for the historic signing of the San Andreas Peace Accords, with formally recognised Indigenous Peoples rights to certain levels of autonomy, such as the right to “decide its form of internal governance and ways of organizing themselves politically, socially, economically and culturally,” in short, the right to self-determination, a right recognised under international law by both the ILO (International Labour Organisation) Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
However although the Mexican Government signed the agreements they never implemented them. It was simply a political strategy to appease international observers and buy more time for the implementation of a military solution to the “indigenous problem.” This military solution entailed forming and arming paramilitary groups to terrorise indigenous communities and take away the support base of the Zapatistas. As The Bees continuously refused the threats of the paramilitaries to declare their allegiance to the Government and to pay a ‘war-tax’ to fight against the Zapatistas, they were forced out of their homes and into internally displaced refugee camps.
On December 22, 1997, a group of over one hundred paramilitary soldiers surrounded the camp in the community of Acteal and carried out a brutal massacre that was to shock the whole of Mexico and the rest of the world. Forty-five people were killed in the massacre of Acteal, the majority of those women and children. Four of the women killed were pregnant and so the survivors put the number of killed at forty-nine.
As one of the survivors of the massacre, Elena Pujuj said, “they thought the massacre would stop our resistance” instead it just made us stronger. Since the massacre at Acteal and following their ongoing efforts to bring about peace and justice, The Bees have become both a National and International symbol of peaceful and dignified resistance. In 2001 they were awarded the prestigious annual Human Rights Award of the French Republic. The recognition, presented by the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, recognised The Bees’ courageous works of resistance for the construction of peace with justice and dignity.
Today, in spite of the ongoing political and military campaign that continues to be waged against the region’s Indigenous Peoples and more specifically the efforts of the local and State Governments to divide and destroy The Bees as an organization, continue to resist.