The Costa Grande

Real War 
    Grounded Networks 
    Control Networks 
A Note on Then and Now 
What They Called "Civil War"  
   Liberal Projects 
      J.R. Poinsett  
      Levi Woodbury  
      Francisco Morazán  
      V. Gómez Farías   
      Wm. Lyon Mackenzie  
   Conservative Demagogues 
      Andrew Jackson  
      A. L. de Santa Anna 
   Fight Scenes  
      El Gallinero  
      Puebla & Charleston   
      Guanajuato & Bravo  
      Loot & development  
      Texas & Florida  
  Grounded Reaction 
      Guatemala & Carrera  
      Lower Canada  
      The Huasteca, & North  
      The Costa Grande   
Outcomes, and Vision
The people of Chilapa confronted the man who came on as their protector and friend.  Juan Álvarez was urging that they accept mediation, that they go home in peace, trusting that he had always defended them when they were in conflict with the authorities, and would speak up for them again. 

But a hacienda manager had attacked and wounded one Indian, townspeople were outraged, and their mayor moved to forestall Álvarez: 

"Please don't come telling us again to put ourselves, broken-up, into the hands of our remorseless enemies."  
(Háganos usted el favor de no volver a venir a  persuadirnos a que nos entreguemos dispersos a las manos de nuestros encarnizados enemigos: . . .   ) 
The word the mayor used for "broken-up" -- dispersos -- is the word that Spanish-language military reports use where English would say "missing."  He did not say something like desamparados, which would mean "helpless" or "without protection."  Dispersos was the condition of soldiers who had fled in all directions after a defeat.  Sometimes it was what guerrilla fighters did deliberately, when they disappeared into the night, evading pursuit.  The word called up an anxiety in all popular action, about whether the "clever" tactics of guerrilla bands were not simply a desperate effort to make the best out of continual defeat.  Whichever the point of view, neither soldiers nor people were described as mere numbers, that could be "missing."  They were real people, involved in real action.  

All this was in 1842, in a valley farther back in the hills from Guerrero's Tixtla. 

The mayor was saying, in effect:  "Don't talk to us as if we are statistics in your civil war between political parties.  For us it is always a real war."  They were real beings, of flesh and blood, even for the remorseless generals who treated them as carne de cañón ("cannon-fodder"). 

Dispersos.  It means that popular politics was popular warfare carried out by other means. 


During the early 1840s, indigenous peasants in the southern part of the state of Mexico, back of Acapulco, kept rising in protest against hacendados who were taking over lands at their expense.  The government sent in troops, under Nicolás Bravo, but also enlisted Álvarez to mediate with the rebels.  At the same time, government informers in the area sent back reports that Álvarez was providing protection and even arms to the rebels.  Maybe he was.  Álvarez and Bravo were then trying to get that southern area set off as a separate state -- within which they would still be competing for personal influence.

On the northern flank of the Álvarez zone of influence, in Jalisco, much the same dynamic played itself through in the career of the insurgent Gordiano Guzmán.  Guzmán assembled a network of guerrilla groups who resisted centralist politics toward the end of the 1830s.  The groups varied in ethnic identity:  some mestizo, some Indian, though each group might be all one thing or all the other.  Even though Guzmán was more successful than Canales, in the northeastern part of the country, he found that the tactics necessary for survival made real victory elusive.  His men knew how to disperse after an attack, melting into the villages and canyons to avoid pursuit by army units. But since the army kept at the pursuit, each successive dispersal led to yet further fragmentation of the guerrilla forces.  Some fragments would be picked off, or forced to accept amnesty.  Guzmán and his own unit simply disappeared into the canyons for a period of years.

When Guzmán emerged again, it was to accept Álvarez as his condescending fatherly sponsor in the amnesty process.  He was now the kind of rebel whom Álvarez and the national-level liberals could accept. The country people who had protected him stayed on in the area, with their lands and grievances.  Forever visible as they worked with their crops and animals, they were hostage to a day-to-day life from which only the political "bandit" could easily escape.

In Guzmán's Jalisco, off in the western part of Mexico, there were no villainous Texans or other gringos on whom politicians could blame the resistance movement.  Neither were there in the Oaxaca of Meléndez.  Any norteamericano influence on peasant or liberal resistance was a local peculiarity in certain particular regions.  Just as the anti-liberal guerrilla movement in Oaxaca had much in common with the pro-liberal movement in Jalisco, so Córdova's anti-gringo movement in East Texas had social interests in common with the Tamaulipas elements who experimented with accepting gringo allies.

The whole movement was one of assertion against external mobilization, by networks of community-"bandit" symbiosis.  Under whatever political labels, the assertion extended as far as Quebec, and New Mexico, and Guatemala.

This movement, constantly presenting challenges with which criollos had to deal,  was its own alternative vision of how the continent might live. The key element  in that vision was the process by which the nerve-ends of a community reached out into areas of danger, taking the risk of dispersal, even while its fighters pulled around themselves the cloak of organization and refuge.


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