The Costa Grande
A Note on Then and Now
What They Called "Civil War"
V. Gómez Farías
Wm. Lyon Mackenzie
A. L. de Santa Anna
Puebla & Charleston
Guanajuato & Bravo
Loot & development
Texas & Florida
Guatemala & Carrera
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."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.
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.
Copyright 1999 The Intermountain History Group, email@example.com.
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