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Mexico: Heads Will Roll

By       Message Mark Biskeborn     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 8/17/09

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Washington and his American colleagues were disciples of the Enlightenment. In contrast, the people of Mexico, as Morelos explained, placed less faith in their own actions than in the power of God and the intercession of the Blessed Mother. The popular revolutions in Mexico lasted at least a century (from the 1820s to the 1940s) and, in many ways continue to this day. Current struggles take the form of sporadic guerilla warfare, in the guise of underground movements against the mechanized modern state: guerilla insurgency""Zapatista Army of National Liberation; religious resistance through anti-Catholic cults""Santa Muerte; and the power struggles among the so-called drug cartels.

This devotion to religious faith in providence as the cause of events, as Morelos revealed long ago, undermines free will and tends to knock the wind out of a person's lungs. To fill that void, the Catholic Church plays an authoritarian role in Mexican culture to this day, determining almost every aspect of the individual's life, as does the government. A ruling class has always subjugated the working class to such an extent that hardly any middle class has ever existed, while the poor struggle against the elite's status quo.

The colonizing Spaniards took possession of valuable land and later the Haciendas made land grabbing from the peasants a Mexican tradition. The Catholic Church became one of the largest landowners and had no charitable scruple to loosen its grip on its assets for the poor. "The Conservatives were supported by the onerous bureaucracy of the capital city, by the "respectable people,' and of course, by the clergy" (Krauze).

Like the new American aristocrats, the Catholic Church and the landowners in Mexico owned the poor as indentured slaves. The situation created a complicity between the landowner and the priest, at the cost of the peon. As Ocampo wrote, "As in the times of Abraham, the peon and the workers born in the haciendas belong to them and are bartered or claimed and exchanged and sold and inherited as are herds, tools and lands" (Krauze). The forces of the Catholic Church continue to make a large part of the Mexican people docile. Today's peons tolerate their economic plight by the soothing belief that things will be easier in heaven.

Most of human history is a saga about how those in power constrain personal and economic freedom so they can gain more control of wealth, enabling only a few to benefit. The revolutions in Mexico, as anywhere else in history, were motivated not so much by the ideals of democracy and freedom, as by the lack of economic opportunity. The rebellions in both the United States (1770s) and in Mexico (1820s) for independence were motivated by an uproar against economic tyranny. The popular phrase "no taxation without representation" expresses this sentiment.

When Mexico finally did attain independence, it anointed and elected Iturbide as the "Constitutional Emperor of Mexico," meaning that with his coronation on July 21, 1822, he ruled the country by authority of the Catholic Church as well as of the Congress. During his military campaigns, Iturbide gained a reputation of extreme cruelty. He ordered the beheading of women of disloyal fathers, husbands or brothers in order to gain control of the many groups of insurgents by sending a terrorizing message to the entire population. The new and independent Mexican government merely continued Spain's conservative and theocratic position.

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Beheading as a Tradition

Throughout Mexico's history, the conservative government and its continuously rebelling groups have often beheaded their enemies as a means to send graphic messages about who is in charge or wants to be. Today's news is filled with reports of police increasingly finding severed heads more frequently in the wake of battles between Mexico's powerful drug cartels and the government. Bloody battles for wealth and power had long ago become a Mexican, and Latin American, tradition. If the United States has become known for its high rate of incarceration, violence, and free trade of assault weapons, Mexico is known as being even more violent, with the help of purchases from unfettered American arms dealers.

Even after Mexico had gained independence from Spain in the early 1820s, it did not form any national order. It remained an assemblage of villages and provinces isolated from one another and controlled by the strong men of each region. These warlords gained power throughout Mexico and were validated by their personal strength and by the terror they inspired in their communities as much as by the benefits they provided, much like the so-called drug cartels today.

"The name for them in Mexico""cacique""was an Indian word for chieftain. Since the earliest period of the colony, it conveyed the idea and was clearly rooted in indigenous tradition. Though the caciques were local, while the typical Mexican caudillos, those military chieftains had "risen with and seized the kingdom'"extended their activity to the entire country and sought power over the entire nation" (Krauze).

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Today's so-called drug cartels are the continuation of a centuries-old Mexican tradition. They are motivated by the same lack of any economic structure that might otherwise enable a middle class to grow and prosper. Popular hatred of the economic inequalities has driven the rebel groups that have always existed in Mexico at least since the Spanish arrived. For this same reason, Mexico's cartels or caudillos have always operated in opposition to the official government. Unlike popular ideals and fairytales, freedom and democracy have almost never been the engine of rebellions. Revolutions arise when a small percentage of the population""such as the Mexican Haciendas of Cuahuixtla, Hospital, and Mapaztlan""own an overwhelming part of a nation's wealth""property or other means of production""and use it to control the population.

"In 1878, Manuel Mendoza Cortina, the owner of the Hacienda of Cuahuixtal, affirming that "justice for the poor has already gone off to heaven,' made another move to dispossess Anenecuilco, this time of their water. One of the village leaders, Manuel Mancilla, began talks with him, in secret, trying to reach a mutual agreement. When they discovered what was going on, his neighbors cut off his head. They threw the corpse on the road, near the Hill of Flints" (Krauze).

Rebellion against Constraints

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Mark Biskeborn is a novelist: Mojave Winds, A Sufi's Ghost, Mexican Trade. Short Stories: California & Beyond. Poetry & Essays. For more details: See Mark's stories on or wherever books are (more...)

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