Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mexico´s crisis looms over bicentennial

I´ve just finished reading Mariano Azuela´s gritty novel about the 1910 Mexican revolution, "Los de Abajo".

He uses a stark realism to depict one of the bands of anti-government forces who fought the federales.

The peasants who rise up against the landed gentry and hacienda owners lose their ideals along the way. Hardened by the war, they see the lofty goals of land reform and democracy as dreams of fools. The people´s army degenerates at times into a pitiless gang of thieves and murderers.

It´s a dark tale about the pointlessness of war. The author, who is a native of the state of Jalisco, where we live, served as a physician in the forces of Pancho Villa, one of the revolutionaries. He knew what he was talking about.

A revolution every 100 years

That´s the saying in Mexico, where revolutions were launched in 1810 and 1910.

Mexicans are now celebrating their bicentennial, but there doesn´t appear to be another revolution on the horizon.

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and newspaper columnist, wrote recently in the New York Times:

Despite a bloody mythology that venerates the great protagonists of 1810 and 1910, most of whom met brutal deaths, the common denominators of our national history have been social, ethnic and religious coexistence; the peaceful construction of cities, villages and communities; and the creation of a rich cultural mosaic. Many of us want to believe that we are living through a nightmare from which, one morning, we will simply wake up, once again at ease.

Krauze tends to be an optimist. More than a year ago, he argued passionately that Mexico was not a "failed state" about to fall apart because of the growing power of the drug lords. Obviously, he has maintained this confidence.

At the very least, Mexico´s state is being seriously challenged. Every day there are examples of increasingly audacious defiance of authority by drug lords, who execute mayors, police officials and anyone else who gets in their way.

The cry of freedom in 1810

Mural depicting Miguel Hidalgo, father of the 1810 Revolution, here in Guadalajara. The artist was Clemente Orozco.

So reflections on where Mexico is going are part of the 200th anniversary celebration of the uprising that threw off Spanish control.

The priest Miguel Hidalgo is regarded as the George Washington of Mexico. The revolution he started began in the deliberations of a book club (tertulia) in the town of Dolores, where he was assigned.

(Skip down to the heading "Involvement in Queretaro" to see how the Insurgentes, sort of the Franklin-Adams-Jefferson-Hamilton-Washington of Mexico, got started in a book club.)

Trained by the Jesuits, Hidalgo was an unconventional priest. He had relationships with several women and fathered at least five children.

Here is Krauze´s assessment of the revolution Hidalgo started:

From 1810 to 1821, the war for independence cost about 300,000 lives in a population of around 6 million. Afterward, state income, agricultural, industrial and mining production, and, above all, the availability of capital for investment did not reach their pre-1810 levels until the 1880s. And the material desolation was followed by almost five decades of insecurity on the roads, political instability and grievous civil and international wars.

It was in this church in Dolores that Hidalgo made his call for independence from Spain 200 years ago. This speech sermon is now referred to as El Grito (the shout).

Hidaldo was executed the next year, but not before the revolution was well under way.

We visited Dolores Hidalgo in March with my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Tom Lukens. In the photo below, Nancy and I are at the statue of Hidalgo.

No comments:

Post a Comment