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Time for some honest hypocrisy

8 April 2010

(slightly edited 17-October-2010)

A post on the only “expat” message board I bother reading any more was from someone who just discovered Jean Meyer’s The Cristero Rebellion. The poster apparently never heard of this reactionary movement (which cost the lives of some 80,000 people) of the 1920s and thought Meyer’s 1974 book was something new.  The Cristero Rebellion is a very good book on this period in Mexican history, and the best known work available in English translation on this subject, but the poster was mistaken in believing Meyer’s work was the  definitive word on the Cristeros.  Hardly.

Let’s just say that I don’t accept the MexConnect commentator’s contentions that the Cristeros have been unfairly treated by Mexican historians (supposedly mislead by Soviet propaganda), nor that the war is “forgotten” because of some shame on the part of the Mexican state.

I don’t think the Cristero War was all that unique, in either the history of the world, or in the history of Mexico.  Peasant and lower class rebellions are fairly routine in history, as are reactionary religious/social movements during times of radical social change.  Think of Padre Hidalgo leading out the peasants to slaughter the gauchupines, in the name of protecting the Church from French atheism, or revolts that broke out during the expulsion of the Jesuits in the 18th century, or the War of the Reforma, and the Cristero movement just seems like a better organized, twentieth-century version of a sort of rural violence that has always reared its ugly head in Mexican history.

That the historical consensus on the War isn’t kind to the Cristeros is not the result of some Soviet propaganda machine.  While of course Soviets commented on the event, that assumes Mexican historians can’t think for themselves, and that the counter-propaganda (my 90 year old mother can remember being told about anti-Catholic “Reds” in Mexico by the nuns in Pittsburgh) wasn’t just as over the top.   Of course, when Meyer’s book was written in the early 1970s, knee-jerk anti-Communism and the assumption that Soviet sources indicated Communist infiltration of intellectual thought, was not remarkable, especially among conservative scholars like Meyer.

Finally, given that the intellectual and financial leaders of the movement generally moved on to Falangist and Fascist political movements after the failure of the rebellion,  it’s hard not to see it as I do… simply a modern reactionary movement, not all that different from the Taliban or Al Qaida.

It’s not out of any sense of shame that the war isn’t well known… rather a consensus to put the thing behind them that it’s not front and center in Mexican historical studies.  Without going into the causation of the revolt, consider the way it was ended.  It wasn’t so much U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow’s intervention (Morrow only prevailed upon the U.S. apostolic delegate — neither the U.S. nor Mexico had diplomatic relations with the Vatican at the time — to name an American priest, Father John R. Burke, to act as the Church’s negotiator with the Mexican government) that ended the senseless slaughter.  It was that economic and social change was going to happen no matter what, and that with a little  “honest hypocrisy”,  the people could continue to find what solace they could in religion as the changes  happened.  As I wrote in my book, Gods, Gachupines and Gringos:

The Church was allowed to function and to maintain control over religious facilities (under license from the state) in return for staying out of politics.  The petty restrictions on religious activities could be overcome with a little creativity on both sides.  In many places, religious processions — religious activities off church grounds were technically illegal — usually included making arrangements to pay a nominal fine to the local authorities for holding a parade without a permit.  Or village fiestas in honor of the local saint, which were often disguised celebrations of an indigenous god to begin with, were rechristened as “folk festivals”.

Perhaps, had the Cristeros been defeated (at a huge cost in lives and production), Mexico might have had different history.  As it was, the die-hards either drifted into fascist politics (and incorporated into PAN) or joined the newer religious movements like the Legionaries of Christ (founded by Cristero saint Rafael Guizar y Valenzuela‘s nephew, Marciel Maciel).  Perhaps Mexico would have been better without these movements (and the human race would have been better without Maciel), but without an imperfect settlement, peaceful development of any kind or even a normal civic life would have been impossible.

I think of that now with regard to the “Drug War”.  While not ideological, it is basically being fought by people trying to hold on to a way of life — rural agriculture and/or caught in the economic changes of the 21st century.  It is bloody and neither “side” can win.  The underlying suggestions behind U.S. offers of “assistance” are likely to escalate the war.  It’s alarming to read in the same week of U.S. insistence that its experiences occupying Afganistan and Iraq are relevant to Mexico and of “mistaken” attacks by the United States on journalists in Iraq (as if “errors” aren’t already a problem with the “Drug War”).

To quote Argentine President Raul Alfonsín, “No president has the right to endlessly demand sacrifices from his people” … and no people have the patience to keep sacrificing, especially for a problem not of their making.  Most people in Mexico have no more to do with the narcotics trade than they did with the Cristero terrorists of the 1920s, and the administration then realized it.

This is where the “honest hypocrisy” is needed.  The United States government seems to expect the Mexican PEOPLE to put up with with random roadblocks (and their occasional “collateral damage”) and shootouts in the streets and — going the Iraq/Afganistan route — the odd air attack on perfectly innocent people, while at the same time loathe to do anything similar to its own users, money launderers and gun runners.  The cost of continuing down that route is too high for the Calderón administration now, and for any future administration.

Rural Mexico is going to change, whether there is a marijuana crop or not.  Under the rubric of “social development”, the Bolivians legalized growing coca, but subsidize the crop.  The government buys it and controls the small legal market, and tries to find some alternative use for the rest.  The just destroy a lot of it, but by slowly developing alternative economic prospects for rural Bolivians, have given themselves breathing room for peaceful imperfect progress.

If the United States is willing to continue pretending to “do something” about their narcotics habits, Mexican can continue pretending to “do something” about its exporters.  It doesn’t have involve violence, although I expect the United States will continue to demand a sacrificial victim now and again.  Just not a busload of tourists sited by a helicopter gunship or a couple college students caught in cross-fire between narcos and the police.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary O'Grady permalink
    8 April 2010 6:27 pm

    I’m not quite 90, and I can remember wild tales about anti-Catholic Communist atrocities I heard from the nuns at my elementary school in Corpus Christi, Texas (This was during the early 60’s, actually.) We children heard about priestly martyrs in Mexico; the nuns also alleged that Castro was stealing tombstones from cemeteries in order to sell the marble, which in retrospect strikes me as highly unlikely.

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