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Somebody is wrong!

5 August 2011

Sorry posting is a little on the light side right now.  I am working on a couple of other things (and I’ll be getting back to my “soap opera” version of the Spanish-English royal family conflicts that I think are the source for the U.S.-Mexican mutual mistrust and misunderstanding), but when I started to write a short post about an upcoming American film related to Mexican history,  I found myself in the middle of a long-overdue promised essay on history in the movies for a small academic publication… and — being appalled by the Wikipedia entry on that film’s main character — just spent most of the last two days writing a not so quick (but dirty… and, yes, I know there are several incomplete sentences that need fixed) revision of a fairly minor Mexican revolutionary (and post-Revolutionary) figure of note: Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, the rent-a-general hired to turn the Cristeros into a real army.

What set me off was that the Wikipedia entry for  was the film version Gorostieta, not the historical figure.  And — DAMN — I just found another biographical source with a little more weight than a film script:  the late Jaime Nicolopulos of the University of Texas Department of Comparative Literature wrote and published an excellent website dedicated to studying the Cristeros and their heroes:  Corridos de la Cristada.

I’m not a stickler about footnotes and references to be sure (I’m not writing for academic audiences), and don’t mind biased writing (not when the biases are acknowledged) but what was in the Wikipedia was another “Palinization of Paul Revere“… an attempt to revise history to fit the facts of a polemical discussion… (basically, a movie selling the pious righteousness of that 1926-29 rural insurgency) … that and the fact that somebody was wrong on the internet.

Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Monterrey, 1889 – Atotonilco el Alto, 2 June 1929) was a Mexican soldier. He was one of the leaders of the Cristero Rebellion.

Not the picture on Wikipedia, but maybe that needs changed too

Gorostieta followed a military education at the Heroic Military College of Chapultepec and served in the Porfirian army. During the Mexican Revolution he served in the Federal Army of counterrevolutionary dictator Victoriano Huerta, being Huerta’s youngest general, and after Huerta’s fall fought with Juan Andrew Almazán, but soon fled Mexico for Cuba and later the United States. Upon his return to Mexico he worked as a soap manufacturer, but found the work boring, and sought a return to military activity. [1]

In 1926 the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty chose him to lead the Cristeros, an army of Catholic rebels fighting against the government forces of president Plutarco Elías Calles.[2]

As a Mason [3] and life-long anti-clerical, Gorostieta’s motivation for taking command of the rebels was not only the high salary he was offered (about $3000 US Dollars a month, or twice the salary of a regular Army General), but also his political ambition. Although Gorstieta’s 1928 “Plan de Los Altos” called for changes to the 1916 Constitution’s Article 27 (which the Cristeros saw as restricting the rights of Catholics) and — more important to Gorostieta — install a Gorostieta regime on the country.

Philosophically, he believed in a return to the Juarez-inspired 1857 Constitution’s view of non-interference and toleration for religion, rather than the Calles’ administration’s reading of the 1916 Constitution as demanding subordination of religious organizations to the state. Although openly contemptuous of his subordinates’ religious faith (several of his officers were priests), he respected the military acumen of the Jalisco farmers under his command, and believed he could turn them into a professional fighting force equal to the regular army. [4]

His importance as a Cristero leader was in bringing military discipline to an unorganized insurgency. He is credited with turning Cristero “armies” into a Cristero Army, which, for a time, was winning battles in the states where it was able to operate: Jalisco, Michoacan, Colima and Zacatecas. However, without support from the Mexican church [5] or the Vatican[6] and torn by internal dissention [7], the Cristeros were largely irrelevant as a political or military force by the time a negotiated settlement was worked out between the Vatican and the Mexican state over interpretations of the Church’s rights under the Constitution [8].

Nineteen days before a cession of hostilities (2 June 1929), based on an agreement worked out by U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow, Gorostieta was killed following a Mexican government intelligence operation. With the movement rapidly collapsing, Gorostieta was attempting a retreat into Michoacan, where he hoped to recruit followers and continue the rebellion. A federal officer, who had infiltrated Gorostieta’s inner circle, tipped off the Mexican cavalry to the general’s presence in Atotonilco, Jalisco, and killed him in a short firefight. [9]

 Popular culture

Gorostieta will be portrayed by Andy Garcia in the upcoming film Cristiada, an epic historical drama also starring Eva Longoria, Eduardo Verástegui and Peter O’Toole. [10]

External links


  1. ^ Tuck, The Anti-Clerical Who Led a Catholic Rebellion
  2. ^ Werner, Michael S., Concise encyclopedia of Mexico p. 147, Taylor & Francis, 2001
  3. ^ Mayer, Jean A. “The Cristero Rebellion: The Mexican People between Church and State 1926-1929 (Cambridge University Press, 1976) p. 53
  4. ^ Tuck
  5. ^ Bravo Ugarte, José. “Cómo se llegó al modus vivendi de 1929” en Temas históricos diversos. México, Jus, 1966, pp. 265-275.
  6. ^ Meyer, p. 203
  7. ^ Meyer, 80-81, et. passum
  8. ^ Grabman, Richard. Gods, Gachupines and Gringos: A People’s History of Mexico (Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Editorial Mazatlán, 2008) p. 342-43
  9. ^ Tuck
  10. ^ Cristiada (2011) IMDB, Accessed Oct. 8, 2010
4 Comments leave one →
  1. 5 August 2011 9:23 am

    You wrote: “and I’ll be getting back to my “soap opera” version of the Spanish-English royal family conflicts that I think are the source for the U.S.-Mexican mutual mistrust and misunderstanding¨”. I absolutely couldn’t disagree more. Coincidentally, I found myself reviewing some Mexican history, moving backwards from the 1930s. Mexico is a tapestry woven of fat threads that are anchored in mesoamerica and Spain. The threads created a picture quite different from that of the US. These two countries, especially the US itself, created quite enough reasons for mutual mistrust and misunderstanding without having to look at European marriage relationships which of course did matter, but not anywhere to the degree you would claim.

  2. 5 August 2011 3:26 pm

    Stay tuned for the next episode 🙂

    I disagree with absolutely nothing you’ve said, my point (like the movie about the Cristeros, “still in development”) is that the way writers in the Spanish and English LANGUAGE have viewed each other since the 1500s — when both Spain and England basically developed a national literary tradition, and a national language… and became important nations — had to start somewhere. The royal soap opera — a”family feud” that the rest of the people involved saw as things like wars, and piracy and religious persecution and colonial exploitation and… — is an over-simplification, but it’s as good a starting point as any for looking at a literary tradition of disdain for the other’s values and culture as any.

    That Mexico is a very different country than Spain (and the United States from England) is a given, but both nations writers inherited the mother-country’s literary traditions and, whether they were conscious of them or not, couldn’t help being influenced by them. A writer like William S. Burroughs, certainly not a “conventional” writer described his Mexico in language not all that remote from the early 17th century Puritan Thomas Gage. That the travel writers (and I’m using the term loosely, to include people like Burroughs and Dame Rebecca West) were aware that Mexico was not the same as Spain didn’t change their language all that much.

    Of course Mexico and the United States have much different cultures than the “mother tongue” countries, and have their own subset of cultural misconceptions, but one has to start somewhere, and the story of a dysfunctional family is as good as any.

    As Tolstoi sort of said, “All happy families are alike. This is the story of a dysfunctional family”…. who am I to argue with the master?

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