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The general in his labyrinth … at Christmas

26 December 2017

With our politicians suddenly aghast at the mere mention of using a general amnesty as a means out of a violent, and increasingly pointless “war on drugs”… a bit of Mexican history on how amnesty … while not ending violence… has been used to reduce violence and allow for political and social reform.  

His forced decimated in the Bajío during the spring and summer of 1915, Pancho Villa had retreated north. Driven out of Sonora that fall, he returned to his native Chihuahua in December. Between the cold and a wave of executions along the trail, he lost still more of his forces before arriving home to address a crowd … described about equally as apprehensive and enthusiastic … ten days before Christmas.

Still powerful enough to impose forced loans and order retail stores to open, he also commissioned his chief civilian adviser, Silvestre Terrazas and general Cruz Domínguez to negotiate with the Carrancistas for the peaceful surrender of the city.

The Constitutionalist had 10 thousand soldiers of the Army of the Northeast under the command of Jacinto B. Treviño advancing from Torreón in Camargo, waiting for orders to attack. Villa saw off the families of his top generals, along with his official wife, Luz Corral and his children on the train to El Paso (and eventual, and as it turned out, temporary, Cuban exile) on the 18th.

On the 19th, General Cruz Domínguez entered Chihuahua with a force of 500 mounted soldiers. Villa’s generals, along with what remained of his civil administration met at his home. Villa ordered the evacuation of the city of Chihuahua, ordering his remaining forces to gather in Bustillos, to discuss to approve plans for continuing his campaign. He warned them that no matter what his subordinates decided, he would continue to oppose Carranza, and, if necessary, die in the attempt.

It began to snow when Villa appeared on the balcony of his municipal palace. Through tears, in the bitter cold, he harangued the crowd with invective against Constitutionalist leader Venustiano Carranza for selling out the revolution to the gringos (despite Villa’s own overt attempts to curry U.S. support) and assured that he would continue the fight in the mountains. Then left for Bustillos. Carranza decreed an amnesty for those who would lay down their weapons.

Villa conferred in Bustillos with 27 generals; 23 of them made it clear that they did not want to continue a struggle that had no hope or future and that they were thinking of accepting Carranza’s amnesty or taking refuge in the United States. On Christmas Day 21 generals and 7000 men surrendered. In the following weeks, another another 20 would surrender, along with over 5000 officers and civil servants, and 11,000 soldiers.

What was left of the once powerful Division of the North, and the Villista government, was reduced to a guerilla force, of little strategic importance, his raid on Columbus, New Mexico the following year being the “last hurrah” of the legendary commander, both feared and favored by the Wilson Administration, and once seen as the most important of the Revolutionary war-lords.

Although the violence would continue on a smaller scale, and small scale rebellions would continue up into the 1930s, the Revolution effectively ended with a Christmas amnesty.  But, with Villa no longer a threat, the Constitutionalists were able to consolidate their hold on the country, call a constitutional convention the following year, and begin the process of reform.

(source: Pedro Salmerón Sanginés, Navidades y amnistías: fin de la División del Norte, Jornada, 26 December 2017)

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