THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER THREE

  

          The naming of Quintana Roo was a formality, but the telegraph also brought to Santa Cruz the news that General Vega of Xcalak would proceed to the territorial capital for the purpose of discussing its future. Ignacio Bravo had never forgotten that the forces of Monasterio and Vega had always had designs upon his capital and that, even after they had failed to extend their perimeter beyond Bacalar, only adroit pleadings to don Porfirio had secured the status of Santa Cruz del Bravo as capital, rather than their port of Payo Obispo.

          The southern Generals had argued that the placing of the territorial capital on the border with Belize would give Mexico warning of British intent, and possibly deter them from hostile endeavors. Bravo had turned this argument on its ear. The situation of the former customs station on the Bay of Chetumal, so close to the English, rendered it indefensible should it be attacked. Surely the esteemed President must be aware of Yucatan's treacherous past... besides seeking secession, its montes had angled for a union with the British Queen, even with the short-lived Republic of Texas! Finally, their opposition to the interloper Maximilian had been lukewarm, at best. The montes still looked to Paris and London, not Mexico. Could such be trusted if the capital of Quintana Roo were taken in a confrontation with the Empire?

          Don Porfirio, who welcomed English bankers and their money, but not its military, determined in favor of Santa Cruz and had underlined the point by naming it for Bravo. Still, the contest for mastery of the territory continued, not only against the sublevados in the monte, but between Mexicans in the halls of Congress and the cafes of the capital where hardwood traders, bankers and Cientificos plotted the exploitation of Quintana Roo; the results of their intrigues being measured in the relative appropriations of materials and men for Santa Cruz and for Payo Obispo.

          Now came General Vega's new madness, a canal south of Xcalak which would join the ocean with the Bay of Chetumal, eliminating the eighty kilometer journey around Ambergris Cay and the danger... not to mention the temptation... of encountering British cannons, or their smugglers. Posed as a counter to London, the proposal had found friends in the capital and Yucatan’s energetic new Governor Olegario Molina volunteered that a meeting of the Generals, face to face, would be a good thing for the Republic and that a negotiated solution would be even better.

          This was, of course, impossible for the reason that the Republic's treasury could not support both the canal and Bravo's railroad to Ascension Bay. It was important to extend the beacon of civilization to the most benighted corner of Mexico, true, but there were other needs and projects elsewhere, other ventures of equal importance to their influential sponsors. Neither Bravo nor Vega held out any hope of persuading the other to abandon his interest in the territory but, if so many people of importance had expressed wishes that they meet... they would.

          The next phase of the struggle was determination of the location of the meeting. Vega's forces still maintained a precarious hold on the old city of Bacalar, situated on the shore of the lake of that name seventy kilometers distant from Payo Obispo. But the land beyond Bacalar... all the way to the very perimeter of Santa Cruz del Bravo... consisted of one hundred and twenty kilometers of sapodilla, ceiba and mahogany, of snakes and insects of varying degrees of toxicity, and of the sublevados that had fled south from Santa Cruz, north from Bacalar and Payo Obispo and, besides, all measure of Mexican and British convicts, deserters and opportunists, each standing ready to ambush any party that ventured out of its enclave.

          For a time, the messages flashed back and forth to Merida and its increasingly confused and irritable Governor. "General Bravo is pleased to receive the Commander of the south, General Juan Bautista Vega at Santa Cruz at the date of his choosing." "General Vega takes pleasure in inviting the commander of Santa Cruz, General Ignacio Bravo, to Payo Obispo." And so on.

          "Our general fears for his life in the south," Victoriano Huerta suggested to José.

          "What? That cannot be possible! We are in the twentieth century, Colonel; atavistic conspiracies such as you suggest cannot possibly exist in Mexico, or in any land where civilization has sunk its roots."

          "What civilization!" Huerta laughed. "For that matter, is this really Mexico?" When deprived of cognac, as had been the case for nearly a week while supply wagons waded slowly through summer's mud, home-brewed aguardiente caused the tongue of the Huichol Colonel to wax cryptically poetic. "It is a land which numbers time by stones, and the time of this place is of another century. "Don't forget," Huerta advised, "they have not forgotten human sacrifice here - and this belief is not merely restricted to we poor, benighted indians. Through all of Mexico, the land exhibits its strange and terrible influence on men - whether for barbarism or for civilization.

          "Let me tell you something else," and he spat into the dirt. "General Vega wears the mask of modern man - a kind and cultured fellow, an engineer, a Cientifico... one who knows what's best for the common folk. An officer who think like a citizen... well, I've served under enough Generals to plot the course of the treachery that flows like water underground through the civilian mind. A military man may steal, granted, he kills; it is his job and, in a sorry land like ours, he may have to take measures to protect foolish people from their foolish instincts. But this is done out of patriotism. The untrained mind... and by this I mean any civilian, like our Ingenario Vega, as well as any bootblack or chiclero... is easily subjugated to the land and to its treacheries. And for all the good intentions of our so-called John the Baptist down there, lower the mask and you will see the treachery. That is why Vega fears to come here... what gives evil and the poison of the spirit all its powers also works to its exposure."

          José assented, and returned to his duties to learn, within a few days, of Vega's capitulation. It had come down, as it must, to which General could influence the noisiest, busiest flies of the Porfirismo and Bravo had stroked many of these over his long career. Because neither rail nor canal yet existed, and because the General of Payo Obispo, although an Engineer, was not so foolish as to march north from Bacalar, Vega sailed out into the Bay, past the noses of the English around Ambergris Cay, and up the coast to Progreso.

          Upon disembarking and marching south to Merida, Bravo's eyes and ears reported on the southern General's first attempts to sow discord in the now diminished state of Yucatan. Vega paid a courtesy call on old Canton, staring now into retirement, then held an audience with Molina and his gang which Bravo's agents failed to penetrate. And then, with twenty stalwarts from Payo Obispo and an escort of sixty members of the Yucatecan guard, Vega took the train to Peto and entered Santa Cruz following an uneventful march of five days' duration, during which Bravo jauntily telegraphed his thousands of enlisted and convicted subjects to extend their utmost courtesies to his compatriot. Vega's compact force, traveling with its own mules, tents, hammocks and provisions haughtily refrained from imposing upon the garrisons and, once ensconced in Santa Cruz, the commander politely declined Bravo's offer of barracks and established a small camp to the southwest of the plaza.

          To escort their visitor, Bravo selected Vega's former and disobedient subordinate, Huerta, and a contingent including Captain Macias.

          Huerta placed his barbs carefully, harassing his rival without leaving a trail that could be followed back. "Here is potable water," he said, "and electric lighting which, through the labors of Ignacio Bravo, has been brought to this formerly desolate place at the heart of the Federal territory no later than was it established in Merida itself." The unctuous Colonel placed a special emphasis on "heart" but with a pleasant and affectionate demeanor, a consequence of the bottles of cognac which had arrived with Vega's force the previous day. Like Bravo, Huerta had his eyes and ears both in Merida and among his old colleagues on Vega's staff, though, for the present, his contacts were used solely towards personal advancement and enjoyment.

          "Here's the Catholic school, where Padre Juliano instructs the young of Santa Cruz... including even such wretched indians as have returned... in the skills of reading, writing and mathematics which shall allow them to become useful citizens of the Republic. Religious education is also there," he said, dismissively. "It is one of six that the General has constructed in the territory. Let's drop in."

          The school was a low, windowless stone room, part of a corridor of such that extended from the church like the arms of a spider. Padre Juliano, engrossed in his discourse, did not at first observe that visitors had filed in and taken places at the rear wall of the school for the intruders, one and all, were quiet men.

          "As all authority," he read, nose buried in a booklet, "derives from Almighty God, the Christian worker sanctifies and makes sublime his obedience by serving God in the person of his masters. To the poor of the Republic, God commands you to love your humble state and your work and turn your gaze towards Heaven. There will be found... the true wealth..."

          Padre Juliano had turned his gaze theatrically upwards but, instead of God, had found Vega's delegation, including Victoriano Huerta who, if a Christian as he sometimes alleged, was a very, very bad one. The priest was a suspicious man; a sycophant who preached the virtues of militarism and, in fact, all elite classes, but was uncomfortable in their presence. He much preferred infidels and simple people, who knew better than to analyze the Padre's words for their content (or the lack, thereof). Huerta waved gaily, General Vega nodded sternly and the touring party filed out of the school.

          "As you see," Huerta volunteered, "the General has made a bounteous provision for both the minds and souls of these young people of lowly birth."

          "More so than he has for their bodies," Vega harrumphed. "Are all the indians here as skinny as those?"

 

 

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