THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK THREE:  BOOK of the PACIFICATION

 

CHAPTER THIRTY

 

          The creation and exploits of the "Cuerpo de Operarios", the political police of President Diaz in the last ten years of his rule, are matters of historical record. Under its jurisdiction, the Porfirismo dispatched argumentative journalists, businessmen who refused to pay tributes and the families of fugitive bandits and guerrillas to the "destierro", a network of internment camps... of which Santa Cruz del Bravo was to become favored by reason of the unlikelihood of those sent to it surviving their incarceration. Its unhealthy reputation inspired the Chief of Police in distant Juarez, as a matter of fact, to specify the Territory as a destination for his worst criminals, for it was a common belief that inhabitants of the dry, northern states would be particularly vulnerable to the fevers that abounded in Quintana Roo.

          These officials of the north were not mistaken.

          Along with the exiles, political prisoners, rebellious indians from other parts of Mexico and deserting soldiers, an infinity of common and uncommon criminals were marched down the road from Peto to Santa Cruz del Bravo. One lot, for example, included the renowned jurist Perez-Escofer, who foolishly had attempted to investigate the murder of some indians on a hacienda. Chained to him was a proud and murderous Yaqui, behind them came an ironsmith, jailed in the capital for blackening the eye of a petty official who had accepted his bribes but cheated him (this one had compounded his error by informing on the jailers who stole food his family had brought him), finally, a coachman who had made the mistake of attempting to elope with a General's daughter.

          Certainly some of these, at least, deserved their fate. Civilization is precariously maintained by its rules and, the more civilized its aspirations, the more numerous its rules and the more jails it builds to defend them. But it is also a matter of record that few truly dangerous criminals ever arrived in Santa Cruz, for no less authority than the warden of the infamous Penitenceria Juarez acknowledged that those who posed serious danger to the public order invariably attempted to escape and, in doing so, were shot before they could be brought to trial.

          Thus it was the rare bandit or murderer who survived to the point of even entering a prison colony; such men traverse a slender path between innate barbarity and the intelligence and understanding of human nature to, at the least, refuse the offer of a guard who swears that, for a few pesos, his glance will be averted while the attempt to flee is made. And so, at Santa Cruz del Bravo, those who could maintain this balance rose to the pinnacle of their limited society. Loathed but secretly admired by their captors who channeled the torrential rage of the captives upon one another, the territory's jailers appointed some lords of this underworld and used them to maintain order.

          Those documents brought to light years later assert that, at no time after 1902, did the proportion of convict laborers of Santa Cruz fall beneath three quarters of its population. To the enlisted soldiers of the territorial capital, and the far smaller numbers of the Yucatecan Guard, the prisoners were an amorphous mass, a swarm of faceless men and women lower, even, than themselves. More than one unhappy convict took a bullet in the back for no reason other than that a soldado had been beaten or otherwise humiliated by an officer against whom he had no recourse. In all the layers of society, there is none so dangerous to inferiors than the marginal class whose boots rest upon their necks.

          To the officers, from green lieutenants up to Bravo, himself, new arrivals to the colony were to be handled little differently from the peons of estates such as Idznacab; their names, their crimes and other useful information recorded in books not unlike that of don Antonio's mayordomo. Here, however, the medium was not of pesos spent on rum and shirts and cigarettes and paid off in endless days of labor stretching to a never-arriving tomorrow, but in the capital of crime. The General's assets numbered thieves and slanderers, those who stole by force and those who took by stealth; those with exaggerated dignity that compelled them to stand against scientific government and those with no dignity at all... soldiers who had thrown away their guns in battle, furtive men who ravished little girls and boys, the prostitutes, the debtors, frauds. All of these were in Bravo's books, and there too were the red lines, more of them than Armando Feliz would draw in a thousand years.

          On a September morning when all the salons of Mexico buzzed with the defenders and detractors of the Russian, Pavlov... Porfirio Diaz soon throwing his weight to the former... General Bravo personally placed Padre Juliano's collar into a cigar box with a sigh. It was a puzzling end to a life... if an end it was... a foggy night, a small box of effects and a larger one for his clothes. All of the vestments of a Catholic priest were there except a priest to wear them. News of Padre Juliano's disappearance had been telegraphed to Mexico City and it would be a long time, if ever, that another legitimate cleric would be dispatched to Quintana Roo. Perhaps, Bravo thought, one of those men who fall into disgrace within their own church would find the Territory his unwelcome destination. Certainly no missionary, for those were reserved to save the souls of those who had not heard the Gospels... Santa Cruz, instead, was populated with those who had heard, and who'd denied them.

          Such incidents represented a blight on the progress of the Territory, as the General realized, but the Padre's disappearance was not without its beneficial short-term aspects. First, there would be no objection to conversion of the ugly old cathedral of the sublevados. Then, too, the politicians of the capital would be re-awakened to the fact that war was still being waged in the southeast, a war that some of them had all but forgotten. The clerical influence in the Mexican army and Congress would rise in outrage, for Bravo's report was that the Padre had presumably been taken by the sublevados, at whose hands he had undoubtedly been subjected to tortures of the most hideous aspect before a gruesome death that might even be termed welcomed. Supplies would be ordered and officers commissioned, hopefully experienced men from the north. The disappearance would be another reminder to Mexico; Bravo's enduring fear was that Quintana Roo be ignored.

          He placed down the box, turning to the door. From where he stood, the cathedral dominated all Santa Cruz - an ugly thing, ably representative of the ugly struggle by which the territory had been wrested from savagery. It was probably for the better that the repulsive church would probably never again be used for religious purposes. A lieutenant directing the laborers entering the church and leaving with chairs, boxes and idols on their backs saluted, and Bravo returned it wearily. "They look like ants," he frowned, stepping out into the sun to see how much of the work remained.

          "It will be ready by evening," said the lieutenant, who was very young and vain and very proud. "Will the prisoners require furnishings?"

          "They'll provide such on their own, it's no concern of ours." A man whom Bravo remembered as a sheep-stealer passed with the favorite chair of the Padre on his back. Behind him, followed several traitorous teachers struggling under the weight of the statue of St. Paul. The General peered into the church, rapidly emptying now, and nodded to the Lieutenant.

          Prisoners began moving in the very next day. The strongest soon appropriated the best places for their own. Cutthroats reposed upon the altar, knaves snored in the nave. By November 29th, the date of the effectuation of Article 43 of the Constitution... that amendment confirming the recognition of the territory of Quintana Roo, with Santa Cruz del Bravo as its capital four days previous... twenty five hundred men and women slept in the old cathedral.

          Bravo accepted a copy of the document, some weeks later, from the Captain of a party that had marched from Peto with supplies and a small contingent of forty prisoners. They were first marched to Dr. Rosario, their clothes and belongings confiscated and burned "to prevent epidemics" the doctor explained, waving them away. Corporal Rafael Boite, stuck with the unenviable task of preparing the newcomers and listening to their complaints, hurried them to a hut in which clothing, mostly rags, could be obtained. The doctor, having nothing to occupy himself, followed behind, a bottle in his hand.

          "Where did these rags come from?" one scowled, a man of some education, the doctor guessed, but little common sense.

          "They came from those who passed away to a better place," Rosario taunted him, over the furious, but impotent gestures of the Corporal.

          "And what happened to them?" the man insisted, with an impertinence that inspired the doctor to seek the recourse of a long, satisfying swallow of aguardiente. If there had been someone of more sporting character than the apoplectic little Corporal about, Rosario would have offered a wager that the prisoner would not survive a week.

          "They died... in the latest epidemic."

          The housing of the newcomers was delayed while Corporal Boite afforded them the opportunity to purchase blankets; a futility, since none of them possessed money. Because the door to the cathedral had already been bolted behind the twenty five hundred, Boite secured reinforcement while the new men, in their new dead-men's old clothes, were marched up the old stone steps and the door opened. It had been less than an hour since the prisoners had been locked up, but the smell already made Boite gag and the sound... if the devils of Hell ever met in congress, they could not have created more of a din of Spanish, Mayan, other indian tongues and noises without identity as rose up in the old church of the Talking Cross.

          "In you go," said a stoical Sergeant, prodding the prisoners with his bayonet. He'd been among the party that opened the doors at sunrise; eight corpses had been pulled from the place this very morning and, as a result of struggles for a place to sleep, he figured on a dozen tomorrow.

          The doors were shut, bolted again, and from behind them the sound of oaths, cries and blows redounded.

          "I consider mankind alike to the waters of the ocean; their surface ever-changing while in their depths is the same, eternal, unchangeable stillness and calm," wrote the French "Americanist" Augustus LePlongeon, who had visited the Territory a quarter century previously, interviewed its inhabitants (including the Cruzob) and, subsequently, was washed out of the temples of scholarship on waves of ridicule for stating that Jesus Christ had passed a portion of his lost years in the Yucatan and, in fact, used the Mayan language to offer up his last prayer at Calvary.

          "So, man superficially reflects the images of times and circumstances. His intellect develops and expands only according to the necessities of moment and place.

          "As the waves, he cannot pass the boundaries assigned to him by the unseen, impenetrable Power to which all things are subservient. He is irresistibly impulsed towards his inevitable goal - the grave. There, as far as he positively knows, all his powers are silenced. But, from there also, he sees springing new forms of life that have to fulfill, in their turn, their destiny in the great laboratory of creation."

 

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