THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK FOUR:  THE BOOK of SCIENCE

 

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

 

          Juan Moreno, the envoy President Diaz sent from the Ministry of Commerce to the territory, was an attorney from an old Guadalajara family whose holdings included cattle ranches, half an interest in a brewery and... Moreno's special pride and joy... three motor car distributorships to market the contraptions made in Detroit and now called "fotingos" after their inventor. A short round man, with poor vision only partly corrected by thick eyeglasses, it was soon apparent to Vega that the fellow would have been far happier to have ridden from the docks on Chetumal Bay to the General's office in a Model T. than on the horse Vega had provided for him. Nonetheless, Moreno bore his discomfort stoically. His loyalty to Diaz and to the cause of progress kept his  spirits high, however unsettling the ride or the ferocity of the sand fleas on the small beach of Payo Obispo.

          "Tell me, now, about this Indian of yours," said Moreno as he placed his backside gingerly upon the chair Vega proffered.

          "Chelem is one of the newer jefes who came into their positions after the old leadership was wiped out by my own forces and those of Admiral Monasterio in these parts,” and he hesitated, briefly, “as well as by the territorial Governor Bravo in the north. Admittedly there was also disease, which is far more injurious to the old and the weak. An entire class of leadership was depopulated and the survivors, isolated, frightened men like Chelem, suffered from the absence of their experience.

          "For a year he was unreachable. It was the hardest of times for most Indians... their primitive religion had failed them utterly, disease ravaged the villages and their food supply grew scarce... for they were forced to plant their corn in distant and hostile grounds. Had it been the intent of Don Porfirio to utterly exterminate them, I feel it could have been done, although I personally have opposed the genocide of peoples as incompatible with Christian duty. We, after all, are not like the Americans... who think nothing of removing whole peoples from the earth, or enslaving others who have not earned such humiliation by reason of their crimes, or debts, or misfortunes in war. But this is digression... the sublevados, meanwhile, had turned upon one another the way starving beasts of some species attack their weaker members. Those who survived were those who vowed to continue resistance, the bloodthirstiest... not necessarily those most capable."

          "Surely a few such men," Moreno suggested, "and indians, at that... could have been hunted down."

          "It was not beyond our capabilities," Vega agreed. "However, what purpose would have been served? The sublevados would have raised up other chiefs, no less implacable than those we killed, nor less hostile to progress and to Mexico."

          "And so?" Moreno asked.

          "Finally I realized that it was in our interest to encourage stability among the Maya authorities, not chaos. One of the conditions of savagery," said Vega, "is a perpetual insecurity among its rulers. Mexico itself, for a time after the liberation, while it was learning to stand on its feet as a free nation, did not wholly escape this curse. There would come a President for six months, another for three, another might survive a whole year. Men who had ruled once and failed would be returned to office to fail again like latter-day Roman Emperors – or certain Popes of the Dark Ages. Progress, Licenciado, is a thing requiring continuity and order, things alien to these indians for centuries since that time before Cortez and Montejo when they built fine cities and enjoyed a civilization, of sorts. However we deplore the barbaric states that the Maya raised in their antiquity, we must acknowledge the skill of their chiefs in maintaining order, as enabled the marshalling the labor of the hundreds or even thousands necessary to lay such stones in their place. Men who would otherwise be wasted in tribal warfare. I, therefore, take most seriously the President's command... to pacify the indians first, then to civilize or re-civilize them, but under the hand of benevolent Christianity, finally to institute stable and responsible regimes which, nonetheless, serve interests as our own."

          "And your Chelem is such a man?" Moreno wondered.

          "About a year ago," Vega now revealed, "we began offering inducements to this jefe. Not directly, of course, his officers would have seized upon this as collaboration and quickly deposed him. No... there are the innumberable farmers, woodcutters and chicle gatherers in Quintana Roo whose connections to the sublevados are as tentative as their loyalty to Mexico, and it was among these shadowy men we circulated. But even if he is an indian, this General Chelem could not have been so ignorant as to fail to recognize the source of these inducements. He was not."

          "And your offerings?"

          "Clothing and cooking pots, jewelry, all those toys that the unsophisticated mind finds irresistible... everything, in fact, but arms. At the same time we were building bridges to Chelem's group, we reduced the flow of contraband across the border. Three months ago, direct contact was inaugurated. These indians are now ready to give up the war, Minister. They have had a taste of civilization and its fruits and they desire only to consume more."

          Moreno was given rooms, food and a bed in which to rest his back, which fairly screamed its outrage even at the short ride through the pitted streets of Payo Obispo. Worse was to come. In the morning, Vega waited with a small escort and... another horse, saddled and ready to ride to the meeting point of Xcalak. Moreno looked towards Heaven, sighed and awkwardly mounted the animal, diverting his thoughts from his still aching muscles by the consideration Don Porfirio would certainly show for his pains. The negotiation party followed the shoreline out of town and down a long, narrow beach, bordered by the sullen monte, which lay behind a screen of sinister coco palms. "This is where Chelem has promised to wait," General Vega finally pointed. "It was advisable not to meet in his village, where some might still take offense at the presence of Mexicans, nor Payo Obispo where we might be seen by someone with mischief on their minds. He's still in danger from some of his own who will never give up the war and no... by no means do I trust all of those indians walking about the city.  This place, however… nobody comes here."

          "At least nobody with good intent on their minds, eh General?" Moreno tried to make light. Vega nodded, glancing down the beach. There was no sign of Chelem's party.

          "What do we do now?" Moreno asked.

          "We wait."

          Sundown arrived and the sixteen opened tinned goods and set up tents they had brought, prepared to wait the night out. When Moreno struck up an oil lamp, a half a dozen moths gathered, causing Vega to frown.

          "The indians call tamax-chi a bad omen. Moths," the General explained, "their word for these pests. But they also fear bats, eclipses and dogs and chickens crowing in the night."

          "Dogs don't crow, General, they bark," Moreno said. As Vega glared at him, the attorney smiled. "You've been among these indians too long. Maybe when this arrangement is concluded you could take a vacation."

          Vega removed his boots and began to pick at the buttons of his shirt when a whistle was heard. "That's strange," he said, "these people hate the dark." He picked up the lamp and stepped outside. "Hallo?" he called. "Quien es? Chelem?"

          Moreno followed the General outside. "What is it?" he called.

          A barrage of shots replied from the trees. One shattered the lamp, another passed through the General's wrist. Vega turned sideways to dive back into the tent, which afforded no protection but in which his rifle and pistol lay. He turned his ankle however and sprawled in the sand, awaiting the death that surely would come as another volley was loosed. But he felt nothing save the pain in his wrist and his ankle.

          Now the only shots were those of his own men, firing wildly into the monte beyond the beach. Vega lifted his head. The sublevados had departed.

          The General crawled to the body of the President's envoy. Moreno had been hit at least a dozen times and, with him, had died the process of negotiation in the south.

 

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