THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK EIGHT:  THE SECOND of the BOOKS of CHANGE

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

          The Aguascalientes Convention was, intellectually, a splendid success engendering many noble and historic statements from its participants, but there ensued no union of the Constitutionalist factions with those of Villa and Zapata so, in the political sense, it must be deemed a failure. The Constitutionalists were loudest in proclaiming dominion over the Republic but, after war again broke out with the approach of winter, it was the Villistas and Zapatistas who were winning in the field, so Carranza finally packed up and departed the capital... setting himself up as an exiled prince in Veracruz, under the protection of the United States.

          Only Alvaro Obregon stood between the Constitutionalists and utter ruin. He dismissed Zapata as a bandit and was reported to distrust Villa and Carranza equally but, having considering the former to be stronger and, consequently, of more immediate danger, the Chickpea King threw his support to the First Chief. His army was substantial, and perhaps the most disciplined, but his influence was mainly on the western coast. The great center of Mexico was in a vise with Villa to the north and Zapata threatening from the south... Carranza fleeing by rail (not, however, by the southern path through Cuahtenotl, then Orizaba, but to the northeast). Villa, having divided his forces, pondered whether to follow the First Chief to his burrow and finish him as soon as the last American sailed off, or to take the capital. Characteristically, he decided upon both.

          It was a famous mistake. Victoriano Huerta offered to place his supporters at Villa's disposal but the Chief of the North had no use for the disgraced dictator, even if the alternative was defeat. Which it was! Carranza's Generals rallied to hold a part of Villa's army off near Tampico, ensuring the safety of the First Chief's enclave, while Obregon's forces harassed and delayed the balance of the Villistas.

          And so, after a year of violence and a haunted Christmas, Emiliano Zapata celebrated the coming of 1915 by taking possession of Mexico City.

          "Civilization is lost to all Mexico," despaired Professor Salazar as the conspirators gathered in Merida to ring in a new, and hopefully better year. And then a great laugh began rumbling up from his belly like another eruption of Orizaba.

          If the hair and beard of this one were white, not brown, Rigoberto Macias reflected, Salazar could be a brother to Carranza. The thought was not a cheerful one.

          "Mexico may be dying but the Republica Sudoriental is straining to be born," said the delighted old Caballero, Urzaiz.

          Professor Salazar grew serious. "It is wrong to take comfort in the sufferings of others, especially those of the better class," he admonished. "Mexico City already has suffered greatly since the ten tragic days despite..." and the Professor inclined towards Rigoberto, "... the exemplary efforts of General Bravo and his officers to maintain order. Since his departure, one hears nothing from the capital save stories of plague and starvation, warring gangs... some associated with one or another revolutionary force, some not... roam the streets, compelling decent women to conceal themselves. Now Attila himself comes to persecute the capitaleños... it is true that the misfortunes of Mexico advance our own cause, but let the investiture of this demon upon his throne of skulls stand as a warning, now, as it should have seventy years ago.

          The Colonel of the Militia was also present, and he had brought a fistful of maps on which were drawn the locations and expected paths of the contending armies. "Zapata is as unworthy a General as he is a fearsome bandit but, now that Villa has endorsed the Plan of Ayala, their puppet Gutierrez and the mobs will have their way with old Tenochtitlan... Obregon or even some lesser mortal will drive them out of Mexico City when the looting is finished but then, gentlemen, where will Zapata go next?"

          The Colonel's maps, defaced with red and black lines with their arrows pointing south and east, showed he had already asked himself that question and answered it.

          "So as to our own situation," the Professor said now, "we know what awaits us should we remain under Mexico's shadow. And now, Major, it is the time when we ask if you are disposed to assist us. That way..." and Salazar pointed west, which direction past the wall of the house with the red door lay the Gulf and, beyond, Veracruz and Mexico, "... perdition lies. Even the distinguished President Huerta could not restrain himself from imposing taxes and forced loans, and Carranza's broom-maker is under the thumb of a master thief."

          Major Gustavo Navarette, a Federal... as distinguished from the Colonel of the State Militia quietly observing the discourse... had come from Nuevo Leon to Merida in September. Carranza, while still in the capital, had appointed one of his subordinates, the broom-maker Eleuterio Avila as Governor in the place of the disgruntled Prisciliano Cortes, sending... also... a former accountant, Col. Abel Ortiz Argumedo, to be Jefe Militar. Perhaps better fighting men existed in the Republic, but Carranza had need of them elsewhere and Avila and Argumedo qualified in only that one category of concern to the First Chief and to his voracious Treasury Minister Luis Cabrera... they raised, collected and protected the export taxes on henequen, and sent the money back to the Constitutionalists.

          "Colonel Argumedo is disturbed by the Constitutionalists," Navarette ventured, "none of us wish a Villa or Zapata over any people but Carranza... unlike even Governor Avila... has no interest in the peninsula save as tetilla he can squeeze to gain more funds to prosecute these wars. Colonel Argumedo and the Governor have grown to appreciate the Yucatecos, and the hospitality that Merida's leading citizens have shown, despite our obvious and regrettable circumstances. What is worse, there are spies about... and they do not come from Zapata, but from the First Chief."

          "So long as that barracuda remains in Ciudad del Carmen," the Militia Colonel grumbled, "Carranza's creatures will never stop intruding into our affairs."

          The barracuda... the Colonel had made a pun conjoining him with a barricade or road block... was the Obregonista General Salvador Alvarado, whom Carranza had appointed Military Commander for the Southeast. Holding authority over Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas besides Yucatan, Alvarado occupied that rank between Argumedo and Carranza and, in some respects, was nearer to the latter... for Carranza had appointed several men as Military Commanders to states and regions controlled by his enemies; these lingered in Veracruz, attending meetings and begging for funds.

          "Campeche is a calamity!" reflected Roberto Urzaiz, thinking of his old drinking excursions. "They have seven kinds of money and the only true currency is liquor or bullets; there are warlords everywhere, no man's word is to be trusted and there is, also, plague."

          "If Campeche has shown us our future rewards under Alvarado and Carranza," Rigoberto maintained, "its sacrifice shall not have gone without meaning."

          "Well..." began the Professor, and then he thought the better and sat back in reflection, leaving each of the conspirators to his own thoughts.

          "Licenciado," he finally continued. "It seems that our hour of decision is near. What of the funds from Victoriano Huerta. Have you heard anything further from your brother?"

          "Only this." Rigoberto set a box of Havana cigars upon the table; Salazar, Baroja and the two officers leaned forward with perplexed expressions. Only Roberto Urzaiz expressed delight. He reached for one of the cigars.

          "Careful, Caballero," warned Rigoberto. "These are not for our enjoyment, but for the Constitutionalists."

          "Why, they are heavy!" said the Hermano Mayor who had disregarded his own friend and picked one up. "They are lead! And hollow..."

          "For now," Rigoberto said with a grimace. "José is still communicating with Huerta, despite the failure of some initiative of theirs with Germany... which has lost interest in us, it would seem. I think that he is back in Mexico, he hinted at having some business with Zapata. Whether to kill or join him I honestly don't know..."

          "Without funds, we'll be a pretty sorry revolutionary band," objected the Colonel of the State Militia. "Sir..." he addressed Major Navarette, "if the Federals are ordered to put down a rebellion here, which way shall Colonel Argumedo take them."

          "I should think our way," the Major replied. "The Colonel's concerns are more with Alvarado."

          "Don Venus wouldn't last a week without our money," Rigoberto declared. "He'd shrivel up and blow away and Villa or Zapata would take over Mexico. And that would bring in the Americans... the last thing that they need is an insecure border while Belgium burns."

          "Yes," Professor Salazar allowed, "but if Alvarado were to bring the war up to Yucatan, America would also have to intervene to keep the port of Progreso open."

          "Would they do that?" the Colonel of the Militia asked Rigoberto.

          "The American Consul is sympathetic," Rigoberto said, "not necessarily to separation... for one must be careful speaking of such things... but Mr. Young trusts commerce in the state to provide henequen for America more than he trusts Carranza. I suppose we shall have to see... so long as we have time; time for Huerta to fulfill his promise to my brother, time for America to wake up."

 

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