THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
Silvestro Kaak returned to the city of ruins with this counsel and, in seven days, there came a delegation from Dolores Cituk, under truce, bearing the latest words of Cituk's Cross. Such letters of the Cross habitually ran to several pages and contained detailed instructions for the Cruzob to follow and, in this at least, the first part of the letter was typical. The Christians were ordered to carry the doors and windows from the abandoned settlement at Bacalar north to Dzonot Guardia for Bacalar, like Santa Cruz del Bravo, was a detestable place, occupied and profaned by Mexicans and tenanted, now, by Don del Muerte.
Again, worldly orders were detailed, a list of penalties proscribed for those who incorrectly recited their prayers, adulterers, for those who traded chicle without the authority of Cituk. Sanctions such as this last began appearing only when control of the trade withered after Bravo, owing to the ignorance and indifference of the Mexican Generals following him. Instead of paying one tax on the kilogram to Bravo, a chiclero would settle with the Cruzob of the region and, if an area was contested, might have to pay two or three jefes. It was no wonder, then, that fighting between the sublevados and smugglers commonly broke out or that formerly lucrative portions of the territory were abandoned as politically unstable.
The conclusion of Cituk's letter, however, indicated that the hand of Miguel Chankik had not rested.
"This is what I say to you, my Christian comrades, that I, Juan de la Cruz, who is beyond question, may keep my tongue and my witness as I walk and wait, but judge not until my day has arrived. That, in the person of the silent cross of Santa Cruz del Bravo, which has been made unholy by the Mexicans, I hold my observances and, with my right hand, name Dolores Cituk as the patron of the Speaking Cross while, with my left, I order Silvestro Kaak... of that same Santa Cruz... be made guardian of the Silent Cross. And, with my right hand, I decree a road be opened from San Pedro to Kopchen, but that the Mexican proposal to construct a school in Xmaben be rejected."
And so forth.
This, with two letters which followed before the end of November, came to be known as Letters of the Silent Cross, and their effect was to reverse the migration out of Santa Cruz. Its population climbed, again, to forty and, by the first of the new dzulob year, to sixty souls. Further, it made the heart of Silvestro less hard against Dolores Cituk and those far more numerous followers of the older chief sympathetic to those who had reclaimed the ancestral city in the face of the evil winds that surely inhabited it. Some younger jefes resented Silvestro all the more, but the orders of Cituk's Cross were followed, if only as a temporary alternative to civil war.
It was a good time to make peace. Most of the chicle monterias had been abandoned and some were taken over, now, by the soldiers of Cituk or Silvestro Kaak, or those of May or Lupe Tun or Juan Bautista Vega. Silvestro personally selected subcontractors from Mexico and Belize to reopen the monterias, including a mulatto and an Englishman with great moustaches who instructed him in the language and virtues of King George, besides the necessity of never, ever trusting Germans. He kept their taxes for Santa Cruz but imposed none on the laborers; a substantial benefit... for a good man could earn three hundred pesos monthly during the season. Peddlers began returning to the territory and the sale of clothes and luxuries flourished and, at length, a Mexican proposed that a store be reestablished in the ruined city. A tax upon its sales would be paid to the Jefe Politico, and a rental for a building in useful condition... and this drew Silvestro's eye towards the old church. The house of the Silent Cross occupied only a small shrine on the altar.
"That will be your store," he pointed, offering to the Mexican as much of the nave and choir as he wished "but you must clean it." Of course Silvestro reckoned that the merchant would be distraught at this condition and go elsewhere, but so many chicleros and their families had settled in and around Santa Cruz (and so fierce was the fighting across the rest of the Republic!) that the man thought it better to remain in Quintana Roo and struggle with the accumulated grime of the years of its prison colony than to go elsewhere to face the bullets of Carranza, Villa, Obregon, Zapata and the rest of the contending armies.
The operation of the store was, at first, a haphazard affair... and the prices high because of the necessity of goods to be carried by mules from Peto or Vigia Chico. Eventually Silvestro ordered that the railroad tracks be repaired but, as there was no engine, mules were set to pull flatcars from the port city, a journey still tedious and time-consuming, complicated by the vagaries of commerce between Vigia Chico and the war-buffeted world outside. During the height of that chicle season, with plenty of money in the pockets of chicleros, all that the store possessed was a pyramid of tins of banking soda added to the relics of the occupation, wooden crosses, chipped, scarred images of saints and British tea. A travelling doctor, another fugitive of the Revolution, became the second occupant of the church when Silvestro, despondent over the meager taxes that the sale of banking soda generated, ordered the merchant to share his space. After this doctor came a missionary from Ohio who first asked to establish a school. Silvestro disallowed this, but proposed the man stay on to sell his tracts so long as they were of the Protestant or "Evangelico" persuasion and not the Catolico propaganda of the Mexicans. Next, American and British chicle agents petitioned to rent offices with a supply of coins and scales for the weighing of the wares of the chicleros so, by the end of the year, the cathedral was once again the commercial hub of the territory. Only that one prohibition Silvestro declared... against the wearing of shoes, transmitted through the Speaking Cross of Dolores Cituk... and the temple of the Silent Cross atop the altar remained of the ecclesiastical origins of the building.
Although the foreigners' New Year was without meaning to the mazehualob, Silvestro authorized the British and the newly arrived American representative of the Wrigley Company to hold a celebration with champagne and fireworks and gifts for the children. These were men of the world; Silvestro strained to follow their English conversations about wars in Belgium... which he remembered, even now, for the aging but still accurate rifle of Armando Feliz... and of Mexico where Carranza's armies continued to gain at the expense of Villa and Zapata. The small foreign community of Santa Cruz alleged that all of the gente decente of Mexico not swinging from trees were swinging towards the First Chief with his reasonable voice and thin, sorrowful eyes behind blue tinted glasses, his great belly like the beloved Saint Nicholas and his Reyista origins... all in all, a far more reassuring fellow than his rivals, barbarians and bandits all! Businessmen, who had sought excuses to absent themselves over the months since Huerta's fall, were trickling back into Mexico and, not long after the new year was under way, the Halach Uinic of Wrigley Company entered the territory by way of Cozumel, meeting with Peter Austin, his nervous young agent in Santa Cruz, as well as all the substantial chiefs of Quintana Roo including Vega, May and, finally, Cituk.
Austin, understanding that the control of chicle would be determined by a central location, placed more importance upon Santa Cruz del Bravo than might be expected by its population. He had secretly argued with his jefe to save the latter's visit with Silvestro Kaak for the end of his journey. The fighting in Mexico had almost ruined the young industry of chewing gum, inspiring the executives of Chicago to search out other sources of chicle in the Far East. The previous agent, confining himself to Cuba... save occasional forays to Progreso, Cozumel or Belize... had despaired of the task of dealing with an ever shifting cast of grafting savages and finally put a bullet through his head in Havana, leaving to Austin the unenviable position of sorting out those who could be dealt with, in the territory, from those who could not. That Silvestro and some of his entourage knew English was also to his advantage... and a relief to Peter Austin, for his command of Spanish was poor, his knowledge of Mayan absolutely nil, and he suspected treachery in every transaction that required the service of interpreters. Happily, the alliance of the two Crosses that facilitated the rehabilitation of Santa Cruz diminished the influence of Silvestro's primary rival, Francisco May, a jefe who cared as little for foreigners as they cared for him.
(A few years later, one commercial journalist visiting Quintana Roo would dismiss May as "a General in slippers, an oily Mongolian General", another as "the ringmaster of a particularly seedy and brutal circus".)
Shortly after the mat of the new and proper Mayan year was unrolled, Peter Austin visited Silvestro in the offices once used by General Bravo. The filth had been swept out... the eggshells and reptilian skeletons... General Bravo's dzulob bed removed and chopped up to be burned. The second-floor window was covered with a screen brought from Bacalar to prevent another entry of the zopilotes, but Rivera's old mirror had been dusted and straightened in this room Silvestro had taken for his own. In the downstairs office, Peter Austin waited with the mulatto overseer of some of the monterias, reflecting upon what had seen of the Territory's squalor... which moved him to use choice and lofty sentiments, to open to these wretched indians some of the possibilities of the glamour and progress of the world beyond.
"We of the United States, like those of my colleague from Belize and, in fact, all nations of the English speaking world, are believers in competition," he said. "Competition fuels our machine of progress... one man who invents the steam engine inspiring another to develop vaccinations and a third to make a wire through which human speech travels instantly to another's ear. This is no common Mexican telegraph, but a miracle of our American discoveries."
Peter Austin did not refer to schools nor science, and his dismissal of the telegraph was deliberate. His superiors in Chicago had educated him scrupulously on the habits and the phobias of the mazehualob.
He now removed his hat and placed it over his breast. "But there can be a thing such as too much competition. Tortillas with meat are good, aguardiente is good, but too much can make pain in the stomach or the head." Silvestro nodded at this and the American continued. "Any man may gather sap and any other offer it for sale. But with too many buyers and sellers, each taking their piece," he warned, " expenses increase, and cut into profits. Without profits, what purpose is there for Wrigley to send me here to buy chicle especially with Mexico... unlike this territory, to be sure... so poorly governed as to be unsafe? If Wrigley cannot make profits by buying chicle, you cannot collect your taxes."
"That is so," Silvestro said and waited to hear more of what this Austin had to say. He suspected it would be much, much more. Since the dzulob New Year, travelers came... speaking, ever, of the most recent battle between Mexicans, even the fighting in those far off places on the other side of the mountains. He knew, of course, that Madero's magical aspects had proven no match for Victoriano Huerta... that Bravo's bloodthirsty Colonel would turn against his jefe at the first opportunity was no surprise to him, and Madero had only paid the penalty which comes to those who do not choose their friends wisely. He also knew that Huerta had fallen... it was the drinking, he decided... and that Mexico had no real leader, but only bandits and their followers consumed by deeds of robbery and slaughtering each other. What happened to these people did not matter... so long as they fought among themselves, they would leave the mazehualob in peace.
So what the American said next disturbed him. "The struggle is finally approaching its end," Peter Austin said, "and the victor almost certainly will be Carranza. And once a President is established in Mexico, this absence of authority in the territory must come to an end. The people of Quintana Roo must choose who is to lead them and present this person to Carranza, or it shall be done for them."
"No Mexican sent by Carranza, or any President, shall ever rule this territory as Bravo did. We will fight, even if it takes another decade, and we will win."
"But only the Governor of the territory can issue documents that will permit the trade of chicle... openly, in competition, and with the payment of all due taxes," Austin reminded him. "Governor Alvarado is also adamant on this matter."
"Salvador Alvarado is a great man," Silvestro answered cannily, "a true friend to all of the mazehualob as he proves by remaining in Merida. Can he provide these documents himself, the way that he ordered the Mexicans removed from Quintana Roo?"
"Governor Alvarado's influence may be useful, but ultimate authority rests with the President, who almost certainly will be Carranza. When he is established in Mexico City, he shall decide the matter and choose among the jefes who come to him."
"Then it must mean war," Silvestro frowned, "for the only authority whom all of the mazehualob would accept is Dolores Citek. But he is too old and too sick to travel to Mexico."
"Well I've met this fellow, and I agree," the American said. "It is up to one of the others, then, to take this step. I'm not a Mexican," he added, "but I've studied up on the politics and business of this place. Whoever Carranza chooses will be Jefe Maximo, the most powerful man in all of Quintana Roo. That means... if others rise against him, he'll have the support of the Federal army."
"Well that would certainly mean his defeat," Silvestro remarked, "for the army is despised here. Any of the chiefs who made a pact with it would be regarded as traitors."
Austin drummed his fingers on the table impatiently. These indians! He'd almost risen to go when a thought occurred to him.
"General Alvarado, if he supported a Jefe, would that Jefe be despised?"
"Perhaps," Silvestro reasoned. "Perhaps not. There are many things which would have to be considered. Would Alvarado order the opening of a Mexican school? His General tried that. Would Wrigley pay taxes to both Quintana Roo and Yucatan?" he smiled. "And Mexico? Well, at the least I would consider his advice."
"Do more than consider," the American said. "You strike me as an honest fellow, one whom we can do business with. But it is only fair that I say, now, that I must deal with the one approved by Carranza. Your other chiefs here, they know this, and they won't be idle."
Peter Austin offered his hand but Silvestro's face had hardened. The American remained cheerful. "I hope that we will have the opportunity to continue to do business, one man to another."
When he had gone, Silvestro called those of his Oficiales and asked for any man who had influence upon Governor Alvarado to declare himself. In this way he was directed to Clarencio Pec, whose father was numbered among the jefes to whom Alvarado returned the territory. Now this man, as with most others above the age of two tuns... forty years... was dead, but Clarencio remembered the General and, Silvestro hoped, the General would recognize him.
"We will obtain the Governor's favor," plotted Silvestro, "and, with his signature, Santa Cruz will again be restored to primacy above the territory. There will be no need to venture further into Mexico, and we will have returned before another jefe can take advantage of my absence."
But Clarencio Pec had remembered something else about Alvarado. "The Governors of Yucatan have always desired their independence from Mexico, and that the territory be returned to Yucatan and, also, the state of Campeche be taken and devoured too. Alvarado stopped one of these rebellions but he is Governor now, and what if he should start to act like any Governor of Yucatan?"
"Then we will fight him and his Guard, the way our ancestors have fought all the Yucatecans. I shall not return without either Alvarado's signature or his heart."
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