By ENRIQUE KRAUZE
Perhaps never, in its almost 135 years of history, had the Mexican town of San José de Gracia become national news, as it did back in March of this year, when social networks spread the execution of a group of people in the old revolutionary way: on a wall, in front of a platoon. But the collective memory chronicled by Luis González y González recalls all too well that, unfortunately, this episode was just one more chapter of the old and atrocious “bullying” that this town, small but typical of the Mexican west and of Mexico as a whole, has suffered.
A little over a century ago, the bandit Inés Chávez García, sheltered by the banner of Mexican revolutionist Francisco “Pancho” Villa, traveled the region like Attila the Hun, leaving behind a trail of blood. “Short and wicked,” González y González wrote, “many animal virtues and some human vices adorned him.” The 25 line soldiers who were supposedly guarding San José were the first to flee before the 800 followers of Chávez García. A neighbor, Apolinar Partida, organized the defense with just over a dozen volunteers, while 90 percent of the residents fled to the mountains. The attack was terrible, only one of the defenders survived. Partida was shot to death as he left a burning house. Chávez ordered the burning of San José and lined up 20 prisoners to cut their throats in the plaza. Only the intervention of the priest saved them.
Hardly anyone remembered those events anymore in the 1970s and 1980s, idyllic times when we visited González y González inhis family home in San José. After a breakfast of sweet bread and cheeses from the region, we would cross the patio — the impeccable tiles, the old well, the flowering carnations — and we would go for a walk through the sunny, smiling and peaceful streets of San José.
“Good morning, Luisito,” the old men would say to him, many of them veteran residents. Arriving at the central square, next to the statue of Father Federico — González y González’s uncle, venerable founder of the town — we would sit down to listen to him talk deliciously about history.
He was an only son, the favorite son, the prodigal son, in love with his people. González y González was born at the dawn of Mexico’s Christian War, which left the town devastated, and he returned as a child to witness the reconstruction. His book, “Town in Suspense,” reads like a biblical saga: the memory of Genesis and the lost paradise; the horrors of crime, plague and famine; the pain of exile; and, finally, the return and the rebuilding of the promised land.
Perhaps from that experience he extracted his construction vocation. A wise, gentle, good man who had seen his progeny and his people grow and multiply from fire and ashes, he could only conceive of life to celebrate, respect, enrich, recreate. That is why he wrote his books, educated generations, founded El Colegio de Michoacán, promoted and almost invented microhistory. That is why he criticized the periodization of our history in destructive episodes (Independence, the civil wars of the 19th century, the Revolution) and conceived a radically opposite theory. “Mexico,” he told us, “is a cultural construction that was born in the crucible of the 17th century and transmitted its constructive vocation to peaceful stages, such as the liberal era (from Benito Juárez to Porfirio Díaz), the institutional structure (from José Vasconcelos to Manuel Ávila Camacho), the democratic stage (which began a few decades ago).
González y González thought that “the revolutionaries” — always a violent minority — had inflicted immense damage on the peaceful majority for whom he coined the perfect term: “the revolutionized.”
González y González died on Dec. 13, 2003, when organized crime began to devastate his small homeland, his “motherland,” as he called it. With the stoic attitude that characterized him, he interpreted this proliferation as one more irruption of our “bullying.” But his ancestors had not given in to assassins and he too refused to give in.
I think that González y González would have condemned the passivity of Mexico’s current political regime, with its new thugs that devastate entire regions. In those times of the “rough Mexico,” no one would have thought of offering Inés Chávez García more than bullets. Today his emulators are offered hugs.
Neither hugs nor bullets. With criminals, the solution lies in the application of the law by a state that must make use of all the means at its disposal to fulfill its primary mandate: to protect human life. Otherwise, “the transformers” will have done immense damage to “the transformed.” And not only the people, but the entire nation, will be left in suspense.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While the number of mass murders in Mexico — mostly due to turf wars between organized crime groups — continues to rise, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has refused to budge on his “hugs, not bullets” policy, ignoring acts of mass violence, despite pleas from both international and national security experts and essentially granting cartels a carte blanche to continue their aggressive acts against each other and the Mexican population as a whole. When 20 people were gunned down in broad daylight in Michoacán in March of this year, AMLO dismissed the incident as “unfortunate” but of being of little relevance since it was the product of a gang war. So far this year, there have been more than 50 mass murders in Mexico, and according to the 2021 Atrocities Report, issued by the nonprofit Common Cause organization, last year there were a total of 529 mass murders.
The above article first appeared in Reforma and is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with express prior permission.