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Author Biography: Florencia E. Mallon is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin. She is the author of The Defense of Community in Peru's Central Highlands: Peasant Struggle and Capitalist Transition, 1860-1940 (1983) and the coeditor of Confronting Historical Paradigms: Peasants, Labor and the Capitalist World-System in Africa and Latin America (1992).
In March 1865 Simón Cravioto and his son Rafael, both prestigious leaders of the Liberal resistance against the French Intervention along the western side of the Puebla highlands, rode into Tulancingo to surrender to imperial officials (see map 3). Flanked by an honor guard of plateados , their allied bandit cavalry, and accompanied by the plateado leader Antonio Pérez, the Craviotos came to work out the final details of their agreement to end hostilities in the district and villages under their command. This agreement was the product of many months of negotiation during which Simón Cravioto had tried hard to preserve the family fortune, demanding from the emperor reparations of 132,000 pesos. In its final form it did nothing to compensate the family for their losses—which included, beyond properties and investments, the death of Rafael's brother Agustín—but it did preserve their dignity and honor, relegating them to exile, under house arrest, in Puebla city. Until the tide had turned noticeably against the empire a year and a half later, that is wherethe Craviotos would remain.1
Nearly a year later, in February 1866, another important resistance force in the central to eastern highlands also surrendered to the empire. Sitting among the charred ruins of what used to be the village of Xochiapulco, officers and soldiers together signed a collective document that reflected the communal decision-making process by which the local indigenous national guard unit had been run. For nearly two years, armed with little more than what they could strip from their fallen enemies, they had confronted the Interventionist forces. They had burned their own village to the ground rather than let it fall into enemy hands. But finally, facing exhaustion and a total lack of resources and ammunition, they had no alternative but to end the fighting. Tersely, with no expectation but a blood-soaked break in the war and no recognition of the legitimacy of the imperial government, all literate guerrillas signed; a mere six months later they would be back in the struggle.2
The variations in form and content of these two surrenders reflect deep differences in the organization, composition, and purpose of the Liberal movements based in the west and center-east of the Sierra de Puebla.
The Sierra Norte de Puebla and environs
Although usually allies fighting on the same side, the two forces had distinct histories, ideologies, and practices. Built up over the previous decade and a half of Liberal-Conservative conflict, these came to define for each a unique vision of the Liberal national project.
For the western Liberals, predominantly merchants, landowners, and entrepreneurs, Liberalism meant the free market—the right to accumulate and invest capital without the restrictions represented by such neocolonial institutions as the Catholic church or the Indian community. The political practice of their movement was generally exclusionary, in the sense that leaders defined ideologies and imparted them in a top-down way to their followers, educating the masses—inevitably poorer and more indigenous—in the ways of modern politics. These particular meanings and practices were reflected in the process of negotiation by the Craviotos: their main purpose was to get their personal losses covered, and they assumed that if they themselves surrendered, so would their followers.
For the central and eastern Liberals, by contrast, Liberalism represented the right of all individuals to citizenship—defined broadly as the just exercise of elect representatives and hold them accountable for their actions. right to elect representatives and hold them accountable for their actions. This more collective definition of Liberalism was reflected in and nurtured by the communal political practices of the region's national guards, where the responsiveness of leaders to followers generated an ideology informed by dialogue rather than imposition. And this practice was in turn reflected in Xochiapulco's surrender, where no individual stood apart to gain personal benefit and where all had to agree formally before the surrender could take effect.
Even a superficial analysis of these differences makes clear the potential diversity of Liberal ideology and practice in Mexico between 1850 and 1867. It suggests as well that, even if the conflict between Liberals and Conservatives was foremost during these years, the sometimes violent disagreements among Liberals over the definition of their own national project were equally important in defining what would happen on the other end. Indeed, as Liberal fighters and leaders refined and rethought their goals and methods across nearly two decades, the various strands that emerged, interacted, or competed had mutual effects on one another. And it was these various dynamics internal to Liberalism, until 1867 usually hidden within a broader alliance against Mexican Conservatives and French and Austrian Interventionists, that would quickly take center stage after the defeat of the empire.3
The case of the Puebla highlands is particularly well suited for exploring these internal dynamics. A tapestry of ethnicities and economic subregions, the Sierra de Puebla generated the greatest variety of both Liberals and Conservatives. A center of confrontation during the Liberal Revolution of 1855–1858 with the Conservative Plan of Zacapoaxtla (1856), it was also an important arena of conflict during the 1858–1861 civil war and a key area of guerrilla resistance to the French Intervention and Second Empire (1862–1867). Throughout these years, even while allied to each other, western and central eastern Liberalisms evolved and were practiced in different ways. In 1867 adherents of both stood ready to claim the national inheritance each felt was justly theirs. To understand the depth and drama of that moment of confrontation, one must first understand the complexities and conflicts that preceded it.
The Definition of Sides
Between 1850 and 1855 the Nahua Indians living in some of the western barrios of Zacapoaxtla town joined with the laborers resident on the
The Sierra Norte de Puebla
haciendas Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla (see map 4) in a movement against the owners of these properties. In the context of the Sierra de Puebla's complex colonial heritage of economic reorganization, ethnic conflict, and political struggle, a postindependence process of commercialization had, by 1850, deepened social and ethnic tensions in the western, central, and eastern subregions of the sierra. As Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla haciendas were equidistant from the main towns that organized economic and political relations in the center and east, the movement on them can thus be best understood by placing it on the more general social, economic, and ethnic map of the region as a whole.
The movement's original motivations came from conflicts with Zacapoaxtla, the main cabecera (district capital) that, since the seventeenth century, had organized ethnic politics and marketing for the whole eastern, Nahua-dominated region of the Puebla highlands. After independence from Spain, changing and broadening forms of economic activity in the eastern region as a whole intensified existing tensions within the municipality of Zacapoaxtla as Indian, mestizo, and white merchants vied for success in the increasing trade between the area and Veracruz. Starting in 1845, moreover,the Salgado family—residents of Zacapoaxtla town and owners of Xochiapulco, La Manzanilla, and other properties to the west of the cabecera—had been expanding sugar cane production on their land. When they attempted to intensify work rhythms and expand the land devoted to cane on Xochiapulco, the resident laborers or colonos faced new labor obligations and a money tax for grazing their animals on the estate. By 1850 they were tried of the situation.4
When they rebelled, the colonos from Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla found a good leader in Manuel Lucas, a Nahua merchant from the barrio of Comaltepec in Zacapoaxtla district who had also worked on the haciendas. For quite some time Lucas had been involved in selling wool between Puebla and the Veracruz coast, but he had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunities he faced in his home village. Several years earlier he had migrated to Veracruz in search of new opportunities, taking his family with him and providing additional education to his son Juan Francisco. On his return, however, he once again confronted the fact that his Nahua heritage prevented him from gaining effective power in his district, where markets, municipal rents, and political office were manipulated by a few white families and where indigenous commerce was still considered separate from and inferior to that in the hands of whites and mestizos. Other indigenous inhabitants of Zacapoaxtla's barrios must have shared his frustration.5
Between 1850 and 1855 the rebel coalition in Xochiapulco managed to establish military control of the western part of Zacapoaxtla district, repelling all efforts to repress them made by the Salgados and their allies from the district capital. In effect, Xochiapulco became a "liberated zone," its defenders known as Cuatecomacos, named after the area of the forest where they had dug their first line of defense. Then, with the Liberal Revolution of 1855, and especially when Manuel Lucas's son Juan Francisco joined the Liberal army to escape local persecution, the stage was set for a broader political alliance.6
As the inhabitants of the haciendas Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla reached beyond the rebellious sujetos , or dependent villages, of their own district, they built their closest alliance with the mestizo Liberals in neighboring Tetela. Located in the center of the sierra and known initially as Tetela del Oro because of its mines in nearby Santa Rosa canyon, Tetela district had long been a heavily multiethnic district combining highland Nahua and mestizo populations with the Totonac villages of the north central and northeastern lowlands. Although Tetela had been the site of early and repeated disputes between the cabecera and its dependent barrios orsujetos, not only over ethnic questions but also over land, labor services, and electoral disputes, the district nevertheless remained an area where land was worked in small or medium plots, mainly with family labor. Except on the mining haciendas, the local merchant class—mostly mestizo, with some migrant families from neighboring Tlaxcala—tended not to exploit directly the labor power of the indigenous population. Only during the mid-nineteenth century, with the generally increasing level of trade and commercial production and the establishment of some local trapiches for the preparation of aguardiente , did the more egalitarian if conflictual style of socioeconomic and ethnic relations in Tetela potentially begin to change.7
Xochiapulco's alliance with Tetela also made possible a mediated coalition with some Totonac and Nahua communities to the north, east, and south. Concerns about political autonomy and access to land had intensified in this area with postindependence processes of reorganization and commercialization. In the 1830s and 1840s, for example, indigenous villages in the Nahua and Totonac areas north and east of Tetela—particularly those that held land in the lowland expanses east and north of Teziutlán—began to feel the pressure from expanding Hispanic enterprises in cattle ranching and tropical crop cultivation. By the early to mid-1840s three villages had entered into litigation over these issues: Atempan, a predominantly Nahua community; and Ecatlan and Tenampulco, both mainly Totonaco. As we shall see, the issue had not been solved by the late 1850s and would emerge as a central bone of contention during the 1858–1861 civil war.8
The third major subregion to become involved in the conflicts of the 1850s was the western sierra, particularly the area between the highland towns of Huauchinango and Zacatlán, both of which had boasted substantial Spanish and mestizo populations since the colonial period. A part of the exchange networks that provided the nearby Pachuca mines with products and labor, Huauchinango's commercial and agricultural elites had, since the seventeenth century, pressed surrounding Indian villages with the repartimiento , or labor draft, for the mines of Pachuca and the haciendas of Tulancingo. Indian communities had also lost substantial land to Spanish and mestizo pressure. Especially after 1840 white merchants collaborated with recent immigrants to Huauchinango in the development of a local aguardiente industry, raising new and old struggles over labor power, municipal revenues, and boundaries between properties.
In Zacatlán the development of nearby Tetela's mining economy, when combined with the exploitation of local sulfur deposits, had early led to conflict with the indigenous population in surrounding villages over theconditions of the labor draft, most likely leading to the separation of sujetos Chignahuapan and Aquixtla during the eighteenth century. Political reorganization after independence frustrated newly independent municipal authorities in Chignahuapan and Aquixtla by reestablishing political cabeceras in Zacatlán and Tetela. During the same years, moreover, sugar and fruit production, as well as commerce with Huauchinango and the mine region of Tetela, provided new opportunities for local merchant and landowner families and resuscitated old conflicts over labor and revenue.9
With the outbreak of the Liberal Revolution of 1855, political party conflicts intermingled with these localized socioeconomic, ethnic, and political relations. Innovative white landowners and merchants in Huauchinango and Zacatlán, interested in gaining broader support for their investments and activities and in competition with the more traditionally Spanish and Conservative city of Tulancingo, allied with the Liberals. Some indigenous communities, connected to the Liberal elites by patron-client ties, fought with them. But given the rising tensions between pueblos, other villages in the western region allied themselves against their local Liberal enemies by fighting on the Conservative side. Chignahuapan, for example, backed by an eighty-year history of struggle for independence from Zacatlán, not only fought with the Conservatives but ultimately organized a famous battalion integrated into Maximilian's Interventionist army. Aquixtla also, given its long-standing disputes with Zacatlán and Tetela over labor power and revenue, allied with Chignahuapan.10
To the east the dominant white landowners and merchants from Zacapoaxtla town opposed the Xochiapulco rebellion by allying with the Conservative, and later the Interventionist, forces. A strong allegiance to the Catholic church, not only among elites but also in many indigenous neighborhoods, further predisposed Zacapoaxtla's villages to the Conservative side. To this was added the rivalry existing among indigenous barrios located on the Xochiapulco and Manzanilla boundaries, where the claims of Xochiapulquenses to land and municipal autonomy were sometimes viewed with distrust, and loyalty to Zacapoaxtla's cabecera seen as protection against expansionary neighbors. Such was the case in 1849, for example, when the Nahua alcaldes (local mayors) of Zongozotla, Nanacatlán, and Tuxtla granted power of attorney to the Zacapoaxteco law student Pascual Angeles Lobato, who presented a petition to the state congress in Puebla city asking for the reversal of an earlier decision to separate them from Zacapoaxtla. In the end, therefore, the possibilities for a multiethnic and multiclass conservative alliance were strong in Zacapoaxtla, and nothing would prove that better than the success of the Conservative rebellion of 1856, organized by Antonio Haro y Tamariz, a poblano with commercial and patron-client ties in the sierra.11
Between the whiter Liberalisms of the west and the potential for populist Conservatisms in the east stood Xochiapulco. Local tradition, confirmed by Conservative documents, recounts that after repelling several invasions from Zacapoaxtla, a delegation of Xochiapulquenses traveled to meet Juan Alvarez, the radical leader of the 1855 Revolution. Representatives from both sides agreed that Xochiapulco would fight on the Liberal side. In exchange the government would recognize their claims to the land of Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla and would declare them an independent municipality. Until 1861, when the Liberal party won the three-year civil war, Manuel and Juan Francisco Lucas maintained around a thousand men on the battlefield, armed mainly with garrotes, against the Conservative forces headquartered in Zacapoaxtla. The "rebellious Indian"—as the Conservatives in Zacapoaxtla referred to Manuel Lucas—became known, along with his son Juan Francisco, as the most important sierra supporter of the Liberal cause. Then in 1862, at the invitation of the defeated Conservatives, the French army intervened in Mexico.12
For the Xochiapulquenses, the French Intervention and the so-called Second Empire brought the cruelest and most violent struggles they had yet faced. With their allies from the neighboring village of Tetela de Ocampo, they formed the majority of the Sixth Battalion of the Puebla National Guard, leading the first charge of the Mexican army in the city of Puebla on 5 May 1862. The only Mexican victory before the French invasion was completed, this battle postponed the taking of Mexico City by an entire year. Between 1863 and 1864 Xochiapulco was at the center of the highland resistance to the empire, and Maximilian considered the town important enough to send the Austro-Belgian Legion, his crack volunteer force, into the area in a counterinsurgency campaign. As a reward for the sacrifices of the Xochiapulquenses, the Liberal governor Fernando María Ortega signed a decree in 1864 confirming their claim to independent municipal status. By 1867, with a new Liberal victory, Xochiapulco had suffered repeated invasions. Its inhabitants had preferred to burn their own houses to the ground rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the Austro-Belgian invaders. Thus, the village played such a central role in the resistance that it literally disappeared during the war.13
Xochiapulco's determined Liberalism was grounded, then, in a historically constructed and contingent process of ethnic, social, and political alliance that emerged in the highlands between 1855 and 1872. The foundingmoment for this alliance was the agreement with the Liberal leader Juan Alvarez, in which Xochiapulquenses exchanged loyalty to Liberalism for a promise of land and political autonomy. Its reproduction in the 1858–1870 period was grounded in Xochiapulco's mediation between prominent Tetela Liberals and the Totonac and Nahua communities to the north and east. Over the whole period the intersection of national statemaking and foreign invasion made possible the construction of a new, more inclusive, more participatory concept of citizen, challenging peasants and rural communities to become involved in the fashioning of a new nation-state. But this challenge was not an easy one to meet, for it involved internal debate and conflicts between peasants and other sociopolitical groups over how best to negotiate local needs while building a national coalition.
The construction of Liberalism in the Sierra de Puebla was thus defined by the varied intersections of the Liberal struggle to consolidate national power, with regional struggles for ethnic and social justice. From the standpoint of the Liberals, a national policy that would carry them to power was composed of two parts. The first was to eliminate colonial forms of power, such as the corporate privileges of church, army, and indigenous communities, in order to create new socioeconomic groups that would become an ongoing Liberal constituency. The second involved building and maintaining an army that could assure military victory over Conservatives and Interventionists and then reproduce control over national territory. On both counts, of course, the Liberals needed to build regional alliances; and it was here that local constituencies and needs could play a determining role.14
In the Puebla highlands the local struggles for ethnic and social justice that provided the connection for involvement in Liberal nation-building were themselves composed of two broad strands. The first concerned access to land and other resources; the second reflected the desire for political, social, and economic equality regardless of ethnic origin. Given the intricate map of ethnic, economic, and political relations in the region, however, these issues did not mean the same thing to all inhabitants. Land hunger, for example, could unite people across ethnic lines; yet the questions of landownership and ethnicity were connected by three centuries of colonial domination. In some cases a community's desire to revindicate ownership of their lands could fly in the face of the Liberal commitment to abolish colonial monopolies, including corporate Indian landholdings. In other cases a village's struggle to reestablish claim to lost lands, even by privatizing them, might conflict with the claims of a Liberal landowner. Thus, the intersection between local demands and national Liberal priorities was constantly defined and redefined in the process of struggle.
There were clear social, ideological, and territorial limits on the forms of broader Liberal coalition possible in the Sierra. As we shall see, the whiter, more entrepreneurial Liberalisms of Zacatlán, Huauchinango, and Teziutlán, as well as the populist-Conservative movements in Chignahuapan and Aquixtla to the west and Zacapoaxtla to the east, raised painful questions about the inevitability of Liberalism's commitment to a popular agenda. But in Xochiapulco and Tetela, spreading north, east, and south to constellations of indigenous villages in Tetela and Zacapoaxtla districts, popular Liberalism remained strong. This was because, at its best, the popular Liberalism developing in the sierra's central region provided the sociopolitical space for peasant cultivators and village merchants, both indigenous and mestizo, to join in fashioning a regionally oriented, multiethnic concept of citizenship. The Liberal nation was perceived through the lens of local concepts of justice and equality and built through daily struggle in confrontation with Conservative and foreign enemies.
As they fought shoulder to shoulder between 1855 and 1868, the guerrillas from Tetela and Xochiapulco formulated a vision of political and economic democracy with regional and national implications. Although they did not expect a society without classes, they did think about a nation in which labor and tax obligations, as well as revenue, could be distributed evenly and where everyone had the right to citizenship and to be heard by their government. The revolutionary implications of such a vision, as well as the inability of most white Liberals to accept it, can be understood only through a closer examination of how it was built.
Ethnic Conflict and Civil War, 1858–1861
In January 1858, when the Conservatives successfully took Mexico City and forced the exile of the Liberal government led by Benito Juárez, the Liberal forces in the Sierra de Puebla could be divided into three broad groups. In the western sierra, innovative white landowners and merchants from Huauchinango and Zacatlán—led in the former city by Italian immigrant Simón Cravioto and his sons Rafael and Agustín and in the latter by the Márquez Galindo brothers Ramón and Vicente—dominated the Liberal coalition. In the central district of Tetela del Oro, mestizo merchants and Liberal schoolteachers, such as Juan Nepomuceno Méndez and Juan Crisóstomo Bonilla, enthusiastically organized in support of the Liberal cause. And in Xochiapulco, indigenous peasants led by the Nahua merchant Manuel Lucas and his schoolteacher son Juan Francisco had been fighting to defend their Liberal "liberated zone" for at least five years.15 On one level these diverse Liberal forces were united in their common support for the Liberal party and its reformist national project. From 1858 forward they could all agree that the first priority was to strengthen the regional coalitions that could return their party to national power. On another level, however, we have seen that the reasons for supporting the Liberals varied a great deal from one sector to another. For the white Liberals in Huauchinango, the goal was simply to connect to an emerging national power bloc that could facilitate expanded investments and influence in their home territory and help them consolidate broader regional, economic, and political power. In Xochiapulco and Tetela, by contrast, the vision included as well a need for ethnic and social justice—the redistribution of land and revenue and the accountability of political officials. Among the mestizo and Indian leaders, especially Juan Nepomuceno Méndez and Juan Crisóstomo Bonilla of Tetela and Juan Francisco Lucas of Xochiapulco, this radical Liberal vision was nurtured and reproduced in their common training as schoolteachers in Veracruz and in their roles as local intellectuals and political mediators. In the end, therefore, even as the Liberal forces from Huauchinango, Zacatlán, Tetela, and Xochiapulco stood ready to collaborate in the face of a common Conservative threat, potential ethnic, social, and ideological divisions were close to the surface. And they would emerge, for the first time, in the conflicts of the 1858–1861 civil war.16
During the first four months of 1858, villages and towns in the Puebla highlands scrambled to line themselves up in the violent national conflict between Liberals and Conservatives. Since shortages of funds and men made it impossible for national forces to combat all the Liberal bands existing in the country, the Conservative government in Mexico City used and deepened local tensions between rival cabeceras and between cabeceras and their sujetos. In the western sierra, for example, soldiers from the rebellious anexos Chignahuapan and Aquixtla actively combated and pressured Liberal troops. In return for such loyalty, the new government usually promised a reorganization of political districts so that villages or towns defending the Conservative cause could have greater political autonomy and independent access to tax revenue. Yet at least in some cases, such manipulations could open a Pandora's box of tensions and conflict, causing disagreements among Conservative officials about the wisdom of using age-old angers in the consolidation of local power.17
Despite Conservative takeovers in Huauchinango and Teziutlán, Liberal forces continued to hold the bulk of the central sierra through 1858. The area between Zacatlán and Tetela became the headquarters for the Liberalforces, giving protection to the Craviotos from Huauchinango and providing refuge and additional ammunition to the indigenous forces from Xochiapulco. With the moral and material support of the Tetela commander Juan Nepomuceno Méndez, Manuel and Juan Francisco Lucas organized repeated forays into Zacapoaxtla town, forcing Conservative troops there to be constantly on the alert. Slightly to the southeast, regular troops led by Miguel Cástulo de Alatriste, the Liberal former governor of Puebla, engaged the Conservative forces occupying Teziutlán.18
By early 1859 the situation had become critical for the Conservatives, as a combination of Liberal forces encircled Zacapoaxtla from the south and west. In the first few days of February, the military commander Agustín Roldán reported increased attacks and the concentration of forces to the north and northeast of the district capital. With his lines of communication to Puebla cut, he requested reinforcements from General Miguel Negrete, in charge of the military fortress in Perote, Veracruz. The Sierra de Puebla, he argued, was becoming a center of Liberal resistance for the entire area of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Unfortunately for Roldán, the mere one hundred men in Perote could barely defend the fortress, much less rescue his beleaguered forces.19
When the successful attack on Zacapoaxtla occurred on 15 February, the main pressure came from Tetela and Xochiapulco. Supported by forces from Zacatlán and Huauchinango under the command of Ramón Márquez Galindo, Tetela's national guard battalion successfully dislodged Conservative soldiers from their trenches the night of the fourteenth. While pursuing them toward the heights of Apulco, to the north of the town, the Liberals were joined by the Cuatecomacos from Xochiapulco. Only the next morning did the bulk of the regular Liberal forces, led by Alatriste, arrive in Zacapoaxtla from the south. Many of the national guard soldiers must have thought it odd that their top Liberal general arrived only after the victory was all but assured. This impression of sluggishness was confirmed by the fact that, in the violent hand-to-hand combat that secured the plaza by early afternoon, the only dead on the Liberal side were Xochiapulquenses.
Colonel Juan N. Méndez, commander of the Tetela forces, was certainly impressed by the commitment and strength of the national guard soldiers. "The proud fanaticism . . . of the Zacapoaxtecos," he wrote in his report to Alatriste, "has been defeated by the soldiers of the people, who with admirable will and discipline defended the just cause of that same people." On 13 March this victory of the people was further buttressed when Méndez, as new principal commander of Zacapoaxtla district, supervised the swearingin of the new municipal council: few members of the local white elite signed the document, while several Nahua names, including Lucas, were represented.20
Alatriste, himself a white urban Liberal from Puebla city, seemed unable to take seriously these mestizo and Indian forces in charge of the central and eastern sierra. Focusing on southern Puebla and Tlaxcala, he planned preferentially to arm and support the white Liberal elite in Teziutlán, transforming the town into a prefectura and de facto center of his administration. Indeed, he retired immediately to Teziutlán after the Zacapoaxtla victory and filed his first and final battle reports from there on 16 and 18 February.21
Alatriste ignored the sierra at his peril. Scarcely a week after the Liberals took Zacapoaxtla, displaced Conservatives were already reorganizing at the Perote fortress. Conservative advances along the western sierra challenged Liberal control in Huauchinango and Zacatlán and competed for vital trade routes to the port of Tuxpan. A lifelong resident of the region, Méndez understood these matters quite well. His concern about Alatriste's neglect, combined with a healthy dose of personal ambition, prompted him to begin direct and independent communication with Benito Juárez's government in Veracruz. By mid-May 1859 a personal visit from Méndex had convinced the Liberal government to provide weapons and other support and to pressure Alatriste to back Méndez in raising and training two new sierra battalions.22
Alatriste perceived Méndez's actions as manipulation and insubordination. When renewed Conservative pressure near Zacatlán forced Méndez to campaign in the western sierra, Alatriste moved into Zacapoaxtla; on 1 June he signed a decree that made Zacapoaxtla the Liberal capital of the state. He also prohibited independent contact with the government in Veracruz, threatening any person who communicated directly with Veracruz with internal exile. Four days later he continued to solidify his power, signing a proclamation to the Zacapoaxtecos in which he reaffirmed his role as leader of the state and the irrevocability of the state's alliance with Liberal principles.23
The brewing conflict between Méndez and Alatriste represented and helped reorganize existing divisions among sierra Liberals and between the sierra and the southern part of the state. In about equal parts, this conflict involved competing personal ambitions and differences over political principles. Between mid-1859 and January 1861, when the general Liberal victory in the civil war reinstalled Alatriste as governor in Puebla city, competition and confrontation divided Liberals in Puebla and helped define and deepen the rift between popular and elite conceptions of the Liberalnational project. Defined through specific military and political battles, this controversy concerned three basic issues: the impact of racism on military strategy and organization; Liberal definitions of land and property rights; and the definition of the Liberal political community. As we shall see, popular Liberalism in the sierra would answer all three questions in opposition and confrontation with Miguel Cástulo de Alatriste.
Between June and October 1859 the soldiers of the sierra national guards experienced directly the intense impact that racism could have on military strategy and organization. When Alatriste reestablished control of Zacapoaxtla in the first days of June, he issued a proclamation announcing that Zacapoaxtla had fought for the Conservative cause because a few bad leaders had manipulated the "candor, patriarchal customs, and pure innocence" of the population, making the inhabitants, as he told them, "victims of your warlike spirit, your passionate, burning souls, and of the same natural propensities of the primitive races to which you belong." In the mid–nineteenth century, of course, when Conservatives and Liberals alike routinely granted broad explanatory power to racial characteristics, Alatriste was not alone in his opinion that indigenous people were politically innocent and inferior.24 The problem was that he translated this belief into disdain for the sierra's political and military importance, a disdain that would cost him dearly in the months to come.
Not only did indigenous people constitute some of Liberalism's most enduring political allies in the sierra, but Conservative loyalties in Zacapoaxtla were a great deal deeper and more potent than Alatriste was willing to accept. Already on 7 June town notables had signed a secret agreement with representatives of some of the outlying barrios committing them to the Conservative government and promising to kill off the main Liberal leaders. Alatriste, however, seemed to have no knowledge of the conspiracies taking place under his very nose. With Méndez in the western sierra through July, Conservative conspiracies in Zacapoaxtla had free reign through the end of August.25
On the evening of 29 August 1859, Tetela del Oro's national guard commander wrote to Méndez in Zacatlán. He had just received a letter from Alatriste, who was northwest of Zacapoaxtla in Xochitlán, informing him that a concentration of five hundred men from the fortress of Perote was about to attack Zacapoaxtla. All the forces from Tetela and Zacatlán, as well as Huauchinango, were required to mobilize immediately to defend the town. Only a few hours later, at three o'clock on the morning of 30 August, a Conservative force succeeded in taking the Liberal command post in the town. When the commander of the dispersed forces encountered Alatristein Huahuaxtla, south of Xochitlán, they continued south toward Xochiapulco to join the Cuatecomaco national guard and attack the Conservatives. Together, with an estimated total of sixty men, they led a first charge into Zacapoaxtla at 8:30 A.M. and tried again several hours later with about two hundred. But it would only be in the mid-afternoon, reinforced by two hundred national guard troops from Tetela, that the Liberals finally routed the Conservative forces, sending them in disorganized retreat toward the Perote fortress.26
On the face of it, the Conservatives' inability to hold the town spoke well for the Liberal forces, yet the events surrounding the battle, and most important the behavior of Alatriste himself, showed a combination of racism and military incompetence that deeply angered the indigenous national guards under his command. Alatriste's unwillingness to risk himself in battle was clearly represented in the overwhelming preponderance of national guard casualties, while his total lack of military foresight put the troops at risk unnecessarily. Why had he chosen to travel to Xochitlán, well to the northwest of Zacapoaxtla and outside the range of all potential troop movements, when Conservative troops were gathering at Perote? The Liberals in Méndez's faction simply did not believe that Alatriste had acted innocently. As it turned out, they were right: on 5 August Alatriste had already reported to the Veracruz government an attempted conspiracy from Perote to retake Zacapoaxtla.27
Alatriste thus went north to get out of the line of fire and to force others to enter it ahead of him. In so doing, moreover, he left the Liberal garrison in Zacapoaxtla without leadership, probably facilitating the Conservative takeover. The Liberal command post in Zacapoaxtla, defended by a total of approximately twelve men and four artillery pieces, fell to a surprise ambush of twenty men, all from the same town, of whom only three had functioning firearms. In fact, the Liberal officer in charge reported that only one shot was fired at him, the rest of the attack consisting of blows from his assailants. The majority of the Liberal soldiers never saw action, simply dispersing into the night.28
But Alatriste's behavior went beyond mere cowardice to dishonesty and manipulation. In his version of events, there were five hundred men in Perote ready to take Zacapoaxtla. As soon as he heard about the action, he quickly marched south from Xochitlán and, at the head of a few national guards from Xochiapulco, fought outnumbered five to one to retake the city. If we read carefully both the Conservative and Liberal versions of events, however, a very different picture emerges. According to the Conservative report, although initially about two hundred men wereraised in the barrios of the town, little more than sixty remained at the time of battle because the rest of the improvised troops dispersed in the face of danger; thus, the numbers during the first attack were about even. Reinforcements from Tetela as well as Xochiapulco—the former confirmed by Liberal reports from Papantla, but never mentioned by Alatriste—would have given the Liberals at least a two-to-one advantage over the Conservatives and closer to five or six to one if we believe the Conservative report. The truth about Alatriste's role, then, turned out to be quite different from the image he wished to present to the Veracruz government.29
From the point of view of the indigenous and mestizo national guards in Tetela and Xochiapulco, Alatriste's actions in the region provided support to the Conservatives. To add insult to injury, the soldiers complained that he did not provide their daily rations in a dependable fashion. Clearly, Alatriste's main interests were elsewhere, and by mid-October 1859 the national guard soldiers had reached the end of their patience.
On 10 October 1859 the national guards from Zacapoaxtla district—including, of course, the Cuatecomacos—joined with forces from Tetela to invade Zacapoaxtla town and violently demand that the governor step down. In a report to Veracruz two days later, Juan N. Méndez claimed that he had initially considered coming to Alatriste's aid. He thought better of it, however, when he understood the extent of the villagers' antipathy toward the governor. According to Méndez, Alatriste deserved the hostility of the area's communities because he
with the courage and bravery of their national guards pretends to achieve, not the glory of the state and the Constitutional cause, but his own personal glory, after which he thirsts more each day: [the villages] are outraged by the complete neglect [the governor] has shown toward these same national guards on the many occasions they fought under him, leaving them demoralized and disorganized because of the nakedness and hunger to which he has submitted them. These villages, I repeat, . . . anxiously desire his removal from the post of governor, where undeserving of the confidence they put in him [he] has become an obstacle to the progress of Liberal troops in the state, and to the cause in general.30
The October rebellion in Zacapoaxtla must be seen in the context of earlier actions by Méndez. Méndez had very deep personal ambitions, wishing to ingratiate himself with Veracruz and to discredit Alatriste whenever possible. He was encouraged in these ambitions by the fact that, from the start, Alatriste had not taken Méndez's actions and talents seriously. By late July,in fact, Méndez had already renewed independent communication with Veracruz, and in September he had encouraged public declarations by the national guard units of Zacatlán and Tetela de Ocampo against Alatriste.31
Yet aside from personal ambition and a deep sense of having been snubbed, Méndez was also motivated by a sense of obligation to the people of his region. While the actions of the Liberal governor helped buttress Méndez's position as the trusted, populist, radical leader of the indigenous-mestizo sierra Liberals, it is also clear that the villagers of the central region felt they could rely on Méndez. Their reliance emerges distinctly in the 21 September declaration of Zacatlán against Alatriste, in which—after detailing all the abuses of power committed by the governor, which had resulted in their district's total lack of arms and ammunition in the face of a major Conservative threat—the citizens of the town voted to give Méndez their approval and help in staffing a commission to travel directly to Veracruz to petition the Juárez government.32
In and of themselves, Alatriste's abuses must have fired Méndez's indignation, further inspiring him in his emerging role as popular hero of the central sierra's national guards. The extent of the injustices was especially clear in a declaration signed in Tetela del Oro. After approving in all its parts the earlier declaration in Zacatlán, the citizen-soldiers of Tetela added that it was necessary for the Liberal government to investigate the aberrations and mistakes committed by Alatriste,
for the confusion that exists between [Alatriste] and the villages of this department is a grave problem for our general cause, and especially for this important military front [i.e., the sierra]: and even more, that the militiamen of the battalion from our cabecera, who on several occasions have fought under his orders, express their discontent with these simple words: we will not fight under Alatriste's orders ever again, because he is capricious [desarreglado ] and starves us to death.33
Alatriste did not discern the social and ethnic undertones of his struggle with Méndez and the sierra national guards. For him the issue was plainly one of power politics: Ramón Márquez Galindo, a deputy to the congress and subordinate to Méndez, was leading a move in Zacatlán and environs to replace Alatriste as governor, pushing Méndez into the position. Alatriste's response was to send a circular to the towns under his command, instructing the inhabitants to sign proclamations supporting him. He then forwarded a copy of his circular to the government in Veracruz.34
After the Zacapoaxtla rebellion, however, the Liberal government required more than circulars and, on 19 October, ordered Alatriste to travel toVeracruz and answer charges. A state of siege was declared in the area under Alatriste's command, and Méndez was left in charge until the investigation was completed. When Alatriste received the orders, however, he chose to disobey them, instead sending his secretary to Veracruz. He then evacuated Zacapoaxtla, leaving it without Liberal protection, and moved the capital of the state back to Teziutlán.35
By the end of 1859 the effect of racism on military strategy and organization was painfully clear. The two Liberal factions would not help each other, each demanding prior obedience to their side. On 1 December Alatriste printed a decree in which he retracted his recognition of the government in Veracruz, retook control of Puebla state on his own initiative, and declared all his opponents traitors. In the following days Méndez decided to travel personally to Veracruz to clear up the situation. As animosities intensified, differences between the two factions over the definition of land and property rights also came to the fore.36
Since the beginning of 1859, to maintain their troops Alatriste and his allies had been receiving loans from wealthy individuals in Teziutlán, especially Juan N. Flandes, to be paid back through the redemption of ecclesiastical capital according to the Liberal Law of 1857. As later became clear, Flandes intended to charge the loans against an ecclesiastical mortgage on his estate of San Juan de Puchingo, located in San Juan de los Llanos, which had a border in conflict with the Indian village of Tlatlauqui. In addition, several of Alatriste's closest friends in Teziutlán, and especially those who served as officials in his state government, had been claiming municipal and ecclesiastical properties in Teziutlán district, using the disamortization decree Alatriste issued in Zacapoaxtla on 25 June 1859. Although most of the properties claimed were houses, the broad definition of properties affected, as well as the large size of the district itself, meant that several indigenous communities disputed the status of municipal lands claimed by erstwhile Liberals from Teziutlán town.37
In the early months of 1860 the disputes over land and property that underlay the conflict between Alatriste and Méndez finally boiled to the surface. Ramón Márquez Galindo, Méndez's Liberal ally from Zacatlán, offered weapons and support to the indigenous communities of Tenampulco and El Chacal, both in Teziutlán district. He promised to return the municipal lands they claimed in exchange for their participation in the invasion of Teziutlán town. On 13 March Márquez's forces occupied Teziutlán, violently entering the houses of two local officials who were key supporters of Alatriste: Rafael Avila, secretary of the local government and the main opponent in the land disputes; and Mariano E. Ramos, as treasurer theperson responsible for carrying out property adjudications. As Avila described it, the invasion was intended to overcome the opposition he offered to "their attempt to take by force, as they have now done, the municipal lands in this district and private property belonging to me and other individuals, which have now been invaded by the Indians from Tenanpulco [sic ]." But neither he nor any other member of the Alatriste faction ever considered the possible legitimacy of indigenous claims to municipal or communal lands in their district.38
The issues of property and ethnicity were intimately intertwined in the dispute, feeding the deep hatred each side felt for the other. From the standpoint of Alatriste and his supporters, Méndez and Márquez Galindo were fomenting caste war, manipulating credulous and violent Indians in their struggle for personal power. As a result, the local enemy became defined in racial terms. Only in this way can we understand the behavior of Antonio Carvajal, Alatriste's most prominent military ally. He and his troops entered the town of Tlatlauqui, one of the contenders in the land privatizations, on 2 and 13 April, preferentially sacking, burning, robbing, and raping in the indigenous neighborhoods.39
Ethnicity also divided Liberals over definitions of land and property rights. Should these rights derive simply from private ownership, and whoever first laid claim to the land, whether through legal manipulation or other methods, would be recognized as the owner? Apparently this was how Alatriste's group interpreted the 1857 Law. Or should private property have a social component and be legitimized by the community? If so, then the privatization of municipal land was a collective affair in which all interested parties had a say. This second position more closely approximated the vision of the Méndez faction and in particular of the indigenous national guards and soldiers who made a clear connection between service to the Liberal cause and their own right to property and political autonomy. Indigenous people in the highlands had constructed this connection over decades of postindependence struggle involving boundaries and property rights. At the same time, however, political and ethnic definitions of property had been at war with economic expansion and market mechanisms since the colonial period.40
Yet another deep disagreement emerged in the struggle between Alatriste and Méndez: what was the nature of the Liberal political community? For Alatriste's faction, the Liberal political community was relatively exclusive, involving mainly the white and prosperous. White Teziutlán Liberals, in this context, saw their role as a version of the "white man's burden": to bring civilization and education to the indigenous masses, still deep in theiratavistic ignorance, prey to Conservative manipulations. And the mission of civilization included the creation of a secular political community that would substitute for more primeval bonds.
For the Méndez faction, by contrast, the Liberal community needed to be built from the bottom up, starting with the indigenous citizen-soldiers of the sierra villages. The incorporation of the masses to the Liberal project would necessarily involve negotiating and modifying Liberal policy, rather than simply imposing an already defined ideology. From such a perspective, Alatriste and his followers were illegitimate authorities who had from the beginning lacked commitment to the people and the villages. They were interested in personal aggrandizement rather than community and had committed countless abuses in their invasions of loyal Liberal towns.41
The particular popular, populist Liberalism that distinguished Méndez and his allies from the rest of the state, and that formed the postwar basis for the Montaña party in state politics, was thus constructed in conflict with the Alatriste faction between 1859 and 1861. Alatriste's broader alliances into the southern and southwestern plains of the state—an earlier version of "Llanura" Liberalism—forced the Mendistas into a more isolated, counterhegemonic position in which their only chance was to garner support from the indigenous villages and national guards in the expanded core area of Tetela, Jonotla, Xochiapulco, southwestern Zacapoaxtla, and western Tlatlauquitepec. The support of these Nahua and Totonac people, however, came at a price: the Mendistas had to take seriously the issues of ethnic and social justice, communal responsibility, political citizenship, and the just adjudication of lands being raised in popular struggles. Without their support, Méndez could not hope to offer an alternative to Alatriste. With it, he probably offered a more radical alternative—socially and politically speaking—than he and his inner circle had originally envisioned.
In the early months of 1860 the government in Veracruz began to take a more active role in the conflicts among Puebla Liberals and to lean increasingly toward Alatriste. Particularly as the tide began to turn against the Conservatives, the Liberals began to contemplate the reconstruction of a governing coalition at the national level. Thinking broadly, Veracruz politicians had to consider the relative power of Alatriste, backed by Liberal commanders in Tlaxcala, Teziutlán, Huauchinango, and southern Puebla, when compared to Méndez, backed by Zacatlán Liberals and the indigenous national guards of Tetela, Xochiapulco, and environs. It was the faction with the most political pull across the region—especially since it did not contain Indians and peasant radicals—that proved the most attractive.42 Factionalism within the Liberal camp continued to plague Puebla through 1861, however, and the previous conflicts in the sierra formed an important backdrop. When the Liberals finally defeated the Conservatives in the last days of 1860, rival Liberal forces prevented Alatriste from entering Puebla city. Yet following the pacification of the city under interim administrations in January of 1861, Alatriste once again held the post of governor through the end of July. Ironically, he resigned from office only a few days after publishing a congressional decree honoring Tetela's patriotism by changing the city's name from Tetela del Oro to Tetela de Ocampo.43
In early September 1861 the state congress named as interim governor Francisco Ibarra, national congressional representative for Zacapoaxtla. Juan N. Méndez became his secretary of the interior and militia affairs. A month later Ibarra called the state to popular elections for governor and congressional representatives. Electoral violence forced the use of militia and national guards, some of whom were brought from the highlands by Méndez. By the end of December most districts in the state were reporting their electoral results; but a few days later England, France, and Spain invaded Veracruz. In early January 1862, then, the combination of factionalism, electoral violence, and foreign invasion forced the declaration of a state of siege and the appointment of a military governor.44
The final chapter in Miguel Cástulo de Alatriste's military career was played out three months later in Izúcar de Matamoros, when he was captured and executed by Conservative forces after attempting to impede their movement from Guerrero toward the French in Puebla. Antonio Carvajal, his ally from previous sierra campaigns, had informed Alatriste of a nonexistent victory against the Conservatives. Alatriste had therefore moved confidently into battle with only a few men, expecting little resistance; instead, he was defeated and sentenced to death. He died a scarce month before the indigenous national guards from the Sierra de Puebla, the very same soldiers who rebelled against him and whom he personally disdained, distinguished themselves in the historic encounter with the French on the Fifth of May in Puebla city.45
Liberal Guerrillas and the French Intervention: From Victory to Retreat, 1862–1865
From the perspective of the relatively small and badly armed Mexican army, the battle on 5 May 1862 was indeed a great victory. Not only did it prove to be the sole large victory against the French, but it also helped delay the French takeover of Mexico City for an entire year. This historical centrality, both in military and symbolic terms, consolidated the Cinco de Mayo's placeas a major national holiday. And everywhere in the Puebla highlands, oral tradition emphasizes the importance of the sierra population in making the victory possible.46
Written sources confirm the oral version. The Sixth Battalion of the National Guard, composed mainly of seasoned citizen-soldiers from Xochiapulco and Tetela de Ocampo, fought under the leaders they had grown to trust: Juan N. Méndez, Ramón Márquez Galindo, Juan Francisco Lucas, Juan Crisóstomo Bonilla. They fired the first shots against the French army and took part in three charges against the enemy line. They pursued the enemy in retreat, fought against the French's Conservative allies, and finally dispersed at the arrival of French reinforcements. Even Porfirio Díaz would later comment in his memoirs that the indigenous fighters in the Sixth Battalion had been crucial and courageous that day. What he did not emphasize, and none of the other observers seemed to note, was that the enthusiasm and effectiveness of the Indian soldiers was due to their shared sense of community and political commitment, built slowly and painfully over the space of several previous years of combat for a set of common ideals.47
Between 1862 and 1864 Liberals and Interventionists dug in across the Sierra de Puebla. While Conservative towns and villages began to declare themselves for the Intervention, leaders in the Liberal strongholds of the highlands negotiated the contradictory demands of local democracy and wartime security and exactions. The invaders and their local allies also got involved in the battle for the hearts and minds of the population. Indeed, throughout these years the French would combine populist propaganda concerning the abolition of taxes or the draft with major military campaigns against the Liberal army.48
When the Mexican army lost Puebla city in April 1863 and began its long retreat in front of the victorious Interventionist army, General Miguel Negrete moved into the sierra as military commander of the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Establishing his general headquarters in Huauchinango by early June, Negrete immediately began to reorganize the dispersed Liberal forces. He instructed the region's military commanders to requisition food, livestock, seeds, pasture, and ammunition; to seek out lead and gunpowder; to block trade to the enemy; to nationalize all relevant corporate property with the approval of his headquarters; and to require all males between the ages of fifteen and sixty either to serve in the Republican army or to present a rifle or horse to the relevant authorities.49
Scarcity of resources and problems with the draft soon began to divide Liberal commanders. Between June and August 1863 complaints came in from all parts of the Puebla highlands about abuses being committed withthe draft and requisition of goods. In an area that had seen such heavy and continuous fighting during the 1858–1861 civil war, gathering resources and men in the villages was a delicate and complex affair. Already in the second half of 1862 officials had begun receiving protests from the villages about the heaviness of exactions. Simmering political conflicts, including district and land issues, also had a way of erupting at moments of stress. To top all this off, Negrete's policies were centered in the western sierra, oriented toward the interests of the Craviotos in Huauchinango and their white liberal allies. Thus, the Liberal presence on the eastern side, with the exception of the Xochiapulco national guard in Zacapoaxtla, tended to be composed of commanders from outside the area. Many of these officers treated the villagers like prey, collecting taxes and soldiers by force. And these gathering underground resentments would emerge strongly in the context of a new military offensive during the second half of 1863.50
In September, after an August decree by the Regencia of the empire had prohibited the draft, a major offensive by French and Conservative forces dislodged Negrete from Huauchinango and pushed him north to join the Liberal government in San Luis Potosí. As Huauchinango Liberal Rafael Cravioto explained in a letter to Benito Juárez in early October, the military and political situations deteriorated rapidly after Negrete's departure. The Liberals were unable to raise more national guard troops because they had no guns. Economically, the villages had been squeezed dry by a combination of emergency contributions, enemy occupation, and commercial paralysis. Politically, the Interventionists were still offering the abolition of all Indian taxes. Cravioto suggested that, in order to avoid "caste war," the Liberals should do the same.51
Cravioto's racial interpretation of the difficulties in the sierra was based on his recent experiences in the western highlands. On 24 September a commission from his forces had entered the indigenous village of Chiconcautla in order to gather the national guard tax for the month. Although the inhabitants had received the commission well, three days later the population surrounded the town garrison, and many Indians died in the ensuing battle. Cravioto concluded that, when faced with an immediate demand for money, the villagers had sought aid from the French troops in Zacatlán. And he became increasingly obsessed with the potential treachery of indigenous forces to the Liberal cause, writing to his brother on 10 October that the French were using much propaganda to attract them.52
The problem, however, went much deeper than French propaganda. In the case of Chiconcautla, we know from other sources that political authorities from the village had been conversing with the Conservatives since earlySeptember, seeking protection from repeated Liberal taxation. This was hardly surprising, since Negrete's policies in the sierra had not been sensitive to the needs of the local population. Moreover, the behavior of outside Liberal commanders, when combined with the extreme economic stress caused by the repeated exactions of the previous seven years, had brought the region to the edge of rebellion. Added to this was the style of the Craviotos themselves, who were not of the villages and did not understand local problems. They tended to ride into the villages as outsiders and tax collectors; their positive role as patrons was limited to occasional legal representation or presenting small gifts.
The behavior of Rafael Cravioto around the Chiconcautla incident is particularly revealing in this regard, for he seemed mystified about how to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Short of the total abolition of contributions, which would leave his forces without support, the only positive measure he could think of was to present a bugle to the Indians of another allied village. His main form of prevention, in fact, turned out to be negative. After the French occupation forces left Zacatlán on 14 October 1863, he and his brother Agustín led a campaign of revenge, executing and imprisoning leaders in several indigenous towns, killing the political authorities in Tepeixco, burning Chiconcautla, and imposing more forced contributions. Ultimately, it seemed that the Craviotos' way of combating disloyalty was to empty the villages of inhabitants. Instead, the result was the strengthening of popular support for the Intervention in many of the indigenous communities of Huauchinango and Zacatlán districts.53
Starting in April 1864, a renewed Interventionist offensive, partially inspired by the arrival of Maximilian and Carlota and their travel to Mexico City, further deepened the conflicts in the western sierra. Between June and December local Conservative forces from Chignahuapan carried the day with intermittent help from the French army. Despite a new alliance between Huauchinango Liberals and local plateados, Conservatives successfully drove a wedge between the Huauchinango-Zacatlán area and Liberals in Tetela de Ocampo. Faced with the choice between court-martial in Tulancingo or surrender with a promise of pardon, many Liberals in the western region began a process of negotiation. Finally, on 23 March 1865, escorted by a detachment of plateado cavalry, Rafael and Simón Cravioto and the plateado leader Antonio Pérez rode into Tulancingo, ready to work out the details of their surrender to the empire.54
The Interventionist cause was not so easily served along the eastern edge of the highlands, around Tetela, Xochiapulco, and Zacapoaxtla, during 1863 and 1864. A combined French and Conservative attack on Zacapoaxtla managed to dislodge the Liberals from the plaza in mid-September 1863, forcing military commander José María Maldonado's retreat to Xochiapulco. Liberal national guard forces countered, however, by repelling Interventionist attacks in Cuetzalan and Zacapoaxtla, retaking the latter town in mid-October. In the midst of a three-month battle for control of the region, Liberals successfully defended their control of Cuetzalan in late November. By the end of the year they could claim dominance in the area from Tetela de Ocampo, through Zacapoaxtla, into Tlatlauqui.55
An important explanation for this success was that Liberal policy in the eastern sierra was more respectful of village needs and indigenous culture, seeking to find common and creative solutions to problems as they arose. In contrast to the Craviotos, Zacapoaxtla's Liberal jefe político (district political administrator), José María Maldonado, understood that internal conflicts within districts and the aggressive actions of outside Liberal commanders had predisposed some populations, especially around the towns of Cuetzalan, Tlatlauqui, and Zacapoaxtla, toward an agreement with the Conservatives. Rather than carry out a campaign of fire and execution, at the end of October he decreed a pardon for all those who had collaborated with the Intervention. As he explained a month later, he was motivated by mercy rather than cowardice; those not taking advantage of his generosity would face violent punishment.
When he Liberals suffered a major defeat in Teziutlán in early January 1864, it was a good three months after the establishment of a strong Interventionist presence in the west. Even then Maldonado did not chalk it up to Indian treachery, instead pointing out that the Liberal rank and file had been gathered through a forced draft in Tlatlauqui and that the solution was to form a volunteer national guard force to defend Teziutlán. In the month that followed, Maldonado himself initiated talks between Tlatlauqui's representatives and the local Liberal commander, explaining that even if the Liberals occasionally treated the pueblos badly, they were better than the Conservatives, who always did so. The result of this initiative was an agreement between Liberal Colonel Ignacio Cuéllar and a commission from Tlatlauqui in which Cuéllar promised to protect the town from Conservative attacks in exchange for contributions to support his men.56
The differences between eastern and western sierras deepened further during 1864. On 18 March, shortly before the renewal of Liberal pressure in the highlands more generally, Maldonado issued a circular to the authorities in the villages of Xochitlán, Nauzontla, and Cuetzalan, north of Zacapoaxtla, emphasizing that the Liberal Reform Laws favored the poor. The abolition of the military and ecclesiastical fueros , he pointed out, extendedlegal protection to common citizens by removing from abusive soldiers and clerics the protection of a special court. In addition, the land laws "were designed to convert national property into private property, enriching a multitude of families; [they] were designed as well to distribute village communal property among the Indians in equal parts in order to meet their needs, without their having to pay anything." Those with larger properties, Maldonado continued, would pay taxes to the municipality to be used to finance education and other collective projects. He emphasized that only whites and Indians with more than one fanega (approximately 1.6 acres) of land would need to pay a tax on their adjudicación and that those who refused to do so should have their properties confiscated and redistributed to the poor. And he saved the best for last: "Since the traitors [to the Liberal cause] have proven themselves unworthy of consideration by the government," he concluded, "those who have communal property and do not seek a pardon immediately will lose their lands, which will be distributed as already described."57
Maldonado's policies proved particularly effective when combined with the indigenous populism of the Xochiapulco and Tetela national guards. The solidarity among these citizen-soldiers, facilitated by the officers they had elected to lead them, helped make Liberalism attractive to peasants in a number of indigenous villages. In September 1863, for example, when the Liberal forces had lost Zacapoaxtla and, pressured on both sides by a combination of Conservative and French soldiers, were reduced to the area between Tetela and Xochiapulco, Maldonado called a meeting of all the Liberal leaders. There he offered to leave the sierra under the control of Juan Francisco Lucas and migrate to join the Liberal government-in-exile in San Luis Potosí. Led by Lucas and other indigenous officers, the Liberals refused, promising to sacrifice all for the patriotic cause. This generous offer was publicized and sealed at a major Liberal parade on 27 September, where more than five hundred indigenous soldiers marched to the slogans of "Long live the Republic! Long live General Maldonado!" They topped off the occasion at a banquet, for which Lucas slaughtered several pigs from his properties.58
Three months later the village of Chilapa, part of the municipality of Zautla, petitioned Zacapoaxtla to become a part of the municipality of Xochiapulco. Among the reasons they gave for the transfer was that they maintained friendly relations with Xochiapulco, having formed a national guard detachment that fought side by side with the Xochiapulquenses. Not surprisingly, Maldonado rapidly acceded to the request. But the influence of Xochiapulco and Tetela went further than attracting friendly villages: itpresented a Liberal alternative in times of trouble or dissension. In March 1863, for instance, indigenous villagers from Cuetzalan protesting abusive behavior by priests and political authorities addressed their petitions to Juan Francisco Lucas. When indigenous unrest accompanied the Conservative and French offensive in the district seven months later, it was Lucas who once again attempted to pacify the situation, warning Maldonado not to bring his forces any closer than Apulco. And in Tetela, when the lack of resources for national guard soldiers combined with the abuses of outside Liberal officers to bring tensions to the boiling point, a rebellion by indigenous soldiers on 8 October 1864 took place to the chant of slogans such as "Long live the Republic! Long live liberty! Long live the Liberal government and death to the tyrants!"59
All these incidents make clear the differences in the content, style, and practice of Liberal ideology between western and eastern sierras, which in turn resulted in dramatically different attitudes by the Liberal forces. In the west, the alliance the Craviotos formed with the plateados makes clear their limited understanding of village needs. Bandits whose social consciousness was limited at best, plateados had no commitment to the local population; their actions sometimes did more to help than to hinder the Interventionist cause. Certainly this was the case in Acaxochitlán in November 1864, when plateados shot one Indian woman in the head, killed her sister when she resisted being raped, kidnapped the three brothers in the family, and stole all of their livestock. In the east, by contrast, the tendency was for Liberal soldiers to use force to protect local interests. Thus, in late October 1864, only weeks after the incident in Tetela, six hundred Cuatecomacos moved into the village of Zautla to protect the land claims of the indigenous population in a border dispute with other landowners, granting the Indian villagers possession of the lands at gunpoint, then retreating immediately to their fortified positions.60
Despite repeated Conservative attempts, the combination of radical Liberal policies emanating from Zacapoaxtla and the military effectiveness of the Tetela and Xochiapulco national guards kept the area under Liberal control through December 1864. This resilience was not lost on the imperial government. Starting in January 1865, the Mexico City press began reporting official plans to do away with the rebels of Zacapoaxtla. And within the month, following the arrival in Veracruz of the volunteer Austro-Belgian Legion, the stage was set. As the only force responsible directly to the monarchs themselves, the Austro-Belgian Legion would prove to be the most effective counterinsurgency weapon and, at least initially, was quite successful. In a matter of weeks the Interventionist campaign in the easternsierra began in earnest, and by mid-February the occupation of Zacapoaxtla had signaled the first Interventionist victory in an ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the local population.61
The Battle for the Eastern Highlands, 1865–1866
In March and April 1865 Zacapoaxtla proved a true challenge to the creativity of imperial policy. After a combination of French and Austro-Belgian troops took Zacapoaxtla on 17 February, the Liberal governor Fernando María Ortega, in conjunction with the Xochiapulquenses, remained on the offensive. Imperial authorities attempted to combine negotiation with military pressure, hoping to use the Austro-Belgian troops to create enough stability to make negotiations attractive. Key to this effort were the policies of José María Esteva, a moderate Puebla Liberal appointed to the position of prefecto superior for the state.62
Esteva had intimate knowledge of the region and of the origins of the Xochiapulco insurgency in the invasions of the haciendas Xochiapulco and La Manzanilla. Given the background of Liberal support for the villagers' cause, the high prestige and influence of the local Liberal Juan Francisco Lucas, and the prohibitive nature of the terrain, Esteva knew that mere repression would not solve the problem of rebellion in the sierra. He recommended instead that the imperial government indemnify the heirs of the haciendas, "leaving [the lands] to the possession of the village of Sochapulco [sic ]." Esteva's request to attempt political negotiation, along with his appointment of the Zacapoaxtla conservative Pascual V. Bonilla to the position of local prefect, was approved by the emperor during the early days of April.63
Bonilla's assignment in Zacapoaxtla was part of a changing imperial policy throughout the sierra and more generally in much of central Mexico during 1865. Along with the appointments of Esteva—first as prefect of Puebla, soon thereafter as minister of the interior—it signified Maximilian's shift away from earlier, more regencia-dominated forms of political alliance. In a word, the emperor was attempting to legitimate his regime beyond the confines of the Conservative faction.
Aside from a clear interest in getting to know the country and in eliciting the broadest possible backing from the population, Maximilian also knew he could not continue to depend on the French army. The moment the Austrian monarch had arrived, the French commander in chief François Achilles Bazaine had informed him that the successful pacification of the main cities in central Mexico, accomplished already during 1863, warrantedthe immediate withdrawal of approximately half of the French troops. Although the emperor fought hard against any withdrawals, about a sixth of the French troops left Mexico in January 1865. This withdrawal must have reinforced the emperor's understanding that, in the long run, the empire had to move beyond reliance on the French army. If foreign troops could be used selectively to create enough stability so that political negotiation became viable, then moderate Liberals such as Esteva could be incorporated successfully into a broader coalition to buttress the monarchy. This policy initially seemed to work quite well in the western Sierra de Puebla, as the Craviotos and plateado leaders surrendered to the empire in March 1865. Bonilla represented this same vision in the east; yet because of the different balance of forces in that area, he was never able to apply it successfully.64
Bonilla's eagerness for negotiation in the Zacapoaxtla area lasted a mere two weeks. A couple of days after arriving in the town, he reported sending Juan Francisco Lucas a letter offering "all possible guarantees" if the Xochiapulquenses would surrender to the empire. What was "possible," however, was qualified to eliminate anything detrimental to "the national army, the honor of the Zacapoaxtecan people, and the landowners whose properties were usurped quite a while ago by the Indians in Xochiapulco who threw themselves into rebellion." If none of the goals of the Xochiapulquenses' struggle would even be recognized, the seriousness of the offer was in doubt from the beginning, and it is hardly surprising that an answer was not forthcoming.
Yet any kind of offer, sincere or not, ruffled the feathers of local Conservatives. Key among those opposed to any form of compromise was Agustín Roldán, the commander of the town's civil guard and an important force in local Conservative politics since the 1855 Revolution. According to Bonilla, Roldán and several others were stubbornly committed to "the triumph of one [political] party over another" rather than to the broader goals of imperial policy. Thus, the very day after Bonilla wrote the letter to Lucas, Roldán was saying "that once hostilities have begun one cannot suspend military operations for any reason, and that this would happen if I [Bonilla] continued my invitations to him [Lucas]."65
Bonilla's lack of commitment to serious negotiation, when combined with Conservative intransigence, quickly convinced him that the only alternative was military confrontation. By 19 April he was reporting that forces from Zacapoaxtla had chased the insurgents out of their encampments but that almost immediately the Liberals had retaken their old positions. Only by radically altering the balance of forces, he concluded, would it be possible truly to conquer the rebels. To accomplish this, he suggested that Xochiapulco be surrounded militarily by placing garrisons of three hundred men each in the villages of Tetela, Xochiapulco, and Huahuaxtla, arming Zacapoaxtla with special fortifications, and stationing an Austrian detachment there. Finally, Bonilla suggested, the Craviotos could be brought in to help as well, attacking the headquarters of the Liberal governor and commander in chief Fernando María Ortega.66
The best explanation for Bonilla's rapid about-face can be found in the unique difficulties with negotiation as a strategy along the eastern sierra. When Conservatives battled a popular Liberalism that called into question a great deal more than church property, the passionate entrenchment of both sides left no middle ground to claim. Under such circumstances military and diplomatic strategies were opposite sides of the same coin: negotiation would never work without the firepower to back it up. Yet if the very arrival of the Austro-Belgian Legion made negotiation in the eastern highlands possible, the legion's presence also swayed the balance in the Sierra de Puebla toward continued war.
Indeed, Conservative stalwarts proved the most successful allies for the Austro-Belgian Legion. Already on 3 April the Austrian commander Thun wrote to the emperor praising Bonilla's archnemesis Roldán. "An energetic opponent of the guerrillas," Thun wrote, Roldán
has been constantly occupied, since the arrival of the Austrian troops, in furthering the cause of the Commanders and with it the cause of your Majesty, by his actions and good counsel. It was due to the skillful guidance of Roldan, who knows the local area very well, that the troops of your Majesty entered Zacapoaxtla on 17 February, practically without any losses. During repeated guerrilla attacks he conducted himself with utter fearlessness and thereby made the most favorable impression on his troops. Moreover, he is very knowledgeable about the local conditions and the battle methods of the Indians, so that we benefited repeatedly from his hints. It was his somewhat difficult task to secure the rapid deployment of the civil guard and their munitions, which he accomplished to our entire satisfaction.67
The combined policy of military pressure and diplomatic negotiation continued to fail through the rest of 1865. In May, after the failure of a first Austro-Belgian offensive into Xochiapulco, the Liberal forces agreed to an armistice. By early July, however, talks between the Liberal governor Ortega and the emperor had yielded nothing, and the Liberals returned to their combat positions. As Juan Francisco Lucas put it in a proclamation to the inhabitants of Zacapoaxtla ten days later, the Liberals had never recognizedthe legitimacy of the empire. Convinced after their observations that it was a government ever more dependent on foreign intervention, they had found continued war the only alternative.68
Throughout July and into August the battle raged. From Xochiapulco to Tetela, Austrian soldiers battled the unfamiliar terrain, frequent rains, and dense fog. Repeatedly they were ambushed, forced to retreat from the core region of Liberal control. Again and again they went back, with the Austrian commander Thun insisting they exert pressure on all fronts even if they had to retire every night to their garrison. In the first days of August, Thun himself led an incursion through Las Lomas toward Xochiapulco.69
At sunrise on 4 August, Thun came over the top of the hill separating Las Lomas from Xochiapulco with half of his troops and two cannon. They found Xochiapulco burned to the ground. In the reconnoitering and maneuvering that followed, a thick fog and light rain came down suddenly, encouraging the invisible Cuatecomacos to attack and forcing the Austrian retreat back to Las Lomas. That evening, Thun wrote, a messenger came from Juan Francisco Lucas offering a short armistice during which Lucas would speak to Ortega about ways to end the bloodshed. But Thun said Ortega was not a recognized commander, and Lucas would have to talk directly to Maximilian. "I retire today to Zacapoaxtla in order to retake the offensive tomorrow or the next day," Thun concluded. "Las Lomas is a place without resources or shelter, and the same is true of Xochiapulco, which at this moment no longer exists."70
From the perspective of the Cuatecomacos these events emerge in a somewhat different light. A messenger reached Xochiapulco in the early morning hours of 4 August to inform Juan Francisco Lucas and Juan Crisóstomo Bonilla that the Interventionists were about to attack. There was no longer any ammunition in the village, and people knew that the fight, if there was one, would have to be hand to hand, with machetes. The messenger told Lucas that the enemy was numerous, and they had cannon. "How many are there? Tell us once and for all!" exclaimed Lucas, shaking the frightened youth. "I don't know for sure, tata ," the youth replied, "but I think each of us will get about eight or ten of them."
Lucas and Bonilla realized that a confrontation would be suicidal, yet neither could face abandoning their village to the enemy. Lucas, having evacuated his family, was the first to put a torch to his own house. The rest of the inhabitants followed his example, and within minutes the town was a burning red ball against the night sky. "It was dawn when the imperial troops could see the heroic town. A pile of smoking ruins, covered with ashand rubble, marked the spot where only minutes before had lived an industrious and flourishing population."71
Despite the burning of Xochiapulco, despite repeated incursions by the Austro-Belgian and imperial forces into the sierra, the Liberal national guards of Tetela and Xochiapulco refused to surrender. At various times during August, Thun showed himself optimistic that, when the weather improved, it would be possible to solve, once and for all, this "question of Xochiapulco." But through September this did not turn out to be the case.
Thun's services were soon needed elsewhere, in southern Puebla and Veracruz. In the second half of September, as the newly appointed commander of the Second Territorial Division of the empire, Thun began to make provisions for the "mexicanization" of the imperial troops. In a series of circulars addressed to different districts in the state of Puebla, he began to establish conditions for the creation of a model brigade for the National Imperial Army. In addition to volunteers, he wrote, the brigade would be composed of the abundant vagrants and deserters to be found in each district. Political authorities would be held responsible for covering the contingents assigned to them. The idea was to create a national army that could replace the French as they withdrew.72
Thun's policy of mexicanization formed part of a renewed effort by imperial policymakers, with the specter of French troop withdrawals continuously before them, to institutionalize Maximilian's rule. In addition to the proclamation of the death penalty for Liberals captured while in armed conflict, the formation of a national army constituted an assurance that the empire's allies would not be left vulnerable with the retreat of foreign troops. Another attempt at institutionalization was the reorganization of political districts to serve the needs of Interventionist and Conservative constituencies. All these strategies were tried in the Puebla highlands, and especially in the eastern region between Zacapoaxtla and western Veracruz, in the last months of 1865 and the beginning of 1866.73
Ultimately, the imperial battle for institutionalization was military, political, and ideological. It involved not only consolidating territory, both politically and militarily, but also convincing the population that negotiation or armistice with Liberal forces—particularly if followed by Austrian retreat—would not leave local Conservative supporters unprotected. It meant supporting all efforts in favor of the Interventionist cause, no matter how small. For example, when twenty-five women from Zacapoaxtla wrote a letter to Thun in late July, informing him that they had founded a charitable organization to help in the town's hospital, he immediately forwarded it to the imperial government, suggesting that the empress herself sendthem a letter of thanks. Institutionalization also meant dealing with the difficulties that revamped military policies—especially the increasing abuses of the draft—caused even among sympathetic populations.74
Institutionalization seemed to work quite well at the beginning. Additional pressure by Thun's forces on the Liberals in western Veracruz led, by the middle of January, to what everyone thought was the final capitulation and defeat of the eastern sierra national guards. Cornered in Papantla, unable to connect to allied forces under Méndez, Ortega, and Lucas in eastern Puebla and El Espinal, General Ignacio Alatorre surrendered to the Austrian troops on 15 January, setting conditions for himself and the rest of the area's Liberal forces. Within the month Méndez, Ortega, and Lucas had been added to the accords. At the pinnacle of imperial influence in the area, José María Galicia, the emperor's designated negotiator for Tuxpan, Jalapa, Jalacingo, and the Sierra de Puebla, moved into the area to anchor support for the empire.75
Galicia had an unbelievable capacity for compromise. He declared himself willing to commit his own personal fortune to cover large debts incurred by Liberal and Interventionist troops during the previous two years of conflict. He accepted as legitimate 2,500 pesos in personal credits run up by Juan N. Méndez during the campaign and was willing to reimburse him if Méndez then went into voluntary exile. He approved 20,000 pesos in additional damages caused by the conflict in the districts of Teziutlán, Papantla, Misantla, and Tlapacoyan.
Galicia was also willing to compromise politically. He accepted the fact that Alatorre, Lucas, and Méndez preferred formally not to recognize the empire, even though they were willing to lay down their arms. He traveled personally to the sierra to receive the surrender of the Xochiapulquenses. He experimented with the reorganization of political districts to better serve the needs or interests of previously dissident populations, naming new political authorities in all of them and hearing petitions from those who needed help. As a result, he was able to foster a climate of hope and moderation, fomenting the enthusiasm of Conservatives and neutrals alike as well as the cautious neutrality of dedicated Liberal fighters.76
The best proof of Galicia's negotiating talents lay in the effect his presence had in the Sierra de Puebla. Between January and February 1866 the mayor of Zacapoaxtla received twenty-four complaints from citizens whose interests had been damaged by the Conservative occupation and Liberal incursions of the previous two years. Again and again political officials recorded claims for such items as the roof on a house, a crop on a small field, a stove, or a saint's image. The average claim for damages was a little over100 pesos, and many of the petitioners did not know how to sign their names. In fact, of the twenty-four claims, 70 percent were under 100 pesos, and only two were over 200. Clearly, these kinds of indemnifications represented the potential strengthening of the empire's social base at the local level.77
Ultimately, however, Galicia was not able to touch the core of the indigenous-popular Liberal project in the sierra. Ironically, the best evidence of this failure lies in the very document through which the Cuatecomacos declared their surrender to the empire. It is a terse text, stating simply that on 15 February 1866, and under the presidency of Juan Francisco Lucas, the military and civil officials of the "localities that under his orders had to this day defended the republican institutions" met to consider the terms of the surrender at Papantla. After a long and careful discussion that took into account the consensus among the enlisted men, "as well as the immense sacrifices that have been made to defend the republican cause [and that have made] impossible the continuation of the war against the Empire," the representatives of the soldiers and communities of the area agreed to the terms of the Papantla accords.
What is most important, however, is what the document did not say. It mentioned nothing about recognizing the legitimacy of the emperor or of imperial institutions, something that was quite common in similar documents. Instead, the text ended with a long list of names, indigenous for the most part, all followed by military titles or identification as mayor of one of the allied towns. The document was printed in the imperial newspaper as proof of the government's victory. But one could as easily read it to mean that all those who signed at the end stood ready to challenge the empire once again. As it turned out, they would not have long to wait.78
Galicia's carefully negotiated peace in Veracruz and the Sierra de Puebla lasted four months. After a new rebellion in Papantla in June 1866, General Thun and Maximilian accused Galicia of "abuses," and he was fired from his post. A more careful analysis of the situation, however, makes it clear that Galicia was not at fault. Indeed, the very drama of the eastern highlands case highlights some general contradictions between the broader policies of the emperor and the narrower interests of his staunchest supporters, contradictions that were also emerging elsewhere. As Pascual Bonilla had also learned during his brief flirtation with moderation in Zacapoaxtla, it was impossible for the empire, based as it was on the Conservatives and the church, truly to offer conditions of negotiation that would attract the more dedicated Liberals. Even the suggestion of talks evoked the suspicion of the Conservatives, on whom the emperor depended for political and military support.79 At best the imperialist alliance that Maximilian envisioned could have included the Conservatives, veterans of a long civil war with the Liberals; indigenous villages unhappy with their district capitals and with the abuses of Liberal troops; the foreign army and associated politicians; and the moderate Liberals. Such a broad base would have probably gone far toward reproducing the empire, even with the retreat of the French army. But the contradictions among these different bases of support were deep and numerous. Mexican Conservatives refused to collaborate with the Liberals or grant amnesty to the rebels. Foreign troops, most notably the special counterinsurgency forces like the Austro-Belgian Legion, racked up such a record of racist actions in the villages that they alienated potential indigenous support as well as moderate Liberals. Under such conditions the more constructive, creative, and conciliatory forms of negotiation—the kind that might truly attract the dedicated, more radical Liberals—simply could not work. In the end Maximilian's moderate Liberal policy led irrevocably to isolation and increased his dependence on diminishing, and ultimately counterproductive, foreign military support.80
Ironically, on the very same day that the Papantla accords went into effect, Napoleon was writing a letter to Maximilian announcing the irrevocable removal of all French troops from Mexico by the end of 1866. Over the next seven months, between January and July 1866, the imperial military situation began to fall apart. The combination of pressure from the United States and deepening tensions in Europe removed more and more of Maximilian's financial and military support. Spurred on by rumors of imperial crisis, Liberal troops began to score important victories against the best of the empire's forces, most notably in the north and south of the country. By August 1866 Liberal armies were encircling central Mexico from all sides, controlling most of the northern cities, moving east from Guerrero into Morelos, north across Oaxaca from Tehuantepec to Tlacotalpam. Many towns in the center of the country began to declare themselves against the empire.
An imperial cabinet crisis over the possible abdication of Maximilian nearly paralyzed the government in October and November. Then, on 28 November, Maximilian announced his intention to stay no matter what. Still, it was clear by the end of the year, as the French prepared for their final retreat, that the empire's days were numbered.81 The question was not whether, but when and under what circumstances, the Liberals would regain control of the state. Under these transformed conditions the prologue to a different drama was being played out in the Sierra de Puebla.
Between June and August 1866, as all previous Liberal leaders and forces in the Puebla highlands reentered the fight, the imperial armies began to lose ground. By 9 September even the loyal imperialist division from Chignahuapan had gone over to the Liberal side. Faced with increasing military pressure and the deepening bankruptcy of the imperial treasury, which found it difficult to advance payments to the troops, the Austrians began more frequently to abuse the population and local officials or to defect to the enemy. Mexican commanders previously loyal to the empire also began to join the Liberals. At this time a sense of impotence began to permeate many official documents.82
In contrast to the gloomy years of 1864 and 1865, when the Juarista government was on the run and unable to communicate with its dispersed supporters, the Liberal mood was increasingly optimistic. During the second half of 1866 Porfirio Díaz, as commander in chief of the eastern Liberal army, hastened to name provisional civil and military authorities for the state of Puebla and to establish ground rules for the behavior of Liberal troops. Obeying the orders of higher commanders, local political and military officials began to systematize the requisitions of supplies and men, attempting to gear up for the final push against the empire. And especially in the first months of 1867, with the combined sieges of Puebla city and Querétaro taking shape, military requisitions increased.83
Overall, the general tone of Liberal requests and exhortations was one of unity. It was time to forget old rancors and divisions and join together for the good of the nation. True, some may have made greater sacrifices for the national cause in previous years, and judging from the numerous defections that had occurred, many of those who were beginning to swell the republican ranks had fought for or served on the imperial side. Now, however, it was time for all to contribute, side by side, without distinction. Such a broad call to unity worked relatively well during those last, heady months of the final offensive against the imperial forces. But once Maximilian was dead and buried, there were persistent questions and different perspectives—on how surrender to or collaboration with the enemy might affect one's right to citizenship; on what should be the reward for those who sacrificed all in the name of the republic; on what should be the interpretation of the Liberal reforms at the local level; on how, in the last analysis, the new Liberal nation-state should be constructed. These questions refused to die with Maximilian. The faint glimmers we get from the previctory documents illuminate the process by which distinct beliefs were nourished and nurtured and the expectations of various groups concerning the form that society would take after Mexico's "second independence."84
Perched on the Edge of Victory: Alternative Nationalisms and the Reconstruction of Hegemony
In the months before the final victory, sierra fighters began to smell the end of the conflict and to weigh the legitimacy of their military or civilian commanders. At times they could afford to be lenient. In their move through the sierra, loyal Liberals like Juan Crisóstomo Bonilla, Juan Francisco Lucas, and Juan N. Méndez did not balk at accepting the help of previously loyal Conservatives like Pascual V. Bonilla. They accepted the surrender of the forces from Chignahuapan and guaranteed peace and security to all Conservative inhabitants of the town. Even when Porfirio Díaz named Rafael J. García, a citified Puebla Liberal, to the provisional governorship of Puebla state with capital in Zacapoaxtla, the highland forces were generous enough to accept the leadership of a journalist who had never seen military action. Although García initially had doubts about the impact of his appointment, by early October 1866 he was writing to Juárez from Zacapoaxtla, suggesting a series of measures to facilitate the reestablishment of peace and civil guarantees in the area.85
The most tantalizing window we have on local expectations and visions for the future reveals the application of Liberal principles at the local level. Between January and June 1867, before the dust of battle had cleared, villages in the Sierra de Puebla—especially in the area around Tetela de Ocampo—became concerned with building and maintaining primary schools. School attendance was often spotty, especially under conditions of continued military mobilization, war scarcities, and the migration of families. Yet people could discern a different future in which, perhaps for the first time, educating their children would be possible. The inhabitants of the barrio of San Nicolás wrote to the municipal council in Tetela de Ocampo on 16 February, explaining that they had saved a hundred pesos from a communal system of agriculture and now wanted to invest it in a primary school. All in the barrio had agreed to help out in the project. "More than once," wrote the local justice of the peace,
our desires have remained purely as projects, given that the critical circumstances through which we have passed have impeded [their realization]; but today, when we flatter ourselves with the hope of a stable and lasting peace, we have developed this project with the firm goal of finishing it with the cooperation and help of our [political] authorities, who, we repeat, provide abundant positive support for the prosperity and enlightened progress which for thousands of reasons we so badly need.86 The other major issue that emerged in the months before the Liberal victory was the adjudication of communal lands. A government circular issued on 4 March asked people in all the area's villages to meet and give their opinion on adjudication. The minutes of seven such meetings, from villages in the municipalities of Jonotla (Xonotla), Tuzamapan, and Tenampulco—key villages in the popular Liberal alliance—have survived. According to the minutes, the inhabitants in every village unanimously favored the adjudication process, but they stipulated several conditions: first, that the adjudications go always to the inhabitants of the village or district; second, that problems of borders or usurpation of lands be resolved justly and before adjudication; and third, that the lands in possession of members of the community be privatized without charge or tax, since all inhabitants had paid their taxes regularly and collaborated with the Liberal forces throughout the 1860s. The inhabitants of Jonotla and Tuzamapan emphasized that they had paid fifteen hundred pesos in 1863, while those from Tenampulco recalled having collaborated to build the hospital in Espinal.87
As the time for peace and Liberal reconstruction neared, people in the core Liberal region of the Sierra de Puebla began to imagine, for the first time in nearly fifteen years, what it might be like to build in peacetime. The available documents suggest that their vision emphasized education, private property, and the rights of all Liberalism's supporters to have their needs recognized and met. But their project was also popular and community oriented. They envisioned a Liberal nation-state in which political officials would support local education, prosperity, and enlightenment, and in which the contributions of the humble citizen would be justly rewarded and respected. The death of Maximilian made possible, at least in principle, the realization of this project; and the initial enthusiasm and generosity of sierra fighters was based on their confidence that such goals would be met. But as the Liberals moved from mobilization and resistance toward demobilization and the consolidation of power, it was not always clear which visions or projects would become practice. Scarcely a year after the emperor's death, the citizens of the Sierra de Puebla would once again discover, bitterly, the fragility of their "stable and lasting peace." They would also experience firsthand how quickly and easily Liberal politicians could forget their debts.
Victim to the Liberal statemakers' collective amnesia was one simple fact: along with the empire's changing fortunes at the international level, it was the tenacity and loyalty of forces such as the indigenous national guards in Puebla's eastern highlands that had ensured the triumph of Liberalism in Mexico. With the Juarista government in retreat, without access to weapons or money, these local grassroots forces kept up a war of attrition with weapons taken from the bodies of enemy soldiers. Often the first to mobilize, they were the last to surrender, and then only for as long as absolutely necessary. Many sacrificed all in the battle for a new order, envisioned as free from foreign occupation and local abuse.
The power and resilience of popular Liberalism, as we have seen, lay not with Liberalism itself but with popular culture. In the eastern Sierra de Puebla, complex combinations of communal legitimacy, national guard accountability, and the commitment of leaders to the bottom-up construction of a Liberal political community yielded a deep and enduring willingness to fight for and support the Liberal cause. In the western sierra, by contrast, Liberals fashioned a more hierarchical, elite-dominated coalition; the connection to popular political culture in many of the area's indigenous villages was left to the Conservatives. And the differential success and efficiency of the Liberal resistance on the two sides of the Puebla highlands was clearly reflected in the combat records of the two movements. If we envision them as concentric circles of support, we find that the core, in hardest times, was always the popular Liberalism of the indigenous national guards.
We have seen that this popular Liberalism was never a given but was constructed historically in a process of struggle, both between Liberals and Conservatives and within the Liberal camp. When Méndez and his supporters threw in their lot with the Nahua and Totonac national guards and villages of the central Puebla highlands, they did so in an effort to outflank their Liberal rivals. One could imagine that, with more hegemony over the Liberal movement throughout the state, Méndez would not have needed to take popular aspirations so seriously. But because he did, he and his supporters constructed a counterhegemonic Liberalism that locked in Liberal support in their core region. This alternative Liberalism would have lasting implications for the area, not only during the French Intervention but also for the rest of the nineteenth century.88
If Alatriste and his emerging "Llanura" Liberal coalition pressured Méndez from the Conservative side, it was the movement in Xochiapulco that provided him with a bridge toward the radical side. The role of this unusual population, and its even more unusual national guard, was central in all forms of Liberal coalition building. Ethnically Nahua, Xochiapulco was nevertheless a unique village, for it had no prehispanic or colonial tradition as such. It did not even possess a church. For all intents and purposes, it was a village in formation, a construction of its own guerrillas fashioned out of an hacienda. One might wonder whether a village more weighed down by ritual, lineage, and civil-religious hierarchies could have played such a pivotal role, mediating relations between mestizo Liberals and Indian villagers,helping to maintain relations with both Nahua and Totonac communities. In any case, Xochiapulco did. And the concentric circles of counterhegemony it helped to link, from small indigenous villages to the Liberal commanders of Tetela de Ocampo and even Zacatlán, buttressed Montaña Liberalism and helped defeat the French Intervention.89
Ironically, though, even as the struggles of populist and indigenous Liberals made possible the triumph of Liberalism as a whole, they also made more difficult the reconstruction of a hegemonic coalition that could carry forward the process of national consolidation. In the process of struggle between 1855 and 1867, these Liberals had fashioned strands of alternative nationalism and counterhegemonic Liberalism whose very presence in the liberal tapestry woven after 1867 would repeatedly challenge the centralization of power. Indeed, as politicians and military commanders had already discovered in the Sierra de Puebla, during the postwar years the central challenge was posed by popular political culture, which, distilled from the alternative nationalisms and Liberalisms constructed during the previous twenty years, did not have an immediate or necessary identification with any form of party politics. The only way to ensure popular support, in fact, was to incorporate at least a part of the popular agenda. To be effective, hegemony had to be built with counterhegemony. And the more the Juaristas struggled to centralize power between 1867 and 1872, the more a hegemonic political alliance proved illusory. But before we examine those struggles, we must first journey inside the indigenous peasant communities and examine the internal divisions and struggles through which popular political culture was itself constructed, transformed, and reproduced.
Excerpted from Peasant and Nation by Florencia E. Mallon Copyright © 1995 by Florencia E. Mallon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|List of Maps|
|1||Political History from Below: Hegemony, the State, and Nationalist Discourses||1|
|Pt. 1||Indigenous Communities, National Guards, and the Liberal Revolution in the Sierra Norte De Puebla|
|2||Contested Citizenship 1: Liberals, Conservatives, and Indigenous National Guards, 1850-1867||23|
|3||The Conflictual Construction of Community: Gender, Ethnicity, and Hegemony||63|
|4||Alternative Nationalisms and Hegemonic Discourses: Peasant Visions of the Nation||89|
|Pt. 2||Communal Hegemony and Nationalist Discourses in Mexico and Peru|
|5||Contested Citizenship 2: Regional Political Cultures, Peasant Visions of the Nation, and the Liberal Revolution in Morelos||137|
|6||From Citizen to Other: National Resistance, State Formation, and Peasant Visions of the Nation in Junin||176|
|7||Communal Hegemony and Alternative Nationalisms: Historical Contingencies and Limiting Cases||220|
|Pt. 3||Alternative National Projects and the Consolidation of the State|
|8||The Intricacies of Coercion: Popular Political Cultures, Repression, and the Failure of Hegemony||247|
|9||Whose Bones Are They, Anyway, and Who Gets to Decide? Local Intellectuals, Hegemony, and Counterhegemony in National Politics||276|
|10||Popular Nationalism and Statemaking in Mexico and Peru: The Deconstruction of Community and Popular Culture||310|