Palito Blanco II: .first sorghum harvest, 1982. 8 MAY 4, 1984 Ciudad Victoria rally, 1984. legislator Jose Rodrigo Perez. Both spoke before the protestors, denouncing the government’s repressive tactics and urging the campesinos to continue their fight. Both argued for the release of Luna and Lira. For the two imprisoned organizers, the Matamoros municipal jail is their third stop in more than a month behind bars. They were first detained in the state penitentiary in Ciudad Victoria, then moved twice. Rodolfo Lira Rivera is a large bear of a man, who appears 10 years older than his 54 years. Dressed in a western shirt, slacks, boots, he seems almost too comfortable in the visiting room of the special prisoners section of the Matamoros jail. The terms of his confinement, he explains, are generous. The municipal president has been in to check on the two prisoners; the meals brought in by local PSUM activists are excellent. “All I lack is my freedom,” he says. “It’s not the imprisonment,” Lira says, “but the charges. Asociacion delictuosa [criminal association] that’s a charge reserved for rateros when they get together to rob or assault someone. And despojar [plunder] that’s their crime, not ours. We are obeying the law.” Lira’s brother, Ubaldo, a visitor in the prison, raises the issue of another crime, a two-year-old unsolved homicide. Juan Cervantes, he explains, a land reform leader from Periquitos, 25 kilometers from Reynosa, was shot to death for his part in a similar struggle. He had won from the government a concession of 10 hectare tracts for campesinos, and, as he left his house to attend a meeting to petition for 20 hectare allotments, he was shot three times. “We have been told by state investigators that evidence is not sufficient to prosecute the landowner who hired his assassin. They have even told us the killer’s alias and the name of the man who hired him,” Ubaldo Rivera said. Gregorio Luna is a recent PSUM candidate for the state legislature. A smaller, darker, and more somber man, he is not as buoyant as Rodolfo Lira. The government’s charges, he explains, are not so important. “We are in jail because we constitute a danger for the big landholders.” Luna has been offered 400 hectares for himself, by a SARH official, with the understanding that he retire from the struggle. At 40 he’s not inclined to retire, and as for the question of land distribution “well, we want cheese for everyone.” Similar offers have been made to Lira. Both say that they will not be bought out. “We haven’t been compromised nor intimidated,” states Lira. “When we leave here it will be to resume the struggle.” Meanwhile the large landholders are digging in and cultivating their contacts with the dominant Institutional Party of the government made a commitment to them when the land was leased in 1976. They have made large investments in improving and cultivating this land, and they are not inclined to walk away from it. The terms of this conflict are as old as the post-Cortesian history of Mexico. Pho tos by Alan Pog u e Gregorio Luna addressing 1982 rally. To resolve the dispute, commissions have been appointed and mediators called in, but after three years both the state and federal government seem to be consolidating their opposition to the Palito Blanco campesinos. When, on March 14, some 1,000 urban squatters seized 120 acres of land in Reynosa, they were routed by police. The land on the south side of the city belongs to former Reynosa Mayor Ernesto Gomez Lira, who, according to the PSUM weekly an’ es, also holds title to a large tract of land at los Vasos. The Reynosa site was cleared within hours of its occupation, and police burned the shacks and building material belonging to the squatters. The quick resolution of the illegal occupation of Gomez Lira’s Reynosa property might now look good to the government in light of the results of the protracted struggle with the peasants of Palito Blanco. But, ultimately, the Mexican government is going to have to come to terms with its agrarian land reform laws and the hundreds of thousands of campesinos who exist at the margin of their country’s economic life waiting for their parcela or ejido was against just such “living on your knees” that Emiliano Zapata began a revolution in the South.
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