Official repression intensified throughout 1977. Early in that year, a Cuernavaca bank was robbed by a group of terrorists. Governor LeOn Bejaran used this incident to launch a witch hunt. Some 300 people were arrested, thirty of them members of groups in which Menes had been active. The independent unions were destroyed. Agrepino Juarez de la Cruz, leader of the union at the Cuernavaca Datsun Factory, was arrested along with his family. He was severely beaten, and his wife was repeatedly raped. None of those arrested was ever linked to the bank robbery; none was ever convicted of any crime. But the challenge to the system was crushed. In April, the police entered Menes’s house and took or destroyed everything in it. He narrowly escaped a second arrest. He began carrying a gun and went into hiding. The Moreles Human Rights Front responded to the intensified repressiod by mobilizing 10,000 demonstrators in Cuernavaca’s central square. Menes represented the front at a meeting between human rights organizations and President Jose Lopez Portillo. In his opinion, this exposure along with his friendship with a number of prominent persons, including the liberal archbishop of Morelos helps account for his survival. At 25, Menes enjoyed a considerable local reputation. Working people sought his advice on medical problems and marital disputes. Had he chosen, he could have become an important cacique. In 1978, Menes and several others organized a new land invasion and created the Colonia Otilio Montano. This colonia interfered with a luxury real estate development in which Governor Leon Bejaran and powerful financial groups were involved. Menes and his compatriots were offered mansions in the development if they would persuade their people to move. They declined. The creation of the Colonio Otilio Montano angered powerful interests. One of the organizers was assassinated. Another was arrested and died in prison. Menes went into hiding again, then fled to Mexico City to work with his mentor, Francisco de la Cruz, a charismatic mass organizer attempting on a national scale what Menes and his comrades had tried locally. In 1981, de la Cruz was arrested and Menes returned to Morelos. By then, little remained of Menes’s work. The municipalities were once again in the hands of PRI regulars, some of them former dissidents. The independent unions never revived. Most of the militants who had not joined the system were dead, in prison, or had fled. By 1982, the governor felt secure enough to pardon most remaining prisoners and ex-prisoners. Tranquility had returned to Morelos and the system was triumphant. TODAY, Fulgencio Menes teaches Spanish to foreigners in two of Cuernavaca’s language schools. He maintains contact with the survivors of the destroyed movement. Though he has been asked to organize another land invasion, he is reluctant. He fears a violent reaction from the current governor, Lauro Ortega. More important, he is convinced that isolated local actions are futile and ineffective. The experience of Morelos in the 1970s is not unusual. Today, similar developments are occurring in the state of Oaxaca; and a violent and protracted struggle over land is taking place in adjoining parts of the states of Veracruz, Hidalgo, and San Luis Potosi. But none of these outbursts suggests that Mexico is ripe for revolution. They are merely inevitable responses to a system whose watchwords are violence, corruption, boss rule, and privilege and wealth, juxtaposed with poverty and massive suffering. The system seems vital enough to carry on into the foreseeable future, especially if it can make occasional reforms to diffuse mass discontent. Fulgencio Menes would not agree. He believes that his mistake was to try to change the system locally. He is optimistic that a powerful national movement can be built on the discontent of the Mexican masses, capable of forcing meaningful change on the country’s rulers. He points to the existence of several powerful and militant independent labor unions, most importantly the Nuclear Industry Workers’ Union. He points to the Coordinadora Nacional Plan de Ayala, a group attempting to unite discontented peasants all over Mexico into a nationwide movement for land redistribution. When Francisco de la Cruz is released from prison, Menes believes his mentor can assume the leadership of a national movement. For over half a century, national challenges to the system have been more thoroughly crushed than local ones. Fulgencio Menes’s optimism may not be justified, but it is difficult not to admire his dedication to principle in a country where the obstacles are so great. “The daring and unreasonable cupidity of those who count it as nothing to unjustly shed such an immense quantity of human blood, to deprive these enormous countries of their natural inhabitants and possessors, by slaying millions of people and stealing incomparable treasures increases every day. . . . ” Fray Bartolome de las Casas to the Crown of Seville San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico DURING THE LAST days of June, 4,000 Guatemalan Indians loaded their meager pos sessions into small boats, crossed the Lacantdn River, and disappeared into the Mexican jungle. On the third day of July, a detachment of blue-uniformed marines arrived. As the marines stood ready, the thousand Indians who had remained in the camp were loaded onto shallow draft river boats to begin a trip to their new home. While the departing refugees watched, Camp Puerto Rico was burned to the ground. “Mexican marines burned the camp,” explained the diocesan nun who coordinates much of the relief effort for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San CristObal de las Casas. “Now food assistance, well, all relief, is denied to those refugees who refused to cooperate in the relocation. To the government it’s considered an unauthorized camp. They’re on their own.” To those refugees who cooperate in the relocation, the Mexican government promises food and shelter. Fijoles o fusiles. Beans or rifles. Not even in exile can these beleaguered Louis Dubose, a frequent Observer contributor, is a freelance writer living in Austin. The Political Boundary of Central America Moves Northward By Louis Dubose 14 NOVEMBER 23, 1984
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