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MEXICO: Yucatan

Tim Brown writes:

"I was American Consul in Merida in the late 1960s, and remain fascinated by Yucatan. The movement there appears to be a classic identity conflict between a region that consider itself sufficiently different to merit at least autonomy, at most independence. There are deep historical reasons for this. Since Pre-Columbian times the region has had a different identity, with its base Maya population having a very distinctive language, history, territoriality, culture, belief and value system, self-identification in "us-vs them terms". In the colonial era, this Mayan identity was subsumed under dominant Hispanicism and apparent Catholicism, but the subsurface lives of the vast majority of its people remained Maya and non-Hispanic, with Catholicism a patina over earlier practices. Initially Yucatan was a main hub of the Spanish colonial approach, but it slowly faded into a secondary and eventually relatively isolated region as direct contacts between Spain and Mexico City via Cuba and Veracrus came to dominate the relatiionship. For centuries it was easier to travel to Mexico City from Merida via Cuba than overland.

The War of the Castes, to which you refer, is perhaps the event that best illustrates what came to be the Yucatecan reality through the early 1900s. It was not a war of independence from Mexico fought by descendents of the Spanish colonial populace seeking to establish a separate country a la Guatemala, but of independence FROM Mexicans fought by Maya Indians, supported by the British from Belize, who provided arms, training and other support, and seeking to eject the "Guach", or Mexican-Spanish from the Maya region. It almost succeeded, largely because it came as a total surprise to the "Spaniards". The Mexican-Spanish had been the dominant elite throughout the peninsula for more than 350 years and had been living cheek-by-jowl with the Maya even in the smallest interior towns for more than 10 generations. And yet they remained totally oblivious to the ongoing organization of a massive Indian rebellion, involving more than-200,000 Indian fighters in their very midst until it suddenly fell on their heads like a hurricane and within three months washed them out of the entire peninsula with the exception of Merida and the port of Progreso. There was also a separate but non-Maya movement to secede from Mexico and join the US, which was rejected by us not the Yucatecans.

When I was there the region was decidely PAN, not PRI, by a very large majority, perhaps 85-90%. The PRI won elections only because they fixed them. The Yucatecan post-colonial "Spaniards" were also decidely regionalist and anti-Mexico City, while the Maya were probably equally negative toward both. Were Yucatan to gain autonomy, or even independence, it would in my view quickly find itself divided, with the majority Maya quite possibly exploiting the modern world's defensive approach to ethic majority rights by then demanding a "one-man-one vote democracy" in which they would inevitably dominate. In other words, in terms of their own interests, the Yucatecan non-Maya independistas may be playing with fire."

My comment: The hate word chilango, meaning an inhabitant of Mexico City, has become common in the north of Mexico is recent years and suggests that the north has a dubious loyalty to the central government. Is it common in Yucatan?

Ronald Hilton - 2/12/01