|English | Español||May 23, 2018 | Issue #43|
Walking in the Footsteps of Francisco Villa
In Durango with the Zapatista Other Campaign
Photos: D.R. 2006 Rodrigo Ibarra
Francisco Villa calmly crosses the vast valley of his native Durango. Within him, he carries a turbulent ocean. He rides and breathes the desert. The morning turns clear, as clear as his thoughts, as clear as the task he carries in the saddlebags of his heart.
Winding their way through the scattered rocks, thousands of horsemen follow the caudillo’s trail. They share the same path and the same inner tempest. Back home far behind them, their cornfields burn in the sun; their squash burst apart; the frost cracks the pods on their bean plants and the beans are lost, rotting in on the ground in their weedy furrows. The farm was lost years ago. The hacienda owner evicted them. They had farmed it lovingly, like a precious though adopted child. In that parched desert, they watered their corn with the tears of the dispossessed. Now they ride with their backs to that painful past, but advance with their blood on the cornfield. The time has come. With their rifles they build the bridge to the justice that was denied them.
In the mid-afternoon, General Villa holds up an arm and pulls at his horse’s reins. Everyone comes to a stop. They reach a place where a smoking strip of black stretches across the valley. Far away, something can be seen approaching quickly on that strip. It is a multicolored van followed by a big bus. Both wear painted words that speak of the old new injustices, of political prisoners, of the disappeared. The bus, from a tour company, bears the blue letters “VIP.” With white shoe polish, the acronym had been transformed to read “Very Important Proletariat.”
Villa and his Dorados, the infantry and the women soldiers watch them pass. They reach up to hold their sombreros in place against the gust of wind in the wake of the comet. Inside the bus, twenty laptop computers process audio, video, images and text about Villa’s Durango in the Other Campaign – the Other Durango.
The horsemen dig in their spurs. Their contingent moves forward. They have a Díaz, a Huerta and a Carranza on their horizon. De la Huerta, Obregón, Calles, and those that came after them, the PRI, the PAN and the PRD – we’ll have to deal with them ourselves.
We enter Durango by way of Gómez Palacio, still in La Laguna. Thousands of wells, like giant syringes, suck the water from the soil in order to irrigate 40,000 hectares of alfalfa. Five million cubic meters of milk produce many millions of pesos. The milk is divided up and distributed. The pesos inflate the bank accounts of the domestic and foreign businessmen. The peasants, for their part leave, behind their land, life and identity because they have no water to irrigate with. What beans they can grow with rainwater bring in only four or five pesos per kilo, and they still haven’t been fully paid for the last harvest.
Durango’s caciques, dressed in dollars, have a malign link to the Tepehuano Indians (the Inum, as they call themselves in their own language), a bridge built of wood. The Inum live in the mountains, and have logged there for years, even building their own sawmill. But due to bad forest policy, the mountains were overexploited. Three or four 18-ton trucks left the Tepehuano sawmill of Santa María Ocotán y Xoconoxtle each day full of planks and boards. They had a broomstick factory, and another that made vegetable storage crates.
“The Indians have never made their living from logging,” Juan Flores, an Inum, tells me. “We live off the cornfield, the earth, the bean. Only about three hundred people worked in the sawmill. We’re about 20,000 here in Santa María. The money we received for the use of wood from our land was between 50 and 100 pesos per family. Buy a six-pack, and that was it for your share. They gave us a payment once every two or three years.”
The industrialists, the wood caciques like the Rincón, Rosas Núñes, and Pérez Gavilán families, have become millionaires from the usufruct of the region’s trees. The paper factories have already destroyed the Tunal, a tributary of the Santiago River. They polluted it to death. “If the cows drink from the Tunal River, they die.” In Durango, the rivers now flow with money instead of water, but they are monopolized by the families of rapacious caciques.
According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Mexico loses 615,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of forest each year. The annual deforestation rate is 1.2 percent – double that of Brazil or Colombia. Canada’s annual deforestation rate is zero. The balance of trade for Canada’s wood industry has a surplus of $20 billion, while Mexico has a deficit of more than $2 billion.
Seven or eight years ago, an order of environmental protection, or veda, was declared for Santa María Ocotán and Xoconoxtle. The roar of the machinery at the sawmill has been replaced with a ruinous silence. The tiles on the roof remain, like the ghosts of a past full of activity, but also of inequality.
Now this land is in danger. The Santa Maria ejido has been looted and one plot of land is under litigation that its residents say they don’t understand. The government has balanced the books and given them an unplayable debt, and they don’t even know where the debt came from. As a result, part of their communal land was seized and auctioned off. They want to get it back. “We are people of struggle,” says one hardened woman. “We aren’t going to just stand by. We’ll keep struggling until victory, hasta la victoria siempre!”
We leave the municipality of Vicente Guerrero, Durango, to which the village of Santa María belongs. We say our goodbyes to General Villa with the certainty that we will meet again. He doesn’t look back at us. He’s busy firing bullets at the oppressor.
The bus climbs a winding mountain road, towards the state of Zacatecas. Through the back window of the bus we see, far away, a hat-shaped hill crowned by a solitary cloud that spills out an unusual rain resembling a cloak being torn apart. Later, the glow returns. This time it is blood red.
We are blanketed by the night, and the cold wind that whistles in from Bufa hill welcomes us. Yes – here, too rode my general, accompanied by Felipe Ánegles and Pánfilo Natera.
Far away, a gravelly cry rumbles through the sky: Viva Villa, cabrones!
Originally published in Spanish November 8
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism