Rural Resistance in the Land of Zapata: The Jaramillista Movement and the Myth of the Pax Priista, 1940-1962.
On May 23, 1962, some sixty soldiers and several armed civilians surrounded the home of Ruben Jaramillo, a prominent agrarian leader. Jaramillo, his wife Epifania Zuniga, and her three sons, Enrique, Filemon, and Ricardo, were forcibly escorted away: The captain who directed the arrest blatantly ignored official pardons granted the Jaramillo family by President Adolfo Lopez Mateos. Their bodies were later found near the Xochicalco ruins outside of the city of Cuernavaca. The eyewitness and only family member to escape arrest and massacre was Zuniga's daughter, Raquel, in what became known as the Xochicalco massacre. In her first book, Rural Resistance in the land of Zapata, Tanalis Padilla chronicles the life and activism of Ruben Jaramillo within the broader political context of Mexico's pax Priista, the era of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Through the lens of Ruben Jaramillo and his supporters, Padilla examines a historical period primarily understood as Mexico's "golden age." Between 1940 and 1968, Mexico experienced unprecedented economic and infrastructure growth, along with rapid urbanization. The dominant political party, the PRI, justified its political stranglehold by claiming that it was the only institution capable of representing all sectors of Mexican society. As Padilla reveals through the life and work of Jaramillo and many other disenfranchised Mexicans, all was not perfect. While Mexico's economic fortunes improved, economic disparity grew, resulting in a deterioration of living standards, increased poverty, and pressure against labour unions.
While the PRI solidified its political monopoly, Padilla argues that two principal tendencies developed among those Mexicans in opposition. An institutionalized agrarian ideology, Cardenismo, encouraged peaceful negotiations with the state. In contrast, Zapatismo emphasized a bottom-up land distribution, the preservation of campesino subsistence lifestyle, and a willingness to take up arms to achieve these goals. While Cardenismo might have prevailed without state repression, the violence perpetuated by the state pushed many to a Zapatismo style of opposition. Consequently, the emergence of movements such as Jaramillo's was no accident. Jaramillo and his followers believed they could effect political change but, when violently repressed, moved to armed resistance. As Padilla states, "state violence and popular resistance emerge here as an escalating dialogue" (p. 14). With each act of state repression, popular organizers and militants responded.
Rural Resistance is an important contribution to Mexican historiography. It provides a nuanced picture of an eighty-year revolutionary project through an exploration of its underbelly. The expansive post-1940 Cardenas historiography is dominated by two perspectives: an emphasis on cultural history; and histories written with an activist agenda. Padilla's work shifts the focus from culture and identity to the process of sustained struggle that marked the supposed pax Priista, thereby opening up a new interpretation of the era. This book focuses on a small peasant revolt (Mexican guerrilla movements have been largely unstudied), effectively asserting that the 1968 student massacre was not the first time that the PRI violated its mandate with the general populace. The extent to which many popular movements incorporated the ideals of the 1917 Constitution into their activities is convincingly argued here. Rather than identifying their movement as anti-government militancy, Padilla argues that Jaramillo's movement illustrates the attempt to hold the PRI to their 1917 promises. What is striking about groups like Jaramillo's is the sustained confrontation employed over decades of activism. Padilla also places this particular movement within broader national processes and economic shifts. The emergence of neoliberalism during the 1980s was dependent upon the repression of leftist groups. As such, Padilla adds further evidence to the incomplete hegemony achieved by the powerful yet fallible PRI.
The structure of the book follows a chronological order through seven chapters, narrating the life Ruben Jaramillo and his movement over the course of six decades. Padilla utilizes five principal types of primary sources (p. 16). Drawing on both campesino testimonies and government surveillance records, the book seeks to outline the perspectives of the dialogue and interaction between the two sides. Padilla uses correspondence between Jaramillistas and government officies; manifestos, pamphlets, and speeches produced by participants in the struggle; memos reporting on the group's activities from state agents to the Minister of the Interior; newspaper articles; and oral history. Ideal for anyone interested in Mexican history, this book is also for those concerned with peasant movements, and indigenous and women's histories.
One of the book's important contributions is its use of gender analysis. Padilla argues that women fought two simultaneous battles, as is common within other resistance movements: one for the integration of the group's social goals within a national forum; and the second for integration as women within their own movements. Differentiating between single and married women, Padilla identifies the multiple levels of patriarchal and social oppression. While the Jaramillista movement did not actively seek to overthrow such constraints, it did provide an avenue for activism otherwise unavailable to women. What might have strengthened this particular aspect of the book is a comparison with the more recent Zapatista movement. Padilla's research nevertheless is a valuable contribution to Latin American women's history.
Finally, Padilla's study of the Jaramillista movement exemplifies the attempts of one group to maintain the revolutionary ideals of the 1917 constitution and continuously and most painfully remind the government of its shortcomings. Within the contemporary context of a global economy and the disposability of its workers, Padilla's work advises us of the continued struggle necessary to maintain basic human rights and dignity as promised within the 1917 Mexican Constitution.
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2009|
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