Casa de Montejo and its Plateresque facade
Murals of the Palacio Gobierno
Palacio Gobierno was built in the colonial period, this Neo-classical version was built in 1892. The building has two floors which surround the square of the courtyard. Around the circumference are covered walkways with the typical arched portales supported by graceful columns. While the lower floor has a single great mural (out of sight here), the upper has a whole series of them on each wall. As you can see here, I took some of these shots at night.
Fernando Castro Pacheco, a noted Mexican muralist. The emerging Maya is flanked by the Hero Twins, figures from Maya mythology. Maiz, or corn, was enormously important to the Maya and other Mesoamerican civilizations, and figures heavily in their religion, art, and architecture. The cultivation of maiz was probably first practiced in the Puebla area. It then spread throughout Mesoamerica, including the Maya areas, and even as far north as New England in the US.
Murals of the Salon
Jacinto Canek, a Maya educated by the Franciscans. Addressing his people in 1761, Canek said "I have traveled through all the province and have inspected all the villages and, carefully considering the usefulness the Spanish subjugation has brought to us, I have not found a single thing but painful and inexorable servitude. The demand for tribute is not appeased by the poverty that locks up our comrades as in a jail, nor is the thirst for our blood satisfied by the continuous whippings that bite and tear our bodies to pieces." The people rallied and his revolt found initial success, but Spanish arms defeated them, as they had done so many times before. The Spanish hanged 8 of his supporters and applied 200 lashes and the loss of an ear to 200 more. Jacinto Canek himself was brought to Mérida's Grand Plaza. As the governor watched approvingly from the balcony of Casa de Montejo, Canek was burned with red-hot irons, then pulled into quarters by horses, and finally his remains were burned and the ashes thrown to the winds. It is hard to kill an idea, however, and his name became a rallying cry for the rebels of the Caste War 90 years later.
colonial encomienda system of tribute labor, or its successor, the hacienda system which employed debt slavery. Every effort was made to extinguish their native religion and culture. For thousands of years before the Spanish arrived, the Maya had extracted the sisal fibre from the stiff, spiky leaves of the agave plant in order to make rope, sandals, mats and other goods. This fibre is also called henequen and the two words are used interchangeably. Until the mid-19th Century, there was little commercial value in it. Suddenly, a huge new market opened for Yucatan's humble sisal.
Cyrus McCormick invented a machine to harvest grain in the US. To bundle the cut grain stalks, the harvester required a strong, smooth twine resistant to rot and insect damage. Sisal was ideal. McCormick's company, later called International Harvester, turned to Yucatan to fulfill its needs, setting off a tremendous boom. The relationship of International Harvester to Yucatan somewhat resembled that of the United Fruit Company to Guatemala. In both cases, a giant US corporation almost completely dominated the local economy--and to a considerable degree the politics--of the area. In both cases a tiny number of plantation owners became fabulously wealthy while serving the interests of a foreign corporation. Finally, in both cases, the Maya were enslaved to feed the insatiable profit-lust of the plantation owners and their foreign sponsors.
Cuban slaves, but after Benito Juarez's victory in the Reform Wars, he suppressed the trade. Eventually, the hacendados (hacienda owners) found another solution. In the last part of the 19th Century, the Mexican Government finally succeeded in subduing the Yaquis of the Sierra Madre Occidental area of Chihuahua in northwest Mexico. They were the last remnants of the free and independent Chichimec nomads who had harassed the Spanish from the 16th Century on, and the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations for many centuries before them. The government of dictator Porfirio Diaz didn't want to leave them in Chihuahua where they might revolt again. Hearing the hacendados' complaints of continuing labor shortages, Diaz ordered the Yaquis to be rounded up en masse--men, women, and children--and shipped by rail to Yucatan to work on the sisal haciendas. As many as 15,000 Yaquis--half their population--were deported into sisal slavery in the early years of the 20th Century.
Caste War. The name relates to the rigid social structure, or caste system, of colonial Nueva Hispaña. The caste system continued in Yucatan even after independence from Spain. The Maya rose against the Yucatecos--those of European background--who were at the top of this system. The revolt was rooted in the continuing seizure of Maya communal lands by Yucateco hacienda owners greedy to exploit the growing boom in sisal, and heavy taxation by the Yucateco-run government. The Caste War came within a hair's breadth of driving the Yucatecos completely out of the whole Peninsula. They held out in the cities of Mérida and Campeche and things looked bleak. The governor wrote up orders for the evacuation of the whole Yucateco population from both cities, but sufficient paper could not be found to print them. In the meantime, the Maya had noticed that the flying ants had arrived, signaling the time to plant crops. Knowing their families would starve if they didn't, they left the rebel army in droves and the siege was lifted. The war then dragged on for decades. For a time Great Britain recognized the Maya-controlled area as an independent state. The British had a commercial interest in trade between British Honduras (modern Belize) and the Maya state. In the end, however, the British recognized they had a greater interest in the commercial and industrial development of Mexico under Porfirio Diaz. They cut off relations with the Maya state and closed the British Honduras border. In 1901, the Mexican army seized control of the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz and claimed victory. While this is considered the official end of the Caste War, guerilla activity continued off and on until the last known skirmish in 1933, a full 85 years after war began. However, in 1901, the Yucatecos thought they had arrived in--for them--The Promised Land. The money from their sisal haciendas rolled in like a tidal wave . For nine more years they lived the good life while the Maya and their mestizo bretheren toiled in servitude.
Murals of the courtyard balcony
General Salvador Alvarado was appointed by the national revolutionary government to be Governor of Yucatan. Alvarado was originally from Sinaloa and so was an outsider with no local vested interests when he hit town. He was a revolutionary, however, and horrified by the conditions he found. He was particularly angered by how the Yucateco elite profited at the expense of the Maya. During his term of 1915-1917, he instituted many important reforms including land redistribution, and worker's and women's rights. General Alvarado used military courts as a device to extend justice to common people and women. He also took a dim view of the role of the Catholic Church in supporting and profiting from the rule of Porfirio Diaz. As a result, he evicted the Bishop from his Palacio next to the Cathedral, and stabled the horses of his troops in the Cathedral itself. He is viewed as one of Yucatan's three greatest social reformers. The beneficial effects of his reforms on the lives of the Maya resulted in a significant period of peace. As a result, he is viewed as "the one true liberator of the Maya slaves."
Felipe Carrillo Puerto (1872-1924) was born in Yucatan and was partly Maya. He served as Governor of Yucatan from 1922-24. Carillo Puerto was a socialist and favored land reform, women's rights, and the rights of the Maya people. His enemies called him "The Red Dragon with the Eyes of Jade." He conducted a passionate romance with a female journalist from San Francisco in the United States named Alma Reed, resulting in a famous song called "Peregrina." In 1924, he was betrayed and arrested by counter-revolutionaries, along with 3 of his brothers and 8 other friends. All were shot. Another of Yucatan's great reformers was President Lazaro Cardenas (1895-1970). A former revolutionary general, Cardenas is probably best known for his 1938 expropriation of Mexico's oil industry, until then owned by foreign interests. However, he was also very active in land reform and the creation of ejidos, or land cooperatives. In 1936, Cardenas expropriated the sisal haciendas of Yucatan, and redistributed the land to the Maya who had long worked it for little or no compensation. For finally breaking the power of the hacendados, and returning the land to the Maya from whom it had often been illegally seized, President Lazaro Cardenas is considered the third of Yucatan's great heros.