Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1

By Michael S. Werner | Go to book overview

c

CABAÑAS, LUCIO

1938–74 • Guerrilla Leader

The life of Lucio Cabañas is closely bound up with the history of armed struggle in the post-World War II period. Unlike many of its southern neighbors, Mexico did not experience the wave of guerrilla movements which swept through Latin America in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, and armed struggle has not been a significant element in the repertoire of the Mexican left. However, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, armed movements did emerge in several areas of Mexico, particularly in the state of Guerrero, a region with a long history of violent encounters between caciques (local strongmen) and peasant cultivators. Two movements, led by Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vázquez surfaced within a year of each other. The Partido de los Pobres (PP, or Party of the Poor), Cabañas’s movement, was the more successful, surviving well into the 1970s, long after the disappearance of Vázquez’s Asociación Cívica Nacional Revolucionaria (ACNR, or National Revolutionary Civic Association), which never recovered from Vázquez’s death in a 1972 automobile accident.

A graduate of the “red” rural teaching training college (Escuela Normal Rural) of Ayotzinapa, Cabañas’s political career was shaped by his experience as a rural schoolteacher, a familiar theme in the history of agrarian radicalism in Mexico. Like the maestros rurales (rural teachers) of the 1920s and 1930s and Cabaña’s fellow graduates of Ayotzinapa (including Genaro Vázquez), Cabañas fought battles over land rights, municipal autonomy, educational resources, and curriculum content. His political engagement while a teacher in the Federal School of Atoyac led to a period of internal exile in the north-central state of Durango 1965. His early political career began with a period as member of the Partido Comunista Mexicano (PCM, or Mexican Communist Party) from 1963 to 1966. Based in Atoyac, Cabañas worked with the party, organizing branches of the leftist Frente Electoral del Pueblo (People’s Electoral Front) and building local units of a new peasant group, the Central Campesina Independiente (Independent Peasant Central), which challenged the hegemony of the peasant mass organizations affiliated with the ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party).

Cabañas took up arms in May 1967 after state police and soldiers massacred seven people in Atoyac, including Cabañas’s brother. The matanza was the culmination of several weeks of struggle in which parents had forced the Guerrero state education system to replace an unpopular school administrator. Wounded in the assault, Cabañas managed to escape into the nearby hills, where he formed the PP as an armed self-defense group.

The party drew support and recruits from the peasantry of the Costa Grande of Guerrero, in particular the four municipalities of Átoyac de Alvarez, Tecpan, San Jerónimo, and Coyuca de Benítez. This region, which runs from south of the Pacific resort of Acapulco to the border of Oaxaca, is a desperately poor area of an impoverished state and has a long history of rural unrest, punctuated by tension between resource-starved ejidatarios (communal farmers) and private farmers and merchants who monopolize scarce water resources and the purchase and distribution of the region’s main cash crops—coffee, coconuts, marijuana, timber, and sesame. The Costa Grande is also a region with a high rate of violence, illiteracy, and poor health. The stranglehold enjoyed by rural bosses, or caciques, at the municipal level and the political monopoly over the state government exercised by a few wealthy families has generated a series of civic action movements directed against unpopular state governors.

The Partido de los Pobres financed its activities through bank robberies and kidnappings of wealthy individuals, especially between 1971 and 1973. The most spectacular of the kidnappings involved a 74-year-old PRI senator and candidate for the governorship of Guerrero, the millionaire businessman Rubén Figueroa, who was held by the PP for over three months before being ransomed for 25 million pesos. The organization’s brigadas campesinas de ajusticiamento (peasant execution brigades) also killed a number of ranchers, hostile journalists, and other alleged “exploiters.” The actions of the Partido de los Pobres and of Genaro Vázquez led the Mexican army to deploy thousands of troops in search operations in Guerrero. Nevertheless, armed encounters between the guerrillas and the army were infrequent. Most of them occurred in 1972, five years after Cabañas’s flight into the hills, when the PP twice ambushed army patrols.

The PP’s ideological affiliation was populist and socialist. Although its core base was in Guerrero, it found allies and supporters in Sonora, Tamaulipas, Aguascalientes, and the Federal District and among students, Christians, and intellectuals who had been radicalized by the student popular

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Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor’s Note vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xvii
  • Thematic Outline of Entries xxiii
  • A 1
  • B 125
  • C 175
  • D 391
  • E 423
  • F 465
  • G 549
  • H 625
  • I 667
  • J 715
  • K 723
  • L 727
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