September 21, 2010

Give A Toy, Get A Smile

All of our time is worth the look on the faces of the kids, moms and dads! They were so happy to have these things, and I always say it's from the tourists from the US and Canada that bring everything! I couldn't do it without the tourists help!!!
Nancy Myers, founder of 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile'


When New York native, Nancy Myers, moved to Cancún, it was with the idea of settling in paradise. She could swop the honking of gridlocked yellow cabs for the call of exotic birds; and the soaring skyscrapers for palm trees. She was a registered nurse, working at the American Smile Clinic, with her husband Andrew. Medical skills travel the world over, so there was no problem getting work in Mexico.

Yet Nancy brought with her more than just her handiness with a swab and gauze. She also had a heart the size of the Hudson River. Her work took her away from the affluent tourist zones, into those villages that are usually only glimpsed from coaches en route to Chichén Itzá. She entered some of the most impoverished homes in Quintana Roo, yet always received a welcome and an offer of refreshments.

She saw the tremendous love in those communities. But she also saw the daily struggle of the parents to put food on the table. Their meagre incomes did not leave much for extras, like the $35 USD worth of school supplies, which every child needs each year. Christmas Day was not the bonanza of toys, which children were used to back in America. In a choice between feeding your child or giving them doll, which parent would take the latter option?


Nancy and Andrew Myers hooked up with another pair of expat New Yorkers, Joe and Janet Cerutti. This couple had been involved in charitable ventures in the area for years, so brought their expertize to Nancy's idea. Back in New York, there had been a successful initiative, Toys for Tots. People donated the toys and they had been distributed amongst the state's poorer families. That could be done in Mexico. That would be done in Mexico.

In September 2006, Give a Toy, Get a Smile was officially launched, at a press conference, in the Cancún Hotel Zone. Only a couple of journalists attended, but the word was out. Within a month, they had several drop-off points around the town and 155 toys to hand out. Then the campaign snowballed.

A 15 year old boy named Gonzalo, paralyzed with spina bifida, received a wheelchair worth $3500; the top 10 academic achievers, in a local school, each received a wrapped toy to reward them for their hard work; all of the children on the Learning to Live with AIDS program, and those children in the AIDS ward of the General Hospital, all received toys for Christmas. Then they started distributing to the remote villages.

We had a great time. One little boy was standing in front of his open-air shack, playing in the dirt with his brother. You could see his mom resting on a hammock inside the cement building. Andy ran over to him with a racing car track for him and a dump truck for his brother. Do I have to tell you about the smiles??? We had 'em, they had 'em', mom's had 'em, dad's had 'em! EVERYONE was loaded with smiles. It was a very warm feeling!
Nancy Myers, founder of 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile'

By the end of 2006, they knew that they weren't finishing here. Christmas had come and gone full of smiles and warm feelings, but there were still many more children out there.

Not only that, but the start of the school year was coming up. Nancy and Andrew had met an elderly Maya grandmother, with six children, all under 12 years old, in her care. How was she supposed to find the $210 USD to clothe them in school uniforms and ensure that they had all of their books and stationery? 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile' became extended to appeal for backpacks containing school supplies. They were badly needed.

It is now four years later; and the litany of urgent requests met and children helped fills pages of archived news. Yet such work is endless. The appeal for 2010 is just now gearing up for Christmas again. You can read its current status here.

For those planning their vacations in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos or Tulúm, then Nancy is asking that you pack an extra toy in your suitcase. There are locations, like the Hard Rock Cafe, to drop them off in the center of each of these places. For more information about how you can help, please visit the Give a Toy, Get a Smile site. And gracias. :D

September 20, 2010

Hurricane Karl and Cancún

With the blogosphere and news full of dire reports about Hurricane Karl and Mexico, I'd like to confirm that Cancún has not been troubled. Karl has now dissipated into the mountains above Mexico City and will not be returning.

Hurricane Karl

This is not to gloat in the face of our friends in the northwest, who are certainly having to deal with the mess left by Karl. It is to reassure those who have been searching our site, and others, for information about Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Karl did not touch this area.

Cancún has woken up to a beautiful day. Blue skies, with a few white, fluffy clouds. The temperature is, at the time of writing, 24°C (75°F), due to rise to 29°C (85°F) before the day is through. For those wishing to see for themselves, then there is a page full of Cancún based webcams at EarthCam.

If you are planning to visit Veracruz, then it is worth checking with your travel agent. Hurricane Karl hit there on Friday, as a category 3, causing the deaths of seven people. Some areas of the state are experiencing flooding and damage to buildings.

For those concerned about hurricanes in the Mexican Caribbean, then I'd like to refer you to my earlier blogs on the subject: 'Oh No! It's the Hurricane Season!' and 'Surviving a Hurricane in Mexico'. There are many sites with up-to-date information, about what's forming and what's heading this way, or not. A personal favourite is Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog.

In the meantime, Cancun Weather Today has the area on Blue Status. This is the second lowest flag. It is issued when there is 'Minimum Danger - When any tropical system forms in Atlantic or the Caribbean Sea.'

September 17, 2010

Los Insurgentes: "A Little Body of Unconquered Men."

"Even in the darkest days of the long revolution, (Guerrero) was the leader of a little body of unconquered men, who kept alive the cause of independence."

Vicente Guerrero had only just turned 18, when he left home to fight for Morelos. He had been learning his craft, as a gunsmith, in his native Tixtla, but he carried only a sword. Like many flocking to the cause, he came from humble beginnings. This, ultimately, was to be his true tragedy.

Vicente Guerrero
Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña was born, on August 10th, 1782, as the son of Juan Pedro Guerrero and María de Guadalupe Saldaña. His father was a mule driver. They were not rich, living in Tixtla's poorest quarter of Tlaltelulco. None of the children had any formal education at all. Vicente had spent most of his childhood helping his father on the drover trails. For Juan, getting his son into the gunsmithing trade had been a huge coup for his family. It had involved seeking the patronage of distant cousins, who had made their own money in the cannon and gun trade of southern Mexico. Their agreement, to take on their improverised relative, helped enormously in other ways.

In the strict social hierarchy of 18th century Mexico, Juan's family were registered in the Criollo (aka creole) class. These were people with pure or mostly Spanish blood, who were disdained by the Peninsulare elite (people born in Spain, but living in Mexico). However, the Criollos out-ranked everyone else: the indigenious people; those of mixed blood; the peasants; and the slaves. No-one with even a drop of African blood could count as a Criollo, even if the rest of their veins coursed with pure Españoles.

This was a problem. María de Guadalupe Saldaña was mostly African, with a strain of indigenious Mexican Indian blood. Before her marriage, she had been categorised as a Negro and was subject to all of the heavy restrictions that that entailed. For a start, she was forbidden, by law, to even wear jewellry nor fine linen. That would have been ornamentation beyond her station. Not that the family could afford such luxuries. Her husband may have had enough Spanish blood to be considered a Criollo, but Maria's status condemned her children, and Juan by association, to the lowest class of all.

As the rich, landowning Guerrero relatives intervened, bribes were paid, registrars tipped off and papers signed. Juan and Maria breathed a sigh of relief. Their boy was legally Criollo and enlisted in a trade that would see him rise above his beginnings. They had done their absolute best for him and it had worked better than they could have imagined in their wildest dreams. Then Morelos brought his army into nearby Acapulco and laid siege to the San Diego fort. It was November, 1810, and, as his horrified parents looked on, Vicente threw it all away.

Tixtla, looking towards Acapulco

Guerrero was placed into Hermenegildo Galeana's regiment, fighting alongside Nicolás Bravo. He distinguished himself well in battle and was quickly promoted to the rank of captain. Now under Morelos's direct orders, he was placed at the helm of a band of men. Armed almost solely with clubs, they nevertheless achieved considerable victories against the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico). In a series of sortees in south Mexico, Guerrero's peasant class army managed to take 400 prisoners, from a Realista army that had only numbered 700 in the first place. He was also to seize a large consignment of weapons.

The humble boy from Tixtla had so impressed Morelos that, in November 1812, Guerrero was elevated to the rank of lieutenant colonel. When Morelos was shot, in 1815, that left Guerrero as the most senior officer still standing.

This was the insurgency's darkest hour. Three years of defeats had already knocked the wind out of the rebellion. Many of those who had left their fields to take up arms, now crept back to renew their lives. The Spanish were winning. Morelos was dead. Hidalgo's resounding battle cries now rang as hollow memory, in the defeated dreams of the populance. For a bitter majority, the war was over and they had lost. They had no option but to take up the viceroy's offer of a pardon, to all who surrendered. It was against such mass despair that Guerrero stood. But he refused to go home.

Vicente Guerrero
Vicente Guerrero

For the next six years, Guerrero led his tiny army through South Mexico. They were not large enough for those great, grandstanding battles that had marked the campaigns of Hidalgo and Morelos. But they could still take cities and towns, in the name of the rebellion. They managed to hold the entire of the region, now known as the state of Guerrero, until independence was won. They scored addition victories in taking Ajuchitán, Santa Fe, Tetela del Río, Huetamo, Tlalchapa and Cuautlotitlán. In time, the army's ranks swelled from 100 to over 1,000.

The stories are legion. The odds were stacked against them. Guerrero's bravery was often reckless. It sometimes bordered upon the suicidal. Like the time when the way forward was a river, peppered with Spanish bullets. Guerrero threw his sword to the opposite bank and, screaming out, "I follow my sword!" He plunged into the water. Gunfire blazed and the river became a death-trap of shrapnel. But none of them hit him. He made the bank and whipped up his sword. It was like he had divine protection! The army followed and the town was taken.

Vicente Guerrero

In 1819 came one of the most poignant scenes of the whole insurrection. Guerrero was a thorn in the side of the Spanish, who had nearly succeeded in stamping out the rebellion for good. Viceroy Apodaca called in Juan Pedro Guerrero and made him an offer. If he could persuade his son to surrender, then Vicente would be pardoned and allowed home. Moreover, the viceroy would personally bestow upon the old man a plot of land, and the finances to maintain it. The family would be rich. They'd soar in hierarchy of their people. They would be made. All he had to do was make his son stop.

It must have broken Vicente's heart to look into his father's eyes. The old man had sought him out in the mountains, where the rebel army were concealed from the Realistas. There was the poverty of his childhood, represented in the lines of his father's face. All of the struggles and doing without, that had allowed his parents to put food into the bellies of their children. The humiliation of having to ask distant relatives for charity, to give their son a trade. It could be over; and his father wanted it to be over. It was either that or a hopeless cause, where the end was almost inevitably going to be the firing squad.

Guerrero's men were watching him. His defection would probably be their defection too. His was the reckless spirit, which kept them going. Guerrero hesitated for a long time before answering. When he did, he addressed the small army, "Compañeros, this old man is my father. He has come to offer me rewards in the name of the Spaniards. I have always respected my father, but my country comes first." Juan broke down into tears. He knelt in the dust and wrapped his arms around his son's legs. In front of them all, he begged. It had been a heart-wrenching decision, but Vicente stuck with it. "My motherland is first."

Agustín de Iturbide
Agustín de Iturbide

A year later, the viceroy sent a renewed force, under the command of the charismatic Agustín de Iturbide, to deal with Guerrero. Over the next two months, Guerrero's guerillas were victories in a number of small squirmishes. They knew the terrain too well and Iturbide was more sorted to leading in open battlefields. However, another way of looking at this was that Iturbide wasn't trying very hard. The Realista general had his own rebellious sympathies and, for months, had been initiating a whispering campaign amongst his own troops. Bribes oiled some palms; promises, politics and passion stirred the sentiments of others. He was ready to swop sides and take his considerable army with him.

On January 10, 1821, Iturbide sent a letter to Guerrero. It proposed that they join forces to take the country. It outlined three guarantees that Iturbide was prepared to honor: Mexican independence from Spain; the abolition of the caste system, creating equality for all Mexicans; and Roman Catholicism as the official state religion. It was a suspicious development, but Guerrero had no doubt that the offer was genuine. The intelligence seeping through, from Mexico City, told its own story. However, a question mark hung over Iturbide's motivation. The general was an ambitious man.

Just under five years previously, the viceroy had embarrassed Iturbide, accusing him of siphoning off Realista funds and profiteering from the war. Iturbide had been relieved of his post. It had taken a year, and the services of an auditor, to regain his position. The viceroy had eventually withdrawn the charges and reinstated Iturbide, but the slur to his character remained. It rankled with the proud general.

Without the rebellion going on, Iturbide might have staged a military coup anyway. But with the rebellion, and, more to the point, with Guerrero on side, Iturbide could just win the hearts and minds of the people too. Guerrero was popular. His support would ensure a smooth transition of governments; and if the price was Mexican independence, then that suited Iturbide too. He came from a high-ranking and wealthy Criollo family, landowners of a Vallodolid hacienda. His father, Joaquín de Iturbide, was descended from Basque nobility. Agustín de Iturbide was willing to become Mexico's first Emperor.

Emperor Agustín I

Guerrero conidered it. Many believed that, if Mexican independence was to happen, then its first leader should be the man who'd kept the flame alive during those hopeless years. But Guerrero looked in a mirror and saw his African ancestry staring back. He knew that the elite in society would rail at that. These were the people with the funds and connections to start a brand new rebellion, after independence was secured. The mass of the lower classes would be right behind him, but whom did that serve?

Guerrero was not a politician. The letter, which had prompted these deliberations, had had to be read to him, because Guerrero was not formally educated. He couldn't read. He could speak a dozen languages, all of the dialects of the indigenious Indians and Mexicans, whom he'd encountered on the drover trails and in the military. But he was not a stateman. He didn't know the etiquette and old school tie intrigues, that would swarm around a man on the international stage. His people would be ill served by his fumbling the opportunity. They would be better off with Iturbide presenting policies that Guerrero could negotiate in the background.

GuerreroIturbide's motivation might be suspect, but Guerrero saw the rebellion's best chance here. Not only for independence from Spain, but for its continuation as a valid country in its own right. A future without civil war. Once which could have its constitution forged in the human and civil rights manifesto of the whole insurgency. One where all of its people, not just the elite, could have personal opportunities; education; job prospects; freedom from crippling servitude and tributes, which kept those at the bottom in absolute poverty.

Iturbide could take the country; Guerrero could keep it peaceful. Iturbide would be acceptable to the higher classes; Guerrero could render him acceptable to the lower classes. With so many personal sacrifices behind him, Guerrero let the greatest prize of all slip from his fingers. In a series of meetings with Iturbide, Guerrero agreed to not challenge him for the position of leader. He would be the second in command.

Plan de IgualaGuerrero also knew where Guadalupe Victoria was hiding. He'd been in contact with him throughout the man's public disappearance. Guerrero called Victoria in now and secured his support for the proposal. On February 21, 1821, a proclaimation of independence was made. The Plan de Iguala set out the three guarantees that would accompany independence. The merged armies of Iturbide and Guerrero stood behind it. It was common knowledge that they were making preparations to march upon Mexico City.

When the end came, it was a bloodless coup. Juan O'Donojú had only recently been installed as viceroy, having arrived in Veracruz on July 21, 1821. But he read the situation well. He knew that the Spanish were going to be defeated. The combination of Iturbide and Guerrero meant that practically the entire country was behind them. The viceroy could't even leave Veracruz. It wasn't safe. Six weeks after setting foot in the country, O'Donojú issued a counter proclaimation. He was prepared to meet with the leaders and to put into law some of their demands.

In September, 1821, While Guerraro and Bravo dealt with the isolated pockets of Realista defense, Iturbide met with the viceroy and discussed terms of surrender. O'Donojú acknowledged that Mexican independence was inevitable, but used all of his political acrumen to ensure as little bloodshed as possible, in the withdrawal of the Spanish.

By the 22nd, all Realistas had left Mexico City. On September 24th, 1821, the insurgents, headed by Iturbide, Guerraro and Victoria, entered it. Three days later, Viceroy O'Donojú signed the Act of Independence. Mexico was now a free country.

Liberating Mexico

Where to Visit:

* Tixtla de Guerrero, Guerrero. Originally called simply Tixtla, this town is the birthplace of Vicente Guerrero. Both the 'de Guerrero' and the state are named in honor of him. The house in which he was born still stands, in the suburb of San Isidro (originally Tlaltelulco). There is a monument, outside the house, and a plaque on the wall. The site also includes a memorial garden. The town itself contains a statue of Vicente Guerrero.

September 16, 2010

Los Insurgentes: The Guerilla Fighters Pt 2

Pedro Moreno

Lagos, in modern day Jalisco, was an important commercial hub, right in the heart of Mexico. In 1563, the area had merely been a crossroads, between two main highways, cutting through Guachichile Indian territory. These indigenious people so habitually attacked Spanish trading convoys, that the viceroy of the time, Luis de Velasco, ordered the area to be defended. It was decided that the best option would be the foundation of a trading town.

La Villa de Santa Maria de los Lagos was strategically settled by Spaniards, but, from its very inception, it had proved a hotbed of tension, between the settlers and the natives. Within 20 years, all but eight of the original settlers had fled or been killed. The viceroy responded by scattering land titles all over the town and its environs. The Spanish families, which took up this bounty, had to be fierce, desperate or downright foolhardy. Nevertheless, they came.

Lagos de Morenos, Jalisco.

By 1775, Lagos was a thriving town, on the eve of being reclassified as a city. Fortunes were made and lost here, as entrepeneurs rose from the masses and industries were created. This was in stark contrast to the hardships experienced by many of those living on its outskirts. In short, Lagos was like a microcosm of the country itself. Wealth in the hands of the few; poverty suffered by the exploited majority.

Born in the town, on January 18th, 1775, Pedro Moreno y González was one of the few. The Morenos of Lagos were not nobility; there were no fancy titles to be handed on. But there was land and money. Lots of it. His family owned several haciendas, dotting the Comanja foothills. This included Hacienda de La Daga, in Lagos itself, where the infant Moreno first saw the light of day. Moreover, he was the eldest son and heir. All of this would one day be his to command.

Hacienda de La Daga.

Moreno was well educated, as befit his future responsibilities. As a young teenager, he was sent away from home for further education in Jalisco's capital city, Guadalajara. Moreno entered Seminario de Guadalajara (Guadalajara Seminary), where he specialized in law studies. However, tragedy was to strike before he achieved his degree. In 1793, when Moreno was just 18 years old, his father, Manuel, died. School was over. Moreno had to now be a man. He was in charge of the family fortunes.

Back in Lagos, Moreno did what he was born to do. He managed his family's haciendas, with their huge herds of cattle. Lagos was the epicentre of a booming cattle trade, which stretched as far afield as the states of Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí. This was the source of the family wealth and Moreno oversaw that side of the business too. He too needed an heir now, to continue after he had gone. Moreno met and married Rita Pérez Franco. When his son, Juan, was born at Hacienda de La Daga, it must have seemed that the infant's life was destined to be a carbon-copy of his father's before him. However, Pedro Moreno was about to make decisions that would change everything.

Pedro Moreno.

It is hardly surprising that Lagos, with its history of aminosity between Spanish settlers and the local people, should have felt the quickening of the insurgent rising. Dolores was only a few miles to the east. As Hidalgo's Army of the Americas passed close by, it received an influx of new recruits from Lagos. The town's Spanish governors were nervous. The slightest suspicion of rebel sympathies could turn into intense scrutiny of the person involved. Actual participation was quickly punished.

Our Lady of La AsunciónA local man, nicknamed Camarena, briefly became a captain under Hidalgo. He was captured and executed, in 1811. His body was hung up, on the Camino Real a México highway, where it snaked through the center of town. It remained there, rotting away, as a deterrent to those who would follow in his footsteps.

Others did follow though; and their heads or bodies joined Camarena, in a grisly roadside display. At the end of the war, 305 insurgents were finally interred in the cemetery of Lago's main parish church, Our Lady of La Asunción.

As the owner of a wealthy network of haciendas, Moreno was one of the class of people against whom many of the insurgents railed. The policies, espoused by the like of Hidalgo, would cause a severe drop in profits, should they ever become law. Moreover, Moreno's family owed the acquisition of their land to the ancient generosity of an earlier viceroy. It might, therefore, have been expected that Moreno would be loyal to the crown. He was not. Moreno was convinced that Mexico's submission to a Napoleonic Spain was detrimental to his country.

At the start of the insurgency, Moreno had used his trading links to establish contact with its leaders. He offered support, in whichever way was deemed most useful. He was not called upon to fight. He was more valuable exactly where he was. With a busy commercial route comes information and Moreno was positioned at the crossroads of two of them. His own status, amongst the highest etchleon of Lagos society, also meant that he had the finger on the pulse of opinion and strategy there. Moreover, Moreno could easily smuggle supplies to wherever they needed to be. He had the money and the commercial contacts to deliver anything to anywhere.

Colonial Lagos by RagefrostHidalgo and his fellow leaders were executed; Morelos took over, at the head of the insurgency. Moreno's role in it never changed. He was as valuable to Morelos, as he had been to Hidalgo. All of this was done under the very noses of Lagos's paranoid Spanish governors, but Moreno's luck held for four years.

In 1814, Moreno was tipped off that his hacienda was about to be raided. There had been the threat of it for years. He had had visits and quiet words in his ear. Some of the words had not been so quiet. He had been warned that, should proof of his activities be discovered, then he would be arrested. The decomposing bodies of insurgents, hanging in the town's center, spelt out very clearly what could happen next. The threats of imprisonment became stronger and more incessant. Sometimes, Moreno thought that they might arrest him anyway, proof or not. Now that time had come.

Moreno took his wife and children with him, when he fled. He would rather have them where he could protect them. He was determined that there would be no revenge executions upon his children; there would be no ransoming them, if they were to be captured to lure him in. Removed from his haciendas, and consequently his trading routes, Moreno was no longer useful as a supplier and informant. He took up arms instead.

The Moreno family went south, to the lowlands of central Mexico. They had a property there, Hacienda La Sauceda, in El Bajío. El Bajío was an important agricultural region. The sheer volume of crops, that were harvested and traded out of there, earned it the nickname 'the breadbasket of the country'. It was here, starting in the nearby village of Comanja de Corona, that Pedro Moreno recruited his own rebel army. It was made up entirely of farmers.

Filling the horizon to the north-east were the mountains, the Sierra de Comanja. Moreno knew that Morelos had a small force hidden there, because Moreno had been keeping them supplied with provisions for years. He marched his new army there now, so to join Morelo's men and establish communication with their leader.

Sierra de Comanja

Those fighting from there were all military thinkers. Moreno brought an extra dimension to their strategies. He looked down from the mountains and saw the economic importance of the land below. There was bustling Lagos, the beating heart of commerce, with its roads, snaking like arteries, carrying the lifeblood of trade out into the rest of Mexico. There was the quiet Bajío, with its fields blanketing the landscape, awaiting the harvest to feed the country. Its loss could cripple the Spanish government. Its control could consolidate the insurgency.

Moreno took the initiative in building a fort, from which the rebel army could operate. He chose Cerro El Sombero, an imposing hill, nestled within the mountain range. El Sombero was so called because its upper reaches resembled the hat. That unique shape also made it eminently defensible, as well as providing a panoramic view over the region.

El Fuerte del Sombrero (the fort of Sombrero) was constructed quickly, sturdily and professionally. Its closest neighbouring community was Comanja de Corona, in Guanajuato state; but the hill itself was three miles over the border, under Jalisco's jurisdiction. Local authority confusion, over whose problem it was, could only help Moreno's cause.

El Fuerte del Sombrero

It took three years for the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) to take El Fuerte del Sombrero. During this time, Moreno commanded his forces from it, even after Morelos was executed and the insurgency seemed doomed. Moreno was unable to actually take the whole region, but that was not for want of trying. His men rampaged across the landscape, disrupting trade and meeting the Realistas in battle. Guns and cannonfire rang out frequently from the fort's buttresses, as Realista regiments made unsuccessful attempts to overwhelm it.

Inside, El Fuerte del Sombrero also acted as a place of refuge for passing insurgent fighters. A primitive hospital was established, within its protection, for those needing somewhere to heal from their wounds. Personal disaster struck here for Moreno. His eldest son, Juan Moreno Pérez, was killed in battle at the fort. He was only 15 years old.

Shortly afterwards, there was more bad news. Moreno's daughter, Guadalupe Moreno Pérez, had been hidden with Padre Antonio Bravo. Realista soldiers broke into the Hacienda La Cañada, in La Cañada Grande de San Felipe, Guanajuato, where the two were living. Padre Bravo was arrested and sent to Aguascalientes prison, where he soon died. Moreno had no idea what had happened to Guadalupe. His young daughter had simply been seized by Realistas and nothing more was heard.

As the days of the insurgency darkened, El Fuerte del Sombrero also became known meeting place for those wanting to join it. On June 24th, 1817, it brought to Moreno's door one of the rebellions more colorful characters, Francisco Javier Mina.

Francisco Javier Mina

Francisco Xavier Mina
Francisco Javier Mina

Few revolutionaries have blazed a path quite as bright and fast as Francisco Javier Mina. He came like a comet, in April 1817, and was dead six months later. In the meantime, he caused havoc.

Alone amidst the 14 Independence heroes, Mina wasn't Mexican. Some commentators try to make him seem so, by spelling his middle name Xavier, in the Mayan way, but Mina was Spanish. His parents, Juan Mina and Maria Lerrea, were affluent farmers, still living back home, in his native Oteo, Navarre. However, Mexico wasn't the only country fighting for its independence during this period of history. In fact, the whole point of the Mexican rebellion, at least inititally, was that Spain had been invaded by France.

In 1808, as Napoleon's troops appeared in his neighbourhood, 18 year old Mina had given up on his ambition to become a lawyer. He'd taken to the hills, with a group of ten like-minded friends, and formed a guerilla army in defense of his country. A natural born leader, Mina soon became their de facto officer. He organized raids upon the French.

Within a year, Mina was at the helm of 1,200 infantry men and 150 mounted cavalry. Their arms and horses had all been stolen from their enemies. For the next twelve months, Mina met Napoleon's men in open battle. He was reasonably successful. But, in March 1810, just two months after his 20th birthday, Mina was caught. For four years, he languished in Château de Vincennes, a state prison, situated just east of the French capital city, Paris.

Château de Vincennes
Château de Vincennes

Napoleon's government collapsed, in April 1814, which allowed Mina to go home. He was warmly welcomed in Spain. The newly reinstated King Ferdinand VII made him a colonel, in the Navarre Hussars. But all was not well. The monarch had returned from exile as a despot. One of his first acts had been to dismantle the democratically elected government, and all of their reforms, which had been established in Spain during Ferdinand's absense. Within weeks of finally being a legal soldier, Mina was a rebel again.

Unfortunately, the coup against the king failed and Mina was forced to flee Spain. He crossed the border into France, but that was hardly a country where he would be safe. Mina kept moving, eventually sailing to England. Here he could finally relax and try to work out what he was going to do with his life.

In England's capital city, London, Mina discovered other Spanish-speaking refugees. They weren't all from Spain. Some were from the New Spain colonies and circulating amongst them was a newspaper, 'El Español'. It was full of articles about all of the insurgency movements in the Caribbean, as countries there sought independence from Spain. Mina tracked down one of its editors, Mexican Roman Catholic priest, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier.Fray Servando Teresa de Mier Mina wanted to be brought up to date. He wanted to know if there was anything here that could help him bring down Ferdinand VII.

Fray Servando Teresa de Mier must have thought that all of his birthdays had come at once. He had spent years in a Seville prison, after writing an essay in support of Mexican independence. His newspaper now chiefly existed to further that cause. Now he had an experienced insurgent colonel asking for his advice. Mier wasted no time in replying. The best way to remove Ferdinand VII was to fight in the colonies. Might he suggest Mexico?

It wasn't difficult to acquire ships, men and arms in England. The British might have fought on the Spanish side against Napoleon, but they had also been locked out of the wealth of the Spanish New World for centuries. It had only been 34 years since Britain had also been kicked out of their own North American colonies. An independent Mexico, in which Britain had some interests, would suit her very well.

Mina took two ships across the Atlantic, and into the Gulf of Mexico, landing on Galveston Island, Texas, in April 1817. There he found the pirates, Jean LaFitte and Louis-Michel Aury, who had established a colony there. Texas was in Mexico at the time, which kept them safe from the American authorities. They were able to give Mina the latest information about the insurgency.

It may be assumed that LaFitte kept Mina's ships. Mina and his men set sail for the Mexican mainland, but they were ferried there in Louis-Michel Aury's fleet. (LaFitte used the diversion to gain overall control of Galveston, forcing Aury off it.) Landing in Soto la Marina, Tamaulipas, on April 15th, 1817, was the point of no return. Their ships gone, Mina led his army of 250 men into Veracruz. His plan was to find the rebel leader, Guadalupe Victoria. Their insurgency had begun.

Unfortunately, Victoria's had just been put on hold. No-one, in the Veracruz countryside, knew where he was. At least, if they did, they weren't about to share that information with a Spanish colonel. Mina looked like a Realista.

Hacienda del Cojo
Hacienda del Cojo

However, Mina knew how to play this game and the first thing he needed was horses. He raided Hacienda del Cojo, in González, Tamaulipas, making off with 700 horses. Then he headed into the Sierra de Tanchipa (Tanchipa Mountains). From there, he conducted a series of raids on Spanish properties, gathering intelligence along the way. It took him just over two months to learn about Pedro Moreno and El Fuerte del Sombrero. Mina immediately headed south.

Moreno and Mina

On June 24th, 1817, Mina was presented to Moreno. Devastated by the death of his son, and worried sick by the disappearance of his daughter, Moreno was only too happy to receive him. Here was a military man, who could bring his experience to bear on making the fort even more effective. Moreno immediately handed over control of it to the Spaniard.

francisco javier minaFor the next couple of months, Mina led raids and open battles from the fort. They were highly successful, refilling the storerooms and enflaming the morale of the insurgents stationed there. Sometimes it was personal. The Marquis Juan de Moncada had originally supported the insurgency, but had turned coat to join the Realistas. His Hacienda de Jaral de Berrios was in the area, so Mina led an attack on it. They returned with over 300,000 pesos for the fort's coffers.

Such intensified and, above all, markedly more professional activity did not go unnoticed by the viceroy. On August 1st, 1817, Colonel Pascual Liñán was sent, with a massive Realista force, to take the fort. Mina was good, but not that good. At first, they managed to repel the Realistas, but Liñán simply laid seige to the fort. As seiges go, it wasn't brilliant. Moreno was able to bring it up once, on August 15th, leading a column of men out into battle. The Realistas returned.

Mina was also able to sneak out. On August 8th, news had reached them that another insurgent, José Antonio Torres, was in trouble, at Fuerte de los Remedios, Pénjamo, Guanajuato. Mina and a small army rode to his rescue. He was able to defeat the Realistas there, before returning.

Mina wasn't in the fort when, on August 20th, Liñán began a renewed attack. At the 11th hour, Moreno fled, hiding in a ravine until the coast was clear. Those trapped inside weren't so lucky. These were mainly the injured and infirm, claiming sanctuary within the fort's makeshift hospital. Liñán gave no quarter. They were all executed where they lay.

The rebel army slowly regrouped in the mountains, where both Moreno and Mina joined them. With the fort lost, they decided to head towards Guanajuato. Here they could use Torres's fort as a base, from which they could attack the city of Guanajuato itself. They arrived there on October 25th, but the Realistas were too strong.

Rancho de El Venadito
Rancho de El Venadito

The insurgents were forced to flee again. This time, they met up at Hacienda de la Luz, where Mina ordered the army to disperse. They were to make their way home and await the call for further orders. Only a small band of 60 men stayed with Mina and Moreno, while they hid at Rancho de El Venadito. This ranch was on the road to Pénjamo, where Torres could help them. For now, it was time for a strategic rethink of the situation.

They didn't get chance to put any plans into action. At 6am, two days later, Colonel Francisco Orrantia descended upon the ranch, with a regiment of Realistas. Pedro Moreno was on the porch, drinking coffee, and he was taken by surprise. He was not about to be arrested without a fight. He was killed there.

Mina was taken prisoner and taken to Silao, where he saw Moreno's decapitated head on a stick. Orrantia waited for Colonel Liñán to join him, before Mina was given a farcical trial. The result was never in question. On November 11th, 1817, Mina was marched to within sight of Fuerte de los Remedios. At 27 years old, he was executed by firing squad.

Where to Visit:

* Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco. Once simply Lagos, this town is the birthplace of Pedro Moreno. It added the 'de Moreno' to its name in his honor. The Esplanade de La Merced (Church of La Merced) was where Moreno's head was displayed.

Plaza Rinconada de Capuchinas, in the city, contains beautiful gardens, surrounded by buildings dating to Moreno's time. A staircase links the gardens with the Temple de Señor San José. Upon the walls of this staircase is a mural, created by Gabriel Flores in 1962, which commemorates Pedro Moreno.

Padre Miguel Hidalgo once preached a sermon, from the balcony of an inn, in the city's Rinconada de la Merced. There is a plaque there to mark the place.

Casa de Don Pedro Moreno (The House of Pedro Moreno) is in Lagos's El Mesón de Jesús María district. It only technically belonged to Moreno, as he assumed the guardianship of its real owner, a deaf girl, when she was orphaned. There are murals, on its walls, depicting many members of the family, including Pedro, Rita and one of their sons, Luis.

In the El Paseo de la Rivera district, there is a bronze statue of Pedro Moreno. It is inscribed, 'Héroe del Fuerte del Sombrero' (Hero of Sombrero Fort).

* Comanja de Corona, Jalisco. There is a monument here to Pedro Moreno.

* Guadalajara, Jalisco. The Museo Regional De Guadalajara (Regional Museum of Guadalajara) is housed in the building of the original Guadalajara Seminary. In its former incarnation, Pedro Moreno was one of its students.

September 15, 2010

Los Insurgentes: The Guerilla Fighters Pt 1

execution of MorelosSometimes, the road to independence can feel like a relay race. As one leader is captured and executed, another picks up the fallen baton and runs with it. They do not operate in a vacuum, but build upon the momentum of those who went before. But they do so in full knowledge of what awaits them, should they fail. They have to inspire and incite people, who have watched their compatriots killed or sold into slavery. They have to plan their strategies, aware of the torture meted out to Morelos; in the certainty of the firing squad beyond it all. Yet they did it anyway.

As Morelos fell in a hail of bullets, not one but several people rushed to take his place in the rebellion. It was a period which saw the rise, not of vast armies of the dispossessed, but smaller bands of guerilla fighters. This is the story of four of them.

Victor Rosales

Before Hidalgo's shout had even gone up in Dolores, Victor Rosales was in trouble as an insurgent. He'd moved to Mexico City, with the intention that he would become a lawyer. To this end, he'd enrolled at the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México (the Royal and Pontifical University) to study law. This particular establishment had also educated Hidalgo, Morelos and Quintana Roo. Ironically, none of them had managed to be expelled for speaking up against the Spanish government in Mexico. Rosales did just that.

Without the qualifications, Rosales couldn't work as a lawyer. He'd had to return to his home city of Zacatecas, in Zacatecas state. He set up in commerce instead, but with a certain sense of dissatisfaction. This was not what he wanted to do with his life. He was 34 years old, when Hidalgo roused the Army of the Americas. Now Rosales knew what he wanted to do. It didn't take him long to close shop and rush to join the insurrection.

Victor Rosales
Victor Rosales

Rosales became attached to the regiment of Ignacio López Rayón. They marched north and participated in all of the battles that marked Hidalgo's campaign. Rosales was reasonably close to the center of action, because of his regiment. López Rayón was Hidalgo's private secretary. When the padre announced that he was forming a government and López Rayón was named as the Secretary of State. However, shortly afterwards, both López Rayón and Rosales escaped the capture and execution that befell the leaders of their cause.

López Rayón led his regiment back to the south and into Rosales's home city. Zacatecas was an important target. The population were mostly sympathetic to the insurgency; plus there were munitions manufacturers working there. López Rayón decided to take it for the rebels. There was resistance from the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) stationed there, resulting in a series of pitched battles. But, on April 15th, 1811, the rebels emerged victorious.

With Zacatecas under his control, López Rayón was able to regroup, recruit and arm his troops. It was a decidedly larger force that left, to join Morelos's campaign in the south, than had arrived. It was also inevitable that the Realistas would try to regain Zacatecas. López Rayón needed to leave behind someone he could trust to defend the city. He left Rosales.

Victor Rosales

Rosales ensured that a steady stream of weapons made their way out of Zacatecas, down to Morelos's army in the south. When the stakes were high enough, he was also called upon to join them personally, bringing his own small army with him. He was present at the Battle of Uruapan. The city was then temporarily used as Morelos's insurgent capital.

In January 1813, Rosales returned again for the attack on Valladolid and, a couple of weeks later, the Battle of Puruarán. They both ended in defeat for the insurgents, with the latter also costing the life of Mariano Matamoros, the movement's second in command. It was demoralizing for all of the Army of the Americas, but, for Rosales, there was an added sting. His prolonged absense from Zacatecas had given the Realista General José María Navarrete an opportunity to enter it.

Navarrete's Realistas stationed themselves in the corn exchange building, in the Plaza de St Augustine. On September 25, 1813, Rosales led his troops into the city, in a bid to overwhelm the mainshift barracks. The Realistas fought back fiercely enough that Rosales sounded the retreat. It wasn't a defeat, but neither was it victory. While they'd not regained control of the city, nor even the corn exchange, they had managed to steal several cases of munitions from the Realistas.

Portal de Rosales
Portal de Rosales, Zacatecas (on the site of the barracks)

However, in the confusion of the rebel flight to safety, Rosales had lost sight of his eleven year old son. Most of the Rosales family were now involved in the struggle; and they lived in this city. Young Timoteo Rosales Gordoa had been there, at the barracks, but now he was in the hands of Realista soldiers. Timotheo was dragged in front of Navarrete, who recognised him immediately. He had no hesitation in giving his order. Shoot the boy, as a message to the people that insurrection would be given no quarter. His father viewed it as an act of revenge. Navarrette could not catch Rosales himself, so he'd killed his child.

In 1814, Morelos promoted Rosales to Field Marshal. He put him in charge of the insurgent activities in Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Michoacan region. For the next four years, Rosales harried the Realistas in those states, even after Morelos's execution left the insurrection in a dire situation. However, lack of resources meant that Rosales was never able to successfully take back his city.

On May 20, 1817, Realista Generals Miguel Muñoz and Miguel Barragan combined their forces against Rosales's men. They met at El rancho de la Campana, in Ario, Michoacán. But it was one fight too many for Rosales. He was killed in action, under the onslaught of the Realista artillery.

Until this year, the location of Rosales's grave was unknown. Then, in May 2010, the remains of the heroes of the independence were removed from their crypt, beneath the Angel of Independence, in Mexico City. Forensic examination revealed that Rosales had been amongst his compatriots all along.

Guadalupe Victoria

Guadalupe VictoriaFor some, it's not enough to merely be prepared to die for your cause. They want something - a tattoo; an endless retelling of events; a medal; a badge of honor; a symbol; a secret language - anything that would mark them out as having been there. Enpassioned with a righteous belief that the cause is all that matters and, even should they die, they want their participation in it to be paramount. They want the world to remember them and it in the same breath. It's that important.

It was after the Battle of Oaxaca that the Fernández brothers decided to change their name. Miguel and Francisco had heard the call of Padre Morelos and left their white collar jobs to take up arms. Thus it was that they were here, on November 25th, 1812, walking in triumph though the gates of one of the richest cities in Mexico. Inside, Morelos would find a reserve of silver bars. It promised to fund the rest of the insurgency. Independence had to be just around the corner.

Miguel, the elder of the two brothers, was particularly enflamed by events. He had played a prominent role in the Battle of Oaxaca and that had been noticed. Life had been slightly disappointing for the 26 year old, until now. Miguel was epileptic (a seizure would eventually kill him). He had trained as a lawyer, at Colegio de San Ildefonso, in Mexico City, but had only been able to find work as a teacher. Then Mexico had erupted to the call of Hidalgo's independence movement. Miguel had already been named Congressman for his native Durango, in Morelos's rebel government. It was heedy stuff and Miguel Fernández was riding the crest of this wave all of the way.

Hidalgo's banner
Hidalgo's Banner

His birth certificate said that he was José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix, son of Manuel Fernández and Alejandra Félix, of Tamazula, Durango. From now on, he would answer only to a name that encompassed all the hopes, dreams and passions of the insurgency. Guadalupe Victoria. Guadalupe, after the Virgin of Guadalupe, that incarnation of Mary, Mother of Christ, favored by the lower classes. She was the symbol of their insurrection. Ever since Hidalgo had raised them in Her name and stuck Her picture on his lance as their flag, they had marched under the divine protection of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Victoria, as in the Spanish for victorious. ¡Guadalupe Victoria! ¡Mexicanos, viva México!

His younger brother could hardly change his first name to the same thing. That would be too confusing. Francisco Fernández settled for just matching his surname with that of his brother. Francisco Victoria.

By 1814, Guadalupe Victoria had been assigned the leadership of all insurgency movements around the Veracruz area. With an army of 2,000 men, he harried the Realistas (Spanish army in Mexico) throughout the area.

Guadalupe Victoria
Guadalupe Victoria

For a year, his headquarters were in the rebel stronghold of Puente del Rey, close to the main highway between the Veracruz capital, Xalapa, and its main port, Veracruz. This was a road that Realistas were often forced to travel along. The port was the gateway to Spain. The fort, at Puente del Rey, acted as a great watchtower, with commanding views across the entire terrain. Many Realista convoy were intercepted, after being spotted from it. Prisoners and supplies were taken for the rebels.

After the capture and execution of Morelos, the Spanish viceroy thought that he'd won. He wrote home to Spain that the insurgency was under control; and he was confident enough to offer pardons to those who just went home. Many did, but Guadalupe Victoria was not one of them. He had a job to do and that was to maintain the pressure on the Realistas in Veracruz. He stayed to do his job. Even more remarkably, all 2,000 of his men stayed with him.

Nevertheless, the going was tough and there weren't supplies of artillery and practical things, like food, getting through. Victoria's men survived on what they took from the Realistas or were given, as donations, from local supporters. In late 1815, they lost Puente del Rey.

Puente del Rey
Puente del Rey

For two years, the troop were constantly on the move, throughout the Veracruz and Puebla regions. Harrassing the Realistas where they could; or, occasionally, actually meeting them in pitched battle. They knew that they weren't as alone as the Spanish would have them believe. Victoria was in sporadic contact with other isolated leaders. He had to keep the faith that it was only a matter of time before the insurgency gathered momentum again. Then the country would be free.

In 1817, Victoria's forces suffered a crushing defeat, at the hands of the Realistas, near to the small town of Palmillas, in Veracruz. Demoralized, Victoria went into hiding. He spent some time in a cave, near to the city of Puebla. Later, he transferred to a hacienda, in Paso de Ovejas, Veracruz. He was under the very noses of the Realistas there, as the hacienda bordered Puente del Rey, the fort that he had lost to them. He was not discovered.

Victoria was to remain concealed from the Realistas for four years. He emerged, in 1821, at the request of another rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, to read over a proposition. Victoria helped negotiate the terms of independence, on behalf of the insurgents. A few months later, he was one of three men at the helm of the vast army that swept into Mexico City, to claim their country's independence.

In 1824, Guadalupe Victoria became Mexico's first president.

Guadalupe Victoria
President Guadalupe Victoria

Where to Visit:

* Villa de Tamazula, Durango. This village was the birthplace of Guadalupe and Francisco Victoria. There is a monument to Guadalupe in the main plaza. The house in which he was born is also still standing and may be viewed by the public.

* Calera de Víctor Rosales, Zacatecas.

* Zacatecas, Zacatecas. The birthplace and home city of Victor Rosales. The Portal de Rosales, a local meeting place and monument to him, was built on the site of the old corn exchange, in 1827. This had been the spot where the Realistas had their barracks and where Rosales's 11 year old son was executed.

* Puente Nacional, Veracruz. After independence was achieved, many placenames lost their reference to the Spanish crown. Puente del Rey was no exception. The fort held by Guadalupe Victoria is here. There's a pleasant walk up to it and replicas of soldiers to show how it was defended.

September 14, 2010

Los Insurgentes: The Warrior Priest

José María MorelosPadre José María Morelos's orders were clear. All he had to do was travel back into south of Mexico and raise troops for the Army of America; then take the city of Acapulco. He was also to disrupt the trade routes. New Spain's economy was did very well out of commerce with the Philippine Islands. If that was to stop, then the viceroy would lose a lot of funds. Ok. Morelos leapt back onto his horse and rode away.

Morelos had an impressive résumé. His dad was a carpenter, so Morelos had picked up some of the skills of that trade as a child. He was physically fit and strong. Years working with his back to the sky in the plantations had seen to that. He was a man of letters. He'd been an accountant. He'd organized the administrative side of a large hacienda. He was an scholar, with degrees under his belt. He was a man of vision and design. He'd overseen construction work. He was a great priest. None of which precisely amounted to any military experience at all.

He had followed Padre Miguel Hidalgo's academic route into the priesthood. The Roman Catholic seminaries and universities had been great for learning about theology; but they had been woefully lacking in classes on warfare, battlefield strategic thinking and the practicalities of leading an army. Up in the north, where Hidalgo himself was the general, this ommission was distrastrously telling. He had been forced to give up command of the army to Allende and Aldama - two military men, who actually knew what they were doing.

Down in the south, Morelos was having none of that trouble. For years, he had been inspired by Hidalgo to reach beyond himself. He could be whatever he wanted to be. It never crossed Morelos's mind that he didn't have the skill to lead an army. If Hidalgo was doing it, then so should he. Morelos knew that he was a clever man, all he had to do was apply himself to the job in hand. The difference between himself and Hidalgo, so it transpired, was that Morelos was a natural. He proved to be a talented strategist. His prowess turned out to be so great, that he has gone down in history as one of most outstanding military commanders of the War of Independence.

Morelos campaign

But that was all in the near future. For now, Morelos returned home, to his family in San Agustín, Carácuaro, and set about forming his own troops. He was still the parish priest there; however, only 25 men signed up to join him. Undaunted, Morelos led his small party across Michoacán state, drumming up support and boosting his numbers. By the time he'd been through Nocupétaro, Cuahuayutla and Zacatula, it was all looking a bit more respectable. He even had weapons.

'Weapons' might be stretching the definition of the word to breaking point. As with the northern Army of the Americas, what most of Morelos's troops were armed with was the tools of their trade. They were largely drawn from the fields and workshops, carrying their own machetes, scythes and axes. There were a few guns, but nothing to those available to the fully army and trained Realistas (Spanish Army in Mexico). It wasn't until Morelos led his army into Guerrero, gaining recruits there, that he came into possession of his first cannon. They called it El Niño.

Nicolás BravoIt was during this initial call to arms that Morelos was joined by Nicolás Bravo Rueda. Better known as just Nicolás Bravo, this idealistic 23 year old was a native of Chilpancingo, Guerrero. He had arrived with his father, Leonard, and his brothers, Max, Victor and Miguel, as soon as the recruitment drums had sounded in their area.

Their arrival was significant. Leonard was a wealthy plantation owner - the vast Chichihualco farm, in Chilpancingo, belonged to him - and the whole family were Spanish Creole. They represented the very class of people whom the insurgents were fighting, but politically, the Bravo family were right on side. Leonard Bravo was instantly put in charge of a portion of the fledgling army.

By December, 1810, Morelos declared himself ready to move onto the second part of his orders - capture Acapulco. Acapulco, at the time, was a Spanish stronghold. It governed much of the trade into Asia and was protected by the imposing San Diego Fort. The Realistas within it also knew that Morelos was coming. Under the command of Francisco Parés, the Realistas rode out to meet the insurgents, confident of a swift victory. They were wrong. Morelos's leadership was so inspired, and his strategy so sound, that the Battle of Tres Palos resulted in a resounding victory for the rebels.

San Diego Fort
San Diego Fort

Morelos moved on into Acapulco itself and instructed his troops to burn the city down. Much of the population was already inside San Diego Fort, with what was left of the Realistas. This proved impregnable to the insurgents, but they could lay siege to it. This was precisely what they did. With no food or other supplies able to enter the fort, the inhabitants were soon struggling. It took nearly two months for Realista reinforcements to arrive. When they did, they were numerous enough that Morelos was forced to move on.

He hadn't been idle during the seige though. Leaving just enough people to ensure that San Diego Fort was isolated, Morelos had led the rest of his forces on lightning raids into the surrounding towns and villages. The majority of coastal towns of Michoacán and Guerrero were now under his control, all of them denying access to the Pacific Ocean for the viceroy's traders.

News trickled down to the south. Hidalgo, Morelos's hero and mentor, had been arrested, along with all of his high-ranking commanders. With the main Army of the Americas now in disarray, that left the whole insurrection without a leader. Morelos had always followed Hidalgo. Now he was the esteemed padre's successor, in the War of Independence. So be it. This was not the time to give up.

Morelos campaign

The victories went on. Within nine months, Morelos's army had been involved in 22 battles and had won them all. He had even taken the cities of Chilpancingo and Tixtla. As Allende, Aldama, Jiménez, then later Hidalgo, were being executed in Chihuahua, right up in the north, the whole south-west was rising with the rebels. As more people joined them, more places were taken.

Morelos's capture
Morelos's Campaign Trail

It wasn't just the south-west. Nicolás Bravo had ridden north with his commander, Hermenegildo Galeana. They were responsible for the skirmishes breaking out all over Veracruz state during 1811. By 1812, they were gathering in strength and support.

Early in the year, in the port of Veracruz, they nearly succeeded in overthrowing the Spanish governors. As a result, the viceroy had to send many Realistas there, in order to keep the sea link open with Spain. They were successful (until 1820), but that diverted the Spanish troops away from other areas in the state. Galeana and Bravo quickly took advantage of this. Very soon, they had taken the major Veracruz cities of Ayahualulco and Ixhuacán, as well as most of the state itself. Now fearing for Veracruz's capital city, Xalapa, the Realistas had to flee the port to defend it.

Morelos campaign

Back in the south-west, Morelos's insurgency seemed unstoppable. Then came Cuautla.

The city of Cuautla had put up a fierce defense, but Morelos's strategies had won through. The insurgents entered the city on February 19th, 1812. But there they were forced to stay. The Realista general, Félix María Calleja, had rallied his own troops and surrounded them. This was the same general who, two years before, had defeated the Army of the Americas, at Calderón Bridge. He was a brilliant military strategist. Morelos had found his equal.

But not quite. For 72 days, the siege held. Calleja was rigorous in maintaining his circle of highly disciplined soldiers. He didn't just stop supplies getting in, but also kept the city under the constant bombardment of artillery and cannon fire. Nothing that Morelos tried could break their strangehold on the city's perimeter. By late April, the population and troops, imprisoned inside the walls, were reduced to eating cats, rats, and lizards. When they couldn't be found, then it was snails or grasshoppers. However, it was also a stalemate, because Calleja could not break into the city.

José María MorelosThen, on May 2nd, 1812, Morelos tried something new. He simply left the city. It was in the early hours of the morning, when the army, with a handful of civilians, quietly crept out. Silently praying to God, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and anyone who'd listen, they sneaked past the night-watch and made it safely into the countryside.

Calleja was furious, when he discovered them missing, later in the morning. He sent his army after them and managed to engage them in battle. But weak with hunger and out-numbered, Morelos ordered his army to disperse. They did so, individually, in twos or in small groups, regrouping further on. Calleja was incensed, but with the rebels scattered to the wind, he couldn't do much about it. He returned to Cuautla and burned it down, then ordered his army to march back to Mexico City. There he claimed a hollow victory.

Morelos, meanwhile, waited for them to leave, then returned to Cuautla. Now it was firmly in the hands of the insurgents. With his army swelling again, he was able to divide it further, under the leadership of able men. Nicolás Bravo and Hermenegildo Galeana had returned for the fight at Cuautla. Bravo had acquitted himself so well, that Morelos had given him his own forces to command. He'd used them to Calleja, during the siege, when it seemed that the Realistas actually would break through. Now he used them to return to the north-east and to continue to harry the Realistas there.

Mariano MatamorosAnother man had proved himself at Cuautla. This was a Roman Catholic priest, from Mexico City, named Padre Mariano Matamoros y Guridi. Padre Matamoros had sympathized with the rebels from the beginning. He was so outspoken in these sentiments that, in 1810, the Spanish authorities had had him jailed. He had managed to escape from prison, a year later, and had made his way to Morelos. At 41 years old, he had joined the Army of the Americas.

After witnessing Matamoros's skill at Cuautla, Morelos had no hesitation in promoting him to lieutenant general. This effectively made Matamoros the second in command of the whole insurgency.

For the next 18 months, the rebels moved through the south of Mexico. Victory followed victory. They returned to Acapulco and this time managed to take it. Better still, they secured Oaxaca, which was the richest, most populated city in the southern region. From Veracruz, in the north, to the Pacific Ocean in the south, the land was under the control of Morelos.

On September 13, 1813, in Chilpancingo, Padre Morelos read out their declaration of independence. It was entitled Sentimientos de la Nación (Sentiments of the Nation); and its signatories proclaimed themselves the government of an independent Mexico.

Morelos was their president, but he disdained any high or mighty titles for himself. After several suggestions were presented to him, Morelos chose one for himself: Siervo de la Nación (Servant of the Nation). He busied himself, and his administration, with debating several laws, in addition to the 23 points laid out in the declaration.

Statue at Chilpancingo

But then, after that, it all went wrong. Morelos attempted to take his home city of Valladolid, on December 23, 1813. It failed. Worse still, Matamoros was captured. Morelos offered 200 Spanish prisoners in exchange for him, but was turned down. Padre Matamoros was defrocked, excommunicated and tried for treason. He was executed by firing squad, on February 3, 1814, in Valladolid's central plaza.

The insurgents were to win no more decisive battles after that. Morelos tried, but his strategies weren't working out as they once had. By late 1815, his own government voted to strip him of some of his powers on the battlefield. He accepted the decision graciously. But then bad luck turned to catastrophe.

On November 5th, 1815, Morelos was escorting a party of his Congressmen through Tezmalaca, Puebla. Matías Carrasco had once been an insurgent, but he'd swopped sides and was now on patrol at the helm of a troop of Realistas. He knew exactly who Morelos was, when he saw him. Morelos was out-numbered. He only had 200 men with him. Carrasco swooped down and the ensuing battle was very quick. The outcome was inevitable from the start. Morelos was arrested, along with all of the rebels with him.

Morelos's capture

Morelos watched, as 150 of his men were executed by firing squad, in front of him. The remaining 50 were chained and sent to Veracruz. There, they were told, they would be sent to Manila and sold into slavery. Morelos was taken, in chains, to Mexico City. He was tried and found guilty of treason. But the Inquisition also wanted him.

Standing before them, on November 27th, 1815, Morelos was charged with violating celibacy and fathering three children. He didn't deny it. He was defrocked and excommunicated, but there was one special torture reserved for him, which hadn't happened to either Hidalgo nor Matamoros. Morelos was made to kneel, while the areas of skin, which had been touched by holy oils at his ordination, was scraped from his body.

Morelos at the inquistion

Three days later, Morelos was taken to at San Cristobal Ecatepec, north of Mexico City. The village had a large indigenious population. It was thought that executing him there would send a louder message to the remaining insurgents, than doing it in Mexico City. On November 30th, 1815, Morelos was shot dead by a firing squad.

Nicolás Bravo went on to fight valiantly for independence, until 1817, when he too was captured. However, he wasn't executed, but was imprisoned until 1820. Upon gaining his freedom, he immediately resumed his activities in the insurgency. He was there, in 1821, when Mexico finally gained her independence. Later on, Bravo served three terms in office, as the President of Mexico. He died, aged 68, at his family's farm, in Chilpancingo.

Nicolás Bravo
Nicolás Bravo

Where to Visit:

* Chilpancingo de los Bravo, Guerrero. Previously known as Chilpancingo, the 'de los Bravo' was added in honor of the Bravo family. It's also commonly called Ciudad Bravo (Bravo's city). Nicolás Bravo was born there, September 10, 1786. The house of Los Bravos is a popular tourist attraction there.

* Acapulco, Guerrero. Morelos's army attacked and burnt down the city in 1810. The Fort of San Diego contains a museum, with a War of Independence exhibition. On the waterfront, near to the cathedral, is a monument to several heroes of the insurgency, including Morelos.

* Cuautla, Morelos. Morelos and his troops were trapped in this city for nearly three months, in 1812. The city's formal name is now La Heroica e Histórica Cuautla de Morelos (The Heroic and Historical Cuautla of Morelos), in honor of the event. The Morelos Museum, in the city, contains many items from the War of Independence, as well as exhibtions detailing the struggle.

* San Cristobal Ecatepec de Morelos, State of Mexico. This is the city where Morelos was executed. A monument stands at the spot where it happened. The house in which he stayed is now a museum, Museo Casa de Morelo (Morelo's Museum). The 'de Morelos' was added to the name of the city, in 1877, in his honor.
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