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A SOCIALISTIC DESPOT IN YUCATAN
BY GREGORY MASON
STAFF CORRESPONDENT IN MEXICO
This is the third in the series of Mexican articles by Mr. Mason, who has been investigating conditions in Mexico from Yucatan to the American border. The next article will deal with the monopoly of sisal hemp, the “green gold of Yucatan.” Every American who eats bread is affected by this monopoly, for the grain crops of the United States could hardly be harvested without the binder twine which is made from sisal hemp. As a result of the increased price charged by the Yucatan monopoly in 1916 the American farmers paid $4,000,000 more for their binder twine than in 1915.-The EDITORS.
LONG band of yellow cutting the east, in a strip from forty to a hundred miles equal blue of sea and sky. A thin deep back from the coast, the land is all level
crust of green along the upper edge and all gray green. The cause of this color of the yellow. Here and there the white is the henequen, which is everywhere in that speck of a building, and the single warning coastal strip. Above a stump a foot or two finger of a lighthouse. That is Yucatan from from the ground and scaled like a giant pinethe steamer anchorage off Progreso.
apple rises a plant which looks like a cluster There is no harbor, no cove to shelter even of swords. Whatever stem there is is hidden a catboat, and the anchorage is offshore, by the bases of the formidable leaves, pointacross five miles of gently shoaling waters. ing outward in rising whorls. Each leaf is the A feeble thing to stop an ocean liner seems size of a broadsword and exactly the same that far-stretched yellow ribbon, so tenuous shape, except for saw-teeth on each edge and and low.
a lance point at the tip. The color is the Indeed, from the masthead you can see gray.green of a shark's back seen through a water beyond the bar, but beyond that again few feet of crystal tropic brine. Growing is a land as flat and as slaty green as a where little else will grow in the limy soil of billiard cloth.
that land, and growing there with greater ferAt each of the four long piers which tility than anywhere else in the world, this stretch seaward from a group of vast ware- spiky plant, whose commercial value was dishouses roofed with the ubiquitous corrugated covered about ninety years ago, did for that iron of the tropics lie one or two freight land what has been done for others by the steamers and three or four small schooners, discovery of gold. So that's what the natives all of less draught than the liner which the call it—“ the green gold of Yucatan.” shallows hold offshore. On each pier mules This article is not about henequen. But are pulling flat cars back and forth on two you cannot write about the people of this lines of narrow track. The cars coming from colorful State without mentioning what is the the steamers are empty. Those going down main economic reason for their existence, are apparently loaded with bales of a yellow their green gold. Most of the chicle for the straw, which on closer view looks like coarse world's chewing gum comes from the forests and close-packed yellow hair.
of interior Yucatan, valuable woods grow in Hemp it is, sisal hemp, the product of the the same place, and the coast provides fish henequen plant. Those bales are going to and tortoise-shell. Still, what diamonds are New Orleans and New York to be made into to Kimberley and yellow gold to Nome is its binder twine. With that twine is bound most own green gold to Yucatan. of the grain crops of the United States. With- Henequen is one of the two main reasons out the hemp of the henequen plant the why Yucatan is as different fro'n the other American farmers could hardly harvest their States of Mexico as Ulster is different from wheat. And eighty per cent of the world's the rest of Ireland. The other reason is the henequen comes from Yucatan.
Maya Indians. When the little wood-burning locomotive The original people of Yucatan were the has pulled you across the lakes and marshes Maya Indians. They may have been the back of Progreso, you enter the level slaty- original people of the Western Hemisphere. green plain like a vast billiard-table, which you Some ethnologists even believe that the cradle might have seen with glasses from your of the human race was Yucatan. The intesteamer's masthead.
are hunting rior of Yucatan is filled with the cities of the variety of scenery, you ht as well go back. ancient Mayas --most of the building half From the northwest of Yucatan to the south- buried and unexplored. But from the few
A PLANTATION OF HENEQUEN—THE “GREEN GOLD OF YUCATAN From henequen comes the sisal hemp used in making the twine with which most of the grain crops of the United States are bound in sheaves
PEONS SECURING FROM THE REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT THEIR ALLOTMENT OF LAND In this town thirty peasants received each about fifty acres of land; a similar distribution of homesteads throughout Yucatan is a part of the revolutionary ruins which have been brought to light from dor Alvarado, Governor of Yucatan, is more under the refuse of centuries and the growth of a despot than the Czar of Russia or any of the implacable jungle we know that the Oriental potentate, but he has put into pracMaya civilization was high, probably as high tice many of the most radical reforms ever as that of ancient Egypt. The beauty of dreamed of by Socialists and social reformers. these buildings, their strength, and the intri- Yucatan is used to despots. In the whole cacy of the carving and inscriptions prove history of the State there has been only one that the ancient Mayas combined a devel- Governor whose election was in accord with oped sense of the artistic with a knowledge substantial forms of fairness and legality: of writing and no mean understanding of But Alvarado is a new kind of despot. No tools and engineering.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GUERRA
despot in the world's history ever could more When, on his fourth and last voyage in justly say, “ L'état, c'est moi” than Alvarado, 1502, Columbus sighted canoes off the coast and few if any Mexican despots ever had a of Yucatan, he found them filled with the de- better right than he to say that the State was scendants of those ancient Mayas who had lost good. the civilization, and indeed nearly all knowl- Salvador Alvarado was born in the State edge of the civilization, that had been their fore- of Sinaloa, but at an early age moved to the fathers'. To-day the Mayas are the laborers State of Sonora, in northwestern Mexico. of Yucatan, and they live in one-room houses He was a merchant in Cananea when Mawith wattled sides and thatched roofs, prob- dero launched his revolution. Alvarado, who ably similar to those in which their ancestors is a born radical, joined this movement, and lived who built the splendid palaces for the when it was frustrated by the assassination Maya priests and governors at Uxmal and of the little idealist with the big dream, AlvaChichen Itza.
rado joined its continuation as taken up by They are a people who have seen better Carranza. His military career on the west days, but they are still the best Indians in coast was fairly successful, and two years ago Mexico. And the mestizos of Yucatan- he was sent to Yucatan to oust Governor that is, the people of pretty evenly mixed Arguemedo. Arguemedo, although originally Indian and Spanish blood—are a better a Carranzista, took advantage of an attempt people than the other mestizos of Mexico. of some Yucatecans to gain national indeOf course, in Mexico nearly every native has pendence for their State to put himself into some Indian blood in him, but a man in whom the position of supreme power. Alvarado the aboriginal strain is not stronger than ten defeated Arguemedo, and of course, as his or fifteen per cent is accounted “white." reward, was given the Governorship of the No doubt Yucatan is only a name to many
State. Americans to whom Mexico is a concrete Now there is no railway between Yucatan idea. And to many Mexicans Yucatan is and Mexico City. To go to the capital the only a name. On the other hand, scorn of ordinary method is to take a steamer from “ Mexico " -as they call all the other States Progreso to Vera Cruz, and thence continue of the country, for they refuse to admit the by rail. The entire journey is a matter of dependence of Yucatan except for legal three days. Geographically isolated from the purposes—is a sentiment popular with the man who has appointed him, and with heneYucatecans.
quen, one of the richest assets of Mexico, at " We
are not Mexicans, we are Yuca- his command, Alvarado has become virtually tecans,” they will tell you, and they will go on an independent monarch in Yucatan. to relate that Mexico has never done a thing The full story of how he gained and has for Yucatan, never given the State a centavo, kept control of the output of henequen will while Yucatan has always financed the be told in a later article, but it is too long for "mother country.”
recital here. Suffice it to say that he has It is largely true. Two principal sources accomplished this by using an organization of Mexican revenue are the oil-fields of the called the Comision Reguladora del Mercado Tampico region and the henequen-fields of de Henequen, or Commission to Regulate the Yucatan.
Trade in Henequen. This was theoretically With henequen as its economic basis has a volunatry organization of the henequen been erected the strangest government in planters which was intended to control the the world to-day. It is a government which sale of the output of the entire State, but in combines Socialism with despotism. Salva- practice it never worked well. Alvarado,
PHOTOGRAH BY GREGORY MASON
SOCIAL CENTER" IN YUCATAN The church shown in the picture was used as a fort during the recent revolutionary disturbances; then as a school; it is now used as a hall for banquets and town meetings. The groups of natives have gathered to
celebrate the distribution of land
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREGORY MASON
A TYPICAL NATIVE HOUSE WITH THATCHED ROOF