by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
One Summer in Mexico – Part 52
This is history that you will never read in a textbook!
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, insurrections occurred throughout much of southern Mexico, Central America and western South America. This was the game plan of the Soviet Union, using Cuba as its ever obedient lap dog. The Soviet KGB hoped to suck the United States military into dozens of Vietnam Wars and thus precipitate a collapse of the political system and economy of the United States. Ironically, the “Ruskies” as we called them, ultimately did it to themselves, when they became bogged down in Afghanistan. This ultimately resulted in the collapse of almost all Communist dictatorships.
US Naval Intelligence was concerned that rather dull-witted Hawks in the NSA, CIA and US Army Intelligence were taking the bait. President Nixon wanted the US military out of SE Asia and was hesitant to get involved elsewhere. In truth, Nixon also wanted to make it look like the USA had “won” the Vietnam War. That was his downfall. However, he was under extreme pressure from these agencies to get us involved with the internal affairs of Mexico and Guatemala. In fact, the CIA had played a significant role behind the scenes in the 1968 massacres at Tlatilolco Square and the Politecnico in Mexico City. These massacres had spawned several guerilla movements, composed mostly of college students and labor union members, whose friends and siblings had been murdered by the Mexican Army or Federal police.
A mixed-blood Creek Indian architecture student on a fellowship in Mexico, who was also a US Navy ROTC Midshipmen, was the perfect cover to get factual information on these college students, who were being manipulated into become Marxist cannon fodder. Naval Intelligence was not interested in military information. At least that is what my handlers told me. They wanted to know the truth about the motivations and ideologies of these middle class students, who were leaving universities to become very amateurish guerillas.
Posing as a college student reporter for the Great Speckled Bird, a “hippie” newspaper near the Georgia Tech campus, I was able to meet with leaders of the FLN in Cancun and in the highlands of Chiapas State, plus the Movimiento Octobre Segundo in Michoacan State and what ultimately became the Ejercito de Dios in the Guatemalan Highlands. The FLN de Mexico ultimately renamed itself the Movimiento Zapatista, and now controls most of Chiapas . . . providing the most progressive, efficient, honest and democratic local governments in all of Mexico.
To give me added credibility, I interviewed my host in Mexico City, Dr. Jose Angel Soto, about his experiences during the Politecnico Massacres. He was a biology professor at the Politecnico. On several occasions during the summer and early autumn of 1968, Mexican soldiers or Federal police had entered the campus of the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Mexico City and arbitrarily shot innocent students and faculty members.
On the worst such day, Mexico City police first broke up a fight between two street gangs over their drug-selling territories. Federal Police used that as an excuse to surround the Politecnico campus then soldiers entered the campus and started shooting students and professors. Dr. Soto said a soldier sprayed the windows of his classroom with a sub-machine gun, killing three students and wounding several more.
I sent this interview to The Great Speckled Bird, who then worked it into a bigger picture of the student demonstrations in Mexico, but did give me credit as being the reporter. That story then appeared in many newspapers around the country. So, any Communist agent checking me out would have immediately assumed that I was a legitimate student journalist. I had even more credibility because for two years in high school, I had written “Teen News” columns in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Atlanta Suburban Reporter newspapers.
In 1970, Cancun was a modest Maya village in the Territory of Quintana Roo, which specialized in growing bananas and commercial fishing. It was at an intersection of three highways, which had only recently been nothing, but dirt country roads. There was talk of the federal government sponsoring a new resort in Quintana Roo, so that Mexicans would move there and eventually outnumber the indigenous Mayas. Very possibly the reason for an FLN base being in Cancun was to mobilize the Mayas for opposition to being pushed aside by Mexican immigrants.
All of the commandantes that met in Cancun had a background in architecture or engineering. They opened up the meeting with telling me some very interesting history. Texas and Yucatan had broken away from Mexico together and formed a confederacy. You are never told that in US history textbooks. The Texas Navy protected Yucatan from the Mexicans until the British of all people, sent a large naval squadron to drive away the Texas Navy. Twice thereafter, the government of Yucatan had petitioned the US government to be admitted as a state. Yucatan’s revolutionaries also planned to join the Southern Confederacy, if it had achieved permanent independence. From the moment that the Spanish arrived until the late 20th century, the Mayas had been fighting their Spanish-speaking conquerors.
They quickly picked up that I was not interested in military matters, so the rest of the day was spent in discussing practical means of using solar, wind and water energy to raise the standard of living of the Mayas. Our table looked like an architecture school design class! I saw no weapons the whole time I was there, other than the K-bar knife on my belt. As in the case of the other three insurgent camps, I was assigned a female companion, who was formerly an anthropology-archaeology student in Villahermosa.
At the end of our design session, I was invited to a large hut on the edge of the compound, where the former college students socialized. The rural, full-blood Mayas had their own hut. There was very little political discussion other than everyone wanted to hear about Rev. Andrew Young, who was the associate minister of my Wesleyan Foundation (Methodist church) on the Georgia Tech campus.
That evening the girls cooked a typical southern Mexican feast. We then danced to mostly North American rock music on a battery operated boom box. These idealistic young people were obviously no threat to the United States and in reality could become our best friends. They were the “good guys and gals.” That is what I reported back to my handler.
In late July, I had found the college students at the Movimiento Octobre Segundo compound in Michoacan to be much more politicized and angry. Most had lost relatives or friends in the 1968 assaults by Federal Police or Mexican Army units. They were led by a handful of actual Marxists, who had been indoctrinated in Cuba. However, even in that environment, there was absolutely no hostility toward me, but some distrust of the CIA.
My assigned hostess was a former classmate and friend of Alicia Moreno (my Mexican girlfriend) at the Universidad de Anahuac. In fact, I had danced with her a bit at an early July party in the posh Pedrigal neighborhood. That made the requirement of being together 24/7 a little awkward for awhile, but I had to go with the flow . . . as they say.