Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Hundred-Year Ghost

by Inside the Border/Gary Moore

Mystical calendar cycles are all the rage here in the weary, wary end-days of 2011.

And it’s not just That Maya Calendar Thing. Hollywood has joined the calendar fad, loudly, by promoting a new action movie as premiering on 11-11-11 (November 11, 2011)–though few ticket-buyers will recall the bigger 11-11-11 of yesteryear, when the official end of World War I in 1918 was intentionally set at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month (November), with the armistice signed in a soon-famous train car.

MEXICO, seeming at first glance so far from all this (“so far from God,” as the 1910 dictator probably never really said), manages nonetheless to come full circle into the middle of the tea leaves. This is because of global excitement (at least in some circles) over That Maya Calendar Thing. Enthusiasts can tell you that the ancient Maya civilization of southern Mexico, peaking before the Aztecs, had evolved a pictographic calendar which, the interpretations say, accurately looked all the way forward to the year 2012. But there (cue the Dragnet music: dum-duh-DUM-dum), the Maya calendar ominously stops.

In a world nervous about techno-speed and banking disasters, the Maya end-point has become a rallying cry, oddly melding fundamentalist rapture and New-Age chic. It’s the big warning: The Old Global Order is going to come crashing down, right in the End Year, 2012. This is a lot to lay on the unsuspecting ancient Mayas–Nostradamus meets the Celestine Prophecies under jungle palms.

But Mexico invites such mystical musings, some not so ancient. The violence of its presentday drug war has become a symbol of the ways that seemingly impossible social breakdown can burst from what seems a clear blue sky.

And again, there’s a Cycle Ap for that. The application of mystic numbers works even on the drug war–with a little hocus-pocus math, and a few more facts than Maya Envy.

In short, Mexico has endured particular chaos once every hundred years. And such chaos, symmetrically, tends to last about a decade.

The first glimpse (leaving aside older precedents for the moment) was the Mexican Independence War, looming suddenly in 1810, then devastating a new-born nation until 1821. At the time, the decade of chaos could scarcely be viewed as part of a cycle–because the other shoe hadn’t yet dropped. Another hundred years would have to pass before the next great explosion began to suggest a pattern.

Then came 1910, a round century after 1810. Mexico was witnessing festive parades and monumental statues to commemorate the anniversary of the long-ago Independence War–when suddenly the old ghost rose. As if the monumental parade images were coming to life, 1910 brought the Mexican Revolution, which would rage for a disastrous decade, until 1920–as the recorded national population fell by a million.

Then another century passed. Understandably, the combined memories–the 1810 war and the 1910 war–would stir comment in a much more modern Mexico as it passed into a new millennium. In 1999, millennial imaginings were everywhere. Up north, the United States was alive with fears of the supposed Y-2K Bug in computer networks, or possible Times Square bombings on New Year’s 2000. But there was a time lag. This millenniun wouldn’t produce its American nightmare for another year, not until 9/11.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the delay switch on millennium fear ran even longer. The natural moment of reckoning would be 2010, because of 1810 and 1910. Could it possibly happen a third time?

In 2000 the idea seemed laughable. Political change was coming peacefully. Mexico's presidential election in 2000 proved that reform was possible; democracy was robust. But the reformers, once in power, started to meet some old ghosts–who at first seemed barely noticeable. These were the gang fights and drug-smuggling conflicts that Mexico had always known. By about 2004 they were mushrooming. By late 2006 there was official declaration. The government declared an unprecedented military crusade against organized crime: the “drug war.”

By 2008 the nation was shocked by growing combat–though this was still barely a blip compared to what was coming. As 2008 kicked off, the Sinaloa Cartel was making a full-court press along a great swath of the border, just south of the United States, attacking rivals in a thousand-mile span from Tijuana, bordering California, to Ciudad Juarez bordering El Paso, Texas. On the other half of the border’s 2,000 miles, the eastern half, epidemics of cartel extortion and mass killing had at least cooled a bit after 2007, but would have stunning renewal–in 2010.

It was 2007, in one of the most remote and peaceful-looking border towns, when I first heard the Hundred-Year Theory and its omens for 2010. The small city of Piedras Negras, opposite Eagle Pass, Texas, is so deep in the inland brush country, and so far from the big border cities, that in 2007 it seemed a sleepy, friendly sanctuary. But then a midnight cab driver loomed into my experience, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, saying suddenly into the rearview mirror: “Mexico no tiene pena que dura cien años” (roughly: “Mexico never lets a problem last more than a hundred years.”) I had to ask him to repeat. What did he mean by this riddle?

He sighed. The corruption builds up, said the philosopher taxista, until the volcano has to blow. And like Old Faithful, its steam erupts on a schedule. In the darkness of the cab, on silent streets where nothing moved but your shadow, it was a long way to 2010. By that time, peaceful Piedras Negras would be rocked by so much combat that U.S. advisories said don’t go there.

In both 1910 and 1810 the steam had began building in the summer, so naturally the summer of 2010 invited scrutiny. Would there be signs of a big breakpoint? Well, yes and no. By July 2010 the eastern borderlands of Mexico had descended into the “New Federation” war, with formalized combat a bit different from anything before. But the death toll per incident still stayed at old levels, no more than about 20 dead even in the worst clashes. The record in outright massacres in the Mexican violence still seemed to be held by La Marquesa near Mexico City, when 24 men were mowed down–way back in 2008. The summer of 2010 brought ragged fits and starts, scant confirmation of any kind of eerie patterning, and no great burst to mirror 1810 or 1910.

Then it came. On August 24, 2010, the Mexican military issued an obscure announcement. In a single humble sentence, it admitted that an enormity had been discovered. The San Fernando Massacre soon shocked the world, fantastically upping the ante on Mexican violence. Cartel gunmen had killed 72 people–non-combatant immigrants, including 14 women–in a single, war-sized orgy.

It proved not to be an isolated exception. The same town would produce another frenzy a half-year later, massacring so many victims–surprised bus passengers, this time–that to this day many of the details are suppressed by the Mexican government. There were more: the 200 occupants of mass graves on the other side of Mexico, in Durango; the 55 terrified civilians killed in the casino hit at Monterrey.

It could be interpreted many ways. Our wisdom deals poorly with rhythms that lead beyond our knowledge. The response is either tidy, mystical prophecy, or head-in-the-sand denials, scoffing that the earth can’t move (Galileo probably never really said those famous words–“E pur si muove”–”It does TOO move”–when the Inquisition told him that God’s world couldn’t move in cycles).

In Mexico the questions go back farther than 1810 (to segue back to That Maya Thing). It was 1519 when Hernan Cortes (or Hernando Cortez) sailed to the coast of Mexico on some very unlikely winds of doom, which seemed to come out of a clear blue sky. His arrival would destroy Meso-American civilization too completely for much thinking about future cycles (though the grandfathered myths about the bearded Quetzalcoatl and the eagle-eating-the-serpent might be viewed as shell-shocked Aztec versions of Celestine closure-seeking).

It didn’t take a decade for Cortez’s entrepreurial genius to destroy Mexico that first time. The years 1519-1521 weren’t a precise calendar parallel to 1810-1821 or 1910-1920. But not so far off. Like the War to End All Wars delaying the real dawn of the 20th century until 1914, and the Y2K disaster getting predicted a year too early, the calendar of communal nightmares doesn’t always cooperate precisely.
The remnants of the Aztec empire, reduced to a smidgeon by European diseases, could still transmit worlds of experience in the misty realm of symbol, on an unbroken stream from the old monumental rites and sacrifices (which had made the Aztecs themselves look rather nightmare-ridden, long before Cortez). There was the mystical closure offered by the Virgin of Guadalupe (Did she really appear, a decade after conquest, to an humble, shell-shocked Aztec who had been renamed Juan Diego, with her supernatural proof left in the form of a puzzlingly ordinary oil painting?)

Meanwhile, Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli were poured into venerated saints. To watch some of the folklore dances that would cross the generations is to marvel at how much symbolism never gets put into words: the rigidly erect, heel-pounding male dancers encircled by the swirling petticoats that nobody is so crude as to call anatomically-correct symbols like the can-can. There is a power in pre-literate symbol (to borrow a bit from Octavio Paz), and it isn’t reduced by a crushing history of endurance and pain.

So who’s to say, at last, that such power can’t set a deadline on what it has to endure–by tapping into that ordinary, everyday mystery called hope–while the volcanic cycles seem to come out of nowhere, and wipe the books clean?



  1. It really is a shame that I trust people who are not Mexican more than my own people. It's not even a matter of white-mexicans vs brown-mexicans, it's a survival mechanism to keep me alert(pilas), Not that I've surrounded myself with evil people, in fact I know most of them are good people but the possibility is always there, lingering. The backstabbing, the thievery, the lying and deceptive qualities exist on a far more palpable scale than on any other culture. I hate this. I hate it that we are very uncultured people, that we don't cherish morality, education, sincerity, and virtue. How did we as a people become such animals? I am not so holy myself, that's for sure but I do strive to for goodness while many strive for evil. How? Why? How can they look themselves in the mirror and not see that their ways are wrong, wrong for our people, our culture? It's frustrating that I simply cannot imagine a peaceful time for us in the future, anywhere. And yet still we live with each other, always keeping an eye out for each other, helping each other out but also sleeping with one eye open. Maybe I'm dreaming if I think it could all get better one day. Chale.

  2. ...@1;15....mY ANSWER to your questions, i believe is ENVY, i witnessed the attitude of our people always wanting to have ONE UP ON ANOTHER, and the constant competition for MATERIAL WEALTH, i noticed that when it comes to how we as people, identify ourselfves, and when WE don't have no morals, no virtue, no intregity, WE SUBSITUTE IT WITH MATERIAL WEALTH...
    ....What's or How's the joke that goes with the "raza",!!!! we are like a bunch of crabs in a bucket, and when one tries to get out, the rest reach out to pull him down!!!so the joke goes, and yet, you see an element of truth in it...
    ....And yet i see that when it comes to our roots, and our spirituality, i find more and more evidence that in our culture, we are descendants of the TRIBES OF ISRAEL, BENJAMIN (WOLF), New Mexico basketball team in Alburquerque, NM are the "Lobos", also meaning Lopes, the names with ez, es, also identify the cultures of Israel, the last names manzanarez, Naranjo, Jamamillo, Romero, many others, were a way to identify our roots (the hebrews used mother nature to identify their culture)...Our Lost roots...The Lost Tribes of Israel...
    ....So the devil is going tempt the people with things, and people fall in the trap, and in the process, a mockery is made out of the people that God chose as His chosen...
    ...By the way the other tribes are in the Americas, Canada, Europe and other parts of thge world...
    ....So leave it to man to defile what's so precious, leave man to go after VANITY--EMPTYNESS--TO fill a void that only GOD CAN FILL...
    ....King Solomon, considered the wisest man in his time SAID "I looked upon earth and saw that all the man did UNDER THE SUN WAS VANITY>>wHAT FOOLS WE ARE!!!!

  3. Today is my birthday (11/11) so I couldn't resist reading this article. Could someone please tell me what in the hell this article was about or was implying. It seemed like this writer was working real hard to talk about something but I never figured out what. I am an educated man and very well read. What in the fuck was he saying?

  4. "His arrival would destroy Meso-American civilization too completely for much thinking about future cycles "
    Thank God. There has never been a more vile and evil civilzation than the Aztec's. If things keep going they way they are in Mexico perhaps you guys can once again rebuild the old empire.

  5. "How can they look themselves in the mirror and not see that their ways are wrong, wrong for our people, our culture?"

    Every evil is done as a PERCEIVED good. That is why morally relativistic and corupt cultures like Mexico's contain so much evil. Evil is always the easy, self pleasing path while good is the hard selfless path. If your morals is based on what is good for your or feels good you will most often choose evil.

  6. @November 11, 2011 1:15 PM,Man,its sad it is,but there is good and bad in every people.I think opportunities,and standard of living have a bearing.Crime and poverty,are inextricably linked,people with no hope for a better life,the haves and have nots.Look around the world and you see a correlation in other countries.Its old thought,but we really do have to spread the wealth of a country,not just to the top 5 per cent.I know its more complicated,but everyone deserves at least a fuckin job,with which to take care of your family.If i cant make money legally,fuck it,ill make it illegally.

  7. 1:15 you are a first class idiot, only a half-minded dim wit would post something like this. Wow! Do me a favor and google racial self-hate that way you can understand why you feel this way. Lol,lol feel so sorry for you (NOT) .

  8. People who generalize usually lack an upper thought process

  9. @ 1:15 people need 1) physical security 2) basic housing 3) nourishment... If one of these things is missing in a persons life then all bets are off and people will do whatever it takes to insure survival for them or their families.... P.S. read a book once in a while, a real one

  10. "People who generalize usually lack an upper thought process

    November 11, 2011 4:41 PM "


  11. "Anonymous said...
    1:15 you are a first class idiot, only a half-minded dim wit would post something like this. Wow! Do me a favor and google racial self-hate that way you can understand why you feel this way. Lol,lol feel so sorry for you (NOT) .

    November 11, 2011 3:58 PM "

    I think he hit the nail on the head when characterizing the Mexican Culture. You should read the Victory of Reason. There is a reason the morality of the Catholic Church (e.g. slavery is wrong, development of individual/international rights, exploitation of natives is wrong, etc) did not reach the people's of the Spanish colonists. The corruption of the native cultures was never completely wiped out.

  12. Which is more evil?
    Killing for religion it killing for oil?

  13. Yes very poor article, need to go back to journalism 101

  14. 5:06 People in China are poor, people in Europe are poor, people in the U.S. are poor, yet you do not see them killing on this level of savagery. Why? Why are we killing each other for a measly peso? And for those I hate my own race you're wrong as there's no such thing as a Mexican race. We are all mixed and of different colors. Shit, I'd be hard pressed to say we have a collective culture but we don't and what little we do have is being destroyed right now. You know it's not about survival but about greed. These people do not need their chrome rims, their slutty women, their coke habits, or millions.


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