About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Argentine Juan Soldado? Folk Saint Gauchito Gil and Argentine Memory

After my posts on mennonites, the post I did on Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte really rake in the hits. Apparently the reading public (meaning the few dozen readers out there that happen to google "Jesus Malverde" and make it to this site) must really dig religious guys that run drugs, saints that kill your enemies, and saints that get you into the US.

ANYWAY... I recently stumbled on to Argentine folk saint Gauchito Gil, a man separated from his lover when wrongly accused of a crime then, caught up in years of warfare, and finally tortured to death by the police. Read the story at the Argentine Folklore page. See pictures of his adoration at the Latinphoto.org page.

I was immediately struck by the similarities with Juan Soldado who, as historian Paul Vanderwood puts it, was a "confessed rapist murderer" in 1938. Faced with a mob of Tijuana citizens, the military opted to act out the sentence of Juan - death - in a public execution where the soldier was prodded to run (ley fuga) and was then gunned down. His grave, despite public shame, quickly became a site of worship and adoration as surely, the people now thought, he was wrongly accused and executed. By the All Saints Day of the same year his grave was a destination for adoration. He has since become the center of adoration for migrants and drug runners.

I can understand Juan Morales aka Juan Soldado becoming a center on which to focus the resentment of public insecurity as well as injustice during the reign of the PRI. And in Argentina, Gauchito Gil makes sense as well. I would really like to know if the popularity of GIL increased during the military regimes in Argentina. One doesn't think torture and Argentina without thinking of the 70s...and I would be curious if there was any correlation in the growth of worship of El Gauchito during the period.


Anonymous said...

Vanderwood seems to be talking about the folk tale, and not the historical facts. Morales' "confession" was probably coerced, and may have been to cover up a rape by an officer. Being a martyr of class oppression has a lot to do with his "sanctification".

Given serious questions about the confession, President Lazaro Cardenas was reluctant to sign the death warrant (as a military execution, the President had to sign the warrant).

"Ley de fuego" ("shot while trying to escape") makes a better story, but the term doesn't refer to anything in the law code, but to the tendency to use that excuse for extra-judicial murders: Morales' execution -- which was attended by reporters from the Tijuana and San Diego newspapers -- was by the regular method used for capital punishment in Mexico in those days -- hanging.

JHD said...

In the rest of Vanderwood's chapter, located in Martin Nesvig's collection on religion in modern Mexico, he goes deeper into the ins and outs of the case including the connection I mentioned in my short piece on the corruption of the ruling party (though not yet then known as the PRI). I, not Vanderwood, chose to emphasize the "folk" portion of the tale for the similarities that it has with Gauchito Antonio Gil. When dealing with folk saints, historical "facts" have no meaning among to adherents.

The exact details of the case, investigated in multiple archives by Vanderwood, is a little murky and why the military chose both a public execution as well as the application of the "ley fuga" is not 100% clear. Perhaps the intention of the local garrison was to "win over" the agitating mob or perhaps it was to intimidate the population by using the hated Porfirian practice of prodding a man to run then gunning him down. "Ley de Fuga" acted out in a public execution has everything to do with theater and nothing to do with Mexican law. Though we can't link Cardenas to the order of using the flight law, it wouldn't be the only time he ordered the military to act as executioner. In the case of a murdered Mennonite family in Durango, Cardenas authorized the military to act as judge, jury, and executioner at the capture of the killers. I'm a Cardenas fan for the most part, but I always have to remember he was a hardened general that was certainly not above ordering the use of force in ways contrary to Mexican law.