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  • Reclaiming Revolution in Light of the "Mexican Miracle":Celestino Gasca and the Federacionistas Leales Insurrection of 1961
  • Elisa Servín (bio)

"If they want me to give my life in order to get their attention, I'll give it to them."1

In the hours before dawn on September 15, 1961, various groups of men armed with machetes, pistols and rifles attempted to take over military posts, police stations and municipal offices throughout Mexico, proclaiming "justice for the poor." The uprising of the so-called Federacionistas Leales was part of a strategy coordinated by an old revolutionary general, Celestino Gasca Villaseñor, who planned to take power in order to carry out a new agrarian program to benefit the campesinos of Mexico.

The Federacionista movement was founded at the end of 1958 when Celestino Gasca broke with General Miguel Henríquez Guzmán. The latter had kept alive the hope of insurrection in order to defend his alleged victory in the presidential election of 1952.2 During the first half of the 1950s, many Henriquistas remained in high alert awaiting the order, which never came, to initiate the uprising. In an open and clear reclaiming of the armed mobilization that ushered in the revolution of 1910, the Henriquistas maintained their struggle around three fundamental demands: in the first place, ascension to power by General Henríquez and his supporters at the local level, as this was the only way to guarantee that the other demands be fulfilled; second, the redistribution of land, legalization of titles, [End Page 527] access to credit, water, and markets not controlled by the state3; and third, acknowledgement of military ranks for those who participated in the Henriquista movement—many of them veterans of the revolution who in some cases had been demanding official recognition as members of the Mexican Army for decades. In November 1958, after six years of waiting to start the uprising, Gasca announced his decision to break with Henríquez and called for the formation of the Federacionistas Leales. Gasca drew up a new agrarian program, and during the next two years took charge of reorganizing the forces that would carry out the insurrection.

Plans for the uprising took place in the context of a new wave of agrarian movements spearheaded by land occupations that took place between 1958 and 1959 under the leadership of Jacinto López and the Unión General de Obreros y Campesinos de México (UGOCM) in the northern part of the country, and under the command of Rubén Jaramillo on the plains of Michapa and El Guarín in the western part of Morelos.4 The Federacionistas were also contemporary with the struggle led by schoolteacher Genaro Vázquez Rojas and the Asociación Cívica Guerrerense, as well as the teachers, railway, and telegraph workers movements at the end of the 1950s.5 The insurrection of the Federacionistas Leales was thus part of a widespread expression of discontent in response to the government's neglect of campesinos and workers, and its repression of opposition social movements. It also reflected a lack of faith among many sectors of society in electoral politics as a viable option for change.

The insurrection of the Federacionistas Leales also took place in the context of the Cuban revolution, the regrouping of the left in Mexico within the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN), and that organization's confrontations with the anticommunist right. The participation of right-wing Sinarquistas and ex-Cristeros in the Federacionista uprising, in an odd alliance with old revolutionaries, agraristas, and workers, provoked therefore mutual accusations of exacerbating and manipulating the desperate situation of the campesinos for political gain and power.6 [End Page 528]

Ideological disputes aside, the Federacionistas Leales, with their legitimacy rooted in the Mexican revolution of 1910 and their persistence in pursuing armed struggle, revealed the high degree of rural discontent during a period in which a strategy of industrialization prioritized urban development goals at the expense of the peasantry. The Federacionistas also demonstrated the continuity of the old ways of doing politics and the vitality of a concept of revolution based on local armed mobilization, which survived the postwar industrial...


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