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95 in 1849 the governor of yucatán, Miguel Barbachano, started writing a column in El Siglo XIX. Barbachano had been governor since 1843—a fateful period for Yucatán that saw the overthrow of Santa Anna, the MexicanAmerican war, and the brutal commencement of the Caste War. Barbachano had long been the head of one of the two major factions in the creole governing class, the other being an old rival, Santiago Méndez, whose base was in Campeche. The idea of writing a column may have been a savvy political maneuver to garner sympathy and support for his administration during this difficult era of war and disease, yet one is struck by the note of arrogance in Barbachano’s commentary on the war, disease, hunger, orphans, widows, and poverty. Barbachano complained, “Obstructions met me at every step. . . . I am not asking much, only that we acquire the means to put an end to the eye sores of hunger, nudity, public begging, and prostitution [hijas sin hogar doméstico] all of which are an embarrassment to the pueblos and to my administration.”1 About the Caste War he remarked, “How is it possible that all of this evil has been paid out to the children and the adults, the elderly and the sick, the maidens and the pregnant, when the truly guilty are those malicious who enter with hostility to commit crimes and introduce such anguish. . . . How is it possible that all of this misery falls on the poor?”2 Barbachano’s remarks point to the elite perception that Yucatán’s problems were a matter of protecting the helpless . By bringing aggressors who harmed the innocent to justice, Barbachano simultaneously civilized the peninsula. Civilization, as Barbachano’s list indicates , is firstly a matter of putting on a respectable appearance. C hapter four Cholera and the Caste War Civilizing Campaigns and Disease Prevention } chapter four 96 Barbachano himself had been educated in Spain, a fact that nineteenthcentury Yucatecan historians such as Gustavo Martínez Alomía liked to emphasize,andwasan“intelligentyouth,ofdistinguishedmanners,[whohad] been educated in Europe” and had acquired a sense of how things “looked” to the European.3 Thus, his concerns underscore a desire to remove the embarrassing “eyesores” of humanity from public sites, as though these eyesores were the problems in themselves. Such convictions aligned perfectly with the nineteenth-century agenda of civilizing non-Western peoples, which followed from the early modern desire to Christianize non-Western people, and turned it into a secular program for the more thorough assimilation of the indigenous into a capitalist labor market. The marginalization of “barbaric” or “savage” customs, or the physical extermination of the indigenous “other,” then laid the groundwork for modernization and economic transformation.4 Furthermore, while the rhetoric of improvement might well have gained the loyalty of the elite, the working class, poor, and indigenous were well aware that behind public health projects meant to be for the benefit of all lurked a set of gains for the wealthier and the more powerful. Public health projects then invested elites with control over their workforces and security in their private domains. We saw in the last chapter how Mexico’s Liberal order, taking state power, fought against the colonial legacy of the church over the symbolically important power to control the rituals surrounding the dead, including those determining their final resting place. Public health officials worked with state bureaucrats and local lawmakers to impose a new order in the midst of the disorder of epidemics, with mixed results. Because cholera was both new and devastating, the challenge to the church monopoly over the last rites, which was a challenge to the church’s power to sanction and intervene in the major life passages of the citizen, was coordinate with the campaign to prevent the spread of the disease. The historic paradox here is that during the first and second waves of the cholera pandemic, the medical establishment was mostly wrong in its ideas about what caused the disease and how to treat it. Neither the científicos nor the clerics knew enough about cholera to understand the dangers of Vibrio cholerae’s waterborne spread, or how human dejecta acted as a vector. Even so, the state embraced the licensed medical community as the sole experts on health, and the state designed policies aimed at protecting the public from disease while simultaneously advancing the civilizing mission as a justification for ending the Caste War by any means possible and...


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