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163 the national revolution arrived late in Yucatán, almost four years after dictator Porfirio Díaz fled Mexico in 1911 and revolutionaries had seized the central and northern parts of the country. When revolutionary activism began in Yucatán in 1915, it assumed a distinctly socialist form in comparison to revolutionary activities throughout the rest of Mexico. In 1914, before socialist leader General Salvador Alvarado’s arrival on the scene, the titular head of Mexico’s Constitionalist Party and interim president Venustiano Carranza placed Colonel Eleuterio Avila y Valdós in control of Yucatán with the mandate to oversee the implementation of Carranza’s revolutionary reforms there and to garner support among Yucatecans, particularly the powerful henequeneros, to help secure his leadership as Mexico’s president.1 During Colonel Avila’s brief stint as governor, the legislature decreed the liberation of the henequen workers from their obligations to henequeneros.2 Published in Maya and Spanish, the legislation known as a “liberation decree” outlined the ills that had befallen Yucatán’s Maya peasantry under the oppression of the despotic governments of the past.3 Anticipating retaliation from the henequeneros for passing the “liberation decree,” Avila attempted to make them happy by resisting Carranza’s levy of new taxes on the Yucatecan planters. However, Carranza’s supporters, the Carrancistas, felt that the richest state in Mexico should do its share to fund the war against Carranza’s revolutionary opponents, the Villistas and Zapatistas. Consequently, an irritated Carranza replaced Avila with a leader more willing to do his bidding, } C hapter six Disease Prevention, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Revolution in Yucatán, 1915–1924 chapter six 164 Coahuilan native General Toribio de los Santos. Santos immediately began to strong-arm the region’s henequeneros into compliance with Carranza’s tax requirements.4 In response, Yucatán’s casta divina (the pejorative name given to the thirty to forty richest henequen plantation owners) initiated plans for a coup. Carranza anticipated the henequeneros’ plotting and quickly removed Santos before they could mount their attack, ordering Sonoran native General Alvarado to quell the henequen elite’s bickering and bring Yucatán into the national revolutionary framework.5 When General Alvarado arrived in October 1915 and assumed military and political control over Yucatán, his predecessor Santos had barely served one month in office. While Alvarado’s seven-thousand-man troop of experienced fighters from the north quickly overpowered Yucatecan forces, public expectations for Alvarado’s long-term survival in the governor’s chair were low. Alvarado’s entrance onto Yucatán’s political stage was forced and largely unwelcome by the state’s powerful henequen elites for good reason, as they feared increasing taxes and decreasing political power. Alvarado (anticlerical and unabashedly socialist) did little to endear the powerful henequen kings to him. Almost immediately after taking office, Alvarado rolled back the structureofthehenequenmonopolybrokeredbetweenYucat án’sPorfiriangovernor Olegario Molina and the U.S. International Harvester Company.6 Ironically, many of the henequen plantation owners had chafed, too, at International Harvester’s power to set its own prices for henequen fiber. International Harvester’s influence and power extended beyond pricefixing .TherelationshipsforgedbetweenYucatán’shenequenelite,International Harvester, and international banking conglomerates teetered on the edge of violating U.S. antitrust legislation. The U.S. State Department investigated some of these alliances and found them “dangerous.” In particular, the head of International Harvester, John McCormick, was also the son-in-law of John D. Rockefeller, who held considerable stock in his son-in-law’s company . Rockefeller also sat on the board of the banking firm Equitable Trust Company, which backed International Harvester’s investment in Yucatán’s cordage industry. This comingling of family relations with international trade investments compelled the U.S. State Department to seriously question International Harvester’s ability to not monopolize the cordage industry and influence bank policy.7 The ties between henequen elites, powerful U.S. businessmen, and politicians helped sustain Yucatán’s export industry. The wealth generated from the henequen industry in turn built a modern capital city where regional and foreign elites felt relatively comfortable. Disease Prevention, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Revolution 165 Thus, in 1915 when General Alvarado overthrew the forces of what he called the casta divina—the leading henequen plantation owners—he inherited an urban area that had advanced to the public health level of such leading Caribbean cities as Havana and New Orleans. As we saw in the last chapter , yellow fever and malaria had been...


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