Jeanine Kitchel writes about Mexico, the Maya and the Yucatán. Her travel memoir, Where the Sky is Born: Living in the Land of the Maya, details how she bought land and built a house in a small fishing village on the Mexican Caribbean coast. Her debut novel, a psychological crime thriller written in the style of "narco lit," Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival, is available on Amazon.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Alma Reed and Felipe Carrillo Puerto: Tragic Romance of the Yucatán
Puerto, Yucatan’s progressive governor of the Yucatan, and San Francisco
journalist Alma Reed are two names forever linked to Yucatan history.Their romance fueled pages in newspapers on
both sides of the border, but the unlikely outcome of their very public romance
enlisted all the elements of Greek tragedy.
Reed was born
in San Francisco and became one of the city’s first women reporters.An advocate for the poor, Reed assisted a
Mexican family in commuting the death sentence of their 17-yer old son in
1921.The story was picked up by the
Mexican press and due to heightened publicity, Mexico President Alvero Obregon
invited Reed to visit his country. ENTER EDWARD THOMPSON
As a stringer
correspondent, she reported for The New
York Times and was sent to meet Edward Thompson, the leading archeologist
excavating Chichen Itza.During the
visit, Reed met Felipe Carrillo Puerto, dynamic governor of the State of
commissioned a road to be built from Merida to Chichen Itza, opening the
budding archeological site to both tourists and scientists.To commemorate the event, he’d organized a
welcome ceremony inviting North American journalists and archeologists.
UXMAL AND CARRILLO
At the ruins,
Reed interviewed the famed Thompson who had gone to Yucatan specifically to
excavate Chichen Itza. Thompson took a liking to Reed and divulged he had in
fact dredged Chichen Itza’s sacred cenote, garnering gold and jade jewelry and
ornaments he’d taken from the sacrificial victims. Astonished by the enormity
of Thompson’s admission, like the true-born paparrizis she was,
Reed asked Thompson to sign a confession, which he did.
Itza, the assembled entourage went on to Uxmal.During this leg of the journey Reed and Carrillo got acquainted.Reed was fascinated with the charismatic Carrillo
who had been called both a Bolshevik and a Marxist for his sweeping reforms.
In her interview
with the governor, Carrillo explained Yucatan had been inhabited by a handful
of powerful families dating back to 1542 when Merida was founded. These wealthy
landowners were basically slave masters, and notorious for their cruel treatment
of the Maya.
REVOLUTIONARY IN THE MAKING
In 1910 Carrillo
had fought alongside Emiliano Zapata in Central Mexico. From their association
he took Zapata’s battle cry, Tierra y
Liberdad, (land and liberty) for his own.Back in Yucatan, Carrillo claimed part Maya, part Creole heritage and
began his reforms by setting up feminist leagues in Merida that legalized birth
control and the first family planning clinics in the western hemisphere. As
governor he seized uncultivated land from powerful hacendados and distributed it to the Maya, stating it was their birthright.
He built schools. He reformed the prison system.
No small wonder
Reed named him the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.As a liberal she agreed with his reforms. And besides that, she was
smitten.But as a divorceé and Catholic,
she tried to ignore the feelings she was developing for the married father of
four.She left for the US, vowing never
to return, hoping to severe ties in what was becoming amor calido (romance of the steam).
later, however, The New York Times
sent her packing back to Mexico to cover the archeology scandal that involved
Edward Thompson and the Chichen Itza cenote.She had a job to do.
On her second
round in Mexico, both Reed and Carrillo’s feelings couldn’t be ignored.In the ultimate taboo, Carrillo divorced his
wife to become engaged to Reed.He even
had a romantic love song composed for her, still popular today, La Peregrina (The Pilgrim).
It seemed a match
made in heaven.The two idealists prepared
for their wedding that would take place in San Francisco.Reed hastened back to the U.S. to make
arrangements before her permanent move to Mexico.
SEND LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY
Shortly after her
departure to the US, however, another revolution seemed imminent.Fighting had broken out in the Yucatan, and
henequen planters and hacendados were
trying to overthrow Carrillo.President
Obregon’s right hand man, de la Huerta, was opposing him and because Carrillo
backed Obregon, he was at risk.Carrillo
was forced to find guns to fight both the planters and de la Huerta’s
forces.And to make matters worse, he
now had a $250,000 reward on his head.
To secure the
guns and ammunition they would need to do battle, Carrillo went by night to the
Progreso coast with three brothers and six friends as guards.Just as they waded out to the launch that
would take them to New Orleans where they’d acquire firearms for their
revolution, a Navy captain signaled to soldiers lying in wait on shore.The soldiers rowed out and captured Carrillo
who told his small group not to fight, but to go peacefully.
De la Huerta’s
forces took them back to Merida, jailed them for the night and planned an
arraignment in the morning.Carrillo
refused to make a plea. He was, after all, governor of the state, and refused
to recognize a kangaroo court.He was condemned
on Janurary 3, 1924, and taken to Merida Cemetery where he, his brothers and
friends were lined up against the wall to await the firing squad.The first round of volleys was sent over
their heads; the soldiers didn’t want to kill them, so fiercely local were the
Yucatecans to Carrillo.
commander shouted that those soldiers were to be shot, and over the dead bodies
of the first soldiers, Carrillo, brothers and friends were executed as they
stood with their backs against the cemetery wall.
A MARTYR'S DEATH
In San Francisco,
Alma Reed had been alerted that trouble was at hand. She heard the news shortly
afterwards that Carrillo had died in the Yucatan, a martyr’s death, at 49.
Reed insisted on
returning to Merida to see the spot where Carrillo fell.She stayed but briefly in the Yucatan, and on
arriving back to New York, was sent on an assignment to Carthage to explore
ancient ruins.She would never re-marry.
Her reporting life eventually took her back to Mexico where she helped
establish the artist José Clemente Orozco.
One of Reed’s
fears was that President Obregon had a hand in killing Carrillo.He had, after all, assassinated Zapata after
luring him to a truce meeting along with Pancho Villa.Reed thought Carrillo’s radicalism may have
aroused opposition from the Mexican president, but she could never prove the
of Chan Santa Cruz, south of Tulum, changed its name to honor the Yucatan governor,
and now goes by the name Felipe Carrillo Puerto.Alma Reed died in Mexico City, November,
1966, while undergoing surgery.She was
Jeanine Kitchel is the author of Where the Sky is Born:
Living in the Land of the Maya, and the upcoming nonfiction book, Maya 2012
Revealed, Demystifying the Prophecy, and coming in April: Wheels Up—A Novel of
Drugs, Cartels and Survival.Contact the
author through her website, www.jeaninekitchel.com.