Saturday, April 27, 2013

Columbus, New Mexico, Part 5: Raids

Statue of Pancho Villa in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. Across border from Columbus, New Mexico.

Columbus is famous (the term being relative) for two historic (the term being relative) raids. 

1916: Pancho Villa

Jack Thomas, deputy sheriff, and other officials sensed “something in the air,” said Bill Rakocy, Villa Raids Columbus, N. Mex. Mar. 9, 1916.  “They had noticed strange Mexicans in town—many ‘friendly Mexicans’ became silent and some left town.”  Juan Favela, a local ranch foreman, complained that “the air was bad.”
Thus begins an an engrossing story by Jay W. Sharp, in DesertUSA, about the March 9, 1916, raid of Columbus, New Mexico, by Pancho Villa.

I particularly like this next excerpt:
In spite of the omens, however, the 400 citizens of Columbus, New Mexico, three miles north of the border town of Palomas, Chihuahua, believed themselves generally secure in those pre-dawn hours of March 1916.  They had followed, of course, the violent conflict in their neighboring country, where revolt against dictatorship and the federales (government troops) and land monopolies and the subsequent struggle for national power would claim nearly a million lives, some six percent of Mexico’s total population at the time.  They knew, too, that Pancho Villa’s marauders had pillaged along Mexico’s northern border, raising the specter of attack at Columbus.  Still, the citizens felt secure because they thought the U. S. 13th Cavalry Regiment, dispatched by Commanding Officer General John “Black Jack” Pershing from Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, to the nearby Camp Furlong, would protect them.  They felt safe because they could scarcely believe that Pancho Villa would take the risk of crossing the border to challenge a U. S. community and military encampment.

I invite you to read the above a second time.   

It reminds me of something a survivor of the Rwanda genocide told me, when I asked her what she and her family and friends had thought, when so much violence was occurring in the rural areas of her country - weren't they afraid that it was going to reach them? Her reply has always stuck with me, that it seemed far away to them, it didn't feel as if it could reach them in the city. (And, of course, it did.) And, too, she and her family felt some protection from the French - not only were she and a sibling employed via the French Embassy, there was a belief that such a strong ally would not let such horrors visit the country at large. And she lived in a neighborhood where Hutus and Tutsi folks had resided together for years, all friendly.

It reminds me of El Paso, USA, and Juarez, Mexico, in the recent past, two cities immediately adjacent, but in one there were thousands of people being murdered each year in the late 2000s, and in the other, fewer than 20.

It brings to mind a book that had a big impact on me, The Graves Are Not Yet Full, in which the author confronts readers about discounting mass killings in some countries as being "just tribal; it's been going on for centuries and there's nothing we can do about it" (and I will add - "just druglords killing each other and it's only criminals getting killed.") The author, Bill Berkeley, argues that greed or the desire for power/control is always behind mass violence, and there are always those who benefit, and we need to look at who benefits.

And it's a reminder, generally, of how some of us have the luxury of taking for granted our safety and security. Indeed, we feel entitled to such security, without even knowing we feel entitled.

Anyway ... read the story about Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus - it's superbly written.

And here's some surreal stuff about the whole Pancho Villa thing:

In Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, just over the border from Columbus is this sculpture:

Generals Pershing and Villa in Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

It depicts a fictional meeting between  Pancho Villa and General Pershing - shaking hands! Pershing hunted Villa for about a year in Mexico, to no avail.

Or how about the deal Villa struck with a film company that paid Villa $25,000 in exchange for access during his forays.

Pancho Villa as shot by Mutual Film Company. Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

2011: The Arms Raid


I think the hat pretty much tells the story.

But if you want more details, go here. It involves helicopters, several federal agencies, and lots of lights and law enforcement vehicles at night. The indictment here. Some guilty pleas here.  The owner of the gun store in Chaparral, New Mexico, was also arrested and convicted:

From July 2010 until February 2011, Garland sold 193 Kalashnikov-type assault weapons and 9 mm pistols to six co-defendants, including Eddie Espinoza, former mayor of Columbus, New Mexico, and former village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez.

Garland allowed those "straw purchasers" to falsely state on federal forms that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves, even though he had reason to know the weapons were headed to people in Mexico.
 Prosecutors last year said Garland, in facilitating the purchases, "was furthering murder and violence at epic levels in Mexico, all for a quick buck."
They said that between January 2010 and March 2011, the conspirators used their positions to facilitate and safeguard the trafficking of around 200 guns worth about $70,000, to Mexico.
Some of those weapons were later recovered at drug busts and implicated in murders in Mexico, where some 55,000 people have been killed in cartel-related mayhem since 2006.
Source: Chicago Tribune, Gun Dealer Gets 5 Years in Prison in U.S.-Mexico Gun Case

...and here I am on Part 5 on Columbus, New Mexico, and there's still more to tell, despite the fact there's virtually nothing there. It's crazy, I tell you.

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