Jun 122010

Throughout history the Yucatán Peninsula has been somewhat separate from the rest of Mexico. The pre-Colombian Maya civilizations were more closely linked to Guatemala and Central America than to central Mexico. It took the Spaniards and Mexicans almost 400 years to gain full control of the Peninsula.

In the 16th century, the Conquistadors needed about 25 years and numerous battles to establish a permanent foothold on the Peninsula, essentially limited to the area around Mérida. It would take another 150 years and tens of thousands of indigenous conscripts before they would gain effective control over the majority of Maya lands. There are a couple main reasons why this took so long.  First, the Yucatán had no gold or silver, so the Spaniards had less incentive to subjugate the Maya peoples. Second, the Maya were separated into numerous distinct political units each with its own army and will to resist.  In contrast, central Mexico was ruled by the Aztecs and once they were defeated it was easier to take control of the peoples under their rule. In the Yucatán, the Spaniards had to defeat and subdue scores of independent, highly motivated armies, which once subdued, were eager to rebel. Finally in 1697 the Spanish gained some measure of control of most Maya lands by defeating the Itza at Tayasal, which is now the town of Flores in the Guatemalan Petén. However, during the 18th century, most Maya communities retained essential autonomy and self rule.

After independence, control of the Peninsula was shared by Mexico, three separate Republics of the Yucatán (see an earlier post on the Republic of the Yucatán), and the Maya peoples. In general the Maya controlled the southeast and Criollos of the republics of Mexico or Yucatán controlled the northwest.

In 1847, the Caste War broke out when the Mayas rebelled against the Hispanic (Criollo) upper class that controlled the Yucatán Republic. The Mayas briefly gained control of virtually the whole Peninsula except for the cities of Merida and Campeche. However, within a year or two, the Criollos retook control of the northeast portion of the Peninsula. Campeche became independent from the State of Yucatán in 1858 and achieved full statehood in 1863.  However, the Mayas maintained control of the southeast portion of the Peninsula.  Skirmishes continued on and off for more than 65 years.

The British even recognized the independence of the Chan Santa Cruz Maya government in the southeast to facilitate trade with British Honduras, (now Belize).   In 1884 a treaty was signed reuniting the southeast with Mexico as the new State of Chan Santa Cruz.  But the treaty was canceled a year later when Chan Santa Cruz experienced a coup d’état.

In 1893the Britain withdrew their recognition of Chan Santa Cruz by signing an agreement recognizing Mexico’s sovereignty over the area.  This facilitated British industrial and railroad investment in President Porfirio Diaz’s Mexico.  However, the Mayas maintained de facto control of the area.

In 1901, the Mexican army took military control of the capital of Chan Santa Cruz, in the current State of Quintana Roo. A year later, the central government carved the territory of Quintana Roo from the State of Yucatán. However the government did not have full control of the area; small skirmishes continued. The official end of hostilities came in 1915 when the new Revolutionary Government of Mexico sent General Salvador Alvarado to the Yucatán to implement reforms that essentially eliminated the reasons for the skirmishes. Quintana Roo continued as a Territory until 1974 when it finally achieved statehood.

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