Things That Matter

Mexican Children As Young At 6 Are Training To Be Child Soldiers Against The Growing Violence At The Hands Of Cartels

anadorado \ Getty Images

Mexico has long been battling a drug war against a sprawling network of powerful cartels. However, in many parts of the country, the government isn’t focused on helping end the violence.

Most federal forces and national guard troops are sent to protect major cities or tourist destinations – think Acapulco, Cancun, or Mexico City.

This lack of protection is leading many across the country to come up with their own ways to defend themselves.

In the midst of a cartel war zone, children as young as six are taking up arms to fight back against growing cartels.

Credit: @nela_minded / Twitter

The Mexican Drug War started over a decade ago but with each passing year, it becomes more violent, despite promises from the new president to begin winding it down. The first three months of 2019 were the deadliest yet – with nearly 9,000 murders across the country.

Guerrero, a state that is home to the tourist resort of Acapulco and just south of the capital of Mexico City, is particularly deadly. It often tops the list of most deadly states in the country and is actually designated a ‘no-go zone’ by the US State Department.

It’s here in the Nahua village of Rincòn de Chautla where children as young as six are being trained to fight back against the cartels.

They march, train, and carry fake rifles made of tree branches while their instructor is armed with a real gun.

Credit: @RolandHuschke / Twitter

In a recent report, The Daily Beast spoke to several of these child soldiers. One six-year-old, Jeremías Ramìrez, said: “We’re practicing to defend our town, so los sicarios won’t be able to kill us.”

Angélica Flores, 12, when said: “If they come, we’ll be ready for them.” She wants her village to have “peace, justice, and to keep out the criminals.”

Both children are members of the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC). Under Mexican law, indigenous peoples have traditionally been allowed to form policías comunitarias (community police) groups like CRAC.

As cartel violence has surged in recent years, these comunitarios, as they’re commonly called, are often the only protection available against ruthless and predatory cartels. Rincón de Chautla and the surrounding pueblos – all of which sit on an important shipping corridor for drugs and other contraband – are no exception.

In just the past month, seven villagers have been murdered or abducted.

Credit: @rebeccaplevin / Twitter

There have been seven Nahua murdered or abducted in the last month alone, five of whom were high-ranking members of the CRAC.

Two of these were dismembered by the Ardillos Cartel and left in trash bags at the side of the road running into Chilapa city in late May. The most recent victim, a retired community policeman named Eugenio Máximo, was dumped just outside of Rincón de Chautla on June 2nd.

The Nahua people can’t trust anyone but themselves for defense.

The communities of these rugged mountains say they are powerless without their own forces. They can’t rely on the soldiers or the police as they know they’re working with Los Ardillos.

One villager told The Daily Beast, “Once we’re dead our children must know how to defend themselves. The government is never going to save them.”

Even human rights organizations see few other options for the people of Rincòn de Chautla. “These communities are desperate,” one organization leader told The Daily Beast, “and there’s no one to turn to for help.”

But all-female brigade commander Rodrìguez has an even simpler answer for CRAC’s critics.“If those in the government don’t like women and niños training,” she says, “then let them do their job and protect us.”

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Culture

Amelio Robles Ávila Was Mexico’s First Trans Soldier And A Revolutionary Hero, More Than 100 Years Ago

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day! After a war that lasted over 11 years, Mexico achieved independence from Spanish rule and would begin a path toward self-determination. On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launched the Mexican War of Independence. Yes, decolonize! 

To celebrate Mexican history, we’ll be focusing on one hero today, not of the Mexican War of Independence but of the Mexican Revolution. Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is recognized as the first trans soldier in the Mexican military’s history. A decorated colonel, Ávila lived as a man from the age of roughly 22 or 24 until the day he died at 95 years old. 

While some believe it was Ávila’s wealthy family that allowed him to live life as his truest self, it certainly may have helped, but his courage in battle and in life must be honored and celebrated. Ávila’s identity was not always met with kindness, but the soldier was well-equipped to deal with challenges to his gender. The pistol-whipping colonel was a ladies man, skilled marksmen, and hero. This is the story of Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila. 

Amelio Robles Ávila

Amelio Robles Ávila was born to a wealthy family on November 3, 1889, in Xochipala, Guerrero. In his youth, Ávila attended a Catholic school for little girls where he was taught to cook, clean, and sew. However, at a young age, he began to express his gender identity. He showed an aptitude for things that were, at the time perceived to be, masculine like handling weapons, taming horses, and marksmanship. 

Perhaps, it was a natural response, if not the only response, to being pressured to conform to a gender identity that isn’t yours —  Ávila was perceived as stubborn, rebellious, and too much to handle for the school nuns. But it would be his tenacity and obstinance that served him in the long run. 

In 1911, when Ávila was arranged to be married to a man, he enlisted as a revolutionary instead. 

Not a woman dressed as a man, just a man.

To force the resignation of President Porfirio Dîaz and later, to ensure a social justice-centered government, Mexico needed to engage much of its population in warfare. This meant that eventually women were welcomed with many limitations. Soldaderas were able to tend to wounded soldiers or provide food for the militia but were prohibited from combat and could not have official titles. 

Ávila legally changed his first name from Amelia to Amelio, cut his hair, and became one of Mexico’s most valuable and regarded revolutionaries. 

“To appear physically male, Robles Ávila deliberately chose shirts with large chest pockets, common in rural areas, and assumed the mannerisms common among men at the time,” according to History.com

While he was not the only person assigned female to adopt a male persona to join the war, unlike many others Ávila kept his name and lived as a man until the day he died. 

“After the war was over, their part in it was dissolved along with whatever rank they held during the fight, and they were expected to return to subservient roles. Some did,” writes Alex Velasquez of Into. “Others, like Amelio Robles Ávila, lived the rest of their lives under the male identities they had adopted during the war.”

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Ávila fought courageously in the war until its end. Becoming a Colonel with his own command, he was decorated with three stars by revolutionary general Emiliano Zapata. He led and won multiple pivotal battles where his identity and contributions were respected. 

However, that respect was sometimes earned through empathy other times through the whip of his pistol. Ávila was a man and anyone who chose to ignore this fact would be taught by force. On one occasion, when a group of men tried to “expose” him by tearing off his clothes, Ávila shot and killed two of the men in self-defense. 

Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila

Unsurprisingly, Ávila was a bit of a ladies man, though he finally settled down with Angela Torres and together they adopted their daughter Regula Robles Torres. In 1970, he was recognized by the Mexican Secretary of National Defense as a veterano as opposed to a veterana of the Mexican Revolution, thus Colonel Amelio Robles Ávila is considered the first trans soldier documented in Mexican military history. The swag is infinite! 

After the war, Ávila was able to live comfortably as a man where he devoted his life to agriculture. He lived a life, that still for so many trans people around the world seems unfathomable. Colonel Ávila lived to be 95 years old and the rest  — no all of it — is history. 

Emiliano Zapata Was A Champion Of Indigenous Rights And He Knew How To Work A Look

Culture

Emiliano Zapata Was A Champion Of Indigenous Rights And He Knew How To Work A Look

As Mexico celebrates its independence from colonial Spain, many are reminded of the nation’s tumultuous yet rich history. From Mexico’s independence from Spain, to war with France and the US, to America’s only monarchy, Mexico has a long and varied history. 

Perhaps no other period in Mexican history was as consequential as la revolución — or the Mexican Civil War. It transformed Mexican society and culture and, in the process, created many of Mexico’s greatest and most well-known icons and political figures. 

Few are more well known and respected in Mexico than the revolutionary leader, Emilano Zapato. This mustachioed handsome general fought the revolution on behalf of Mexico’s farmers and working class as well as the Indigenous communities of the south, all of whom were all too often forgotten by leaders in the capital. 

Zapata is an iconic Mexican figure who championed the struggles of both the peasant class and Mexico’s Indigenous communities.

Zapata, who was 39 when he died, arguably ranks just behind Che Guevara on the list of iconic Latin American revolutionaries.

As a young man, he worked on a ranch that belonged to the son-in-law of Mexico’s then-dictator, Porfirio Diaz, where he got an up-close look at the extreme inequality dividing the country.

Politically active from an early age, Zapata emerged as a key leader of Mexico’s farmers when the anti-Diaz revolution broke out.

Along with Pancho Villa, he was among the most radical of the revolutionaries, calling for the large-scale redistribution of land to the country’s poor and indigenous farmers.

His name was invoked in El Grito de Dolores, the country’s major celebration on Dia de la Independencia.

Early in the morning on September 16, 1810, it’s said that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church and made the call to arms to rise up against colonial Spain, which started Mexico’s War of Independence. 

Since 1812, nearly every Mexican leader has commemorated the historical moment by delivering their own version of “El Grito.” And this year, delivered by AMLO, Zapatista received his own chants of viva

He also had one hell of a mustache and fashion sense...

Credit: Klimbim / Instagram

Images of Zapata with a broad sombrero, thick mustache and bandoleer rival Che Guevara as icons of both romantic rebellion and capitalist entrepreneurialism. Zapata’s descendants recently applied to trademark his name and envisage earning royalties on merchandise ranging from T-shirts to tequila.

Although Zapata fought many battles in life, many say his legacy was cemented with his death.

They say Zapata never died that April 10th. That he lived and fled to the Arabian Peninsula and would return when most needed. They said something about his dead body wasn’t right. That a scar was different, that a mole was missing, that the body had all ten fingers, when the real Zapata was missing a finger.

“We all laughed when we saw the cadaver,” one of Zapata’s soldiers said decades later. “We elbowed each other because the jefe was smarter than the government.” They say Zapata knew about Guajardo’s impending trick and that Jesús Delgado — a spitting image of Zapata, who traveled with the general as a body double —was the man killed. Others say it was another man, Agustín Cortés, or Joaquín Cortés, or Jesús Capistrán, or, as Zapata’s son put it, “some pendejo…from Tepoztlán.” Whoever it was, the name didn’t even matter. The important thing was that, according to these stories, Zapata lived and would eventually return.

But in today’s Mexico, the country is divided on the revolutionary’s legacy. 

Credit: DazzlingCoins.com

Protests erupted Wednesday at commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, underlining how divisive the mustachioed peasant leader remains a century later.

He’s a figure that AMLO has tried to embrace, with varying degrees of success. 

Credit: @lopezobrador_ / Twitter

Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has expressed admiration for Zapata, pledged to revive Mexico’s rural economy, and declared 2019 the year of Emiliano Zapata.

But in the revolutionary leader’s home region of Morelos, a battle has broken out over his legacy, as López Obrador pushes for the completion of a power plant and pipeline that have faced strong opposition from the local community.

“It’s a mockery – declaring 2019 the year of Gen Emiliano Zapata and then commemorating it by handing over the water from farmers in his birthplace to multinationals,” Zapata González said.

Zapata, whether you see his picture as a young man or were among those who claimed to have seen him in old age, has come to symbolize whatever noble cause the Mexican Revolution stood for.

Today, a century after Zapata’s death, across Mexico and other parts of the world, the living—and perhaps even the dead—continue their fight inspired by Emiliano Zapata.