7: Other Towns
<< 6: Agua Prieta || Bibliography
A Sunday afternoon in the desert of north central Sonora, at 2:33.
According to the sign at the station, I had come 1,612 kilometers since boarding the train
from Guadalajara the morning before. It was 534 kilometers to Mexicali to the west, but
only 148 kilometers, or 92 miles, north to Nogales. Soon, my journey of 3 weeks would be
over. First, I had to wait for the cars bound for Mexicali to be separated from the car I
was on, and the others making the run for the border. Actually, it had been a slow crawl.
Even the first-class trains had to keep moving slowly, to watch for obstacles on the
tracks caused by the rains, which had been larger than normal in the summer and fall of
Why was this place named after a gringo? Was he the person who had built
the railroad in the 1800s, and had managed to stay above politics? Then, I remembered who
Benjamin Hill was. Did his name spur him to do the military heroics that he did? For that
matter, what was I doing here? The storefronts and fronts of some homes in the town, which
has about 2,500 people. The small water tower.
The separation of the trains was very efficient. In 14 minutes, the trains
were reassembled. While those going west would still have a very long crossing of the
desert, those going north with me would start the climb into the highlands of the border
with southeastern Arizona.
By 5:11, we were in Nogales, and my journey was over. Or was it just
Before getting to Nogales, the train passed through the towns of Santa
Ana, Magdalena de Kino, and Imuris. Santa Ana, with about 17,000 people, is about 25 miles
north of Benjamin Hill. Its main purpose is as the junction of the highways going west to
Mexicali and Tijuana, and north to Nogales, as Benjamin Hill is to the railroads.
Late in his life in the late 17th and early 18th
centuries, Father Francisco Kino settled in Magdalena. No matter what one may think of
Spanish authority or the Catholic church of the time, one must acknowledge what a tireless
explorer, mapper, and agriculturist Father Kino was, and how much he did in the brief time
he was in the area. The mission he founded still hosts the festival of St. Francis de
Assisi in early October each year. When his remains were found in the mission recently,
the town took the name Magdalena de Kino. In the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, Emilio Kozterlitzky made Magdalena his home. Magdalena was also the home of
Luis Donaldo Colosio, who was the PRI's candidate for president of Mexico in the elections
of 1994 until he was assassinated in March. Today, Magdalena de Kino has about 25,000
North of Magdalena 15 miles, and about 40 miles south of Nogales is the
town of Imuris, with about 8,000 people. At Imuris, Highway 2 divides from Highway 15 and
goes eastward to Cananea. For a major highway junction, there is very little activity in
Imuris, compared to Santa Ana. Imuris is a service center for the area's farms and
ranches. Santa Ana, Magdalena, and Imuris are all separate municipalities in the state of
West of Nogales is Sasabe. Sasabe is the closest port of entry to Tucson,
after Nogales. There are 800 to 1,000 people south of the border, and 45 north. The
American side is in Pima County, while the side across the border is in the municipality
of Saric. Ranching and the making of adobe blocks are the main activities of the settlers
in Sasabe. Other activities include customs, and the activities which customs on both
sides try to stop or control.
East of Nogales is the municipality of Santa Cruz. Formerly, with about
1,500 people, Santa Cruz was a sister city of Sierra Vista.; Cananea still is. Ranching,
farming, and are the main activities in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz may be the only location in
Mexico which produces cabbage in commercial quantities. The port of entry to the
municipality of Santa Cruz is La Noria, about 7 miles north of town. The port of entry on
the American side, at Lochiel, is now closed.
South of Agua Prieta is Fronteras. Before AP, Cananea, and Nacozari
existed, Fronteras was the largest town in the northern part of northeastern Sonora.
Before 1995, the municipality of Fronteras included Esqueda, but Esqueda had the only
PEMEX station in the area. Today, Esqueda is separate from Fronteras. Both towns have
about 2,000 people.
After Luis G. Monzón left Nacozari, he tried his hand at military
command, in 1913 in Alamos in southern Sonora against the forces of Victoriano Huerta. He
did not do as well as he had in setting up school systems, and was rescued by Benjamin
Hill a month later when he took the town. Monzón went back to Cumpas, about 40 miles
south of Nacozari. From there, he was elected to the constitutional convention of Mexico
in 1916. He contributed much to the Constitution, which was issued early in 1917. Today,
Cumpas has about 7,000 people.
Going south and west from Cumpas, one completes the descent to the desert
at Ures. The population of Ures is about 30,000. Before Hermosillo, 45 miles to the
southwest, became the capital of Sonora in the middle of the 19th century, Ures
was the capital.
Before Ures, the capital of Sonora was in Arizpe, across the mountains
west from Nacozari. Arizpe was built by Spain, specifically to defend the region against
Apache raids. It became the center of the Spanish domains in what is now Arizona, Sonora,
and Sinaloa. When Mexico became independent, Arizpe became the capital of the state of
Occidente, which included all the area. Sonora separated from the state of Sinaloa to the
south in 1830. Today, ranching is the only major activity in this town of 5,000. Buildings
from Arizpe's past are preserved.
In Cananea, would the march by the miners in the strike of 1906 have stayed
peaceful if George Metcalf had not had his brother turn on his fire hose? Would the
Americans in Cananea have all been killed, if Thomas Rynning had not been able to cross
the border with his volunteers? What would have been the outcome if the two liberal clubs
had been able to work together in other ways besides staging the Cinco de Mayo
Would the accident at Nacozari have happened if Albert Biel, the
conductor, had been there at the loading of the train? Did Jesús García feel that he
really had the authority to order the workers in the railyard, younger than Biel but older
than himself, to reload the dynamite into the rear cars of the train? Would there have
been sparks to trigger the dynamite, if the fire in the locomotive had not died down, and
had to be rebuilt?
In Nogales, if Pedro Ojeda had been able to relieve Emilio Kozterlitzky,
would the federal troops have repelled the state attackers under Alvaro Obregón? Would
Kozterlitzky have been killed by Obregón's troops, as he feared when he decided to cross
the border rather than surrender to him? What if Kozterlitzky had chosen to fight to the
What if José Maytorena had been able to dislodge the troops of Benjamin
Hill quickly in 1914? What would have happened if Sheriff Henry Wheeler had gotten his 500
volunteers, and crossed the border? Would the rebels of 1929 have taken Naco if they had a
state-of-the-art pilot and bombs, rather than a crop duster with suitcases loaded up with
If the diplomats had not come up with a way to allow Plutarco Elías
Calles to be reinforced from across the border, would he have held Agua Prieta against
Pancho Villa? Had Calles lost, would he have crossed the border, surrendered to Villa, or
fought to the end? Did Villa lose 599, 1,000, or 3,500 men trying to take the town?
We will never know for sure. What we do know about is what the border is
To the south are the thousands of people who have come to the border, just
in the last ten years. They come to Nogales, Naco, and Agua Prieta. Some want to cross to
work in the north, but most do not try to cross the border. The land in the interior of
Mexico could not support them, or they suffered discrimination in the hands of people in
others of Mexico's many groups of Spanish, native, and mixed origin, where they tried to
live before. Even after they remember that they are near the Cradle of the Mexican
Revolution, they remember that winter is rougher than where they came from further south,
and that they must get food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families. Most
of the parts of Mexico where people live in notable numbers are tropical in climate. They
worry about if they will get back to their homes, or even if they want to go back.
s In the north are the thousands of people who work in the armed forces of the United
States, from Los Angeles and San Diego to San Antonio. Along with them are many people in
the civil service, and contractors. Particularly among them are the people transferred
from Ft. Devens, Massachusetts, to Ft. Huachuca by Sierra Vista, as Ft. Devens has closed.
Ft. Devens was very close to Boston, which may arguably called the Cradle of the American
Revolution. It was even closer to Lexington and Concord than to Boston. Yet, even if they
learn where they are, just about as close to Cananea as Boston, they soon turn to worrying
about whether they can endure the desert. They may wonder if they can go back to New
England, or even if they want to go back there, with its winters rougher than Arizona's,
and its higher housing prices and taxes. They may wonder if there will be anything for
them back there.
For the need of the military in the United States has decreased. It is
about the same distance from Ft. Devens to Ft. Huachuca as it is from London to Kazan,
Russia, east of Moscow. As the Soviet Union, where Kazan was, dissolved in 1991, Ft.
Devens is now no more. Until people in this area got more involved in the political
process, Ft. Huachuca was scheduled to decrease, and Ft. Devens increase, in size.
In Mexico, the checkpoints, as on Highway 15 near Benjamin Hill on the way
from Nogales to Hermosillo, and at the junction between Highway 2 and Sonora Route 12 near
Agua Prieta on the way to Nacozari, staffed by the lone soldier, are also no more.
One event stood out, when I first wrote this book when I had been in
Sierra Vista for ten years. Seven years later, it still stands out.
On a Sunday in September 1985, the headline on the front page of
Hermosillo's El Imparcial said something like "Sonora will not have its
development suspended." The article went on to say that the state would receive
billions of pesos from the federal government to continue its projects of public works,
and they could resume construction now.
The following Wednesday, the first of two earthquakes hit Mexico City.
Four billion dollars in damage, along with the 10,000 people killed, in Mexico City alone.
The money promised to Sonora was now needed to fix the damage. The federal government
could not even help meet the immediate needs of many people. "We helped ourselves, no
one helped us", said victims.
For, Mexicans had become dependent on the federal government to solve their
problems. As long as there were fewer people and their needs were satisfied, and the
desires of the leaders of all followings were satisfied, the system worked well, better
than any other in Mexico's history. About 1972, the government announced the discovery of
large supplies of oil in Mexico's east central area. With oil, it could provide enough for
everyone. The government borrowed heavily, and incurred huge debts to American and other
banks. Then in 1981, oil prices around the world fell. Mexico was left with a large
foreign debt. The 10-15% who lived well or fairly well, and everyone else, had to worry
about making ends meet.
Entrepreneurs of all types came up with projects. Having nowhere else to turn, the many
organizations of government in Mexico began to cosponsor these projects. In Hermosillo in
1990, organizations came up with a program estimated to be worth 2.8 billion dollars to
build sidewalks, build new parks, and improve streets in the city. Later in 1990, I
traveled on three divided highways that were not on my map of two years before, including
a toll road from Mexico City west to Toluca which had been dedicated the day before. The
belief is that the improvements in infrastructure will lead to jobs and economic
development as Mexico has never had inside the country before. Progress has been slow,
however. In 1993, Mexico revalued the peso by a factor of 1,000, so it took 3.11 pesos to
buy a dollar. Now in 2000, it takes about 9.50 pesos to buy a dollar. Distribution of new
pesos to replace the old has continued to go slowly. How much should go to the people, and
how much should go to the leaders, both those who did well from the old system, and those
who stand to do well now? All people who observe and do business with Mexico, and
especially the Mexicans themselves, have their own ideas about this question. Soon after
Carlos Salinas de Gortari took office as president in 1988, he forced the most odious
leaders out of areas of the economy, including heads of the oil and port workers' unions.
However, he had to make and keep allies who gained power under the old system to do so.
Before saying anything in detail about Mexico, one needs to examine what
is happening in the United States. For, while most Mexicans cannot afford to read
information from north of the border all the time, much is available. The level of
literacy of Mexicans is less, but not much less these days, than the level of literacy of
Americans. A Mexican visiting Denver began his speech by briefly mentioning that people
across the border here knew about the marital and other personal problems of the
candidates for president of the United States in 1992. He then proceeded to talk at length
about the things he thought were important in relations between the United States and
For, no matter what the administration, people in the United States have
become more dependent on the government since the last decades of the last century. They
expect the government to protect them, whether under the cover of civil rights if they are
poor or professional associations if they are rich, if they get involved in violence or
drugs, or to protect them from violent activity. They expect the government to provide
them with luxuries as well as necessities, through the use and abuse of a variety of
programs as unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid (AHCCCS instead of Medicaid in
Arizona), and Social Security. More and more people who bring actions in the courts, as
well as their lawyers, see the system as a source for their personal gain. Will it take a
disaster as big as the twin earthquakes in Mexico City to begin to reverse this attitude?
The earthquake in San Francisco and hurricane Hugo in South Carolina, hurricane Andrew in
Florida and Louisiana and tropical storm Lester which struck Sonora and Arizona on the
same night in 1992, and floods in the Midwest in 1993 are only hints of what could occur.
The last election for president of Mexico before this year took place in
August 1994. Because his most ardent backers did not succeed in changing the Constitution
of 1917, Salinas could not run for president again. The presidents of the United States
and Mexico are now different from those who negotiated NAFTA originally. Bill Clinton
succeeded George Bush, the president of the United States when NAFTA was first negotiated;
next year, he must leave office in favor of either his vice-president, Al Gore, or Bush's
son, George W. Bush. Gore took the side of NAFTA in debating it with Ross Perot of Texas
just before NAFTA's approval by Congress. Bush has been the governor of Texas, with more
border with Mexico than all other American states have with it combined, since 1995.
Vicente Fox Quesada becomes the first president of Mexico with an English name, when he
succeeds Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León on December 1. Salinas now lives in the Bahamas,
essentially in exile. The prime minister of Canada is now Jean Chrétien instead of Brian
Mulroney. Presidents and prime ministers cannot solve all the problems of their countries,
even if they become dictators like Porfirio Díaz.
No matter who the people are, or what the system is, no people will make a
business agreement unless they expect to benefit from it in some way. As this was first
written on August 25, 1993, these were a few of the people who were in a good position to
benefit from a free trade agreement. These people needed to be especially careful with
what they could do.
In Washington, President Bill Clinton had just named his point of contact
to guide NAFTA through Congress. The point of contact was the son of a former mayor of
Chicago, and the brother of the present mayor. Chicago is in the same position as Mexico;
the way it has conducted its politics in the past has become a point of jest around its
In a city along the border to the west, there is a cultural center which
specializes in border art. Border art in this city was featured on a national morning
newscast. I was looking forward to it when I visited the city in 1993. When I got to the
center, the only art was impressions of the marriage of Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera 64
years ago on August 21, by beginning students in a nearby junior college. There were no
reprints, much less original paintings, by Kahlo or Rivera. The center had a brochure
which showed all the organizations in the city from which it received funding.
To the east near the border, there is a small city which opened a new high
school in 1992. The city is not Nogales; the entire campus of its old high school was
Pierson Middle School, and is now an alternative high school for Santa Cruz County. One of
the names of the real estate brokers who hoped to sell the old high school was that of a
former city councilman. Remember that, formally, school boards are independent from
governments in the United States, while school boards do not exist in Mexico. Finally,
most of the old campus was sold in 1996, and is now the home of the Ford dealer there.
The son and brother of mayors of Chicago, the directors of the cultural
center, and the former city councilman have different political ideologies from each
other. When questioned, they all insisted that they did what they did as a public service.
All of them, or two, one, or none, may have hoped to benefit from their associations
There are many honest people who supported NAFTA. In the area now, they
sell products as home and automobile security systems, furniture, and agricultural and
ranching supplies. They may also be involved in more abstract areas, as university
education. There are also many people who honestly opposed NAFTA. They may have not been
satisfied with its provisions on jobs and the environment, as trade barriers with Mexico
are to be dismantled over a period of 15 years, even with the side agreements that were
announced just before its submission to Congress to be approved.
Note: NAFTA Approved , November 17, 1993
Immediately when NAFTA took effect on January 1, 1994, the Mexican
government was surprised by a rebellion in the state of Chiapas, in the south bordering
Guatemala. One of the reasons given by the rebels was that NAFTA would not do anything for
them. Seeing that Chiapas is farther from the U.S. than any other area there, more
Americans began to do business in Mexico, but fewer new Americans and others came to
Mexico as a whole as events since then unfolded.
In March 1994, the candidate of the PRI for president, Luis Donaldo
Colosio of Magdalena, was assassinated. Later, the PRI's head, Francisco Ruiz Massieu, was
also murdered. Colosio was replaced by Ernesto Zedillo, also from near the border in
Mexicali, Baja California, as the PRI's candidate for president. Once Zedillo took office
in December 1994, he devalued the peso, and sent former president Carlos Salinas to exile.
Most observers say that Salinas should have devalued the peso when he was still in power,
but he wanted to be sure NAFTA would pass and the PRI would return to power in Mexico
under the new system. Raúl Salinas, the brother of Carlos Salinas, was convicted in
Mexico City and sentenced to 50 years in prison for ordering the murder of Ruiz Massieu,
his rival within the PRI, but not until 1999.
No one wants to do business in an unstable environment, whether it is in
Los Angeles or another city on this side of the border, or Guadalajara or another city
across it. Mexicans and others waited to see how the impeachment of Bill Clinton would
turn out, before doing business on this side in 1999. Salinas was convicted less than a
month before Clinton was acquitted. With these notes, these are the exact words that I
wrote about NAFTA for the first printing in 1993.
This evening, the North American Free Trade Agreement was approved by the
House of Representatives in the United States. The vote in favor, of 234 for and 200
against, was by a surprisingly large margin. The vote in the Senate is said to be a
formality. NAFTA will take effect on January 1, 1994. It will eliminate tariffs on most
goods that are exchanged between the United States and Mexico, as well as Canada, over a
period of 15 years. Supporters talked about the long-term benefits to the economies of the
United States and Mexico. Opponents cited the immediate worries that more of the jobs of
their constituents, many of which were already lost, would go to Mexico. Congressmen from
near to the border were as divided on NAFTA as the House in general.
Until late in the debate, though, there was very little said about the
people who live along the border here. While Mexico was much more controlled, and is still
a more controlled society than the United States, most people in Mexico genuinely backed
the position of the government on NAFTA. They believed that, in the long term, the economy
of Mexico would prosper much more than ever before. The government was willing to
eliminate Mexico's tariffs on American goods completely, to get NAFTA passed. For example,
the elimination of tariffs takes away a reason for interior Mexicans to buy cars stolen
from north of the border. Under the old system, officials would take less money than the
legal tariff as a payoff, and allow the buyers not to register the cars. This was a good
deal for both the officials and the buyers. Even with tariffs gone, though, the fee to
register a car in Mexico remains high400 new pesos, or about $129, to register a car
with the federal government for a 2-year period. As there is more contact between leaders
on both sides of the border, there will be new chances for those in a position to do so to
enrich themselves if they choose to do so, rather than help their communities first.
Immediately, there will be even more contact between Sonorans and
Arizonans with no family ties than there has been. With the opening of the border, many
Mexicans will cross the border for shopping and tourism, as well as business, in the next
few years. More Americans will venture across to border to other places besides Rocky
Point, Kino Bay, and San Carlos, as tourist and business conditions improve. We have the
opportunity to work with each other better now on issues as managing our common
environment, building walls that will control "border bandits" and drugs without
being offensive to people, and stopping the crossing of stolen cars.
We must keep in mind that the long-term objective of the government of
Mexico in accepting NAFTA is to improve its own economy. If NAFTA does what it wants, the
Mexican economy will soon be able to provide basic goods in quality good enough for its
people's needs. The only incentive for people to cross the border will be to buy goods and
to have experiences that they cannot get there. Unless we have good contacts with our
neighbors in the long term, the benefits to the economy here from NAFTA will last only a
As shown by the debate on NAFTA, the United States is still having trouble
in dealing with people, as in heavy industries and the military around Massachusetts and
north of the border here, who fear that they will soon have nothing. Mexico's Congress
still has to approve NAFTA formally; the debate before it does will show that it still has
trouble in dealing with the people in its interior and near the border who have nothing.
No matter who they are or how they got here, or how NAFTA may or may not
help them in the future, the people who struggle to survive along the border are here now.
The coming of NAFTA should get more of us interested in them now. As we help them now, we
may be able to give our neighbors ideas that will help them deal with their problems in
the long term, and receive ideas from them.
<< 6: Agua Prieta || Bibliography