When Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) assumed the presidency of Mexico in 2000 after running as “the candidate of change,” the country, for the first time since the Revolution of 1910–17, found itself governed by a political party whose self-identification is on the right. While many in the PAN see themselves as belonging to the “humanist” political center, the party, founded by Catholic conservatives in 1939, has traditionally been linked to the politics, intolerance, and traditionalism of the Mexican Catholic hierarchy; to the economic conservatism, now called neoliberalism, of Mexico’s entrepreneurial class; and to the many activist groups on the radical right. Of those ultra-right groups, the one that has attained the greatest position of power and influence within the party is the semi-clandestine El Yunque (the Anvil).
The Catholic conservatives of the Yunque compose part of a varied Mexican right that has grown, if not in numbers, certainly in strength and influence over the past few decades. Besides church-oriented groups whose politics are shaped by more or less coherent conservative ideologies and theologies, the Mexican right includes secular groups located in academia (particularly in business schools and economics departments) and in the research wings of banks and some government agencies that have adopted a neoliberal, “free market,” minimal-state ideology; organized, non-ideological individuals who have achieved a certain level of privilege and have undertaken the political defense of their own interests; and diverse groups of citizens who harbor intolerant and/or resentful attitudes toward vulnerable social populations and frequently toward the quasi-liberal secular state that allows those populations a measure of freedom and entitlement.
Yunque members have allied with secular neoliberals in key political moments but have differed from their free market counterparts in their calls for stricter controls on the independent activities of a variety of social groups: women and sexual minorities, dissident secular groups, indigenous communities, trade unions, and non-Catholic populations in general. The Yunque can thus be located within the traditionalist, religious, and intolerant currents of contemporary conservatism.
The organization was founded in the 1950s, operating mainly within student-based front groups in the city of Puebla. It began systematically embedding itself within the PAN, and with less success within the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in the 1970s, and thereby lost some of its secrecy. It has been slowly emerging from the shadows since the 1980s due largely to the exhaustive research conducted by a small number of investigative reporters, notably Álvaro Delgado, who wrote a series of articles on the group in the magazine Proceso and published a book in 2003, and Manuel Buendía, who began his research on the group two decades earlier and was murdered in 1984.1 Mexico’s Federal Security Directorate has also documented the existence of Yunque cells and command centers made up of students and their adult mentors who operated violently and secretly in the 1960s.2
The Yunque, Delgado writes, citing the group’s written internal communications and the testimonies of members and deserters, seeks to “create the City of God in accordance with the Gospels.”3 It sees itself in eternal combat against all the forces allied to prevent the construction of a Catholic state in Mexico: principally Judaism, Masonry, and Communism.
Most new members of the Yunque are pious adolescents recruited from private Catholic schools. They join the organization in a swearing-in ritual in which they commit themselves to secrecy above all. This is why most of them use pseudonyms and act secretly behind the organizations that make up the Yunque’s public face.4
The Yunque’s first facade was formed in Puebla in 1955. It was called the University Anticommunist Front (FUA), and, until it came apart due to internal dissension in 1961, its actions consisted of confronting “autonomist” students at the Autonomous University of Puebla. In 1961, a similar organization was formed at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, called the University Movement Oriented Toward Renewal (MURO). The FUA joined the MURO after its own disintegration.
Buendía, the journalist who was murdered (under suspicious and still-unresolved circumstances) in 1984, traced the groups of the extreme right, and reported on the close links between MURO and a group called TECOS (Educational and Cultural Work Toward Order and Synthesis, a group classified as “fascist” by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), as well as its links with the CIA in Mexico.5 The MURO, he reported, “proposed the violent assault on the universities in order to train young people [in combat] and to spread its influence over a broader national territory, thus establishing alliances with like-minded clergy and members of the private sector.” He also reported that among the groups of the ultra-right were some that were so extreme that they confronted other right-wing Catholic groups over the relatively tolerant position of Pope Paul VI regarding the Cuban Revolution.6 The anti-Communist TECOS, for example, declared the pope to be a member of the “Jewish-Masonic-Communist conspiracy” and broke with the church, and therefore with the Yunque, which remained loyal to Rome.
Buendía quotes a pamphlet issued some 30 years ago by the ultra-right Mexican Youth Movement, which advocated an internal confrontation over the question of the pope’s alleged abandonment of the anti-Communist struggle, a confrontation that eventually led to the murder of two young yunquistas in 1975 and the assassination of Yunque founder Ramón Plata Moreno in 1979:
For many years the Jewish butchers have slaughtered the lambs that Christ won over with his own blood, and even in our own day they remain pledged to carry out the same satanic tasks. Here in our own country we continue to experience the pestilent breath, the foul odor of the godless ones. . . .
And the new Judases, infiltrators in our holy church, know that no one laughs at God, and that no one can fool God. The worst part of Hell is reserved for you: “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
Tremble, traitors, of the MURO, before the “Army of the loyal followers of Christ,” because we will gain the crown by holy violence, and only the violent will enter Heaven. . . . Tremble, you rats; we are the vengeful arm of God. Tremble, Ramón Plata Moreno.7
It should surprise no one that religious and political fanaticism should in this way turn upon itself; nor should it surprise that the movement’s outward-directed violence targeted not only Jews, Masons, and leftist students, but also centrist Christian democrats and, of course, the progressive wing of the church itself. In 1971, members of the MURO assaulted the leftist bishop of Cuernavaca, Sergio Méndez Arceo, dowsing him in red paint at the Mexico City airport as he was returning from a conference in Chile held by the Congress of Christians for Socialism. From that point on, he was known by his enemies as the “Red Bishop,” mainly for his work in favor of the “church of the poor” that was promoted in his diocese. In 1979, Méndez Arceo was forced to resign from his post because of age. On October 15 of that year, in a parade headed by the Papal Nuncio Jerónimo Prigione honoring the succession of Cuernavaca’s new bishop, all the principals were received at the city entrance by an ultra-right religious group called Semper Fidelis, a successor to MURO, whose members chanted “Welcome, sir, to drive out Satan.”8
The Yunque is one of the political successors to the Cristero movement of the 1920s, which launched a rebellion against the secularization of Mexican government and society under President Plutarco Elías Calles, known to Catholic believers as “the Jew.”9 Following the agreements that put an end to the rebellion in 1929, there arose several Catholic groupings that came together in the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty (LNDR), created by the church to resist Calles’s anti-religious measures. One of the movements that later emerged from the LNDR was sinarquismo, a movement inspired by Spanish fascism (though unsympathetic with Nazism, which it considered “Protestant”) that created the National Sinarchist Union in 1937, and achieved its greatest power in 1940–41, when its national leader was Salvador Abascal (the father of Carlos Abascal, labor secretary during the Fox administration).10
Salvador Abascal was one of the most prominent ideologues of the Catholic ultra-right. In his book La revolución mundial (The World Revolution), in which he argued that the 1917 Constitution was destroying the Mexican nation and that Lázaro Cárdenas was a Communist, he clearly projects the struggle of the Catholic ultra-right against the Mexican secular state, which has existed in various forms for more than 150 years.11 The secular state was the child of 19th-century liberalism, inspired and led by Benito Juárez, who in mid-century implemented the Laws of Reform, separating church from state, removing the privileges of the Catholic hierarchy, and creating a secular system of education and culture that lasted until the end of the 20th century.
Today, the Catholic hierarchy has made a comeback thanks to the constitutional reforms promoted by Carlos Salinas in the early 1990s, reforms that brought Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy very close to the government. Backed by the later PAN governments of Fox and Felipe Calderón, Salinas’s reforms have given the church a hegemonic advantage, against not only other religious denominations but also the more progressive currents of Catholicism.
After his 2000 election, Fox appointed many Yunque members to his cabinet. Many of these appointments were made in the Labor Department at the behest of Labor Secretary Carlos Abascal (a pro-Yunque activist who has never acknowledged his membership in the organization). These included Abascal’s private secretary, Raúl Vázquez Osorio, Undersecretary of Labor Francisco Xavier Salazar Saénz, Planning Coordinator Jesús Rivera Barroso, and the department’s budget director, Fernando Urbiola Ledezma. In addition to the Labor Department, which throughout the Fox presidency pushed hard to “reform” regulations in favor of greater flexibility in the hiring and firing of workers, the Department of Social Development became home for many Yunque members at the undersecretary level.
Moreover, it is worth recalling that Fox’s assistant attorney general, María de la Luz Lima Malvido, when she was a student activist on the ultra-right in the 1970s, had stolen a notebook from Méndez Arceo, “the Red Bishop,” and delivered it to a more conservative prelate who could then advise his colleagues as to the bishop’s daily routines. Her husband, Luis Rodríguez Manzanera, was a founding member of the MURO.12
But it is Manuel Espino, president of the PAN, who is the Yunque’s key operative within the halls of government. Espino, who has spoken openly about his affiliation with the Yunque, has been charged with maintaining the group’s control of the party. This has led the Yunque into an open confrontation with Calderón and produced a struggle between moderate conservatives and the ultra-right. Historian and columnist Jean Meyer cites a Yunque document that has recently circulated, in which the group affirms its historical mission of fighting the forces of Judaism, supposedly present in the Calderón government. The document speaks of “the growing influence of Zionism in the life of the nation” and vows to prepare “to combat all those who, being complicit in the conspiracy that tries to gain total control of the party and the government . . . and impedes the restoration of the Christian state.”13
This past August, the struggle between Calderón and Espino led to the creation of a new right-wing party called the Movimiento de Participación Solidaria (Movement of Cooperative Participation). It has been granted official status after registering with the Federal Electoral Institute with an eye to becoming a recognized political party. This group is promoted by the most conservative PAN activists, like René Bolio, who resigned from Calderón’s cabinet in order to actively promote the growth of the new party throughout the country. These conservative activists are also promoting a new National Sinarchist Union.
The new party, journalist Katia D’Artigues writes, “has come to be . . . the ultra-conservative brother of the PAN. . . . It brings together diverse PANistas tied to the Yunque, as well as members of the National Sinarchist Union. If it sounds like a plot against President Felipe Calderón, it certainly is. The . . . plotters have begun to organize via the Movement of Cooperative Participation.”14
Many groups within the PAN are now closing ranks in support of Calderón, and a Calderón ally, Secretary of Public Affairs Germán Martínez Caceres, has announced his intention of opposing Espino when the latter runs for reelection early next year.
In short, the Yunque has positioned itself not only against the critical, independent movements of the left (movements for indigenous rights and autonomy, reproductive rights, feminism in general, rights for sexual minorities, independent unionism, independent neighborhood movements) but also against most of the long-standing institutions of the secular state (religious pluralism; public education and the teachers who carry it out; and organizing/activity by students, labor, campesinos and urban residents under the umbrella of state-incorporated institutions).
The Yunque sees itself not as a conservative group trying to preserve some version of the status quo (nor even some Mexican status quo ante) but as a radical organization out to overturn “the system.” It is very much on the cutting edge of the radical right: a movement to overthrow a godless, secular state, and to replace it with a theocratic (Catholic) state. That explains its current anger at Calderón’s pragmatic, opportunistic drift.
Carlos Gabriel Sánchez, a PRI official in the state of Veracruz, offers a plausible interpretation of events. The political doctrine of the PRI, he tells me, is pragmatism for the sake of maintaining power. “The PAN is different,” he says. “Its leadership professes an ideology; its party militants are expected to follow certain political lines to remain within the party, and especially to rise within the party hierarchy. The PRI is also on the right but knows how to adapt to reality. The PAN wants to mold reality to its own expectations.”
If indeed this is the case, we can understand why the Yunque has been so determined to take over the PAN in its bid to finally come to power. And if it fails within the PAN, there is every indication that it will continue the struggle to “create the City of God in accordance with the Gospels” by other means.
Irene Ortiz is a writer and feminist activist based in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
1. Álvaro Delgado, El Yunque: La ultraderecha en el poder (Mexico City: Plaza y Janés, 2003); Manuel Buendía, La ultraderecha en México (Mexico City: Ediciones Océano S.A., 1984).
2. See the Web site “Duro contra la derecha,” http://durocontraladerecha.wordpress.com/2007/06/01/exhiben-a-el-yunque-... also see Delgado, El Yunque, p. 68.
3. Delgado, El Yunque, p. 23.
4. New members swear “priority, secrecy and discipline” to the organization. Ibid., p. 17.
5. Buendía, La ultraderecha en México; for Los Tecos, see www.unhcr.org/home.
6. Manuel Buendía, El Día (Mexico City), March 39, 1976.
7. Manuel Buendía, “La sagrada familia,” Revista Nexos no. 64, April 1983; Delgado, El Yunque, p. 72
8. See Buendía, “La sagrada familia.”
10. Jean Meyer, El sinarquismo: ¿un fascismo mexicano? (Mexico City: Joaquin Mortiz, 1975).
11. Salvador Abascal, La revolución mundial. De Herodes a Bush (Mexico City: Editorial Tradición, 1992).
12. Eugenia Jiménez, Alfredo Joyner, and Victor Michel, “El portafolio que robó Lima era de Sergio Méndez Arceo,” Milenio, May 24, 2002; also see Delgado, El Yunque, pp. 22–23.
13. Jean Meyer, “Será la vencida,” El Universal, June 10, 2007.
14. Katia D’Artigues, “Campos Elíseos,” El Universal, August 17, 2007.