To understand the situation in New Mexico, its enmity towards liberty, and its tolerance and embrace of tyranny (currently in the form of MIchelle Lujan Gresham), we have to look at history, going back 1400 years and across the seas.
For more than 700 years, the people of Iberia (today’s Spain, Portugal, and Catalonia) fought against an evil empire which had conquered and basically enslaved them. Finally, in 1492, the Spanish rulers of a united Crown finally kicked the last of the Muslim Moors across the Straits of Gibraltar into Africa.
But that centuries long conflict had an indelible impact on Spanish society. Although in 1492 Spanish society was arguably more free than English society – more liberty, more freedom for all classes – the traditions and habits of centuries remained. The monarchs, the nobles, and the military classes had been the leaders and taken the brunt of the burden of fighting to drive the invaders out: the Reconquista made them a very powerful and greatly-admired segment of society. The customs and laws which were seen as necessary for that incredible war remained in place.
While very briefly skimming all the political and economic aspects of the era, in fighting the evil Muslim empire, Spain and Portugal in many ways became evil empires themselves: enforced religious conformity, near-worship of the warriors and political leaders, low standards of living to fund the war effort, and more. All this had greatly damaged society and would continue to do so for centuries.
The warrior kings and princes and dukes of Iberia became the Emperors and conquistadors and caudillos of half a planet, from 1500 to 2000. Having defeated one threat to their society and religion (in the form of Islam), that same year, they discovered an entire New World filled with unsaved people to be taught the (Catholic) Gospel. And of course, in 1520, they found an empire even MORE evil than Islam’s, filled with sin (including mass human sacrifice) and incredibly wealthy by European standards. Wealth to enrich a homeland that had beggared itself for a half-millenia, and to fund alliances and dynasties and expansion in Europe and Africa.
The Spaniards (and Portugese) responded as they had been taught for generations: soldiers and missionaries, to destroy the evil and convert the unsaved. There was no only no pressure to end the top-down government and the special devotion to nobles and warriors, there was a desperate need to have MORE of these people, and give them MORE privileges and power. And in turn, they “saved” people and brought home to Iberia staggering amounts of wealth. (Which destroyed Iberia, but that is another story.)
Thus was born Nueva España, New Spain, with much the same society and government as the Iberian homeland – with the same problems and similar conditions and new ones added: the “merciless savages” and the pagan, even MORE warlike, human-sacrificing priests and other wealthy, pagan nations and tribes. The need for strong, centralized government, and powerful, privileged military and naval forces was greater than ever. Government was harsh. Opposition was immediately to be suppressed. Society existed to support the elite in the colonies and the homeland. With the rise of the Protestant Reformation, the number of enemies of the Empire (which included much more of Europe than just Spain) and the Church grew, and threatened the sealanes and the control of the New World.
Especially in the northern, interior provinces (which would later become TX, NM, AZ, SO (Sonora), etc.), the role of government – especially the military – grew still more harsh and repressive. The establishment of Nuevo Mexico province in 1598 began the modern era. It was, actually, the colony of a colony: Mexico was the heart of Nueva Espanya, and as explorers, missionaries, and settlers pushed north, they encountered both the AmerInd who lived in permanent settlements (the “Pueblos” – oldest surviving, continuously settled towns in the Fifty States) and the nomads, especially the Dineh (Navajo and Apache). Spanish imperial rule, and Roman Catholicism, set uneasily on the Pueblo, and they revolted in 1680. That regained independence ended with the reconquest of Nuevo Mexico in 1692.
In addition to keeping their thumb on the rebels, new threats arose. The spread of horses north and east from New Mexico brought the Ute, Comanche, Kiowa, and others to raid not just Nuevo Mexico but Tejas (Texas) and other provinces. All of these things served to reinforce the nature of local government and its military.
These things all corrupted and ultimately destroyed the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Europe and the Mediterranean. (Although the end did not come until 1898 with the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines). But the legacy of Spanish government and military affairs remains strong especially in Latin America.
Mexico, of course, was the navel of the Spanish American possessions. (Pun intended: “Mexico” literally translates as “Navel of the Moon” in Nahuatl.) With Spain weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, Mexico gained its independence in a war of eleven years (1810-1821) and became its own empire. Although that first empire was short-lived (replaced by a federal republic in 1823), it was a centralized, authoritarian, and highly-military-oriented government.
Thus it has been in Mexico ever since. Although seemingly very much like the Fifty States or even the Dominion of Canada in government (three branches, state/provincial governments, etc.), the various Mexican regimes have been very similar: power is centralized in Ciudad Mexico, and the various civil wars, revolutions, and even external wars have always centered around that city and the power of whomever controls it.
We will pick up this sad tale in Part Two.