The Cristero movement of Mexico, 1926-1929, was a part of one of the most significant church-state controversies in twentieth-century Latin America and is thus deserving of the attention recent writers have given it. Méjico Cristero and Entre las patas de los caballos are forceful additions to Cristero partisan literature. They are welcome because they add details to a well-known story even though, unfortunately, they contribute little to an understanding of the basic conflict between Mexico and the Catholic Church.
The two books are alike in outlook. Both are brimming over with pro-Cristero, anti-government zeal. Both so magnify the sins of the Calles, Obregón, and Ortíz Rubio administrations as to render them scarcely recognizable. Both almost automatically insert the adjectives “Bolshevist” or “atheist” when referring to the Mexican government or the Revolution. Both glorify Cristero leaders, and, to the point of obsession, dwell upon the last words and last actions of martyred Cristeros. To supplement these gruesome passages the authors include numerous morbid photographs of executions and dead heroes. Even the fanatic José de León Toral, Obregón’s assassin, receives the encomiums of Facius and Rivero del Val. On the other hand, neither details nor photographs of assassinated government leaders are included in either volume.
The disadvantages of reading books so prejudiced are obvious, but if one is willing to put up with them, the books can be read with profit. Méjico Cristero is primarily a history of the Asociación Católica de la Juventud Mejicana (the ACJM), one of the first lay organizations to combat the anti-clerical clauses of the Constitution of 1917, and one of the first to take up arms against the government in 1926. Facius covers the ACJM’s guerrilla campaigns, fundraising efforts in the United States, and propaganda activities at home. Although the book is often tediously detailed on these subjects, its comprehensiveness is its most praiseworthy feature. The author used some ACJM archival material, but appears to have relied more heavily on newspapers and secondary accounts.
Luis Rivero del Val’s diary of his experiences as an acejotamero has less scholarly merit than the Facius book. There is no documentation other than occasional references to a newspaper and the scope of the book is less comprehensive. But it does not pretend to be a history—it is a personal record. By concentrating on his own hardships and experiences Rivero del Val is able to capture the smell of battle and the spirit of the Cristeros. While Rivero del Val is as dedicated to the cause as Facius, he is not so ponderous about it. In his accounts of his adventures as an ACJM courier he does not disguise his high excitement nor does he fail to mention the occasional humor of his situation. The result is a slightly different view of the Cristero war—it appears as more of a youthful adventure than a struggle of the faithful against the government.
Facius and Rivero del Val do not add much in perspective or interpretation of the Cristero movement, but they amply demonstrate that it is a subject of historical importance and dramatic interest. Hopefully, the next authors to attack the subject will do so with greater objectivity.