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The Caste War

The Caste War of Yucatán was one of the longest-running insurgencies of the nineteenth century. The armed resistance had origins in the expropriation of public land for private agricultural estates—known as haciendas—which followed Mexican independence. This redistribution impacted the subsistence farming of mostly Maya peasants and exacerbated their inability to pay increased taxes and church offerings. Maya and mixed-ancestry soldiers who had served in the Yucatán army for unfulfilled promises—including relief from taxation—were ripe for rebellion. Hence the war's name, suggestive of societal and racial conflict.

The first massacre by rebels took place in January 1847 at Valladolid, but the attack at Tepich on July 30 marked the official beginning of the war. By 1850, the greatest losses had been sustained. Census figures indicate that the population of Yucatán was halved; almost 250,000 people died or fled the region.

In 1849, the economic devastation also led the government to a desperate act: the sale of Maya captives as slaves to Cuba, which continued until 1861.

Meanwhile, rebels retreated and developed strongholds in the East. The cult of the "Cruz Parlante"—a cross that spoke through an interpreter—began in 1850 and gave spiritual strength to rebels in Quintana Roo. They continued to fight, and it was only in 1901 that the Caste War was officially declared over. Quintana Roo remained, however, an area resistant to Mexican government intervention for decades. "Cruz Parlante" devotion continues to this day.

The extreme situation of peasantry and commercial agriculture's debt peonage system were contributing factors to the Mexican Revolution. The revolution had its first "spark" in 1910 at Valladolid, the same city where the Caste War began.