The Guerilla and the Hope: Lucio Cabanas (2005)

“In the 60s and 70s in Mexico and many other countries, there was a wave of political violence that pitted the governments against popular and student protest movements. The result was hundreds of people dead and missing. In Mexico these years were known as the Dirty War. In Guerrero State, in Southern Mexico, the Costa Grande region was the hardest hit by state repression since that was where the peasant guerrilla movement arose led by teacher Lucio Cabanas.”

The Guerrilla and the Hope (Guerrilla y la Esperanza) is a 2005 documentary about the life of guerrilla leader Lucio Cabanas Barrientos (1938-1974). Cabanas, a schoolteacher, possessed a remarkable ability to “reconcile various parties: teachers, peasants, farmers and students.” Cabanas became radicalized after many friends and colleagues began to ‘disappear.’ After a clash with the army during strike action on May 18, 1967, which left many dead, Cabanas fled to the mountains. Here, forming the Army of the Poor and Peasants’ Brigade Against Injustice, he led an armed rebellion against the oppressive regime. Cabanas morphed from being a “peasant guerrilla” to a “revolutionary socialist guerrilla.” He and his fellow guerrillas survived in the Guerrero Mountains, and at one point, Cabanas kidnapped Figueroa, the Governor of Guerrero and held him for ransom.

The film includes this statement from President Luis Echeverria regarding the guerrillas:

“This small group of terrorist cowards are unfortunately made up of very young men and women who generally come from broken homes. They are mostly slow learners…very maladjusted adolescents with a precocious propensity to using drugs and with a high level of homosexuality.”

I had to include that quote as Echeverria states that the guerrillas turned to guerrilla warfare thanks to perceived social deviance, and of course this is a denial that poverty, torture, disappearances, and oppression have anything to do with this equation at all.

The most interesting aspects of the documentary concern the friction and infighting between the various guerrilla groups, and in one interview, a man states that he didn’t understand why the Communist party got a huge chunk of the loot from a kidnapping ransom. Ideological differences between various guerrilla factions led to problems and arguments. Cabanas was eventually killed by government forces determined to crack down after Figueroa’s kidnapping. The footage of Cabanas’s dead body–including close-ups of bullet wounds reminded me of the way Che’s body was treated like some sort of trophy after his death.

The documentary traces Cabanas’s early beginnings and his short life through archival footage and many interviews with family, friends, historians and fellow guerrillas. In spite of the fact that there’s a lot of information here–including from those who were directly involved–Cabanas remains a somewhat remote and impersonal subject. Various myths surrounding Cabanas are discussed, including the idea that he will return to avenge injustice, and special features include the trailer and interviews.

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Filed under Documentary, Mexican, Political/social films

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