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  HOME | Mexico

Feminine Wiles a Weapon in Mexico’s Independence Struggle

By Julian Rodriguez Marin

MEXICO CITY – Spanish colonial governments in Mexico persecuted and repressed, even with death, female rebels they accused of using their charms to seduce their officers and convince them to switch sides, historian Maria Jose Garrido told Efe.

“The crime of seduction was one of the most frequent accusations against women who joined the insurgency,” Garrido, who has studied the role of women in Mexico’s War of Independence that broke out in 1810, said.

Garrido, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said that while in that era women had no political rights or access to positions of power, the rebels saw in them a great force that favored their cause.

The historian told Efe that in rebel newspapers of the period, women were ordered not to give in to the amorous approaches of royalists, the term used for supporters of colonial power.

“In 1812, one of the rebel newspapers published two articles inviting women living in New Spain (as Mexico was then known) to take part in the War of Independence in different ways,” the historian said.

She said that, for the author of those articles, women had a big debt to pay since they considered that their submission, beginning with Doña Marina – or La Malinche, the indigenous woman who acted as translator and adviser for conquistador Hernan Cortes – was responsible for the conquest and therefore they owed it to everyone to take part in the fight for independence.

In those articles, the authors asked women not to marry Spaniards, while those already married to them were urged to get their spouses to become spies to aid the Mexican cause.

In case of an imminent marriage with a Spaniard, women were asked to make the wedding contingent on the husband switching to the insurgent ranks and educating any children they might have on the side of independence.

In the article “Fears of the Royalists: Women of the Insurgents,” published in the July 2010 issue of Histories of Mexico, Garrido tells how in October 1814, Agustin de Iturbide allowed the women and children of rebels to be taken captive to force their men to surrender.

In November of that year some 300 women were jailed for two years without trial in an attempt to stop the actions of a rebel group commanded by Jose Antonio Torres in what is now the central state of Guanajuato.

In response to their detention, “enraged” rebels burned ranches, banned under the threat of death that they provide any provisions and decreed “extermination and death” against all royalists, for which Iturbide in turn threatened to execute the women by firing squad when the rebels committed certain crimes, though there is no documentation that such a reprisal ever took place.

Iturbide defended his decision with the argument that “this class of women sometimes causes more harm than armed squads of men...consider the power of the fair sex over a man’s heart, and that is sufficient to understand the good and evil they are capable of.”

Iturbide had previously ordered Maria Tomasa Estevez de Salas shot to death after she was convicted of seducing royalist troops in the Salamanca region, and who he said had a great deal of success in her rebel activities because of “her beautiful figure.”

Another case was that of Bernarda Espinoza, who was executed for expressing her joy at a royalist defeat and for so lavishly favoring the insurgents.

Iturbide’s opinion was shared by other military men and colonial authorities, for whom femininity was a serious threat against the authority incapable of fighting it.

Other historical studies point to the role of Carmen Camacho, who seduced a garrison of soldiers into deserting.

In 1815 a judge described these women as one of the worst evils because, due to their sex, they were an instrument for seducing all kinds of people and were capable of carrying messages, spying and trafficking arms under their skirts. EFE

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