The Ex-Convento of Santa Maria de Churubusco now sits completely surrounded by low lying residential neighbourhoods on the edge of Coyoacan, a district on the south side of Mexico City.
When Franciscan friars arrived there in 1524, just three years after the fall of the great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan to largely native forces allied to the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, it was an outlying agricultural area supplying fruit and flowers to area markets.
Warfare and newly introduced diseases exacted a horrible toll on local inhabitants along with all the other indigenous peoples in the central valley of Mexico.
The high, thick walls of the monastery cause one to wonder. First built from the stones of the destroyed teocalli, or temple pyramid of the Aztec city of Huitzilopocho previously there, were the imposing barriers meant to protect the minority of foreigners from the vast native population surrounding them? Or did the fortress-like architecture simply seek to effectively cloister the monastic community from the larger society?
The Churubusco monastery would indeed serve as a stronghold some two and a half centuries after its original buildings rose. General Pedro Maria Anaya commanded the Mexican forces marshalled there against an invading US army under Major General Winfield Scott on August 20, 1847. The solid walls I stood before a couple of weeks ago still bear the scars of the artillery strikes from that day.
Churubusco stood as the last formidable obstacle blocking a final assault on the Mexican capital. More than 4,000 soldiers died or were wounded in the defence of this bastion, including members of the San Patricio’s battalion made up of Irish and European expatriates most of whom had defected from the US Army. It fell to the invaders. After bitter hand-to-hand combat General Anaya was forced to surrender. The invasion force demanded his remaining ammunition. Anaya is said to have famously replied, “If I had any ammunition, you would not be here.”
Today the former Churubusco monastery houses the National Interventions Museum. Room after room record the number of times that foreigners from the French to pro-slavery filibusters have invaded this land. Not surprisingly, much attention is given over to the 1846-1848 American invasion which saw Mexico lose over half of its overall territory to the United States.
Arguably this particular chapter in North American history stands as an early example of a resource war. With the cession of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California and portions of another four states it represented a land grab of over two million square kilometres. As well California gold would mightily help finance the industrial development of the northeastern states and the building of the railroads.
Today, needed resources still ignite wars. The oil wars are an obvious example, but there certainly are others. For example DanChurchAid, a Danish non-governmental organization asserts that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly connected to coltan profits.”
Coltan, a mineral used in many electronic devices, has helped sustain the Congolese conflict claiming between 3 to 5 million victims since 1998.
Somehow we have to break the resource dependencies and acceptance of outright greed that led us to abandon our principles and ideals.
Somehow we have to put more energy into creating international institutions that strive to build lasting peace and an equitable distribution of wealth than into making war for the wrong reasons.
Somehow we and our politicians have to get our priorities straight. If we don’t, the suffering and dying will certainly continue.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.