Canoa (1976)




Director:  Felipe Cazals.

Starring:  Arturo Alegro (Ramn), Sergio Caldern (Presidente municipal), Carlos Chvez (Miguel), Rodrigo Cruz (Tendero), Gerardo del Castillo (Manuel), Alicia del Lago (Esposa de Lucas), Malena Doria (Ama de llaves del cura), Jorge Fegn (Comandante), Jaime Garza (Roberto), Guillermo Gil (Policia del ejercito), Ernesto Gmez Cruz (Lucas), Enrique Lucero (Priest), Juan ngel Martnez (Comisario), Gastn Melo (Sacristan), Manuel Ojeda (Hombre del pueblo), Rodrigo Puebla (Pedro), Salvador Snchez (Witness), Roberto Sosa (Julin), Gerardo Vigil (Jess Carrillo Snchez).

a group of university employees get into real trouble when they are mistaken for Communists




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

September 15, 1968.  Dawn.  A reporter calls in his story to his newspaper.  Five employees of the Autonomous University of Puebla were lynched by over 2,000 people of the town of San Miguel, Canoa.  The employees were mistaken for communist university students.  Four are dead and one is badly wounded.  The young men wanted to climb to the top of Malinche Mountain.  Instead, they were accused of wanting to place the communist red and black flag in the church.   The dead are Julian Gonzales, Roberto Rojano, Jesus Carrillo and Ramon Gutierrez.  Miquel Flores Cruz was badly wounded.  There are also several wounded assailants.  The bodies were mangled and cannot be identified individually. 

September 16. Independence Day. San Miguel.  A local village resident serves as a commentator on San Miguel.  The population of San Miguel in 1968 is 5,945.  The population of the nearby state capital of Puebla is 50,000 people.  The people of San Miguel are mostly Indian and don't even speak Spanish, but an Indian dialect.  They are largely illiterate or semi-illiterate.  Only 20-30% percent of the children go on to secondary school (which stops at grade 9).  The few who are lucky enough or rich enough to continue their education have to do so in Puebla. 

The local priest is the virtual dictator of the town.  This particular priest came from Aguatenpan, Puebla.  He fled from there due to complains about his abuses.  In San Miguel he makes the appointments to political office, he uses spies to inform on those who do not carry out his wishes, and he uses the church to virtually control the minds of the townspeople. 

At the University Julian is organizing a climb to the top of Malinche Mountain over a three-day weekend.  One of his colleagues tells him that the people in San Miguel are "real violent".    Miguel dismisses the idea, partly because he has been to Malinche Mountain twice already.  He is trying to do his recruiting against the backdrop of student demonstrations at the University.  Many opponents of the students took the red and black flag of the demonstrators to be a communist flag. 

September 14. San Miguel.  The priest spreads a message of rabid anti-communism full of fear, prejudice and hate.  He tells the people that the communists are coming and will take their children.  The town has become a frightened one.

September 14.  10:30 a.m.   Miguel continues to gather his recruits.  He hoped to get a large group but in the end only gets four who want to go.  Their preparations for the hike give the impression of being very amateurish and done at the last minute. 

5:50 p.m.  They get on the bus headed for San Miguel.

6:30 p.m.  The five hikers arrive at San Miguel and it starts pouring rain.  They had wanted to start climbing almost immediately, but now they have to look for a place to stay.  There are no motels or hotels in San Miguel.  They are told to talk to the priest about a place to stay.  Two of the guys talk with the priest while the other three wait.  The three meet a group of townspeople who tell them that they should leave the villager or "it will go bad for you".  One even threatens them with a rifle and tells them to "beat it". 

The two other hikers ask the priest for a place to stay.  He says that he cannot take strangers into the church.  The guys tell him that they are only university employees and present no threat.  The priest asks the two for some kind of identification, which they do not have with them.  He remains adamant that they can't stay in the church.  Someone else tells them that there will be no buses available at this time of night and that they should take a taxi back to Puebla. 

The guys finally find a group of young people who say that they can stay at one of the grandparent's houses.  While making the arrangements, it becomes clear that the five hikers are being watched intently.  Lucas Garcia invites the five into his house and lets them stay in a large room. 

8:15 p.m.  Rumors are spreading wildly through the small town.  The townspeople spread messages of prejudice and hate claiming that the five young men are really communist students.  The church bells start ringing to notify the whole town of danger.  Gunshots are heard.  Over the loud speaker is heard the message that the five are outlaws and heretics who intend to raise the communist red and black flag in the church.  Moreover, the communists are going to kill the people of the town.

Hundreds of townspeople gather in front of the church with torches and weapons of various kinds. The noise level is also rising.  Some of the five employees start to become worried and a little scared.  Miguel at first dismisses the fears, but as the noise grows louder and louder they all become scared. 

September 16.  The local priest tells the news media that he could do nothing to stop the crowd.  And yes, it was true that the students had asked for a place to stay in the church, but they were turned down by the cook, not him.  The local commentator says that two weeks prior to the incident, the priest was telling his parishioners that the University students were coming to the village to kill them, take their animals and force their children to worship the devil. 

September 15.  9:15 p.m.  Lucas Garcia tries to stop the townspeople from grabbing the five youths, but he is hit, knocked down and then short in the chest.  The mob rushes into the room.  They start beating the five employees brutally and continue this for quite a while.  They kickand hit them with clubs.  One man tries to stop the beatings by saying he will personally escort the five to jail.    The crowd agrees, but as they push the students along they continue the beating, kicking and clubbing.  All five are covered with blood from numerous wounds.  One of the five is shot in the head.

10 p.m.  The villagers have placed rocks in the road to prevent the Red Cross coming to the rescue of the now four.  As they beat two of the four they ask them where ares the communist propaganda and the communist flags. 

September 19.  One of the employees who survived, but who is still in the hospital, tells the news media that the reports in the newspaper are all lies. 

September 15. 10:30 p.m.  The police finally arrive from Puebla to restore order.  They find the Mayor of the town stinking drunk.  They are very skeptical of the reports of the local police chief and other townspeople.

September 17.  Led by the local priest dictator, the village of San Miguel celebrates with dancing and a carnival complete with merry-go-round and a ferriswheel.  They collect money to pay to the University for damages.  The local commentator says that things used to be bad in the village, but now they are worse.


17 arrest warrant were issued.  Only 5 of those arrested went to trial.  Of the 5, 2 were freed for a lack of evidence and 1 only served two years in prison because his 8-year sentence was revoked.  Of the remaining 2, 1 went to prison for 8 years and the other for 11 years.  None of the main agitators were even put on trial. 


Good movie.  Good but hard to watch.  The village atmosphere reminded me of the old days in the American south where racists would kill civil-rights workers with the support of the local law enforcement agencies and the people of the town.  The murderers were not punished because the local all-white juries refused to find them guilty.  The south was a scary place in those days for non-racists, but San Miguel, if possible, was even worse than the American south.  The local priest was a dictator who ruled by fear and rewards/punishments.  The other town officials, appointed by him, supported the corrupt regime.  And the police chief actively supported the reign of terror in the village.  The poor University employees who came to San Miguel were beaten and/or killed within hours of their arrival.  Kind of makes you want to stay away from Indian villages in rural Mexico.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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