The Red Shirts (Spanish: Camisas Rojas) were a paramilitary organization, existing in the 1930s, founded by the virulently anti-Catholic, atheist and anticlerical Governor of Tabasco, Mexico, Tomás Garrido Canabal during his second term. As part of their attempt to destroy the Church, they systematically destroyed church buildings. The group, created to carry out the governor's orders, takes its name from its uniform of red shirts, blacks pants, and black and red military caps and it consisted of men aged 15 to 30.
Apart from religion, the Red Shirts also attacked other things they considered to be detrimental to progress, most notably alcohol. They have been described as "fascist", however, the anthem of the Red Shirts was the Internationale, widely considered to be the socialist anthem, and Garrido named one of his sons after Vladimir Lenin, a Marxist and anti-fascist and also considered himself a Marxist Bolshevik. Some scholars have argued that Garrido's authoritarian policies were more akin to European right-wing dictatorships, though he wished to turn the traditionally conservative state of Tabasco into a socialist model and fought for socialist causes. Tabasco has been called a "socialist tyranny" by Martin C. Needler, Dean of the School of International Studies at the University of the Pacific in California. Garrido also invited the First Congress of Socialist Students to meet in the state of Tabasco and created a form of socialist education which he termed "Rationalist".
The Red Shirts have been described as "shock troops of indoctrination for the intense campaign against 'God and religion.'" The Red Shirts were also used to put down the Cristeros revolt, an uprising which rebelled against what they felt was the persecution of Catholics. The Red Shirts practice socialist marriages, and two Red Shirt members, José Correa and Victoria Ley, pronounced their own vows:
Before society, before Comrade Tomas Garrido Canabal, and all present, we declare that we have united in matrimony by our express will
And another two members sent out invitations:
J. Felix Gutierrez and Amalia Gonzalez have the honor to invite you to the civil and socialist matrimonial act, to take place at 21 o' clock the 17th of this month at 305 Gomez Farias Street. Please honor us...
The Red Shirts celebrated the death of Christ on Good Friday 1935 and the connected League against Religious Fanaticism had their own radio show call "Anti-Fanatic Hour", which was made up of 12 parts, including the "Hymn To The Socialist School", the song "Anti-Alcoholic Protest" and six speeches (including one on "The Class Struggle").
In 1934 Garrido was named secretary of Agriculture by the new president Lázaro Cárdenas, hoping to contain the Red Shirts that way. However, Garrido took the Red Shirts with him to Mexico City at the National Autonomous University of Mexico to intervene in student politics.
On December 30, 1934, the Red Shirts opened fired on Catholic exiles who were seeking to return to Tabasco as they were leaving Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church in Coyoacán, killing five and wounding many others. Garrido sent the murderers a case of Champagne in jail and declared that they were under his protection. In 1935, after he ordered his Red Shirts to kill Catholic activists in Mexico City who were seeking to return to Tabasco, Canabal was forced to step down and into exile in Costa Rica. His paramilitary groups, including the Camisas Rojas, were subsequently disbanded.
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