TULUM, Mexico – The recent unveiling of the Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport has stirred a fervor of optimism within the Tulum community, accompanied by a chorus of diverse perspectives. Amidst the excitement, questions linger about the enigmatic figure behind the airport’s name—Felipe Carrillo Puerto. As we explore this historic moment, we embark on a journey into the life of a man whose legacy continues to shape the identity of Tulum and the broader Mexican region.
Born on November 8, 1847, in Motul, Yucatán, Felipe Carrillo Puerto emerged as a multifaceted force—politician, journalist, revolutionary leader, and governor of Yucatán from 1922 to 1924. The second of 14 children born to Adela Puerto and Justino Carrillo, his early education took place in the local school and Mérida. Fluent in the Mayan language since childhood, Carrillo Puerto’s lifelong commitment to championing the rights of the indigenous Maya people began to take root.
At the age of 18, he found himself incarcerated for urging the community to dismantle a barrier erected by Dzununcan landowners, obstructing the passage of Maya indigenous people.[^1^]
Carrillo Puerto’s involvement in the Mexican Revolution within the Zapatista movement was marked by his advocacy for the 1857 Constitution among the Maya Indians and laborers on the henequen haciendas. Establishing the Partido Socialista del Sureste (formerly known as the Partido Socialista Obrero de Yucatán) when armed conflict reached the peninsula, he led the legislature of his state in 1918 and called for elections. Fleeing persecution by the Carrancistas, he returned in 1920 to align with the Plan de Agua Prieta, working to nullify state powers and securing a seat as a deputy in the Congress of the Union.
Assuming the governorship in 1922, Carrillo Puerto delivered his inaugural speech in the Mayan language, a symbolic gesture reflecting his deep connection to the indigenous population. His progressive administration implemented “cultural Fridays” and granted women full political rights to vote and stand for office. Instituting the revocation of elected officials upon popular demand, he tirelessly advocated for the underprivileged sectors, distributing “red cards” signifying party affiliation. Declaring the henequen industry a matter of public interest, he regulated production, established the Export Commission of Yucatán, and championed the League of Medium and Small Henequen Producers. Carrillo Puerto also revitalized land distribution, founded the Local Agrarian Commission, and communalized ejido production. Moreover, he pioneered socialist schools, created the Mexican Academy of Mayan Language, and founded the University of the Southeast.[^2^]
In 1923, Carrillo Puerto faced the challenge of quelling Adolfo de la Huerta’s rebellion against President Álvaro Obregón. Forced abroad due to the insurgents’ influence in Yucatán, he narrowly escaped a shipwreck and, upon surrendering to the leaders of the Cooperative Party supporting the rebellion, was ousted from power. Captured in Holbox, Quintana Roo, on December 21, 1923, he met his tragic end through execution on January 3, 1924, alongside eleven others, including some of his siblings.[^3^]
Acknowledging his contributions, the State Congress declared Carrillo Puerto a Meritorious Citizen of the State of Yucatán in 1927. Revered as the “Apostle of the Race” for his advocacy of the Mayan language and indigenous communities, his legacy lives on, now symbolized by the recently inaugurated Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport in Tulum. The airport stands not only as a testament to connectivity and progress but also as a reflection of the enduring spirit of a leader who dedicated his life to the betterment of his people.