Patronage: Alive and Well in Rio Arriba County


“I feel your pain but as long as the patrón fixes my road, he’s got my vote.” That paraphrase about sums up Rio Arriba County Commissioner Danny Garcia’s response to the testimony delivered at the August 27th commission meeting in Tierra Amarilla by those citizens protesting his support of the resolution to rename the Rio Arriba County Annex the Emilio Naranjo Building. Emilio’s nephew, Alex Naranjo, former Rio Arriba County Commissioner, introduced the resolution calling for the name change in December, shortly before he left office, stating in The New Mexican, “He was a public servant for 50 years. My uncle was a legend in Northern New Mexico. I’m very proud of him.”

As I described in an earlier La Jicarita article, Emilio Naranjo’s reign of terror began back in the 1970s when he served as county sheriff, wielding unlimited power and abuse with his corrupt patronage (he also served, over the course of 40 years, as state senator, U.S. Marshall, and chairman of the Democratic Party). As UNM Professor David Correia says in his book Property of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico, “When patronage failed to produce political results, Naranjo deployed an army of sheriff’s deputies as enforcers.”

Two of the people who felt the brunt of that enforcement testified before the commission on the 27th: Ike DeVargas and Carol Miller. DeVargas, a founding member of La Raza Unida and longtime activist, told the commission, “I stood up against Naranjo politically, not personally,” because of the tactic of fear he employed to keep his power: “People had to kneel down at the alter of Emilio Naranjo.” It became personal for DeVargas when Naranjo deployed his deputies against him to try to quiet his opposition. In a chilling delivery, DeVargas described how they planted drugs at his house while Naranjo put out a contract on his life. In self-defense, he disarmed the off-duty sheriff’s deputy who challenged him to a fight and ended up in the state pen with a huge bond, where he was beaten by the guards. The charges against him were eventually dropped.

Carol Miller and Ike DeVargas

Carol Miller, of Ojo Sarco, is a longtime health specialist and activist who was the Executive Director of La Clinica del Pueblo de Rio Arriba in Tierra Amarilla, after DeVargas’s tenure there. Naranjo targeted the clinic as a community stronghold of the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant and La Raza Unida, and DeVargas and Miller had to sue the county to force it to fund ambulance service and road maintenance at the clinic from the mill levy (the county settled with a large one-time cash payment and guaranteed share of the mil levy).

Miller read a statement signed by Wilfredo Vigil. She asked the county to “find a name for the county complex in Española that unites our community,” that looks forward, not backward, to someone who caused so much pain and who so many had to sue to hold to account. She identified the people at the commission meeting who were harmed by Naranjo: Ike DeVargas, Larry Miller, Alan Siegal (who Naranjo arrested on a misdemeanor charge and illegally delivered to a federal prison in Texas) and Moises Morales. Morales, a land grant activist and former county commissioner (he’s now running again), tells stories of being shot at and, like DeVargas, framed by a drug plant. He was also targeted, along with Pedro Archuleta, by the FBI as having connections to a militant Puerto Rican liberation group, all unsubstantiated. Miller asked the commissioners to be a “new face” for our children. She also referenced a letter by Richard Rosenstock, longtime civil rights attorney, asking the commission to reconsider its decision to name the building after someone who violated so many people’s civil rights. In the letter he lays out the history of the cases against Moises Morales and Ike DeVargas, both of whom he represented, and all of which were dismissed or settled in favor of the defendants.

Commission Chairman Garcia, who I paraphrased earlier, went on at length that while he acknowledged that Naranjo’s illegal activities had hurt many people it could be excused by what is essentially patronage, i.e., fixing someone’s road for their vote and support. Garcia was challenged by Miller, who told him that Naranjo didn’t get his road fixed, our tax dollars did.

Left to right: Rio Arriba County Commissioners James Martinez, Danny Garcia, Leo Jaramillo.

Commissioner Leo Jaramillo then asked County Manager Tomás Compos if there is a process the county must follow to put forward resolutions officially naming county buildings or sites. Compos cited examples of when public figures had donated money to have a park or other site named for them, but that this was the first time the county had passed a resolution to rename a building. Jaramillo suggested that if resolutions are put forward by the commission it would be a good idea to hold public hearings before action was taken. DeVargas responded, “How about just keep the name Rio Arriba County Annex Building, which represents the citizens of Rio Arriba County.” He reminded the commissioners that the state had had to remove former state legislator Manny Aragon’s name from a government building after he was convicted and sent to prison for conspiracy to defraud the state. In that vein, let’s not forgot the number of museums and cultural sites named for the Purdue Pharma Sackler family under indictment for false advertising of opioids, or the cancer centers and art facilities named for the recently deceased David Koch, an oil and corporate magnate largely responsible for climate disruption whose existence he denied.

The three commissioners said they would “discuss” what the protesters presented and decide later whether they would leave the building named for Naranjo or reconsider the resolution.

The third county commissioner, James Martinez, who spoke less that Garcia and Jaramillo, is the son-in-law of Española pastor Michael Naranjo, who is Emilio Naranjo’s nephew. As I stated earlier, Alex Naranjo, who introduced the resolution, is Emilio Naranjo’s nephew. Nick Naranjo, who is the chairman of the board of the Jemez Mountains Electric Co-op, is Emilio Naranjo’s nephew (Nick is being challenged by a group JMEC Trustees 4 Change over claims of mismanagement and patronage). Magistrate Court Judge Alexandra Naranjo is Alex Naranjo’s daughter. His wife, Lenore Naranjo, is the Chief Clerk of the New Mexico Senate. And so the Naranjo name will linger even without a plaque on a public building .


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