November 19, 1999
The Mexican Revolution 1910 -1920
By Daniel Muñoz
Every November 20th, Mexico commemorates one of the defining moments in its history La Revolución Mexicana (The Mexican Revolution).
The story of the Mexican Revolution of 1920 began in 1862 with the French intervention.
Landing on the shores of Veracruz, the French along with Spanish
and English expeditionary forces came to Mexico seeking to force
payment on debts owed to them. Mexico, at first, refused to pay
on the national debt but eventually settled with Spain and England.
However the French armies of Napoleon III had other plans for
Mexico. Napoleon, the French Emperor, had visions of turning Mexico
into a French outpost in the Americas. The French moved to put
Maximilian Von Hapsburg as Emperor of Mexico.
Francisco I. Madero
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the beginning of the struggle against the French by President Benito Juarez and his rag tag army.
One of the heroes in the struggle against the French invaders was Porfirio Diaz who was to become a brilliant and courageous general.
The untimely death of Juarez in 1872 precipitated a leadership vacuum. In the midst of these political crises, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada was elected president. Tejada tried to implement the Leyes de Reforma (The Reform Laws) and other liberal programs but met with resistance and toward the end of his term in 1876 he faced armed insurrection.
Porfirio Diaz led a military revolt from his native Oaxaca that placed him in power by the end of 1876. Diaz ruled for 34 years, until 1910. This period became know as El Porfiriato.
Diaz, a confidant, shrewd and ruthless individual did a complete about face once in power. The former liberal now believed that Mexico's troubles stemmed from an open political climate that permitted divisive criticism and disruptive opposition. He believed that the road to economic progress was paved with political harmony and social stability even though they were obtained through violence and oppression.
The Diaz government curtailed basic freedoms. The military and police became the instruments by which all dissension was stifled or eliminated. The press lost its freedom. The workers lost all their rights. And all those who disagreed became desaparcidos (the Disappeared Ones) or, passed the next 30 years in prisons or, were tortured to death.
A measure of economic development did take place, such as the building of 24,000 kilometers of railroads, mostly paid for by American interests who eagerly rushed in to exploit all of Mexico's resources; the tobacco and beer industries prospered; a national bank was created; and taxes were collected on a fairly regular basis.
Economic growth and prosperity, however, was limited to a few segments of society. The rich benefited greatly while the poor became destitute. The hacienda or large stretches of arming and ranching land owned by one person or family came into existence. Correspondingly, many campesinos became landless peons and labored for the hacendado under conditions that bordered on slavery.
During this time, Diaz also opened Mexico's door to foreign exploitation.
In 1908, Porfirio Diaz granted an interview to a U.S. reporter that was translated into Spanish. Diaz tried to blunt foreign criticism of his brutal regime by saying tongue in cheek that he would welcome opposition parties in the 1910 elections. Many Mexicans took him at his word and candidates were put forth.
At that time, Francisco I. Madero had written a popular book in which he struck a responsive chord: a deep longing for justice and democracy.
A member of a rather well to do family, Madero became the popular candidate and won the election of 1910. However Diaz declared himself the winner and had Madero jailed in San Luis Potosi.
From jail Madero issued a call for an armed uprising against the Diaz dictatorship to start on November 20, 1910.
Though Diaz controlled the federal army, Madero's followers were not deterred. The first ones to answer the call for armed conflict were Benito Ibarra from Coahuila, Enrique Flores Magon, Praxedis Guerrero, Los Hermanos Agiles, Maximo y Carmen de Puebla, Pascual Orozco, Jose de la Luz Blanco, and Francisco (Pancho) Villa all from Chihuahua. Jose Maytorena from Sonora, Eulalio and Luis Agustin Castro from Durgano, Luis Moya from Zecatecas and Emiliano Zapata from Morelos.
These brave revolutionaries, again with their rag-tag armies, faced the entire Federal Army and Navy under the control of the "Maximo Caudillo," Porfirio Diaz.
The first major encounter occurred on November 21, 1910 in the state of Chihuahua in the city of Guerrero where the revolutionaries under the command of Pascual Orozco attacked the Third Calvary Regiment under the command of Capt. Salvador Ormachea. By the 17th of April 1911 the war was over in the northern states of Mexico. The Federal Generals asked for an armistice and by the 21st, President Diaz agreed and peace was established.
The war, however, continued in the South were General Emiliano Zapata, of the agricultural workers and farmers and commander of the liberated forces of the south went on the attack against the Federal forces.
Emiliano Zapata wanted agrarian reform. The corrupt Diaz regime lost support and battles. By 1912 Madero assumed the presidency after Diaz fled Mexico.
Madero, though highly respected and admired, did not possess the political skill required of a firm, decisive leader. He made the mistake of leaving Diaz' men in positions of influence in the government bureaucracy, the press, the military and in the police.
His supporters, who had risked their lives during the war, wanting him to implement much needed reforms, pressured Madero on the one side. On the other side were the conservatives, Diaz' cronies, who demanded he maintain the status quo.
Alone in the capitol, surrounded by Diaz' supporters, Madero was soon betrayed, captured and assassinated along with his Vice President Jose Maria Pino Suarez.
General Victoriano Huerta, an unscrupulous, immoral person took possession of the presidency. On the 18th of February 1913, the usurpers of Madera recognized Pedro Lascurain, an attorney, as the immediate President to succeed Madero. He lasted in office exactly 45 minutes, just long enough to name Huerta as Secretary of Government. He then resigned as President.
Huerta immediately issued a proclamation that he being the Secretary of Government was now naming himself the President of Mexico and the second phase of the Mexican Revolution began.
The governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza rebelled against this naked grab of the nation by Huerta. Immediately Carranza formed an army called El Ejercito Constitucionalista. Both Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata entered into an uneasy alliance with Carranza to defeat the forces of Huerta in 1914.
The final phase of the Revolution, which lasted six years through 1920, took place between Carranza, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
Venustiano Carranza assumed the title of Primer Jefe del Ejercito Constituciónalista (Chief of all the Armed Forces.) Pancho Villa and his forces were ensconced in the North (Sonora and Chihuahua) unwilling to concede control of the nation to Carranza.
General Alvaro Obregon was put in charge of defeating Villa and the army of the North and eventually Obregon defeated Pancho Villa in Celaya. Villa ceased being an important military figure.
Emiliano Zapata abandoned Mexico City and surrendered in his native state of Morelos.
In the end, ego, jealousies, and thirst for power led General Alvaro Obregon to turn against his former leader Carranza. Both Zapata and Carranza were assassinated in 1919 and 1920 respectively. Obregon became president in 1920.
Now peace was possible. Peace in that at-large warfare was over, but not the internecine of war that saw leaders pitted against each other. Pancho Villa was assassinated in 1923 and Obregon was assassinated in 1928.
From that decade to the present the Mexican people have been trying to implement the ideas for which a nation had shed its blood.
(This story was reprinted from La Prensa San Diego, Vol. XXI No. 46, November 14, 1997)