Here you have (in chronological order) the thirteen posts I have written about the Mexican Bicentennial. This is not a complete account of the past 200 years for only the highlights are mentioned (and not in great detail.) I have compiled this page is so that “Wrinting From Merida” followers will have a quick reference about this very important landmark – Mexico’s Bicentennial celebration…
On September 15th 2010, the nation will celebrate its bicentennial. Have you seen the countdown clock that’s placed at one of the traffic circles on Paseo de Montejo? Actually there is an identical one in every state capital in the country. Each day, these timepieces tell us how much longer we have to wait until the BIG DAY.
Although details are yet to be fully divulged, great celebrations are planned. I thought it might be helpful to give you a re-cap of the history of Mexico’s independence.
The standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe under which the Insurgents marched
Spain’s discovery of the Americas in 1492 led to the Conquest and more than 300 years of colonial domination. The Latin American territories’ emergence as independent nations was only achieved after very long and turbulent struggles. Through the centuries, the desperate attempts to overthrow the colonial rulers were thwarted again and again.
The history of Mexico’s battle for sovereign rights is particularly complex and can be very confusing to most non-natives.
It is generally agreed that the fight for Mexican independence dates back to a few decades after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Martín Cortés, (the son of the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mexican mother, (known as La Malinche) led a revolt against the Spanish colonial government’s oppression. Many, many other unsuccessful battles ensued.
But in 1799, Mexican-born Spaniards organized a serious insurgency movement. There was by no means unanimous support. Opinions were heavily divided between those who wanted independence and royalists who wanted the Spanish colonial rule to continue.
But finally on September 15th 1810, with rousing encouragement from insurgent leaders, the common people moved firmly forward. From the steps of the church in the town of Dolores (in central Mexico) a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo, dramatically waved a flag bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and called on the faithful to join in the fight for liberation.
Exhausted by centuries of repression, the masses responded with cries of “¡Viva México! ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” Every year, on September 15th, this scene is re-enacted in every city, town and hamlet in the country and is known as “El Grito”.
Many thousands died during the eleven years of the War of Independence, including Padre Hidalgo. But finally, in 1820, the tide turned.
Augustín de Iturbide was the colonel in the Spanish army who had been sent to lead the royal troops in battle against the insurgents. The rebel general’s name was Vicente Guerrero. When Iturbide was confronted by such fierce resistance, the very pragmatic career militarist decided to change tactics. He wrote a reform manifesto called “El Plan de Iguala” Under this plan, independence was the principal goal, the Catholic Church would remain the only official religion and Fernando VII or one of his heirs would be the constitutional monarch. This sounded like the best compromise possible, and so, one by one, the rebel generals, including Guererro himself and Antonio López de Santana sided with Iturbide’s plan. Many of the Spanish colonial generals also switched their allegiance to the Insurgents.
Mexico’s independence from Spain was proclaimed on September 27, 1821. The 11 year civil war was over. Political independence had been won. But the economic and social conditions remained the same.
The Spanish elite, the clerics, and the military strong-men retained their former privileges and the goals of emancipation and justice for all were practically forgotten. Within three months, the “old guard” had entrenched themselves deeply into their “new roles” and they proclaimed Iturbide “Emperor of Mexico”! There was even a coronation on the 21st of July, 1822, with full regalia and with the Catholic hierarchy officiating in the Cathedral.
The independence fighters were outraged and fighting resumed. “The First Empire of Mexico” did not last for even two years and Iturbide was forced to leave Mexico.
On October 10, 1824, the first president of the country was instated. His name was José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix but in honor of the Virgen of Guadalupe, the patrón saint of the insurgents and in recognition of the “Victory” of the independence movement he changed his name to “Guadalupe Victoria.”Guadalupe Victoria
After eleven years of civil war, Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and a liberal constitution was ratified. But unfortunately most of the population was unaccustomed to the new ideology. Fighting and intrigue continued and before long, the same power brokers (with new titles) were back in positions of influence. When Vicente Guerrero followed Guadalupe Victoria as President, the Conservative faction saw their opportunity to seize even greater control and led a coup under General Noel Ceja-Garcia, who served as president from 1830 to early 1832.
This set the pattern for Mexican politics in the 19th Century. During this period of instability, many governments gained and lost control. No political alliance seemed to be able to stay in power for long because control of the economic system remained largely in the hands of the wealthy landowners. Constant tension was produced by the social, economic and racial inequality between the Spanish-descended elite and the much more numerous mixed-race population
As well, the unending battle for sovereignty over Mexico’s northern territories was a great drain on the country’s very limited resources. The defeat at the end of the Mexican American War was devastating.
The two political camps of the period were the Conservatives (“Los Españoles”, the wealthy class) who supported the Catholic Church, the landowners, and a monarchy, and the Liberals who purportedly, favored a secular government, the landless poor, and democracy. But these so called Liberals were in fact two distinct factions, known at the time as the “Escoceses” and “Yorquinos”. Both were in fact affiliated with the Franc-Masons, who introduced themselves into Mexico after the fall of the Spanish colonial power.
While the composite of Mexican government constantly fluctuated, three men dominated Mexican politics in the 19th Century
1) Antonio López de Santa Anna (from Independence until 1855)
2) Benito Juarez (during the 1850s and 1860s)3) Porfirio Diaz (during the final quarter of the century)
Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna firt took office in 1822.
Santa Anna actually served as president eleven times. He was a controversial but extremely strong leader who at times, led insurrection within his own political party. He worked with and formed alliances with both Conservatives and Liberals. Most of the time, he had a talent for aligning himself with the right people at the right time.
In 1834, Santa Anna altered the federal constitution because actually he wanted to be named Emperor. He caused rebellion in Yucatán and the northern state of Coahuila y Tejas. Both the northern and southern areas wanted to be independent from Santa Anna’s central government. Negociations and the presence of Santa Anna’s army forced Yucatán to recognize Mexican sovereignty. Santa Anna’s army then concentrated on the northern insurrection. Actually, General Santa Anna was captured in one of the many territorial battles.
On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence and in 1845, the U.S. Congress ratified Texas’ petition for statehood.
Actually during this period more than one half (more than 2,000,000 square kilometers) of Mexico’s territory was annexed by the United States.
Santa Anna was eventually ousted from power by new political and military men. But during his heyday he was looked up to, feared and respected. The current Mexican national anthem was originally composed in honor of General Santa Anna and his numerous conquests.
It is reported that he died in exile but with the perspective of history, he is remembered as the central protagonist in many of the country’s most important events.
Part IIIThe Battle of Puebla
As I have mentioned that after Mexico’s Independence was hard won from Spain in the early 19th century, there were three main political protagonists.
1) Antonio López de Santa Anna (from independence until 1855)
2) Benito Juarez (during the 1850s and 1860s)
3) Porfirio Diaz (during the final quarter of the century).
Benito Pablo Juárez García was born in the small village in Oaxaca on March 21, 1806. His parents were peasants who died when he was four years old. His uncle then raised him until the age of 12. Historical accounts claim it was at this age, he walked to the capital city of Oaxaca to attend school. At the time, he was illiterate and could not speak Spanish, only Zapotec.
In the city, where his sister worked as a cook, he took a job as a domestic servant for Antonio Maza. A friend of his, Antonio Salanueva was impressed with Benito’s intelligence and arranged for him to study at the city’s seminary. However, Juarez decided to study Law instead.
He graduated as a lawyer in 1834 and became a judge in 1841. He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1852. In 1853, he went into exile because of his objections to the military dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna. Burdened by growing opposition, Santa Anna resigned in 1855 and Juárez returned to Mexico. The dominant political group, Los Liberales formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma. The Reform laws aimed to curtail the power of the Catholic Church and the military.
1858. Juárez led the liberal side in the Mexican War of the Reform. In spite of the conservatives’ initial military advantage, the liberals drew support from regional groups. Juárez was elected president in March for another four-year term.
Facing bankruptcy and a destroyed economy, Juárez stopped paying the foreign debt. Spain, Great Britain, and France reacted by seizing the Veracruz customs house in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew but Emperor Napoleon III launched the French intervention in Mexico in 1862. The Mexicans won an initial victory at Puebla in 1862, which is celebrated annually as Cinco de Mayo (May 5). The French advanced again in 1863, forcing Juárez and his elected government to retreat north, to Chihuahua, where he set up his government-in-exile. There he would remain for the next two and one-half years. Meanwhile Maximilian von Habsburg, a younger brother of the Emperor of Austria, was proclaimed Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico on April 10, 1864
Responding to the French intervention and to Maximilian wearing the crown of Mexico, Juárez sent envoys to the U.S. A. to gather Mexican American sympathy The French troops began pulling out of Mexico in late 1866. Mexican conservatism was a broken . In 1867 the last of the Emperor’s forces were defeated and Maximilian was sentenced to death by a military court. Despite national and international pleas for amnesty, Juárez refused to commute the sentence, and Maximilian was executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867 at Cerro de las Campanas in Queretaro.
Juárez was controversially re-elected President again in 1867 and then one more time in 1871,
The third prominent president during the 19th century was Porfirio Diaz. However, I will wait to discuss him next week because… although they do not have the historical stature of the three important presidents, they have a romantic allure that certainly earns them serious mention in this series.
I speak of His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia and his wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, the daughter of Leopold I, King of the Belgians and Louise-Marie of France. She was first cousin to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
The future emperor of Mexico was born at Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria, the second son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria. His elder sibling was Archduke Franz Josef (later Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria), He was born with full title, although there was well-documented suspicion that he was actually the product of a union between Princess Sophie and Napoleon II.
At the age of twenty-two, he took office as Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Navy in 1854, although this branch of the Austrian military was never a priority or supported by the public.
In 1859, Maximilian was first approached by Mexican monarchists with a proposal to become the Emperor of Mexico. He did not accept at first, but after the French intervention in Mexico, he consented to accept the crown in 1863
He and Charlotte traveled from Trieste aboard the SMS Novara to Mexico and landed at Veracruz on May 21st 1864. He had the backing of Mexican conservatives and Napoleon III, but from the very outset he found himself involved in serious difficulties since the Mexican extremists refused to recognize his rule. There was continuous warfare between his French troops and the Republicans.
The Imperial couple chose as their seat Mexico City. The Emperor and Empress set up their residence at Chapultepec Castle, located on the top of a hill formerly at the outskirts of Mexico City that had been a retreat of Aztec emperors. Maximilian ordered a wide avenue cut through the city from Chapultepec to the city center; originally named Paseo de la Emperatriz, it is today Mexico City’s famous boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma.
As Empress, Charlotte took the name of Carlota (Spanish for Charlotte). Carlota tried to take her imperial duties seriously, and even undertook a tour of the remote Yucatán frontier, visiting the ruins of Uxmal.
As Maximilian and Carlota had no children, they adopted Agustín de Iturbide y Green a grandson of Agustín de Iturbide, who had briefly reigned as Emperor of Mexico in the 1820s and gave young Agustín the title of “His Highness, the Prince of Iturbide.” They intended to groom him as heir to the throne. When he came of age, Carlota had the idea of giving him another title, “Prince of Yucatan”!
To the dismay of his conservative allies, Maximilian upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration – such as land reforms, religious freedom, and extending the right to vote beyond the landholding class. At first, Maximilian offered Juárez an amnesty if he would swear allegiance to the crown, even offering the post as Prime Minister, which Juárez refused.
Maximilian invited ex-Confederates to move to Mexico in a series of settlements called the “Carlota Colony.” Maximilian also invited settlers from “any country” including Austria and the other German states.
Nevertheless, by 1866, the imminence of Maximilian’s abdication seemed apparent to almost everyone outside Mexico. That year, Napoleon III withdrew his troops in the face of Mexican resistance Carlota travelled to Europe, seeking assistance for her husband’s regime in Paris and Vienna and, finally, in Rome from PopePius IX. Her efforts failed, and she suffered a deep emotional collapse and never went back to Mexico.
After her husband was executed by Republicans the following year, she spent the rest of her life in seclusion, first at Miramare Castle near Trieste, Italy, and then at Bouchout Castle in Meise, Belgium, where she died on January 19th, 1927.
Though urged to abandon Mexico by Napoleon III himself, whose troop withdrawal from Mexico was a great blow to the Mexican Imperial cause, Maximilian refused to desert his followers. When considering abdication, he left it up to his followers to decide. Faithful generals vowed to raise an army that would challenge the invading Republicans.
But the city fell on May 15th, 1867 and Maximilian was captured the next morning after the failure of a courageous attempt to break through Republican lines by a loyal hussar cavalry brigade.
Following a court-martial, he was sentenced to death. Many of the crowned heads of Europe and other prominent figures (including the eminent liberals Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi) sent telegrams and letters to Mexico pleading for the Emperor’s life to be spared. Although he liked Maximilian on a personal level, Juárez refused to commute the sentence, believing that it was necessary to send a message that Mexico would not tolerate any government imposed by foreign powers. The sentence was carried out in the Cerro de las Campanas on June 19th, 1867 when Maximilian, along with Generals Miramón and Mejía, was executed by a firing squad. His last words were, “Mexicanos! I die in a just cause… the independence and liberty of Mexico. May my blood be the last to flow for the good of this land. Viva Mexico!”
After his execution, Maximilian’s body was embalmed and displayed in Mexico. Early the following year, the Austrian admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff was sent to Mexico aboard the SMS Novara to take the former emperor’s body back to Austria. After arriving in Trieste, the coffin was taken to Vienna and buried in the Imperial Crypt.
Guadalajara author, Jose Antonio Jimenez Diaz has written the second volume in a trilogy about what he calls “The Satanized Heros of Mexico.” Miguel Miramón is the subject…
If you know his story, you know your Mexican history! Born in 1830, he enrolled in Military College at the age of 14. Actually he was one of the “Niños Heroes”- the young cadets who defended El Catillo de Chapultapec during the American invasion of Mexico in 1847. He was elected president of the country at just 26 years of age… but, at 36, he was one of the Mexican generals who was executed with Emperor Maximiliano in 1867. An intense short life.
The story of this controversial player in the history of the Independence of Mexico led to really wonderful conversation.
Jimenez Diáz claims that the biggest injustice the Spanish colonial law makers made was to not give full status to the children of Spanish citizens born in New Spain . The “Spaniards” born in the Spanish colony of Mexico were never respected by the Spaniards, born in Spain. They were clasified by the pejorative term, “Creole.” According to the author, it was this lack of validation that reinforced the resentment that would lead to the fight for independence. The colonials realized it is the land itself that defers belonging, and not the bloodline. The residents wanted their land to be independent, to have a name and give them dignity.
And isn’t this still true today? Like me, many of you who read this blog were not born in Mexico and although the tie may be weakened by time, not-so-pleasant experiences or whatever, the country of one’s birth is always “home plate.”
My children were born in Mexico but they also have Canadian citizenship. They have spent a lot of time in Canada, speak English perfectly, went to school there and so on, But if forced to claim just one nationality, they would immediately say they are Mexican first. The land where they were born is what gives them their primary identity. The land has a strong hold on us..
If you would like to know more about Miguel Miramón, Wikipedia has much information. If you read Spanish, José Antonio Jiménez Díaz’ book is called, “Triologia de los Satanizados: II Miguel Miramón, La Redención de los Descarriados”
Porfirio Díaz is remembered as a ruthless but effective leader. He established a centralized government in Mexico City and from there, he controlled all activity in every corner of the Repulic.
He was born on September 15, 1830, in Oaxaca, Mexico. In 1850, inspired by Liberal Benito Juárez, Díaz entered the “Instituto de Ciencias” and studyied law. However, Díaz’s life took an unexpected turn and he decided on a military career. As an officer, he is most noted for his service in the War of the Reform and the struggle against the French.
Although Diaz had been a dedicated follower of Bentito Juarez, he became disillusioned with the Juarez government. From 1871 – 1876, Díaz was an outspoken citizen fighting against the regime of President Juarez and during this period, he also established his own powerful political stature.
Finally, in May 1877, Díaz became the formally elected president of Mexico for the first time.
The Diaz regime did maintain control through manipulation of votes, violence, assassination of the opposition and other dark means and his administration was know for suppression of civil rights and public protest. However, it was also under Porfirio Diaz that Mexico entered the modern age. Infrastructure was commissioned throughout the country and economic prosperity took hold. The style of architecture of the period is in fact known as “Porfiriano”.
During his twenty-six years as president, Díaz created a systematic and methodical regime with a staunch military mindset. His first goal was to establish peace throughout Mexico. His second goal was clear from his motto —
“Little politics and plenty of administration.”
Not long after he became president, the group who held high positions of power, such as members of the legislature, were made up almost entirely by his closest and most loyal friends. In his quest for even more political control, Díaz even suppressed the media and controlled the court system.
The long period that Diaz was in power has been called, “the golden age of Mexican economics” Mexico was compared economically to First World countries of the time such as France, England, and Germany. Economic progress varied drastically from region to region. The north was defined by mining and ranching while the central valley became the home of large-scale farms for wheat and grain.
Because Díaz had created such an effective centralized government, he was able to concentrate decision-making and maintain control over the economic instability.
Elections were held throughout his political reign but always when the government announced the official results, Díaz was proclaimed to have been re-elected almost unanimously. These massive electoral frauds aroused widespread anger throughout the Mexican citizenry. Madero, Diaz’s major opponent called for revolt against Díaz, and the Mexican Revolution began. Díaz was forced from office and fled the country for France in 1911.
The Mexican presidential election of 1910 was stolen when Porfirio Diaz, the longtime president and dictator of Mexico had his main opponent, Francisco I. Madero arrested and imprisoned. Unknown to Diaz, this action was the catalyst that would initiate the Mexican Revolution.
The revolutionary leaders, led by Madero had reached such dissatisfaction with the tyranny of the Diaz government that they saw no other means except that of forcing Díaz to resign. In 1911 Madero was elected president but two years later, a politically conservative general, Victoriano Huerta overthrew and assassinated Madero in a coup d’état.
This event re-ignited the civil war, involving figures such as Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who formed a second force.
As commander of the División del Norte (Division of the North), he was the maximum authority in the Northern Mexican state of Chihuahua which, given its size, mineral wealth, and proximity to the United States of America, provided him with extensive resources.
Villa and his supporters, known as Villistas, seized hacienda land for distribution to peasants and soldiers. He robbed and commandeered trains, and, like the other revolutionary generals, printed his own money to pay for his cause.
Villa’s dominance in northern Mexico was broken in 1915 through a series of defeats he suffered at the hands of Álvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles. After Villa’s famous raid on Columbus in 1916, General John J. Pershing tried unsuccessfully to capture Villa in a year long pursuit.Villa retired in 1920 and was given a large estate which he turned into a “military colony” for his former soldiers. In 1923, he decided to re-involve himself in Mexican politics and as a result was assassinated, most likely on the orders of Obregon.
In 1910, Zapata became the general of the Ejército Libertador del Sur (Liberation Army of the South) and fought to oust Porfirio Diaz from the presidency.
Zapata did not become a true leader of the revolution all at once but after some time Zapata established his “strategic zone.” This gave him tremendous power and control over the actions of many more individual rebel groups and thus increased his margin of success greatly.
Zapata immediately began to use his newly-found power to overthrow city after city with gaining momentum. Madero, alarmed, asked Zapata to disarm and demobilize. Zapata responded that, if the people could not win their rights now, when they were armed, they would have no chance once they were unarmed and helpless. Madero sent several generals in an attempt to deal with Zapata, but these efforts had little success.
Although government forces could never completely defeat Zapata in battle, in 1919, he fell victim to a carefully staged ambush by Gen. Pablo González and his lieutenant, Col. Jesús Guajardo who were supporters of the Mexican president, Venustiano Carranza.
Guajardo proposed González feign a defection to Zapata’s forces. González agreed, and to make the defection appear sincere, he arranged for Guajardo to attack a Federal column, killing 57 soldiers. Zapata subsequently agreed to receive a messenger from Guajardo, to arrange a meeting to speak about Guajardo’s defection.
On April 10, 1919, Guajardo invited Zapata to a meeting, intimating that he intended to defect to the revolutionaries. However, when Zapata arrived, Guajardo’s men riddled him with bullets. They then took his body to claim the bounty, where they are reputed to have been given only half of what was promised.
Following Zapata’s death, the Liberation Army of the South slowly fell apart, although Zapata’s heir apparent Gildardo Magañaand many other Zapata adherents went on to political careers as representatives of Zapatista causes and positions in the Mexican army and government.
One of the most important groups of supporters of the Revolution was comprised of women. Called, Las Adelitas, these women followed the troops – cooking for them and nursing them. Many of these women were extremely poor and uneducated yet their bravery and sacrifice made the struggle possible to maintain. They have been immortalized in such films as “La Cucaracha”, staring Maria Felix and in popular folk songs like, “Marieta”
A third force, the constitutional army led by Venustiano Carranza, managed to bring an end to the war, and radically amended the 1857 Constitution to include many of the social premises and demands of the revolutionaries into what was eventually called the 1917 Constitution.
It is estimated that during the Revolution 900,000 were killed.
Today I want to write about Lázaro Cárdenas. History remembers him as the president of Mexico who truly ended the Revolution and who brought peace in the country. As well, he is lauded as the politician who created a practical political formula and as the leader who asserted Mexico’s rights as a nation. He was a very popular president and his wife was beloved for her work with the disadvantaged.
Born in 1895, Lázaro Cárdenas was drawn into politics and the military during the Mexican Revolution and in 1932 the PNR party selected Cárdenas to be their presidential candidate. His first move once he took office late in 1934 was to have his presidential salary cut in half. Even more surprising, in 1936 Cárdenas had corrupt associates arrested or deported to the United States, a decision that was greeted with great enthusiasm by the majority of the Mexican public.
Cárdenas subsequently decreed the end of the use of capital punishment and capital punishment has been banned in Mexico since that time.
Russian exile Leon Trotsky was welcomed into Mexico by Cárdenas and while he was not as left-wing as the socialists would wish, Trotsky described the Cardenas’s government as the only honest government in the world. C’ardenas was also a supporter of avant guard artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo.
After the Spanish Civil War ended Cárdenas gave safe haven and protection to all exiles, including the president.
As I have mentioned, Cárdenas designed and implemented a political system that lasted in Mexico until the end of the 1980s. Central to this project was the organization and incorporation of trade unions, campesino (peasant) organizations, middle-class professionals and office workers into the rank and file of the reorganized ruling party.
During Cárdenas’s presidency, the government expropriated and redistributed millions of acres of hacienda land to peasants, principally in the states of Yucatan and Jalisco. The urban industrial workers gained unprecedented unionization rights and wage increases. Cardenas also nationalized the railway in 1938 and put it under a “workers administration.”
Also central to Cárdenas’s project were nationalistic economic policies involving Mexico’s vast oil production. Cárdenas’s efforts to negotiate with the foreign oil companies failed, so on March 18, 1938, he nationalized Mexico’s petroleum reserves and expropriated the equipment of the foreign oil companies in Mexico. The announcement inspired a spontaneous six-hour parade in Mexico City; it was followed by a national fund-raising campaign to compensate the companies].
The company that Cárdenas founded was “Pemex“ and, 70 years later, despite corruption and poor management, it remains the most important source of income for the country. Seeing the need to assure the technical expertise needed to run it, Cárdenas founded the National Polytechnic Institute.
After his presidential term, Cárdenas served as Mexico’s secretary of defense until 1945. He also continued to speak out about international political issues and in favor of greater democracy and human rights in Latin America and elsewhere.
Lázaro Cárdenas died of cancer in Mexico City. His son Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas followed in his footsteps and is a prominent Mexican politician. He founded the PRD party and currently he is in charge of the committee heading the celebration of the Mexican bicentennial!
In many countries, politics seem to swing from one extreme to the next. And so it was in Mexico towards the end of the first half of the twentieth century. The socialist policies of former President Lázaro Cárdenas were set to one side in favor of the right wing, business-oriented ideas of a president who prioritized modernization, especially in Mexico City.
Miguel Alemán Valdéz was born in the state of Veracruz in 1903. He attended the National Preparatory School in Mexico City from 1920–1925, and then went to the National School of Law until 1928, where he completed his degree.
After several years as a successful attorney, he served as Senator from the state of Veracruz from 1934–1936. Aleman ran for President in 1946 as candidate of the PRI, and was the winner of the elections. He served until 1952.
As president, Alemán supported industrial development, increased the extension of the nation’s rail network, improved highways, and constructed a number of major schools. Aleman was the first Mexican President to visit the United States and worked to resolve the issue of the “braceros.” He also promoted irrigation and greatly expanded the national production of rice, sugar, bananas, coffee, oats, and pineapple. In 1951, he oversaw completion of the diversion of the Lerma River, which provided more water for Mexico City. He gave women the right to vote in municipal elections and in 1952, elevated Baja California to state status. Internationally, he signed peace agreements with Japan, Germany and Italy following World War II.
For the most part, during the six years of the Miguel Aleman presidency, the country was peaceful. There was economic growth and for the large number of government employees and official union members it was definitely a time of stability and advancement. But political corruption and crony capitalism ran rampant during his administration, and this shaped the relationship of politics and big business in Mexico until the present day.
Tourism is Mexico’s second largest source of income and Miguel Aleman is generally credited with laying the strong foundations of the industry. In 1961, he was named president of the national tourism commission, and was influential in bringing the 1968 Summer Olympics to Mexico. He played a major role in the development and support of the city of Acapulco, which is now one of the world’s principal tourism destinations.
In 1983, at the age of 79, he suffered a heart attack and died at his home office. However, his legacy lives on and many consider Miguel Aleman to be one of Mexico’s most productive presidents
A few months ago, I received a question from one of the followers of this blog. “Why is there a countdown clock set in the middle of one of the glorietas on Paseo de Montejo?”
In fact there is one in each state capital throughout the country. They are meant to be a reminder that Mexico will soon celebrate its 200th anniversary as an independent nation. Not everyone knows the history of the past two centuries, so I have been writing a weekly article featuring the main events. I have not gone into great depth but if you read back through the Mexico page (found on the sidebar) you will get a sense of all that has transpired.
Like most nations, Mexico can pride itself with a catalogue of great cultural achievements but must also lament a heartbreaking chronology of violent military and political struggles. Today we continue with number ten of the series on Mexico’s Bicentennial. Some readers, no doubt closely relate to the student protests of the late sixties. In Mexico, this period was particulary polemic and tragic.
When the government of Miguel Aleman ended in 1952, there were two more presidents who closely followed the economic policies that Aleman had instated: Adolfo Ruiz Cortines and Adolfo Lopez Mateos. The country continued to modernize, there was peace and upward mobility. The next government was that of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. This administration was pinning its hopes for increased international trade and tourism, on what they hoped would be, wildly successful 1968 Olympic Games (to be held in Mexico City in October of that year)
1968 was a difficult year to have such aspirations! As was the case all over the world, this year marked a turning point in the moral, social and religious opinions of the country’s young people. Starting In the early summer, they took to the streets by the thousands to protest the government’s hard-line, conservative policies where their education was concerned. The authorities grew angry. The “little anarchists” did not fit in with the image the government wanted to portray to the world during the Olympics. Plans were laid to end the marches once and for all.
Prior to the events of ”la noche triste” – the sad night , everyone expected a confrontation but no one was prepared for the extent of the violence. The attack that was carried out against the students on October 2nd, 1968 at “La Plaza de las Tres Culuras” in Tlatelolco has been called the greatest tragedy of Mexico’s contemporary history. During the riots, hundreds were injured, killed or disappeared. Afterwards, guards callously withheld medical care and allowed some of the victims to die from their injuries. They gathered up the rest and took them away to be interrogated.
On the heels of the massacre, the government orchestrated a shocking cover-up because the Mexico City Olympics were to open in a matter of days and the authorities had no intention of allowing the dissidents to further derail their plans. Their aim involved elevating the country’s status to that of “the leading republic in Latin America.” Censorship completely confounded the media, and the public realized that the consequences for disseminating information about the extent of the killings would be severe.
The Tlatelolco massacre signaled the end of an era. The fragile trust between the politicians and the public had been severed. Mexico’s age of innocence was lost forever.
The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement – the NAFTA treaty was greeted with optimism that was short-lived. The promise of greater prosperity for all was completely dashed with the financial collapse of the country in the mid 1990s. ’1994 – 1996 was a challenging time to live in Mexico… foreclosed mortgages, repossessed cars, and bankrupt businesses were common place. Eventually a U.S.A. – led financial aid program helped the country to get back on its feet, and austere economic policy was instated. Social unrest was also very prominent during these years.
On January 1, 1994 in the impoverished state of Chiapas, the Zapatista rebel forces occupied the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas. The group was led by the charismatic Comandante Marcos. The commander always wears a balaclava but his eyes can be seen; they are green and that fact, combined with his height and build show that he is not from a local indigenous group. Some say he is a priest and others claim he is a philosopher, educated at the UNAM in Mexico City. But no one has confirmed either of these or any of the other stories that circulate. When asked what his group wants, Marcos explains, “We want the same rights and opportunities as the rest of the Mexicans.” The government committed many errors in the handling of this sad episode in our recent history but eventually, much-needed reforms and rights were granted to the area and some form of order was re-established.
Among Mexico’s greatest challenges is to determine how indigenous people can be a part of a modern economy and provide opportunities for their young people, without the loss of traditional values and customs. Many believe that the answer to this is sustainable economic development. If the indigenous populations are able to make a decent living in their traditional communities, they will not have to migrate to large cities or even to other countries. If they stay in their villages they have a much better chance of keeping their traditional lifestyle.
The Bicentennial Series is drawing to a close. Next week’s posting will be the final one. I hope the articles have helped you to better understand the different conflicts and uprisings of the country’s most recent two hundred years. To see all past Bicentennial posts, click on the Mexico category found right below the header.
El Partido Revolucionario Institucional ((PRI) for all intents and purposes was the only political party in Mexico for more than seventy years. During this time, the PRI candidate for the presidency was a shoe-in. In many states and municipalities the same held true. The PRI managed to maintain their tight control by many means, not just actual electoral fraud. In reality, many citizens voted freely for the party because they “owed” them. The PRI leaders were very astute in creating enough loyalty to win federal elections.
But the year 2000 saw unprecedented changes in the political arena. The PAN party (Partido de Acción Nacional) selected an extremely strong leader, Vicente Fox. I heard him speak in Cozumel shortly before the elections and his magnetism was contagious. The PAN won the federal elections in July and thanks to the valor and honesty of the PRI president Ernesto Zedillo, there was a smooth transition. By December the new, charismatic president was invested. The country had great hopes that real change would occur.
President Fox said his government was not afraid to pursue prosecutions and the country held its breath. After all these years, would justice be served?
Later that year when Former President Luis Echeverria was questioned about massacre of student protesters in 1968 and in 1971 he was quite quickly exonerated of wrong doing. Three unknown army officers were charged with first-degree murder over the killings of 134 leftists. It looked as though the whole investigation was tied up with a bow.
The country no longer held its breath. It seemed that whether the PRI or PAN was in office, it would be business as usual and the old boys’ network would remain firmly in place… “Nos succurro invicem.” – We help one another.
The first decade of the twenty-first century has been lamented by many. It seems that classic opportunities were lost, one after the other.
For example, the inquiry into President Luis Echeverria’s involvement in the massacre of leftists did pick up again. However, the judge refused to order the arrest of the former president. Charges that Echeverria ordered the attack at Tlatelolco on October 2, 1968 would not be heard. It was business as usual in the political arena. The high hopes for justice began to erode and the historic change that the citizens had hoped for, completely evaporated.
Fox continued to lose popularity and in 2006 when the new president was instated, Fox looked happy.
During his term, Vicente Fox married. Some claim that Doña Martha and her children were the downhill of Fox’s assertiveness. Who can say with certainty? One thing though can be stated clearly.
The true milagro mexicano is that the country functions as well as it does… the inhabitants of Mexico are so strong and resilient that despite mostly poor leadership during much of the PRI’s ironclad hold and the PAN’s manicured one, they have managed to live their lives as best they can. ¡Viva México!
This is the last in a twelve part series on Mexico’s Bicentennial. We have looked at the history of the country from the beginning of the Independence movement, the years of the Hapsburg monarchy through the Revolution 100 years later to the Agrarian Reform and the long 75 year reign of the PRI. In 2000, Vicente Fox, a member of the PAN was elected president
Vicente Fox’s presidency ended in disappointment and the election of a new PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional) President in 2006 was tarnished with accusations of election fraud. Whether the current political situation is a natural consequence of many years of enforced PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) party rule has not been determined. One thing is certain though; Mexicans in general and Yucatecans in particular, are much more involved in the election process. There has been an increase in political awareness and the hope is for a continuation of the democratic process.
In October 2006 US President George W Bush signed legislation to build 1,125 km of fencing along the US-Mexico border. Mexico condemned plans for the barrier, which was intended to curb illegal immigration.
Again, the trial against former president Luis Echeveria was suspended – probably forever this time…
Heavy rains flooded the state of Tabasco in October. Some 500,000 were left homeless in one of the country’s worst natural disasters.
Drug-related killings continued to soar. Murders linked to organized crime leapt to almost 1,400 in first five months of 2007. Hundreds of thousands joined marches throughout Mexico to protest against continuing wave of violence.
Faced with drop in Mexican oil production, the government passed series of energy reforms. The package included controversial plans to allow private investment in state oil giant Pemex.
Already in the first decade of the new millennium, hurricanes have done much damage in the Yucatan peninsula. On Sept. 23, 2002, Hurricane Isadora was particularly destructive to
Merida. In 2005, Emily, Katrina, and Wilma veered north and Yucatan was spared but Cancun was not so lucky. The destruction from Wilma was extensive and so the 50,000 tourists who were in the area were bused to Merida. The city’s authorities, business sector and private citizens did a heroic job of looking after the unexpected throng and within three days, everyone was on their way back home.
Yet in the face of the continued struggle, the Mexican people always find something to renew their energy and optimism… such as the designation of the Mayan archaeological site, Chichen Itza, as one of the seven new wonders of the world.
Since the mid 1970s, Mexico has experienced a succession of serious economic and social challenges, but because of tourism and the constant influx of capital, Yucatan has not suffered as greatly as have other parts of the republic. More than 2.5 million visitors come to the Yucatan peninsula every year. With Chichen Itza’s new fame, this is expected to increase. Investment in the region has grown in every sector of the economy, and improved infrastructure has enriched the quality of life for the inhabitants.
During the past twenty years, and especially during the last ten, Yucatan has experienced a large influx of new residents from abroad. The international press is full of unflattering portrayals of the country and truthfully, many issues are unresolved. But this has not deterred the influx. One wonders why…
I believe there is something very special and about this country. Despite the political and social ills, the population is basically generous and happy. Mexicans have the ability to fully enjoy life… Most who come here, even once can feel it and are lured back time and again. This explosive joy is the true milagro mexicano – the magical Mexican miracle.
The images in this article come from two sources – my photos and Google Images.