The first history of 20th-century post-revolutionary Mexico.
Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer, two of Mexico's leading intellectuals, set out to fill a void in the literature on Mexican history: the lack of a single text to cover the history of contemporary Mexico during the twentieth century. A la sombra de la Revolución Mexicana, now available in English as In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution, covers the Mexican Revolution itself, the gradual consolidation of institutions, the Cárdenas regime, the "Mexican economic miracle" and its subsequent collapse, and the recent transition toward a new historical period.
The authors offer a comprehensive and authoritative study of Mexico's turbulent recent history, a history that increasingly intertwines with that of the United States. Given the level of interest in Mexico—likely to increase still more as a result of the recent liberalization of trade policies—this volume will be useful in affording U.S. readers an intelligent, comprehensive, and accessible study of their neighbor to the south.
- 1. In the Path of Madero: 1910-1913
- 2. The Revolutions Are the Revolution: 1913-1920
- 3. From the Caudillo to the Maximato: 1920-1934
- 4. The Cardenista Utopia: 1934-1940
- 5. The Mexican Miracle: 1940-1968
- 6. The Fading of the Miracle: 1968-1984
- 7. The Beginning of a Painful Transition
They were not expecting it. The custom of peace was stronger than the evidence of change. El Imparcial, the first industrial journal of Mexico and a symbol itself of the enormous transformation that the country had experienced, guaranteed its readers in 1909: "A revolution in Mexico is impossible." Karl Bunz, the German envoy, wrote to his government on September 17 of that same year: "I believe, as does the press and public opinion, that a general revolution is not possible at all." Following his 1910 visit, Andrew Carnegie, the U.S. steel magnate, was left with only the following impression about the country's future: "In all of the comers of the Republic an enviable peace reigns." The Spanish poet Julio Sesto added his own meteorological certainty: "There is no black cloud on the horizon."
But the country had changed. During the previous decades, it had adopted more innovations than could be assimilated by a society such as Mexico's at the turn of the century. The deformed daughter of the liberal project, that society had been dreamed of fifty years before as republican, democratic, egalitarian, rational, industrious, open to innovation and progress. Fifty years later, it was oligarchic, dominated by caciques (political bosses), and authoritarian, slow, increasingly disjointed, introverted, jolted by innovation and productive changes, though still tied down by its colonial traditions. It still was, as it had been at the time of its independence a hundred years before, a Catholic society, based on haciendas and Indians, crisscrossed by corporative privileges, with a nationa1 industry encapsulated in the productive efficiency of the textile industry and the royal mines, and a trade that was just beginning to overcome the regional inertia of the markets.
Federalism had taken the operational form of cacique domination; democracy, the face of dictatorship; equality, the route of social immobility; progress, the shape of railroads and foreign investment; industriousness, the form of speculation, the appropriation of goods that increased private fortunes without contributing to the nation's accumulation. But the country had changed, and the innovations proved to be permanent. Mexico experienced a productive restructuring in the thirty years before the 1910 revolution, which consolidated its northern frontier—a critical area in view of the U. S. expansion—and defined its incorporation into the world market. As a consequence of that change, foreign investment increased from 110 million pesos in 1884 to 3,400 million in 1910. A third of that injection of funds fueled the largest technological revolution of Porfirian Mexico: the construction of almost thirteen thousand miles of railroad tracks. A quarter of foreign investment accrued to mining, which saw its production multiplied from 40 million pesos in 1893 to four times as much in 1906. The rest, to a certain extent, was a by-product. Ramón Eduardo Ruiz writes:
The mineral bonanza built cities, established the basis for the railroads, and helped commercial agriculture develop. Silver, gold, and copper mines dotted the landscape, and were later joined by lead, zinc and other industrial metal mines. Commercial agriculture for export modified the landscape of Yucatán (hemp), Morelos (sugar), Coahuila and Sonora (cotton, vegetables, chickpeas), and cattle empires oriented toward the U.S. market were established. In the Gulf, British and U.S. companies were in competition to exploit the rich oil fields. The textile plants aligned themselves in the Córdoba-Puebla-Mexico City corridor, and in Guadalajara, Durango, Nuevo León and Chihuahua, for a production that reached 45.5 million pesos in 1904. The black smoke of the smelters darkened the skies of Chihuahua and Monterrey, where 60 thousand tons of iron and steel were produced. There were also factories to produce the following: paper; beer; alcohol; tobacco for domestic consumption; a sugar industry financed by foreigners that bought the land, planted cane and mechanized the production; meat-packers; jute fabric; glycerine; dynamite; fine crystal; glass; hemp rope; cement; and soap.
Furthermore: between 1877 and 1911, the population of Mexico grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent, while it had grown at an annual rate of .6 percent since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The economy grew at an annual rate of 2.7 percent, whereas in the previous seventy years the average growth rate, with upward and downward swings, had been negative or stagnant. The national income of 50 million in 1896 had doubled within ten years, and the per capita income, which in 1880 was growing at an annual rate of 1 percent, achieved a growth rate of 5.1 percent between 1893 and 1907. In the same period, exports increased sixfold, while imports grew by three and a half times. The chronic bankruptcy of public finances reached an end in 1895, when, for the first time, there was a surplus. Mexico could finally place its bonds in the international markets, and the national budget of 7 million pesos in 1896 increased to almost 24 million in 1906.
These are some of the figures of Porfirian progress. It is necessary to underscore them in order to remember that the revolution that Madero set loose was not the child of misery and stagnation, but rather of the disorder brought forth by boom and change: (l) Foreign investment developed cities and established productive empires, but it also generated inflation that affected the real wage of workers and the middle class; (2) the link with the North American market opened job opportunities and increased exports (sixfold between 1880 and 1910), but made the country vulnerable to the fluctuations of the U.S. economy, whose recession in 1907, for example, led to the repatriation of thousands of Mexican workers who had been fired from the factories and mines across the border; (3) the mining boom created cities and paid high wages, but altered entire regions, created floating, unstable, and restless populations, and sowed the seeds of an explosive nationalism, due to the anti-Mexican job discrimination; (4) the railroad shortened distances, reduced transportation costs, and unified markets, but it also multiplied the price of fallow land, enabling its dispossession, and segregated, by not reaching them, traditional centers of production and commerce, as well as the oligarchies that benefited from them; and (5) the agricultural modernization consolidated an extraordinarily dynamic sector, but it contributed to the destruction of the peasant economy, usurped the rights of the rural towns and communities, and thrust its inhabitants into the inclemency of the market, hunger, peonage, and migration.
While celebrating in 1910 the centennial of its independence, the country was experiencing a mixture of splits, or upheavals, and innovations that would cast it in the coming years into the maelstrom of civil war.
The Agrarian Split
The oldest of these splits affected the traditional peasant communities of the Center and South of the country. It was a struggle coming from afar, from the historical conflict of liberalism against the colonial order of corporative landholding that governed the system of land property held both by the clergy and by the indigenous communities.
The resistance by the clergy had marked the civilian discords of the nineteenth century. The resistance of the communities had flooded the period with agrarian rebellions (historian Jean Meyer has confirmed seventy rebellions in a preliminary review). The judicial climax in the matter was reached with the laws of disentailment (freeing from mortmain) of 1856, politically sanctioned by the Juarista victory over the French intervention and the restoration of the republic in 1867.
In 1895, stimulated by the impact of the railroad on the price of land, the Porfirian regime opened a new wave of disentailment with the law of vacant and idle lands, which facilitated the claims and appropriation of fallow land. The effect of that new liberalization of land on the social organization and the economy of the peasant communities was felt with particular virulence: the annual per capita consumption of corn in Mexico fell by 20 pounds between 1895 and 1910 (from 330 to 310 pounds); the average life span in those fifteen years fell from 31 to 30.5 years; in the final five years of the nineteenth century, infant mortality increased from 304 to 335 per thousand.
The alliance of the Porfirian establishment with the landowners and agricultural modernization meant the dispossession, retreat, and precarious subsistence of the peasant towns. But the resistance equaled the magnitude of the offensive, and it incubated in the first years of the 1910s the largest of the Mexican peasant rebellions. The conflict, begun a century before, received a name and a leader on the afternoon of September 12, 1909, when the men of Anenecuilco, a small town in the state of Morelos in the Center-South of the Republic, elected a new leader. He had just reached thirty years of age and had established ties with politicians from all over the state due to a recent and disastrous electoral campaign as a semi-independent candidate for governor of Morelos. He was a sharecropper of a hacienda, and he had some cattle and land; he bought and sold horses, and when there was no planting he roamed the towns of the Cuautla River with a pack of mules carrying merchandise. His name was Emiliano Zapata and he would become in due time first a leader, and then a legendary symbol of Mexican agrarianism.
The law of idle lands and the speculative trail of the railroad also subjected the most recent agrarian tract to dispossession and affronts, a region that proved no less resistant to modernization than the Morelos peasants: the members of the northern communities, inheritors of the old military colonies that dotted the frontier territories during the nineteenth century, as a sequel to the colonial garrisons that had consolidated the military expansion of the viceroyalty. These were towns that for generations had fought alone against the attacks of outlaws and Indians, until the definite pacification of the Apaches in 1880; they were communities built in isolation, self-defense, and regional pride. In the last years of the Porfiriato, those towns were subject to land speculation and the hegemony of regional oligarchic interests.
The speculation created by the boom in mining and agricultural investments—generally by foreigners—took away land from the peasants. The consolidation of the new regional oligarchies took away their political independence and municipal autonomy. They thus lost their isolation and their territory, their independence and security in the rules of their own world, the capacity to decide who their authorities would be and to manage their immediate interests. They were the muleteers, farm workers, cowboys, northern people of horse and rifle, gambusinos, who complained in the following terms:
Namiquipa, Chihuahua: "We see with deep sorrow that those plots that we believe justly belong to us, because we have received them from father to son and have cultivated them with the constant work of more than a century, have been turned over to strange hands simply by presenting a claim and paying a few pesos."
Janos, Chihuahua: "Two leagues from Janos we find the prosperous Colony Fernández Leal, whose owners live with all comfort in the United States, while we, who have suffered the invasions of the barbarians whom our forefathers drove away, have not been able to secure these plots."
Santa Cruz, Sonora: "We cannot endure the injustice and abuse that the president and the treasurer heap upon us. There are men here who could assume authority, and in case that you (the governor) are inattentive to this, we shall see how we get rid of them. We are family men that would suffer upheavals if there were any unrest, but if it is unavoidable we will do it."
Additionally, the struggle against the Indians in the North during the Porfiriato included the "pacification" of the Mayo and Yaqui Indians of Sonora, a bloody war that disrupted the organizational forms of both tribes, rejected their ancient rights, and transferred their lands to white domination—the richest lands of the Northwest, fertilized by the only two rivers with a quasi-permanent waterflow in the arid Sonorense plains. These lands were colonized following an initial war against the Indians (1877-1880), but the Yaqui resistance to the occupation remained alive, irreducible, and uninterrupted during the whole period of the Porfiriato and the Revolution, part of which was fought with Yaqui troops and part in Sonora against Yaqui insurgents.
The years prior to the Maderista explosion added other destabilizing factors to the deep split that was widening in the ancient agrarian and rural veins of Mexico. Between 1900 and 1910, several factors converged to darken the horizon of the middle classes and the budding working class that Porfirian development had created. Foreign investment reduced the income of these sectors by two mechanisms: the high inflation that was produced, and the new taxes that the government had to create in order to compensate for the tax exemptions created for foreign firms and financial drafts from abroad. The consolidation of regional oligarchies, which at the turn of the century began to add the monopoly of political power to their control of economic power, also reduced the space available for the middle classes. The intermediate positions in business, services, and, above all, public office, began to be taken by friends and family of those oligarchies. The pyramid of the monopoly reproduced itself, and both large cities and small towns saw their avenues of upward mobility being closed, as well as the deterioration of the most basic forms of local life.
Benjamin Hill, a Sonorense prototype of the sectors that had been passed over and were anxious to find a crack in the system, expressed the following view in 1908:
A wave of fresh blood is indispensable to renew the stagnant blood that exists in the veins of the Republic, languishing with doddering old fools, in great part honorable remains of the past, but, if you will, mummies that materially obstruct our march toward progress.
And a small merchant, Salvador Alvarado, left this simple sketch of the coagulated local disintegration and the desire for change:
I began to feel the need for change of our social organization since I was 19 years old, when, back in my town of Pótam, Yaqui River, I saw the police commissioner get drunk almost every day in the town pool, in the company of his secretary; of the local judge that was also the civil judge and fiscal agent; of the post office agent; and of some merchant or army officer, persons all of whom constituted the influential class of that small world.
The mining vertigo and the industrial reactivation also led to the development under the Porfiriato of the first working-class battalions in Mexico, in the modern sense of the term. The northern mines attracted, with their high-paying jobs, migrants from all over the country; within months, they erected dozens of provisional cities, disorganized and noisy, marked by irregularity, discrimination, and the absolute will of the owners, generally North American or British. The foreign companies exploited the mines and controlled municipal life, they selected mayors, paid the police force, maintained the schools, dominated trade, and sometimes also purchased the cattle-raising and agricultural lands surrounding the mines that provided food for the miners. The most notable case of that vertigo was the Sonorense city of Cananea, almost on the Arizona border. The millions invested there by the adventurous Col. William C. Green, founder of the Cananea Consolidated Copper company, transformed that semiabandoned town of only 100 inhabitants in 1891 into the center of copper production in Mexico. In only six years (1900-1906), the beckoning of copper lured into the dry hills of Cananea 14,000 inhabitants (the population was 891 at the turn of the century and 14,841 at the end of the Porfiriato). Starting with practically zero production, in those six years the mining vein provided for the introduction of sixteen active mines and the production of 14 million pesos in copper (the total production of Porfirian mining was 140 million pesos in 1906). In May 1906, Cananea had 5,360 Mexican workers and 2,200 foreign workers, the minimum wage was 2 pesos and the highest wage was 6 pesos, at a time when the minimum wage in the northern Pacific region of Mexico was 1.21 pesos and in the central region .59 pesos.
The workers of Cananea had begun their organization under the influence of Magonismo and of the radical smoldering that plagued the factories and mines on the other side of the border in California and Arizona, under the influence of anarcho-syndicalism, and the expansion of socialist currents in the United States. Toward the end of May 1906, their nationalism disturbed by the permanent job discrimination in favor of North Americans and threatened by a sudden increase in their workload, the budding labor organization of Cananea marshaled the accumulated turmoil and called for a strike. Their demands: five pesos of wages for eight hours of work, the firing of a mayordomo (foreman), the right to promotion for Mexicans according to their skills, and the hiring of at least 75 percent of Mexican workers by the company. This was June 1, 1906. The following three days were filled with strike, struggle, arid repression; there were riots, looting, and fires, resulting in ten dead and a hundred arrested. Cananea saw the arrival of Arizona rangers and volunteers, five hundred Mexican soldiers, and the governor of Sonora, Rafael Izábal, who personally coordinated the pacification.
Peace was eventually reestablished, but not the legendary prestige of the mines in U.S. financial circles. The contraction of the U.S. markets the following year also contributed to the industry's collapse. Without credit or market, Cananea, the fabulous black pearl of Porfirian mining, ceased its operations in October 1907 and began to fire workers by the hundreds in order to restructure its plant and its installations. It reopened in April 1908, but it did not achieve profits again until the beginning of 1911, when the Maderista rebellion was irreversibly on its way.
Shipwreck in Río Blanco
The scandal of the Cananea strike in the dynamic mining sector was still fresh when a new one arose, this time in a traditional industrial sector, the textile factories of Río Blanco, Veracruz. There, after a protracted conflict with the owners over working conditions, the workers rejected a finding by President Díaz that established favorable regulations in their relationship with the firms, but that restricted their rights, particularly their political rights. On January 7, 1907, they refused to go back to their working places, and the front door of the firm was blocked by women, who stopped anyone wanting to enter. Agitation began with cheers for Juárez and jeers against the Spaniards and the French who controlled the factories, the businesses, and the privileges of the region. The rally continued in a store next to the factory, where an employee inflamed passions by shooting a worker. The worker died, and the store was looted and burned. The police came and were resisted. The rural police led a charge, machetes in hand, but they were also repelled with stones. The turmoil spread. The following morning, excited and provisioned by the looting, the strikers let the prisoners escape from the jail, and they marched toward the nearby town of Nogales with the purpose of "seeking arms." There, they also looted the municipal building, freed the prisoners, and continued their trek, still marching under the banner of Juárez."We marched along, to the compass of slogans and songs," remembers a participant."We felt free and the masters of our own destiny after suffering so much misery and oppression. It seemed like a festival."
The festival ended abruptly at dawn. At 1:30 in the morning on January 9, two companies of the 24th Army Battalion arrived at Santa Cruz, under the command of the undersecretary of war, Rosalino Martínez. During the course of that night, the soldiers combed the streets, controlled riots and rioters, and imposed a pax Porfiriana. Bernardo García Díaz writes:
When morning broke on January 9, while the whistles of the factories of the district called workers to work again, continuous volleys sounded. Over the sinister scene of the burnt stores, the executions that the Porfirian plutocracy had ordered to serve as examples were taking place. Of the 7,083 workers that toiled in the textile factories before the strike, on January 9 only 5,512 cameback to work. The other 1,571 workers escaped from the region, were arrested, were injured, or were definitely dead.
Under the debris and the dead, the Cananea and Río Blanco strikes defined the Porfirian inability to digest the modem attempts at union organization and struggle. Confronted by the offspring of its own development—the new groups of workers that appeared with the productive advances of the old society—the Porfirian establishment did not seem to have any answer other than intolerance and repression.
The Presence of the North
In the thirty years of Pax Porfiriana, the North of Mexico underwent more permanent changes than in all of its previous history. The capitalist surge on the other side of the border and the investments on this side, the railroad that cut distances, the banks that facilitated credit, the oil boom in the Gulf, the mining boom in Sonora, Chihuahua, and Nuevo León, the industrial boom in Monterrey, the merchant and marine boom in Tampico and Guaymas, brought to the North in those years the material stimulus for a double and effective incorporation: on one hand, to the expanding U.S. market, and on the other, to the incomplete and growing network of what was beginning to be called the Mexican Republic. In those years, the North was a focus of investments and new productive centers that diversified its economic and human scene. That region saw the convergence in a rapid mix of traditional haciendas and export plantations, new mining and agricultural cities, high wages, a prosperous level of ranchers, cowboys, and free wage agricultural workers, an explosive working class in the mines, a budding banking industry, and diversified trade.
The call of the North and of the border, with its promise of better wages and opportunities, unleashed from the 1890s onward a permanent migration flow from the Center, the Bajío (lowlands), and the altiplano (highlands) toward the agricultural fields of La Laguna and El Yaqui, the mines of Sonora and Chihuahua, the oil camps of Tampico, and the expanding industries of Nuevo Leon. A decisive consequence of that mobilization was the rupture, in the North, of the traditional agricultural relations that had long dominated the Mexican countryside.
There is no better example of this transition than the development of the cotton fields of La Laguna, in Torreón, Coahuila, the center of greatest growth of all the Porfiriato. A ranch of only 200 inhabitants in 1892, Torreón was awakened in the 1890s by the railroad junction that turned it into a distributing station for all of the North. By 1895, the 200 inhabitants had become 5,000, and by 1910 there were 34,000. The highest agricultural wages in the republic were paid there, and the landowners of the region, unaccustomed to the southern systems of debt peonage or tienda de raya (hacienda-owned store debts), paid wages in money and not in vouchers, they sold goods in their stores at lower prices than in local stores, and they vied to keep their workers by offering various incentives and advantages.
That labor and social reality led to the development of a new type of migrant worker, who exercised free transit from one region to another in search of a good wage and better working conditions. Unstable and without local roots, these workers harvested the advantages of a free or semifree labor market with high wages, as well as its disadvantages: job insecurity and lack of family, community, or traditional ties in which to seek refuge in periods of bad harvests or scarce work (something that happened in La Laguna region every three years, on average). This type of free worker in the North was what furnished the northern revolutionary armies with people, allowing the availability of men for recruitment and military mobilization outside the region of recruitment—a characteristic not to be found in other armies of a more traditional agrarian background, such as the Zapatista army.
The irreducible nucleus of the Maderista rebellion was the mountainous axis of the western Sierra Madre, which traversed the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, and Sinaloa. This northern highland of small and dispersed mines was affected as no other part of the country by the mining crisis and the fall in the prices of silver toward the end of the Porfiriato. The mining crisis affected thousands of small producers, the gambusinos of the highlands; once Mexico adopted the gold standard in 1905, the price of Mexican silver fell to the price level of the international market.
A crisis in food production compounded the mining disorder. Bad harvests led to an increase in the price of corn and beans, the staple foods for popular subsistence. Corn practically doubled in price between 1900 and 1910, and half of the increase took place during the last year. The mining North was a territory of fragile regions where, persistently throughout the Porfiriato, there had been riots, rebellions, and roving bands. The mountainous region located between Rosario (Sinaloa) and Tamazula (Durango) had been the scene of the exploits of the famous 1880s bandit, Heraclio Bernal. The highland region between Guanaceví (Durango) and Santa Bárbara (Chihuahua) was where Ignacio Parra and Doroteo Arango wandered in the 1890s and where Francisco Villa would later appear. There had been mining riots in the 1880s and armed rebellions against municipal usurpations in the 1890s in the region of the eastern ranches of Sonora and western ranches of Chihuahua, the triangle between Cusihuiriachic, Pinos, and Ascensión. There had been periodical conflicts in other northern mining centers such as Matehuala, Charcas, and Catorce in San Luis Potosí, and Velardeña in Durango. Captain Scott, in charge of the U.S. troops on the border, had referred to those territories with prescience in August 1907: "There exists, in particular in the states of the north of Mexico, a great unrest due to the current situation. If there were a revolutionary explosion, a capable leader would have numerous followers."
New Branches, Old Tree Trunks
The leader that Captain Scott foresaw was Francisco Madero, quintessential—and, finally, explosive—personification of the last great upheaval that the Porfiriato had precipitated in Mexican society: the discontent of some of the great patriarchal families that had painfully consolidated themselves throughout the nineteenth century and had proclaimed victory with the liberal Juarista cause in the 1860s, but that had seen themselves displaced from power by the centralizing hand of Porfirismo, the alliance of the regime with foreign interests, and their sponsorship of a new oligarchic generation.
Having come to power through a military rebellion in 1876, the Porfirians took as their road toward political stability the destruction of cacique enclaves, which had developed after the Juarista triumph in the different regions of the country. One by one, and state by state, the old liberal caciques and the economic groups that had developed around them were replaced by Porfirista unconditionals or by emerging cadres of the local middle sectors, whose aspirations for upward mobility had been blocked by the oligarchic establishment of the Juarista mold. Trinidad García de la Cadena in Zacatecas, Ramón Corona in Jalisco, Ignacio Pesqueira in Sonora, and Luis Terrazas in Chihuahua: each and every one of the local strongmen and the interests they had created around themselves were subdued during the 1880s, until the end of the century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a new guard of governing groups had taken control of most of the regions of the country. By that time, the families and patriarchs that had been displaced in the 1880s had renewed themselves in a new generation. The sons and grandsons of the Juarista caciques, anxious branches of renowned farnilies, now were attempting to redraw the course of events and open their way to a new period of domination, or at least a subordinate participation in the local and national affairs.
But instead of opportunities, they found closed roads, Porfirian dynasties, and networks that were starting to perpetuate themselves in power and to serve as partners or intermediaries of foreign investors that transformed territories, cities, and markets. The consolidation of these regional oligarchies in the northern states delivered many of the standardbearers of distinguished family names into the hands of the opposition.
Francisco I. Madero was a perfect personification of this history of affronts and rejections that the new generation of the old patriarchal trees had lived through the Porfiriato. Friedrich Katz writes:
At the turn of the twentieth century, Francisco Madero had formed and led a coalition of hacendados in the Laguna region to oppose attempts by the Anglo-American Tlahualilo Company to monopolize the water rights of that irrigation-dependent area. When the Maderos cultivated the rubber substitute guayule, they had clashed with the Continental Rubber Company. Another conflict developed because prior to 1910 the Maderos owned the only smeltering oven in northern Mexico that was independent of the American Smelting and Refining Company.
The Maderos were not alone in their fight. Many other members of the northeastern upper class were interested in water rights in the Laguna, in the cultivation of guayule, and in the operation of independent smelting ovens in northern Mexico.
The restless scions of these families acted as the purveyors of the Porfirista debacle, the riverbed through which many forces flowed toward the Mexican Revolution.
In contrast to this new state of mind, the long-drawn-out Porfirian decline was manisfested in an aging ruling class that showed no interest in retiring and had lost its sensibility when confronted by the forces that its own development had generated, as the workers, strikes demonstrated. In June 1904, Porfirio Díaz was reelected for a sixth term in office, when he was seventy-five years old, with a northern vice president, Ramón Corral, who was fifty-six years old. Luis González y González writes:
Don Porfirio held his 75th birthday very upright and solemn, but not without the fatigue, the pains, the cracks and crevices of senility. He no longer was the oak tree he once had been. Even the acumen and the willpower became bland. The ideas escaped him, and words would not come to mind. Instead, emotions flourished. He became sentimental and tearful and, consequently, incapable of issuing edicts. And while his managerial skills escaped him, senile distrust overwhelmed him and he did not trust even his closest collaborators.
Along with the chief in decline, the visible positions in the political showcase were dotted with other elderly men, similarly ailing. The average age of the Ministers, Senators and Governors was 70 years. The regime's young turks, merely in their sixties, were in the lower chamber of Congress. Those with the longest history, as old as the Republic, were the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice. In other words, the staff of the elderly dictator was almost as old as he, and some of his aides were even more doddering. Many of the assistants of Don Porfirio were his old comradesin-arms, and they had no reason to be any younger than he. Others, the científicos ("scientists"), were born in the period between 1841 and 1856, and thus were members, without exception, of the 8 percent of their countrymen older than half a century. At the time, half of the Mexicans were older than 20 years, and 42 percent were between 21 and 49 years old. The Republic was a society of children and youngsters, governed by a handful of elderly men, who had already rendered the contribution that they were capable of making to their country and to themselves.
1908: The Sowing of the Collapse
None of the factors we have mentioned so far—the agrarian split, the labor innovations, the oligarchic obstruction, or the senility of the ruling Porfirians—would have been capable of unleashing the Maderista rebellion in 1910 if some particular confluence in politics, the economy, and the general fortune of history hadn't contributed negative effects to the fundamental imbalance that had been a by-product of progress. The year 1908 condenses and disperses that confluence of adversities that set off the eroded foundations of the ancien regime. It was a terrible year for the economy because, as Luis González points out, "nature took up the cause of the poor," not that of stability:
In some parts it rained more than what was necessary, and in other parts less. There were also ominous tremors and terrible frosts. The production of corn, already insufficient, dropped even further. The scarcity of corn tortillas and beans produced a critical situation in the countryside, perhaps not so severe as that of fifteen years before, but nevertheless at a moment in which any perturbation generated great irritation. In the biennium 1908-1909, the annual value of industrial products stagnated at 419 millon pesos, the manufacturing sector fell from 206 million to 188 million. The mining and metallurgical sector increased slightly in volume but not in price. Precious metals and especially silver, depreciated . . . The same thing happened to industrial metals, with the exception of iron. The production of zinc, so important in 1906-1907, collapsed . . . Many merchandises were stockpiled for lack of buyers. Internal and external demand weakened, and the imports from abroad fell both in value and in volume. The price of exports fell by eight percent. The trade balance was negative in 1908. The economic crisis affected more severely those who already were worse off, as usual. The deterioration of the quality of life intensified the social unrest, already strong before the crisis. The country was ripe for turmoil.
1908 was also a bad year for relations with the United States, because in that year the oil company El Aguila was established, with a barrage of privileges and official support, an enterprise that was established as a joint venture between the Porfirista government and the Weetman Pearson Trust, later known as Lord Cowdray, in which one of the main shareholders was Díaz's own son. This was the highest expression of the project of alliance with European capital, British in this case, that the Porfiristas judged necessary in order to counter the domination of North American interests in Mexico.
The obvious governmental favoritism shown to the British company through the concession of lands in Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí, and Tamaulipas amounted to a declaration of war to the powerful North American interests. This was especially true because, in those years, Mexico was beginning to turn into an oil-producing country of first rank: the production of 3,300,000 barrels of oil in 1910 increased to 14 million in 1911, an enormous jump that suddenly placed the country in third place among the oil-producing countries of the world. Thus, the importance of this conflict in the Porfirian debacle cannot be overstated. Recalls Friedrich Katz:
Some observers were convinced that the largest reserves in the world were in Mexico. In the face of such vast opportunities, Mexican business interests in Mexico were less and less prepared to put up with the Díaz government's anti-American collaboration with the Pearson Trust, and soon the opinion became rife that the only way to end that collaboration was through a change of government in Mexico.
The Porfirian regime had begun in the 1870s in the midst of virulent differences with the United States due to the intrusion of U.S. troops into Mexican territory to pursue Apaches and outlaws. Ironically, after two decades of agreements and collaboration, Díaz was ending his period in office by returning, through different circumstances, to a similar conflict that would cost him the neutrality, and in some cases even the active support, of the U.S. government toward the revolutionary bands and their agents during 1910 and 1911.
The year 1908 was also a bad one for political stability in the upper reaches of government, because Díaz himself was responsible for opening the doors to political agitation when he declared to the North American reporter James Creelman that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would accept as heaven's blessing the creation of an opposition party. His desires were taken as orders. Once he had given his consent, the political underground of the society took center stage. The rumors became magazines, the agitation adopted book fommat. Querido Moheno published ¿Hacia dónde vamos? (Where are we going? ); Manuel Calero published Cuestiones electorales (Electoral matters); Emilio Vázquez Gómez published La reelección indefinida (The indefinite reelection); Francisco de P. Senties, La organizacion política de Mexico (The political organization of Mexico); Ricardo García Granados, El problema de la organización política (The problem of political organization); and Francisco Madero, La sucesión presidencial (The presidential succession}. The anti-Porfirian trends came to the fore in the public arena in the form of political organizations and anti-reelection parties.
The Opposition and Its Farsightedness
From the Díaz-Creelman interview in June 1908, the horizon of the Opposition was dominated by the figure of Gen. Bernardo Reyes, fommer secretary of war. Reyismo filtered into some of the most sensitive parts of Mexican political life: the Masonic lodges, the modest bureaucrats, the army. During 1908 and parts of 1909, in the North and the West of the country, Reyismo led to the creation of clubs, journals, and impressive speeches. Near mid-1909, however, Reyes yielded to Díaz's pressure and quelled with his silence the demands of his supporters. Toward the end of July, he announced that he would support the candidacy of Don Porfirio for president, and that of his enemy, Ramón Corral, for vice-president in the 1910 elections. As a reward for his loyalty, he was withdrawn from the military command of Nuevo León. At the beginning of November, President Díaz granted him a hearing and encouraged him to accept a trip to Europe for military studies.
At the same time that Reyes's star was fading, a Central Anti-Reelection Club was established in mid-1909 in Mexico City that began to highlight the new shining star of the opposition—a man who, according to his own grandfather, was attempting to put out the sun with his hand: Francisco I. Madero. In 1909, Madero was, above all things, a preacher, member of a wealthy landowning family of Coahuila, author of a dense book on historical discourse, and an active organizer of opposition groups that were committed to the unheard-of strategy of traveling around the republic in order to promote his crusade—a crusade for democracy and against reelection, whose political character was adequately summed up in one of the slogans of his campaign: "The people do not want bread, but liberty."
During 1909 and 1910, Madero traversed the country in two stages. The first took him to Veracruz (recent scene of the repression against the textile workers), Yucatán (territory of violent expansion and the hemp oligarchy, recently subjected by Porfirismo to the dictates of the world market), and Nuevo León (the birthplace of Reyismo). January 1910 saw him entering Sonora in the North, after traveling through Puebla and Queretaro in the Center, and Jalisco, Colima, and Sinaloa in the West. Madero traveled with a small and faithful entourage: his wife, Sara; the stenographer Elías de los Ríos; and Roque Estrada, close collaborator and demanding witness. The tour took them to important cities, the celebration of rallies, the establishment of electoral clubs, and the prompt departure to some other point on the map. The hostility of the authorities, and the meager financial and administrative resources of the antireelection campaign, conferred on the tour of the "apostle" an image of ingenuity and limited efficiency. But the recent Reyista desertion and the numerous outbreaks of regional dissatisfaction were an appropriate climate for the possibilities of an independent candidate. Says Stanley Ross, "The political organization of Madero grew while Reyismo was falling apart. The independents and many of the Reyistas, abandoned by their preferred caudillo, saw the Maderista movement as their salvation."
In early June 1910, Madero once again left Mexico City, this time as the anti-reelection candidate for president of the republic. As he was leaving, the celebration of the Independence Centennial was beginning, with its chariots and parades, velvety frock coats, gazes hardened by the farsightedness and the respectable years of so many white beards and so many past glories. Medals and formal uniforms, honor bands, swaying grandstands: Mexico 1810-1910, a grand homeland, bedecked for the exhibition of its fulfilled destiny, renewed by the laurels of its triumph over the disintegration of its internal struggles, its catastrophes, and its shabbiness.
On the perimeter of that centenary homeland, a new country was growing: a gigantic rural body made up of country roads and the smell of dung, of muleteers and peons, of sparse cities and isolated communities. As mentioned above, in thirty years, the Pax Porfiriana had imposed a drastic change on that map, separated by its mountains and its distances: the branding iron that drew the lines of the railroad (Mexico to Veracruz, to Ciudad Juárez, to Guadalajara; Tepic to Nogales, Yucatán, Tehuantepec) and the long spider's web of the telegraph. At the terminal points, the railway junctions, and the intermediate regions that the railroad touched, the other society grew: mines, gringos, white men, and modern haciendas; commercial houses, factories, gringos, and massive emigrations; cities that grew at a dizzying pace, consulates and foreign owners, usurpations, strikes, monopolies, adventurers, large stores, corseted women, gringos, and casinos. It included a middle class without a secure future, a budding working class, a floating population attracted as if by magnet to the border; peasant communities shaken up in their secular rhythm; modern landowners and rural patriarchs confronted by progress, withdrawn to the old houses of their haciendas; families that for decades had woven the regional history with their whims and their interests, and now found themselves anachronisms, postponed their rancor.
To manage these disorders, the Porfirian style had no other branding iron than that to which the country had already become accustomed in those thirty years: a gerontocratic network of chiefs, governors, caciques, and ministers, a political style that had developed for the control of a society prior to the gringos, progress, and capitalism. The only things that were monolithic and reiterative, from beginning to end, in the Porfirian society were its political modes, its aspirations, and, after 1900, its complacent obsolescence.
The Fissure in the Dam
Madero was a fissure, at first imperceptible, in the efficacy of those old habits. Toward his weak promise gravitated all of the symptoms that the Porfirian court was ignoring: landowners with tradition but without future, communities that resisted the usurpation of their lands, professionals without positions, teachers burned out by the misery and the heroic halo of the history of the homeland, unemployed politicians, and military officers. And that crucial provincial petite bourgeoisie: the shopkeepers, pharmacists, anxious ranchers, small farmers, and sharecroppers, all dragged down by the double yoke of their local aspirations and the credit-and social-worthlessness of their modest enterprises. Toward the candidacy of Madero also flowed the North American expectations, a widespread lack of trust in the regime that was due less to the caution surrounding its physical age than to an opposition to its last youthful impulses, which redistributed to the British concessions that had been given to the North Americans and opened the diplomatic doors to emerging powers such as Japan.
His tour around the country should have led Madero to the certainty that, in effect, all of those embryonic forces were running behind his candidacy. As a presidential candidate, Madero doubted less and less the predictions that, in the name of the people, he made in his speeches. One day, when he was getting off the train in San Luis Potosí, coming from Mexico City, he shouted to the numerous partisans that had gathered to wait for him: "There is one thing that our oppressors should understand well: today, the Mexican people are willing to die in order to defend their rights; and it is not that they want to incinerate the national territory with a revolution, it is that they are no longer afraid of the sacrifice."
The disdain with which Díaz and the Porfiristas had regarded Madero since 1908 had turned by mid-1910 into strict police control. In response to his speech in San Luis Potosí, Madero was accused of "attempts at rebellion and insults to the authorities, " and was arrested in Monterrey and brought back to the scene of his verbal crimes, San Luis, where he was thrown in jail. They wanted to keep him quiet during the days in July when the elections would be held. They accomplished that; Díaz was reelected. A week after the new victory, the secretary of finance, José Ives Limantour, who was leaving for Europe, passed through San Luis Potosí and spoke with Madero—they had been personal friends for a long time. Madero obtained conditional liberty, although he was confined to the city of San Luis Potosí. He violated probation, crossed the border, and at the beginning of October was in San Antonio, Texas, ready to lead an insurrection. The basic platform of the Maderista revolution began to circulate some fifteen days later under the title of Plan de San Luis. It declared the elections null, the reelected regime illegitimate, and the new representatives spurious; it named Madero as provisional president of the United Mexican States, and it called for an insurrection on November 20, 1910 at 6:00 P.M.
It did not start at 6:00 P.M. or on November 20, 1910, but by May 1911 the consequences of that call to arms had opened the doors to a new historical period in Mexico.
Historian Francisco Xavier Guerra has provided us with an excellent geographical, political, and military summary of the Maderista insurrection that begins by recognizing its spatial location in the highland mines of the North.
The preparation for the uprising in cities such as Culiacan, Guadalajara, Chihuahua, Hermosillo, and in some localities of the State of Veracruz and of Puebla, are easily discovered, their instigators arrested before they are able to use their arms or immediately suppressed, such as Aquiles Serdan in Puebla . . . a second type of attempt had as its point of origin the United States. Political refugees, such as Madero himself, tried to cross the border and launch expeditions toward Mexico's interior with the support of local accomplices. In Piedras Negras and Ojinaga the failure of these attempts is absolute. Finally, true uprisings begin to take place. Some of the conspiracies are successful, such as that of Jesus Agustín Castro, Orestes Pereyra, Martin Triana and eighty other people in Gómez Palacio, in the region of La Laguna. There are some uprisings that are barely insurrections of a few towns of the north of the country (Cástulo Herrera and Pancho Villa in San Andres and Santa Isabel, Toribio Ortega in Cuchillo Parado, Chihuahua; the Arrieta brothers in Canelas, Severino Ceniceros and Calixto Contreras in Ocuila and Cuencamé, Durango). In other cases, there are massive attacks that are undertaken by hundreds of men in the towns of Santa Bárbara, Belleza and Cuevas, against the great mining center of Hidalgo del Parral, attempts that are also doomed to failure, and end up as small groups of bandits that take refuge in inaccessible zones. There is only one specific region—the west of Chihuahua—where the rebellion is victorious from the beginning and is kept alive in towns and small cities: San Isidro with Pascual Orozco, Santo Tomás with José de la Luz Blanco, Temosáchic, Bachíniva, Matáchic, Moris with Nicolás Brown, Tomóchic, Caríchic . . . The month of December of 1910 confirms this initial geographic distribution. The rebellion of the western region of Chihuahua extends itself toward Janos in the north and Batopilas in the south, toward the west where some bands appear in the El Barrigón mine in Sonora, and also toward the east in direction of Satevo. The rebellion of the western mountains of Durango consolidates itself when Copalquin and the mines of Río Verde, in the district of San Dimas, join the rebellions of Canelas. A month and a half after the hostilities began, the main zone of the Maderista revolution shows a sharply defined contour. It includes essentially the mountainous axis of the Westem Sierra Madre and it extends itself toward the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango and Sinaloa. A singular northern Mexico, of precarious mountain and forest agriculture. Above all, it is the Mexico of the mines.
January is a difficult month for the rebellion. Despite its weakness and its lack of preparation to engage the guerrillas, the federal army launches an offensive and recovers even Ciudad Guerrero, the center of the revolution in Chihuahua, as well as the mining centers of Urique and Batopilas. Despite these setbacks, the nucleus of the rebellion in the west of Chihuahua sends an expedition of more than one thousand men toward the north. It is at that point in time that the western region of Durango, which has similar characteristics, joins the revolution and the municipalities of Topia and Tamazula are completely surrounded. They are movements that contrast with the defeats of Villa and of some dispersed groups in the center-southern region of Chihuahua, a region of large landowners, where the revolutionaries are forced to retreat toward the highlands at the north of Durango. It is thus that the Maderista rebellion becomes firmly established in the mountains and mines.
In February the situation improves for the rebels. The federal army definitely abandons the west of Chihuahua and the rebellion extends to the mining region at the east of Sonora. There are uprisings in the mines at the center of Chihuahua (Naica, Santa Eulalia, in Aldama). They fail, but they are one more proof of the multiplication of the rebel groups. Also, for the first time after three months of fighting, a new hub appears in the south of the country: that of Gabriel Tepepa, previous to the uprising of Zapata in Morelos.
The decisive turning point of the revolution takes place in the second half of March. All of the highlands of Durango are by then in hands of the revolutionaries, and they begin to spill over into the coastal plains (Badiraguato, Guamúchil, Mocorito and toward the mining region at the south of Sinaloa (Pánuco). Some dispersed groups in Durango and in Zacatecas attack central cities: Jesus Agustín Castro attacks Villa Hidalgo, Durango; Luis Moya begins a long cavalcade that takes him toward the south of Durango and to the mining region in southern Zacatecas (Juchipila, Mezquital del Oro, Nochixtlán. In Sonora, the revolutionaries suffer defeats in Ures and in Agua Prieta. But their failures also prove that they have acquired sufficient strength to attack important towns. Finally, toward the end of March, the Figueroa brothers stage an uprising in the mining region of Huitzuco, Guerrero. On March 10, the Zapatista insurgency begins.
In April, the rebellion extends itself like an oil stain. The troops stationed in western Chihuahua, where only some isolated mines in Chínipas resist, besiege the border town of Ciudad Juárez. In Sonora, another border town, Agua Prieta, falls into rebel hands for some days. The federal army is only able to control some strategic points of the railroad. In Durango, the troops descend from the westem mountains into the central plains and surround the capital city; in the east, the mining cities of Indé and Mapimí, Velardeña, Cuencamé, San Juan de Guadalupe, Juego Nazas and Gómez Palacio fall into rebel hands. All of the region of irrigated agriculture of La Laguna, between Durango and Coahuila, is besieged by the attacks of the revolutionaries. In Sinaloa, the battles flood the central plains, and in the north and the southern mining region Palmillas, Guadalupe de los Reyes, San Ignacio and Concordia fall. Toward the end of the month, the port of Mazatlán is totally surrounded. In Zacatecas, Luis Moya's men arrive at the large mining centers: Fresnillo, Nieves, Sombrerete. In the south, Figueroa's rebellion extends to Guerrero, and Zapata extends his uprising to Morelos and Puebla, where he is able to take control for some days of Izúcar de Matamoros.
Finally, in the month of May the revolution is triumphant. On the ninth, Orozco and Villa take control of the most important border city, Ciudad Juárez. The military success hastens the signing of a cease-fire on May 18, and on May 21 a peace agreement is signed, accepting the formation of a provisional government. In the days after the victory, and especially after the signing of the peace agreement, the revolutionary troops that are still mobilized attack other cities that are not yet under their control. After bloody fights, Torreón in La Laguna falls on the 15th, Iguala on the 12th, Cuautla the 19th, Culiacán the 30th, Mazatlán the 6th of June. In Chihuahua and in Sonora, thanks to the signed agreements, the Maderistas do not find resistance to occupying the cities that are still in the hands of the federal army. In the rest of the country, scattered revolutionary groups grow in a few days, and without resistance enter San Luis Potosí, Córdoba, Orizaba, Saltillo, Pachuca, etc. The military phase of the Maderista revolution reached an end at the beginning of June 1911.