By Jessica Chilián
Photography by “Del Porfirismo a la Revolución” (1974) Chapultepec Caste, Cdmx.
Mural. By David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The Maderista revolution
The publication of “La sucesión presidencial en 1910” created a climate of expectation in the country, while Porfirio Diaz, now in his eighties, was preparing for his seventh reelection. Francisco I. Madero, the son of a rich Coahuila landowner and democratic ideals, was openly demonstrating against the Porfirian dictatorship. Madero organized the Anti-reelection Party and began an electoral campaign across the country, an unusual event at that time. When Madero’s political force grew, Diaz imprisoned him in San Luis Potosi and declared himself the winner of the elections. In prison, Madero drew up the Plan of San Luis, through which he called for an armed rebellion for November 20, 1910.
That day numerous groups rose up against Diaz. Abraham Gonzalez, Pascual Orozco and Francisco Villa rose up in the north of the country, and later Emiliano Zapata joined the revolt in the south. Diaz resigned the presidency and, six months into the revolution, he left the country. In 1911 Madero triumphantly entered Mexico City. That year he was named president by an overwhelming majority. During his brief rule, Madero became the victim of confrontation between opposing political interests. His enemies attacked him fiercely in the press, taking advantage of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the president himself. On the other hand, the revolutionaries did not like that Madero will leave the federal army in the hands of the former Porfirian generals.
For this reason, Pascual Orozco and Emiliano Zapata rose up in arms with him, who demanded the restitution of lands to the peoples through the Ayala Plan. Under the pretext of political chaos, the Porfiristas Felix Diaz, the nephew of Don Porfirio and Manuel Mondragon, rose up in Mexico City. During this conflict, known as the “Decena Trágica”, Madero entrusted Victoriano Huerta with command of the troops loyal to the government. Huerta, with the mediation of Henry Lane Wilson, then US ambassador, made a pact with the rebels and captured Madero in the National Palace.
The constitutionalist revolution
The assassinations of President Madero and Vice President Pino Suarez provoked an armed reaction from the revolutionaries. Venustiano Carranza promulgated the Plan of Guadalupe against the dictator Victoriano Huerta. To establish constitutional order, he organized the uprisings and created the Constitutionalist Army, confirmed by four major divisions: Northwest Army commanded by Obregon, the North Division headed by Villa, the Northeast Army commanded by Pablo Gonzalez, and the Army Liberator of the South led by Zapata. Together they attacked Huerta, who also had to face the invasion of US troops in the port of Veracruz and the opposition of Congress, whose chambers he dissolved with the luxury of violence. Finally, Huerta resigned and went into exile in 1914. However, the victory of the Constitutionalist Army did not mean the end of the armed struggle.
Disagreements will soon arise between the main revolutionary leaders: Zapata and Villa demanded an immediate solution to the agrarian and popular demands, while Carranza and Obregon opted for the creation of a stable and sovereign government based on compliance with the laws. The revolutionary leaders met in Aguascalientes to try to reach an agreement, but at this meeting their differences were further deepened. 1915 was the year of battles, hunger, and political chaos; the troops of both sides looted the fields and the cities, the bandits took advantage of the disorder to rob and murder. This situation made it necessary for the deputies to meet in Queretaro to create the Constitution that was signed in February 1917. It enshrined individual guarantees, sovereignty over the nation’s resources, and peasant and worker rights.
The time of the caudillos
In 1919 Venustiano Carranza managed to consolidate his power; The United States had recognized his government and his main enemies were defeated: Zapata was treacherously assassinated in Chinameca, and Villa, defeated by Obregon, saw his glorious Northern Division reduced to a handful of loyal guerrillas. After nine years of war and more than a million deaths, the nation seemed to be heading for peace. At the end of his presidential term, Carranza wanted to designate as his successor a civilian, the engineer Ignacio Bonillas, but General Obregon, who was hoping to be president, rebelled against Carranza and launched the Agua Prieta Plan. The head of the Constitutionalist Army tried to flee, but was killed in Tlaxcalantongo, a small village in the Sierra de Puebla. There was no opposition in the elections in which Obregon ran for president. Once a brilliant military man and now an insightful politician, he dedicated himself to the pacification and reconstruction of the country. The agrarian distribution was launched and working hours and minimum wages were established for the workers.
However, he postponed control of oil resources, which were then in the hands of foreign companies, to gain recognition from the United States. The armed struggle had created an awareness of the need for social justice and education for the Mexican people. Obregon entrusted this last task to Jose Vasconcelos, a great intellectual and educator who undertook a literacy campaign throughout the country. Pride in national values and knowledge of the great works of universal culture were promoted in schools. As the end of Obregon’s government approached, the problem of presidential succession arose again. The chosen one was Plutarco Elias Calles, but his appointment led to the uprising of Adolfo de la Huerta and other high command of the army. That dissatisfaction would cost several of the former revolutionary generals their lives.
The consolidation of revolutionary power
Plutarco Elias Calles ruled the country between 1924 and 1928. During his government, the road infrastructure began to develop and the first irrigation districts in the country were built. To prevent further outbreaks of violence, Calles tried to control the army and the worker and peasant organizations. He organized the issuance of a single currency with the creation, in 1925, of the Bank of Mexico. He fought for the strict application of the Constitution, which caused conflicts with the oil companies and the Catholic Church. The closure of private schools and seminaries and the persecution of priests led to armed struggle in the center and west of the country. Known as the “Cristero War”, the revolt with deep popular roots could not be put down by Calles. After three years, the government made a pact with the Church.
The problem of the presidential succession reappeared in 1928. Obregon wanted to be reelected again as president, which caused the rebellion and subsequent execution of General Francisco Serrano. Winner in the elections, Obregon was assassinated while celebrating his triumph at a public banquet. After the attack, Calles declared the end of the time of the caudillos and the beginning of the time of the institutions. To avoid further electoral conflicts, he created in 1929 the National Revolutionary Party (PNR), which brought together the strongest political forces of the time (workers, peasants and military), and appointed Emilio Portes Gil as provisional president. The prestige of the revolutionary artists and intellectuals became evident when Jose Vasconcelos ran for president. Defeated in dubious elections by Pascual Ortiz Rubio, Calles candidate and the party, Vasconcelos had to leave the country. Due to the resignation of Ortiz Rubio, Abelardo Rodriguez was appointed president, plus political power was still in the hands of Plutarco Elias Calles.
Source: “Viaje por la historia de México”
Author: Luis Gonzalez y González
Publisher: FCE – Fondo de Cultura Económica