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The Porfiriato

The Porfiriato

Photography “Del Porfirismo a la Revolucion” (1974). Mural. Chapultepec Castle, Cdmx. By David Alfaro Siqueiros

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The age of order and progress

Once consolidated in power, Diaz began a policy of conciliation between the most favored sectors of the country. The regional caciques were allowed to maintain local power in exchange for their loyalty. He reconciled with the Catholic Church and his former conservative enemies, thanks to which Mexico enjoyed 27 years of peace, at the end of a century of battles. With peace, the economy recovered: mining, industry and communications developed rapidly; for the first time in its history, Mexico became an exporter of agricultural and livestock products; it was also possible to solve the problem of the foreign debt that had the country in bankruptcy.

The Porfirian regime promoted the artistic and scientific development of Mexico; new schools, theaters, museums, and academies were founded. The most important intellectuals believed that only science and industrial modernization would bring the country out of its backwardness. To achieve this, capital had to be imported from abroad. Investors from the United States, France and England created powerful companies in the fields of mining, agriculture, electricity, commerce and railways. However, Mexico’s progress was achieved many times at the expense of the weakest, that is, the peasants, who were dispossessed of their lands by the demarcation companies and by ambitious landowners. Agricultural workers and laborers endured long hours of work in exchange for a paltry wage.


The decline of the Porfiriato

Three decades of Porfirian “peace, order and progress” had transformed the country. Mexico was apparently headed for prosperity, had a solid economic development and a growing industrial plant. Despite this, the vast majority of the population benefited little from material well-being and, on the contrary, suffered the injustices that caused the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands. In the countryside, millions of peasants lived in deplorable conditions, while five thousand landowners owned most of the arable land in the country.

Mexican politicians and foreign businessmen came to monopolize huge tracts in the north of the country at laughable prices and bypassing the rights of small owners. In Yucatan and Sonora, indigenous groups that opposed the dispossession of their lands were repressed and transferred to inhospitable places. In the cities. The workers did not enjoy the benefits of the Porfiriato either: they worked long hours in exchange for insufficient wages. The middle class, made up of technicians, teachers and lawyers, people with education and political aspirations, became the main critic of the Porfirian government when they saw that power and wealth were kept in the hands of a few.

On the other hand, the country’s elites, big businessmen, merchants and landowners, were concerned about the transmission of presidential power. “Don Porfirio” was about to turn 80 years old and did not seem to decide to choose a successor. On the other hand, the Americans favored by Diaz were suspicious of his increasingly independent and nationalist policy, to such an extent that the president of the United States decided to meet him. The vaunted peace was about to collapse. Expressions of dissatisfaction began to appear in some regions of the country; there were strikes in Cananea and Rio Blanco, political parties and opposition newspapers were created.


Source: “Viaje por la historia de México”
Author: Luis Gonzalez y González
Publisher: FCE – Fondo de Cultura Económica