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The Beginning of the End: Porfirio Díaz

© 2002 Donald J. Mabry

In the late Díaz period, there were efforts to anticipate the succession in 1910. Arguments were made that the nation should return to having a vice president. This interested both the anti-Díaz partisans and some Díaz collaborators, for the latter hoped to get in position to succeed the old man. Díaz never lost his grasp of politics, however. He knew who among his supporters were threats. Bernardo Reyes, governor of Nuevo León and commander of the Armies of the Northeast, was one possible vice presidential candidate. Another was José Yves Limantour, Secretary of Finance and the leader of the Científicos. Both had support but Díaz chose Ramón Corral, who had no following and, in fact, was unpopular.
The anti-Díaz sentiment or just plain ambition led to the formation of democratic clubs and anti-Díaz publications. In 1908, Francisco I. Madero, a rich hacendado from a very powerful family, published The Presidential Succession in 1910, a book in which he praised Díaz and supported him for the presidency in 1910 but argued that the nomination for the vice-presidency should be democratic. Madero was hoping to be that candidate but Díaz never took him seriously. In 1910, Madero had decided to oppose Díaz for the presidency. He was a very "un-Mexican" candidate for he was a teetotaling, vegetarian, spiritualist. Moreover, his upper class origins in Coahuila and his foreign university education (California and France) made him atypical as well. His family opposed his desire to run but gave him some support out of family loyalty. They were not very happy with his idea that the peasants should be helped out of their poverty.
Opposition also came from workers. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was labor agitation with major strikes at the Orizaba, Veracruz textile mill in 1906-07 and in copper mines at Cananea, Sonora in 1906. In the latter strike, Díaz allowed foreigners, Arizona state rangers, to cross the border to quash the strike, killing workers. For many workers, Mexicans were ill-treated compared to foreigners. Ricardo Flores Magón fostered this resentment as he tried to foment social revolution. He failed but he popularized some of the ideas which would be adopted by the soldiers who ran the Mexican Revolution.
The July, 1910 election was won easily by Díaz. He had jailed Madero before the election. The results said that Madero had only gotten 196 votes, unlikely since his family network was larger than that! No doubt he continued to think that Madero was a zero. When he began the massive celebration of the 100 years since the Hidalgo revolt (what was erroneously celebrated as Independence), he paroled prisoners. Madero was one. Madero escaped to the United States. Díaz had his great celebration with foreign dignitaries flocking to Mexico to celebrate the man who had tamed the Mexican tiger.
No wonder foreigners liked Díaz. He helped them take land from the Indian villages. He had put Mexico on the gold standard even though Mexico was the largest silver-producing nation in the world, because it suited foreigners. They were favored in employment. They got tax concessions. When foreign companies wanted to buy ore and petroleum deposits so they could mine or drill and sell abroad, Díaz changed the centuries-old law which reserved subsoil rights to the nation. He revised the mining statutes and strengthened the mining school. He provided order and stability even though the vast majority of Mexicans did not benefit from his policies. Foreigners did. Who could ask for anything more?
Madero did not demand anything but liberal democracy, a fair vote; the nationalistic explosion intermixed with demands for social justice came from elsewhere, from men less fortunate than he. Madero had gone to San Antonio, Texas. He then announced the Plan de San Luis Potosí (as if he were in Mexico) in which he declared Díaz' election null and void and himself as president. He called for a popular uprising against Díaz to begin on November 20th. He crossed into Mexico on that day to lead the insurrection but nothing happened. He high-tailed it back into Texas. The Revolution would begin at different times in different places for different reasons, but Chihuahua was the epicenter. There were good guerrilla leaders such as Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa there and people who thought revolt had a chance of success. These two lower-class leaders cleaned up the back country of Chihuahua. They then prepared to attack the barracks at Ciudad Juárez. Madero crossed the border in February, 1911 to join them. They had no love for this effete meddler. South of Mexico City another rebellion was taking place led by the horse trader Emiliano Zapata. Villagers in the states of Morelos and Guerrero needed a champion to continue their court battles to recover the lands taken from them by the favored of Díaz. Zapata took the duty but found that his efforts were ignored by the establishment. He began to fight and he would continue to fight until he was murdered in 1919. Other rebellions erupted across Mexico.
Limantour returned from his Paris exile in March, 1991; he was called back because Díaz was getting desperate. On his way to Mexico City, he stopped off in New York City and consulted with the Madero family, trying to arrange a deal. That he was negotiating with the Maderos was significant for several reasons. The Maderos were not the Revolution; he would not deign to talk to anyone below is social class. The fact that he was negotiating was a sign of weakness on the part of Díaz. It encouraged the rebels.
Díaz issued a manifesto hoping to stop the rebellion. He promised reform and offered to step down if the fighting would stop. Madero was willing to accept his terms but Villa and Orozco had the army garrison pinned down and knew they were winning. They refused. When they took the garrison, Madero tried to get them to not shoot the commander. They almost shot him for meddling. He was not the revolution. Díaz also faced the zapatista rebellion only 55 miles south of Mexico City.
Many supporters became opponents. Recognizing the inevitable, Díaz resigned on May 25, 1911 and sailed to Europe. Legend has it that his parting words were that "Madero has unleashed the tiger; let's see if he can tame it." He died in Paris on July 2, 1915.