Monday, November 17, 2008
The Mexican Revolution and Its Legacy a Century Later
By Allan Wall
A nation and its people need
shared historical experiences, what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory."
Annual commemorations of national festivals help to reinforce a nation’s historical identity.
In Mexico, Revolution Day, November
20th, is one such civic observance.
The Mexican Revolution began
November 20th, 1910, as an uprising against longtime dictator Porfirio Diaz, who resigned and left the country
But the abdication of Porfirio
Diaz did not usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Far from it.
Francisco I. Madero, who started
the Revolution and became president, was overthrown by Victoriano Huerta, who in turn was overthrown by a coalition which
then broke up into warring factions.
The two most colorful revolutionary
leaders were Pancho Villa, the "Centaur of the North," and Emiliano Zapata, leader of the "Liberation Army of the South."
They’ve also made the deepest impression on the collective psyche of Mexican
Pancho Villa was defeated
in 1915 at Celaya, the biggest battle of the Revolution, by Alvaro Obregon.
After the Carranza/Obregon faction
triumphed over the Villa/Zapata alliance, a new constitution was drafted under Venustiano
Carranza’s leadership in 1917. It’s still in use, though with
An interesting bit of trivia
is that the Mexican Revolution was the first war anywhere in which an airplane dropped a bomb on a ship, in the battle of
Topolobampo in 1913.
Foreign powers also intervened
in the war. Germany supported Huerta, and later tried to make a deal with Carranza.
The United States supported Pancho
Villa, but then switched to backing Carranza. In retribution, the "Centaur of the North" launched a 1916 raid on Columbus,
New Mexico. That raid provoked John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition into northern Mexico, the first U.S. military
operation to include the use of aircraft in a combat capacity. On Mexico’s
east coast, the U.S. military briefly occupied the port of Veracruz.
The Mexican Revolution is honored
each year on November 20th (the national holiday is now observed on the third Monday of November), and Mexican
schools teach its importance. It’s a key part of Mexican national identity.
The long-ruling PRI (Institutional
Revolutionary Party) glorified the Mexican Revolution. That’s because the faction that eventually won the Revolution
organized itself into a political party that eventually became known as the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
The PRI’s title (institutional
+ revolutionary) might sound like a strange juxtaposition. What it meant was
that the PRI presented itself as the heir of the Mexican Revolution, continuing to grant the benefits of the people’s
struggle for justice.
But times have changed. The PRI is no longer in control. What’s more, in recent years some Mexicans
have criticized the Revolution for not being all it was cracked up to be. It’s been belittled from the right end of
the spectrum, and on the left for not having gone far enough.
The Mexican revolutionaries represented
different interests and ideologies. Zapata’s major cause was restoration
of confiscated property in his region. As for Pancho Villa, what his ideology was is not all clear.
The long-vilified image of Porfirio
Diaz has slightly improved. His accomplishments included economic development, a low crime rate and a peso on par with the
Madero was mostly in agreement
with the policies of Diaz, but he thought the old dictator had been in office too long.
To this day, Mexican congressmen and senators aren’t allowed to succeed themselves. Is that policy still relevant? Some say no, and want it changed. Allowing Mexican lawmakers to stand for
reelection might make them more accountable to the voters.
Some have gone so far as to repudiate
the Mexican Revolution altogether. Mexican pundit Sergio Sarmiento calls the
Revolution a "monumental failure," which "destroyed a regime of poverty, inequality and authoritarianism" but also "constructed
another regime of poverty, inequality and authoritarianism."
In 2007, Macario Schettino published
a book entitled Cien Años de Confusión (A Hundred Years of Confusion). Schettino asserts that despite its much-celebrated Revolution, 20th century Mexico has not developed
more successfully than other Latin American nations, whether you look at development in terms of the economy, education, health
or social security. As for the progress made in Mexico since the Revolution,
Schettino says such progress has been made in other countries that had no social revolution.
As time goes by, how much could
such criticism change the traditional mainstream perspective on the Mexican Revolution?
How will future Mexican generations look back on the era – and what lessons can be drawn from it for the future?
Wall resides in Mexico and teaches
at a university. His website is located at www.allanwall.net.