THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION AND ITS LEGACY
By Allan Wall
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
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 in 1911.
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 identity.
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 Carranza’s leadership in 1917. It’s still in use, though with many amendments.
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 raid on Columbus, New Mexico. That raid provoked 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. Mexican writer Arnaldo
The Mexican Revolution is honored each year in 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, it’s not at all clear what his ideology was.
The long-vilified Porfirio Diaz’ image has slightly improved. His accomplishments include economic development, a low crime rate and a peso on par with the pound sterling.
Madero was mostly in agreement with Diaz’ policies, 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 re-election 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.
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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?