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In Mexico, The Body Count Continues to Mount










By Allan Wall

November 17, 2009

Patriotic holidays and how they are celebrated are a elements of a nation’s shared culture. Of course, when we start studying the nitty gritty of such festivities, even more questions are raised.

In the United States, for example, you’d think more would be done to recognize Constitution Day, on September 17th, but almost nothing is done on that day.

Mexico has a number of fiestas patrias, and the one coming up next is the November 20th celebration of the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution

Well, it’s called November 20th,although it’s now officially celebrated on the third Monday of November, which in 2009 is November 16th. So happy Mexican Revolution Day.

The Mexican Revolution should not be confused with the Mexican War of Independence, nor with Cinco de Mayo, which though quite famous in the United States, is not a big deal in Mexico.

The Mexican Revolution is emphasized in the educational system and is a key part of Mexican identity. In the United States, the most famous figure of the historical era is Pancho Villa.

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. (Even though Villa lost and Obregon won, Villa is still much more famous today. That shows that popular history is not always written by the winners.)

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 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 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.

Although the Mexican Revolution is still held in high regard in Mexico, in recent decades it has been criticized by some. This criticism coincided with the decline of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) which formerly dominated Mexico as a one-party state government.

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 pound sterling.

Some Mexicans have criticized the Revolution for not being all it was cracked up to be. It’s been belittled from the left for not having gone far enough.

It’s been criticized by free-market pundit Sergio Sarmiento as 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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The intellectual dispute over the Mexican Revolution continues, but its place in the patriotic calendar is safe for now.

Besides, next year, 2010, marks both the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution, and the 200th anniversary of the beginning of what became the Mexican Independence Movement. So a big celebration is being planned for Mexico.

After all, a debate over history is one thing, but a super-duper fiesta is another thing entirely.

� 2009 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved

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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.











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.