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20th Century Mexico by Chris Michael Ratliff

By the end of the 1800's Mexico was still under the rule of one of history's longest running dictators, Porfirio Díaz. While Díaz may have brought modernization of sorts to Mexico, the revolution that would oust him, the first social revolution of the twentieth century, would usher in the new age.

Despite the mask of modernization during Díaz's rule, by 1910 the average Mexican was worse off than in 1810. While foreigners owned many of the factories, transportation systems, and mines, most of Mexican land was owned by a few Mexican families. Some owned land the size of small countries. Mexicans worked for these foreigners and land owners under paltry conditions. Malnourished, underpaid, overworked, and impoverished, the people of Mexico badly needed change.

The first signs of unrest came through labor unrest. In 1906, at Colonel William Green's Cananea Consolidated Copper Company, Mexican workers struck over unfair wages and conditions. Arizona Rangers were called in and given power by Mexican officials to suppress the workers, showing Díaz's willingness to give foreigners power over Mexicans. A second strike at the Rio Blanco textile mills, in 1907, resulted in Federal troops firing point blank into a crowd of striking workers, killing over a hundred men, women, and children.

In 1904, three Mexico exiles, the Flores Mag´on brothers and Camilo Arriaga publish REGENERACION, attacking Díaz's regime. After being jailed, they went to the U.S. to publish REGENERACION. During a 1908 interview, Díaz announced he would not seek re-election in 1910 and he would welcome opposition. This announcement led to heightened political activities among liberals. The Anti Re-electionist party candidate, Francisco Madero, supported a democracy. He was from a wealthy land-holding family and was an early supporter of REGENERACION. On Election Day Díaz had Madero imprisoned, Díaz was re-elected and Madero escaped to the U.S.

While in exile Madero and his supporters drafted a plan that called for all Mexicans to rise up in revolt on November 20, 1910. Madero made himself President. The revolution didn't exactly begin on that date but soon afterwards uprisings grew until the whole country was in revolt. The turning point in the revolt against Díaz happened on May 13, 1911 when revolutionary generals Pascaul Orozco and Pancho Villa captured Ciudad Juárez, twelve days later Díaz resigned and fled the country. Following Díaz' departure Madero won a new election and tried to instill democracy to Mexico.

In 1911, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata issued his Plan de Ayala in response to Madero's disappointing reforms. The Zapatistas wanted agrarian reforms, and soon began an armed struggle against the government. By 1913, Mexico City was surrounded by rebel forces. Madero was betrayed by one of his generals, Victoriano Huerta. Huerta ordered the murder of Madero and became dictator. Opposed to Huerta was the Constitutionalists to the north and the Zapatistas to the south. The years 1913-14 showed an escalation in the Revolution.

The events that led to Huerta's overthrow in 1914, was started when U.S. president Wilson sent marines into Veracruz to occupy the city. While Huerta sent troops as a show of force, rebel forces quickly filled the vacuum left by federal troops. By July, Huerta had resigned. Venustiano Carranza of the Constitutionalist party filled the role of First chief after Huerta's overthrow. His bitter enemies were the Zapatistas and the Villistas. During 1916, Pancho Villa raided some U.S. border towns, provoking the U.S. to send Gen. Pershing into Mexico to pursue Villa, but never finding the Mexican general.

In 1917, the revolutionary leaders drew up their constitution, it would be a radical constitution for its day. It strongly supported labor unions, socialized property, contained strong anti-clerical measures, and was extremely nationalistic in nature. Carranza reluctantly accepted it. Carranza didn't enforce the constitution; in fact, he distributed a very small amount of land and was slow toward social reform. His reform record was purposely lower than his hated enemy and predecessor, Huerta. The end of the armed struggle happened soon after Carranza had Zapata killed in 1919. In 1920 Alvaro Obregón revolted against Carranza and overthrew him. Villa made peace with the government and retired. Obregón started to implement the constitution; he spent more for education than any of his predecessor. Obregón favored CROM, the national labor union, and its leader Luis Morones, but not radical labor unions. The 1924 election brought Plutarco Calles to power. Calles was anti-clerical, so much so he closed many church institutions, deported priests. Whereupon the Church declared a strike , thus starting the Cristero Rebellion. Catholic rebels, the Cristeros, attacked government forces, they destroyed government property such as schools. By 1929 a compromise was reached.

In July 1928, Obregón won re-election, but before he could retain office, he was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. Afterwards Calles pulled strings for three puppet presidents. By 1929 Calles had organized the PNR (Partido National Revolucionario), now the PRI (Partido National Institucional). Mexico's government shifted to the right under Calles' puppets and progressive changes slowed until Cárdenas took office in 1934. The PRI can be seen as a coalition of centrist parties rather than one political party. From 1929-87, the PRI , organized by occupational sectors, contained the left, right, and center.

Cárdenas was a left-wing president; he distributed more land than any of his predecessor sand he was very much pro-labor, but his greatest triumph was the nationalization of Mexican oil companies. Since oil was first discovered in Mexico, foreigners, specifically American and British companies, owned it. By 1911, 12.5 million barrels of oil were produced in Mexico, by 1921, 193 million barrels, making Mexico the second largest oil producer. First Cárdenas created STPRM (Petroleum Workers Union of the Mexican Republic) in 1936, and placed demands on oil companies, declared that the companies exploited Mexican workers. He also created the PEMEX (Petróleos Méxicanos) as a state oil enterprise. He supported the CTM (Confederation of Mexican Workers). In 1938, Cárdenas nationalized Mexican petrol, creating bitter U.S.-Mexican relations until World War .

The Cárdenas Presidency was the most radical of the Revolution, the election of 1940 marked the end of his presidency and of the revolution. After Cárdenas' term, the Mexican political leaders changed from social reformers to economist and industrial capitalists. President Avila Camacho declared war on the side of the allies in May 1942, after two Mexican tankers had been torpedoed by Germans. Mexico's main contribution to the war was its raw materials. The 1950's saw social reforms slowed down considerably. Although industrialization grew, the work force grew faster, leaving many unemployed. During the 1960's, urban populations grew to surpass that of the rural population. Health programs made progress in rural areas, reducing tuberculosis, polio and almost eradicating malaria. Low cost housing projects were started in the vastly growing urban areas, to compete with Mexico's fast population growth.

Social unrest also plagued Mexico during the 1960's. In 1968, the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City. In addition to earlier student demonstrations against police corruption, shortly before the games anti-government rallies were held. In October at Tlatelolco, troops and police showed and opened fire on a large group of demonstrators. The Government claimed 43 dead, although some Mexicans claimed hundreds died.

Mexican oil production was low after nationalization, but by 1973, production was back to the level it was at 1921. When OPEC formed and the price of oil rose, Mexico's debt increased each year, and even more so when President Echeverría devalued the peso. By 1979, crude oil was up to 511 million barrels, and much of that going to the U.S. In the early 1980's corruption and inflation plagued Mexico. Increase in gas, food, and electricity costs went along with Mexico's problems. In addition to these calamities, a huge earthquake hit Mexico City in September 1985, killing around 8,000 people and totaling about four billion in damage. Another problem due to Mexico's economic woes is the flow of undocumented workers in the U.S.

The latest problems in Mexico is the criticism of the one party system. In 1987, some of the left within the PRI split and formed the FDN (National Democratic Front). Ernest Zedillo rebuilt the PRI coalition with the right and center factions. Considering the 1994 murder of a PRI party leader Mario Ruiz Massieu, believed to have been executed by party members, and the recent uprisings in Chiapas, the future is still uncertain for Mexico. Ernesto Zedillo, chosen as the PRI nominee and, thus, President of Mexico, after the murder of Colosio is wrestling with how to keep the system functioning.

Works Cited

Meyer, Michael and Sherman, William. THE COURSE OF MEXICAN HISTORY. Oxford University Press. New York, 1987.

Mabry, Donald J. "Mexican Anticlerics, Bishops, Cristeros, and the Devout during the 1920's: A Scholarly Debate". JOURNAL OF CHURCH AND STATE. Vol. 20, no.1, 1978, 81-92.

Shafer, Robert J. and Mabry, Donald J. "Mexican Oil and Nationalism". Neighbors-Mexico and the United States. Chicago, Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1981.

Baker, George and Galindo, Alfonso. "PRI Victory?". G.BAKER@CGNET.COM