Obregón, Alvaro—Transformation of Mexico
by Carrie E. Starks
At the end of the Mexico Revolution, Mexico was politically and socially unstable.
It was General Alvaro Obregón who was the master mind that could rebuild after the
Revolution. He served as the president of Mexico from 1920-24. He
has been described as one of the greatest generals throughout the Mexican Revolution and
his committed implementation of the Constitution of 1917 that made him one of the most
radical presidents Mexico has seen. Obregón's mastery of the consolidation process between
the varying political party that he was both a true Mexican and a diplomat.
Obregón was more European than Indian, like " Madero
and Venustiano Carranza, but, unlike them, he was no full
blooded aristocrat. Obregón's family may have had upper crust lineage, but he was well
rounded man. Obregón rode the fence of social status therefore appealing to a variety of
social classesan asset for a military officer and a politician. Obregón began as commercial chickpea
farmer on a 150 hectare hacienda in Sonora. He was a successful farmer and business man. He
married in 1902, but his wife died in 1907, leaving him with two small children
and business problems, that he had little time, or concern, for politics. Madero's revolutionary
triumph changed all that.
It was his military experience which changed the man dramatically and gave rise to his
boundless ambition. For on the battlefield he displayed the most natural talent for soldiering.
He first joined forces with Madero and defeated Orozco during the revolution. Obregón had
returned only a few months to civilian life when he joined
Venustiano Carranza take up arms
against Victoriano Huerta ,
and his brilliant organizational and fighting abilities soon gained him command
of the Constitutionalist Army of the Northwest. This invincible general—he never lost a
battle—was soon the most feared and respected solider in Mexico. Under Carranza, it was he
who administered the surrender of the Federal Army; it was he who stopped Villa from taking
control of the Revolution, and it was he who began to build the new National Army. But once
Carranza became Constitutional president in 1917, the tolerable relationship
between the general and the President began to die away. Not only was Carranza
apprehensive of the ambitions of his popular and powerful War Minister, but he also
considered Obregón too radical politically. Obregón's resigned as War Minister to retirement
to civilian life soon after Carranza became President in 1917. This only delayed the
unavoidable clash between these two powerful revolutionary personalities.
Obregón had long been worried about militarism. He had warned Carranza that the
treason, brutality, corruption, and personal opportunism of the revolutionary leaders were
damaging the good name of the Constitutionalist Army. However, Carranza maintained his
power by cooperating the nation's triumphant military chiefs. And understandably Obregón
was most upset, after resigning as War Minister, to see so little implementation of his program
of military reforms. Because of the ineffectiveness of Carranza in military matters, the army
became demoralized and defected to Obregón in 1920.
Obregón publicly criticized Carranza, and basically declared his own candidacy with
the Plan of Agua Prieta. He pledged that if elected he would clean up the widespread
corruption in the government. Meanwhile, de la Huerta acted as the interim president. While,
Obregón easily gained and diffused popularity and power from Porfirian elites, foreign
business interests, ruthless caudillos, and land-hungry peasants (Gonzales 182). Through his
labor and agrarian supporters Obregón could create political strictures and structures which
would accommodate the various sources of power and more accurately reflect the ideals and
aspirations of Revolutionary Mexico. For example, the Casa de Obrera Mundial ( an urban labor
group) supplied him with six battalions of workers to fight against Villa. And at both the
1917 constitutional convention and 1919-20 presidential campaign, the workers' support of
the military position had contributed to Carranza defeat.
After his successful 1920 rebellion, he became president over Carranza. The
labor unions were rewarded because the guarantees in the 1917 Constitution concerning right to
organize, to strike, minimum wages and maximum hours were enabled by Obregón. As
president, his task was to creatively organize an authoritative system that would not only
create a conducive political environment but economic environment as well that would satisfy
the stratified social classes while implementing the ideals of the constitution. This created
much unneeded turmoil during his first years as president.
The development of mass support was a key feature of Obregón's plan to establish
a strong national government. The last such government has existed under Diaz, when the
church, the business interests, and the landholders combined with the army to maintain
effective control at the center. The Madero revolution had broken the Diaz system, but
neither Madero, nor Huerta, or Carranza, could reestablish an effective new order. In place
of the traditional forces, Obregón substituted workers and peasants as his civilian base, but
like Diaz, he had developed a disciplined and loyal army to establish a viable central
government. One way Obregón accomplished this task was through agrarian reform.
Obregón redistributed land to peasants to appease the militant agrarian radicals to recruit
them into his political alliance.
Another one of Obregón's accomplishments was making friends with the United
States, unlike his predecessors. Obregón cautiously established good relations and
understood the political power United States. By establishing rapport with the United States
and important international financiers, he was able to make economical head for Mexico
because of their natural resource—oil. They could now use their natural resources to repay
their international debt. The Minster of Treasury de la Huerta, however, had a disappointing
performance. And it was clear by late 1922 that Obregón had chosen Calles to succeed him
for the 1924-28 presidential term instead of de la Huerta. Many divisionarios like de la Huerta who
outranked Calles were not happy with this decision either and started conspiring against
Calles. Obregón's selection of Calles alienated brought disharmony amongst many of his
supporters and nonsupporters.
In December 1923, a rebellion by de la Huerta, Villa and
others which made all Obregón's efforts to build a strong national army seem in vain.
Obregón was faced with a military uprising which nearly destroyed his government. Clearly
the rebel generals possessed warrior mentalities. Because they made the Revolution, they felt
entitled to political power. They were unwilling to confine themselves to a police type role
of defending the central government. They felt like the president was overly sympathetic to
agrarian complaints about land distribution. Obregón won and executed all of his potential
political rivals (Gonzales 201).
When Obregón's term ended in December 1924, only a start had been made in
building a professional army. This work was to be continued by Obregón's handpicked
successor, General Plutarco E. Calles. Calles was elected president, and enjoyed more political stability
because of Obregón's previous hard work to stabilize Mexico. Obregón's reconstruction
efforts resolved some of Mexico's debts problems and gained international diplomatic
recognition through advanced negotiations with international banks (Gonzales 202).
In 1927-28, Obregón began his second presidential campaign. His programs were basically
those of 1920-24. He showed more concern for agrarian reforms than before when he was
preoccupied with military affairs. Obregón was again chosen president, but before taking
office he was assassinated by a fanatical Roman Catholic. The middle aged Obregón died
before he could further administer the ideals and the principles of the Mexican Revolution that
would have ultimately affected the fate of Mexico for the next 100 years. Now a new loyal
and efficient elite would have to administer to the growing resources of government, society
and economy through a continuation of social and militaristic programs.
Obregón did what no other leader could accomplish—he restored order to the war torn,
chaotic Mexico. The fearless general not only lead Mexico through countless bloody battles
but he was a political Casanova in Mexico's history that will never be forgotten. Obregón was
ambitious man who was not afraid to go into battle with anyone, anything and this was the
confidence the Mexican people needed after such trying times.
Dillon, Dr. E. J. President Obregón—A World Reformer. Boston Small, Maynard and Company Publishers. C 1923.
Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution 1910-1940. University of New Mexico Press. C 2002. p 167-220.
Notes on the Mexican Revolution
Alone At The Top: The Achievement of Alvaro Obregón 1880-1928. C1999.