“Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close the United States.” Porfirio Diaz
Two hundred years ago today, a priest made a speech in Dolores that announced México’s independence from Spain. Father Hidalgo died before the the War of Independence ended in 1821, and before his revolution was highjacked by forces inimical to the cause of liberation. The three conservative forces oppressing colonial Mexico seized the revolution when a liberal government in Spain threatened their power. The three forces were the Catholic Church, the military, and the rich landowners. Funny how little things change.
Mexico doesn’t make the American news in any substantsive way (decontextualized drug war and immigrant hysteria notwithstanding). Beyond food, our neighbor to the south is fairly unknown, especially its politics. Here in Texas, our knowledge of Mexican history ends after the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase. What’s México been up to in all those years? Does it all begin and end with Santa Ana?
100 years ago, the Mexican Revolution began as an uprising against the dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz who ruled on behalf of (guess who?) the Church, the military, and the big landlords. A unique curandera, Santa Teresita de Urrea, blessed a revolution against the Porfiriato that led to all the crazy characters like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata that Americans love to see in their Mexican restaurants. The Mexican population of Texas (which was considered to be going extinct in 1910) exploded with refugees of modest and not so immodest means. Texas, like today, made its money off of the wealthiest and poorest of Mexicans.
After over a hundred years of instability, Mexico decided to settle down with this revolution business in the 1920s. No more dictators; only one six year presidential term allowed. And instead of constant upheaval, a political party to end all political parties would institutionalize all revolutionary changes and forces into a single party : the PRI. The Institutional Revolutionary Party controlled everything in Mexico for the next eighty years. All the successes and failures of Mexico since then can be pointed to the PRI and the Mexican oligarchy: the nationalization of oil, the stealing of elections, social security, the mass murder of students before the 1968 Olympics, the CIA-sponsored “dirty war” against leftists, and the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was called the perfect dictatorship as one president selected the next president every six years.
After the PRI stole the election from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)in 1988 and shot those who protested its theft, electoral reforms led to an honest election and their defeat in 2000 by conservative Vicente Fox and the PAN party. Fox and PAN promised to investigate all the crimes of the “perfect dicatorship.” He didn’t, and power remained in the office of the President while the Mexican State rotted from within. Then he (quite likely) stole the 2006 presidential election from the left, just like the PRI in 1988.
Now the country’s going to shit (again) and its most famous radical says the cosmic significance of years ending in 10 (1810, 1910) will mean that Mexico is ripe for its third revolution in 2010. With Washington giving tacit support to a return of the PRI to the presidency, it is only time before the revolution gets cooking again.
Happy Birthday Mexico! You’ll need the time off.