Last 20 November was the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. I had intended then to tell you something about the intriguing, curious evangelist of democracy whose actions gave rise to that celebration, Francisco I. Madero. However, I had to go north to attend to some personal business at precisely that time.
The battles of that revolution went on for ten years. It is therefore still an appropriate to time to write of Madero. Very appropriate this month, as a matter of fact. It was 100 years ago on 10 May 1911 that Ciudad Juárez fell to Madero’s revolutionary forces under the command of Pascual Orozco and Francisco Villa, probably better known to you as Pancho Villa. By the end of May 1911, Francisco Madero was interim President of Mexico for the purpose of calling new general elections. I venture the guess that you have never heard of him and would like to correct that.
In order to say anything informative about Francisco Madero, however, it is first necessary to say something of Porfirio Diaz. In 1910 Diaz had been President of Mexico for 34 years. His dictatorship even has a name, the Porfiriato. In 1876 Diaz and his forces, under the banner of “No Reelection,” overthrew the then sitting President who had run for reelection. Ironically, to use a mild adverb, Porfirio Diaz then reelected himself seven times. In September of 1910, the centennial of Mexican independence from Spain was the occasion for an extravaganza in Mexico City, a celebration that conflated Independence Day with Porfirio Diaz’s eightieth birthday that same month.
During the first two-thirds of the 19th Century, one of the primary things that inhibited Mexico’s integration as a nation was its difficult, mountainous topography and in some places its forbidding climate. It was difficult, and remains difficult, to construct infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and railroads in Mexico.
To Porfirio Diaz’s credit, during the Porfiriato that infrastructure was built and the new petroleum industry put in place. This was done, however, with foreign capital. The infrastructure was built at the expense of selling out the country to American, British, and, to some extent, French financial interests . . . and at the expense of democracy in Mexico. Those foreign financial interests owned the Mexican railroads and the new Mexican petroleum industry. If you were among the very few who were in with Porfirio Diaz, this situation made you rich. If you were among the masses not in with Porfirio—say, if your were Indian–you starved.
Herein lies another irony. The man who launched the conflagration that brought this whole powerful system down, Francisco I. Madero, was a member of one of the five richest families in Mexico, the Maderos of the border state of Coahilla. The Maderos’ wealth originally developed out of vineyards, cotton, and textiles. They then branched out and built a business empire that included mining concessions, cotton mills, cattle ranches, the Bank of Nueva León, coal companies, rubber plantations, and foundries. Big as in huge.
Young Francisco was educated in Europe, where he attended business school in Paris. He also attended the University of California at Berkeley where he acquired excellent English, in addition to his French and Spanish, and studied agriculture. It was in Paris that he became intensely interested in spiritualism, communicating with the dead. His brother, Raúl, had died in a fire at the age of four. The dead Raúl began to speak to Francisco about preparing himself for his destiny.
From then on Francisco kept a detailed written account of those things Raúl told him. Later, another member of the dead, a mysterious figure named José, who spoke in a somewhat Biblical tone, took over and often spoke to Francisco about what he must do. Francisco dutifully wrote down this information, too. We can still read these things today.
In short Francisco was a man of a mystical turn to say the least. He returned to take over the management of some of the family’s businesses and married. He learned homeopathic medicine and provided care to the peasants who worked on his family’s concerns. He also did outright charity work, to such an extreme extent that he became somewhat of a comical figure to his peers. He was adored by the peasants, however.
Under the influence of “the spirit of Raúl,” he modified his personal life. He became a vegetarian, an unusual thing for a man of that time with this background. He stopped smoking. He destroyed his own private wine cellars. He subjected himself to “cleansing rites,” the nature of which you can read of if you like in his memoirs.
Señora Madero has her part later.
He also modified his sexual conduct. As I read between the lines, Raúl essentially told him that if he and his wife stopped having so much fun with sex, then they would get the son that they hoped for. So he continued to have sex with his wife but without the fun.
The only other thing you need to know about Madero’s background for our purposes is that he was an immensely talented writer. His writing was powerful. It was the writing of this mystical, pacific man, inspired by the dead José, that launched a ten year long revolution of incredible bloodiness.
In the next installment I will tell you more–the good part.
Mexico, Biography of Power, A History of Modern Mexico, 1810 -1996, Enrique Krauze, Harper-Collins, 1997.
A History of Latin America, 3rd Ed., Benjamin Keen and Mark Wasserman, Haughton Miflin, 1988.
A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present, 3rd Ed., Hubert Herring, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, Brassawe’s old text book.