Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’

Cinco de Mayo

Posted in General, On This Day on May 5th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

May 5, 1862:  The French Army Has a Faux Pas

Imagine that you have been mugged 47 times but once managed to fight off an attacker.  Wouldn’t you have a holiday to commemorate your token triumph?  Perhaps you wouldn’t but Mexico does.  On this day in 1862, a threadbare, outnumbered Mexican force thwarted a French attack on the town of Puebla. 

But what were the French doing there in the first place?  Napoleon III–unlike Hamlet–admired his uncle and tried to be a world conqueror, too.  Mexico had defaulted on its international debts, and  France decided to collect the entire country.  America’s Monroe Doctrine would have opposed France’s invasion, but we were somewhat preoccupied with the Civil War.  Besides, Napoleon III could tell that the South was going to win; so why worry about the former United States. 

Of course, the battle of Puebla was an embarrassment to the French but hardly a decisive defeat.  The rebuffed invaders  simply awaited reinforcements; the next battle of Puebla would be a French victory.  So was the battle of Mexico City.  With much of the country under their control, in 1864 the French established a puppet government with the affable and very gullible Austrian Archduke Maximilian as the “Emperor of Mexico”. 

Mexican patriots, rallying around President Benito Juarez, remained defiant if not particularly intimidating.  But in 1865, the American government was prepared to offer Juarez more than sympathy:  General Grant and an army of 50,000 were ready to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.  And suddenly the French decided to leave.  Unfortunately, the Emperor Maximilian did not.  He was certain that the Mexican people would like him once they got to know him.  He might have been right; but that evidently wasn’t the case with his firing squad. 

(The humiliated French would attempt to take out their frustration on the Prussians.  Any idea how well that worked out?  I wonder if Juarez sent Bismarck a complimentary sombrero.)

So today Mexico celebrates doing to the French what it wished it had done to us.  

The Moderate Bunch

Posted in General on November 20th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

November 20th:  Mexico’s Revolution Day

Portfirio Diaz was the best President of Mexico that American business ever had. For just a reasonable–if continual–bribe, railroads, Standard Oil, and mining companies could exploit all that Mexico had to offer. Some of Diaz’s amassed fortune was trickling down to the populace, at least to his family, the crew of his yacht and the teenage girls who seemed to rejuvenate the elderly tyrant. However, that was not really a majority of Mexico’s population.

Diaz had been a war hero against the French in the 1860s; but 34 years of corruption seemed a sufficient veteran’s benefit. By 1910, Mexico was ready to overthrow the outrageous rascal, and the hopes and the grievances of Mexico would center around a most incongruous figure. As a revolutionary, Francisco Madero was the soul of well-mannered moderation. As a leader, he was innocuous rather than charismatic. The hope of Mexico’s impoverished masses was a wealthy aristocrat who had been educated everywhere but Mexico. But this education abroad had made him an admirer of societies that were neither feudal relics or shameless kleptocracies. Even if he did look upon Mexico from an Ivory Tower, it was with genuine compassion.

His liberal principles had earned him several bouts in a Mexican prison. However, having the advantage of being rich in the Diaz days, he could always bribe his escape. While in exile in Texas, Madero issued a call for the Mexican people to overthrow Diaz and reestablish democracy; it was on this day in 1910.

Rebellions began throughout Mexico, and even the army seemed loathe to defend the Thief-in-Chief. Six months later, Portfirio Diaz was on his yacht, cruising to Europe with his usual contingent of teenage girls; he lived happily ever after. Francisco Madero was the new President. On his private estates, he had genuinely improved his workers’ standard of living; he imagined that he could do the same with all of Mexico. Unfortunately, Mexico proved a little more difficult. Moderation seemed to please no one.

Revolutionaries wanted more drastic reforms than Madero was prepared to make. Conservatives wanted no reforms at all. Worse for Madero, his innocuous moderation terrified American corporate interests in Mexico. They evidently preferred paying bribes than taxes, and a scrupulous Mexican government might interfere with their business. The American Ambassador Henry Wilson, representing those business interests, initiated his own foreign policy: a military coup to overthrow Madero.

Assuming that everyone had his good intentions, Madero had not tried to purge the Mexican Army of Diaz’s cronies. Unfortunately, a number of generals proved quite nostalgic for the old kleptocracy and were eager to reestablish it. Ambassador Wilson had no trouble orchestrating the coup. Madero had entrusted his security to Gen. Victoriano Huerta. Huerta organized the firing squad.

If you have seen “The Wild Bunch”, “One Hundred Rifles”, or “Viva Zapata” you know what happened next. It was a free-for-all civil war. Any general could claim to be the President, and anyone could claim to be a general. The Conservatives fought the Revolutionaries, and the Revolutionaries fought each other. In hindsight, this probably was not the best environment for American businesses; it was impossible to keep track of whom to bribe.

By 1920, the civil wars had bled themselves dry, and Mexico had arrived at a political compromise that more or less has lasted to this day: a government of moderate thieves.

p.s.  Francisco Madero was a noble man by virtue, not lineage.    It seems that the family pedigree could not meet the exacting standards of Spanish aristocracy.  There was a reason why the ancestral Maderos settled in northern Mexico.

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2010/09/20/learning-discretion/

http://finermanworks.com/your_rda_of_irony/2008/03/13/blue-blooded-fractions/

A Slave For Details

Posted in General, On This Day on March 6th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

March 6, 1836:  Selectively Remember the Alamo

The Alamo might have been the first celebrity reality show…Tune in to see Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and their 187 roommates cope with the annoyances and stresses of living together under siege, bombardment and assault.

Unfortunately, the show would have had only 13 episodes and there were no possibilities for a second season.

On this day in 1836, the Alamo fell to the Mexican army. The ruined mission became the shrine of Texas’ Independence. But why exactly were the Texans fighting?

In 1835, the Mexican government adopted a new constitution, one that replaced a federation of states with a centralized government. Under the previous constitution, the province of Tejas and its immigrant population had enjoyed considerable autonomy.

For example, under the Mexican statutes for naturalization, the Americano migrants in Tejas were supposed to become Catholic. However, the loose federal system never enforced that theological requirement. But the new constitution was not interested in that either; in fact, it was Anti-Clerical and was more likely to prosecute anyone for being too Catholic.

No, the real manifestation of Mexican tyranny was the enforced abolition of a certain property right that obviously was cherished by the citizens of Tejas. Now what sacred cause would incite rebellion by Stephen Austin (from Virginia), Jim Bowie (from Louisiana), Sam Houston (from Tennessee), and Davey Crockett (from Tennessee)?

In Texas, independence was a relative term.

But, in triumphing over Mexico, the Texans got to keep their “property”, at least until 1865.

So, Remember the Alamo…just not the details.

The Napoleon of the West

Posted in General on March 10th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

Imagine a leader with George Bush’s ability, Mitt Romney’s principles and Bill Clinton’s vices. Yes, he would be an unsurpassed disaster and, at the very least, lose two-thirds of the country. And that is the unique place of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876) in Mexico’s history.

He fancied himself the Napoleon of the West, his self-proclaimed military genius based on a single victory over a diseased Spanish force in 1829. However, the real Napoleon had only one Waterloo; Santa Anna had a series of them. He lost Texas because he never thought that Sam Houston would attack the Mexican army during its siesta. Of course, after that disgrace, Santa Anna fell from power. Yet, he managed to charm and bargain himself back into office by 1847, promising to defend Mexico from the invading Americans. That is how and why Mexico lost the other half of its territory. (His defense of Mexico City was no Alamo.)

Given this record, you’d think that he would have lost face. Actually, he only lost a foot–in 1838, failing to defend Vera Cruz from a French expedition collecting debts. But for 30 years, Santa Anna was unavoidable in Mexican politics. Shifting from liberal to conservative and back again–his only consistency was vanity–Santa Anna won the Presidency 11 times, even though his administrations rarely lasted longer than six months. He must have been in one of his conservative phases during the Gadsden Purchase because it was rumored that he kept most of the money for himself.

The Napoleon of the West did have some conquests with women. (He was good-looking, if the paintings are reasonably accurate; he did live long enough to be photographed–but evidently did not age well.) Unfortunately, his amorous nature proved costly to Mexico. During that famous siesta at the Battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna’s guard and pants were down. One of his mistresses became a legend of Texas. Her name was Emily West, a beautiful woman of mixed race or–in the colloquial phrase of the time–a “high yellow.” Some say that she was Santa Anna’s distraction at San Jacinto. Whether out of patriotic gratitude or an appreciative lust, the Texans dedicated a song to her.

Now you know the historical basis of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and Santa Anna’s contribution to American music.

Weren’t California, Arizona and Nevada Named for English Shires?

Posted in General, On This Day on February 2nd, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this date the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed, ending the Mexican War rather decidedly in our favor. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in March. For some reason, the Mexican government was less enthusiastic about ceding half of the country and did not ratify the treaty until May.

Lou Dobbs of CNN has described (with a surprisingly straight face) the Mexican War as if it were a real estate transaction. Mexico apparently felt overstocked in land, and was willing to sell California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah at fire sale prices (especially since the fires were in Mexico City, Veracruz and Monterey).

To quote the scoundrel Portfirio Diaz, the best president of Mexico that Standard Oil ever had, “Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.”

On this day in 1910: The Moderate Bunch

Posted in General, On This Day on November 20th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

Portfirio Diaz was the best President of Mexico that American business ever had. For just a reasonable–if continual–bribe, railroads, Standard Oil, and mining companies could exploit all that Mexico had to offer. Some of Diaz’s amassed fortune was trickling down to the populace, at least to his family, the crew of his yacht and the teenage girls who seemed to rejuvenate the elderly tyrant. However, that was not really a majority of Mexico’s population.

Diaz had been a war hero against the French in the 1860s; but 34 years of corruption seemed a sufficient veteran’s benefit. By 1910, Mexico was ready to overthrow the outrageous rascal, and the hopes and the grievances of Mexico would center around a most incongruous figure. As a revolutionary, Francisco Madero was the soul of well-mannered moderation. As a leader, he was innocuous rather than charismatic. The hope of Mexico’s impoverished masses was a wealthy aristocrat who had been educated everywhere but Mexico. But this education abroad had made him an admirer of societies that were neither feudal relics or shameless kleptocracies. Even if he did look upon Mexico from an Ivory Tower, it was with genuine compassion.

His liberal principles had earned him several bouts in a Mexican prison. However, having the advantage of being rich in the Diaz days, he could always bribe his escape. While in exile in Texas, Madero issued a call for the Mexican people to overthrow Diaz and reestablish democracy; it was on this day in 1910.

Rebellions began throughout Mexico, and even the army seemed loathe to defend the Thief-in-Chief. Six months later, Portfirio Diaz was on his yacht, cruising to Europe with his usual contingent of teenage girls; he lived happily ever after. Francisco Madero was the new President. On his private estates, he had genuinely improved his workers’ standard of living; he imagined that he could do the same with all of Mexico. Unfortunately, Mexico proved a little more difficult. Moderation seemed to please no one.

Revolutionaries wanted more drastic reforms than Madero was prepared to make. Conservatives wanted no reforms at all. Worse for Madero, his innocuous moderation terrified American corporate interests in Mexico. They evidently preferred paying bribes than taxes, and a scrupulous Mexican government might interfere with their business. The American Ambassador Henry Wilson, representing those business interests, initiated his own foreign policy: a military coup to overthrow Madero.

Assuming that everyone had his good intentions, Madero had not tried to purge the Mexican Army of Diaz’s cronies. Unfortunately, a number of generals proved quite nostalgic for the old kleptocracy and were eager to reestablish it. Ambassador Wilson had no trouble orchestrating the coup. Madero had entrusted his security to Gen. Victoriano Huerta. Huerta organized the firing squad.

If you have seen “The Wild Bunch”, “One Hundred Rifles”, or “Viva Zapata” you know what happened next. It was a free-for-all civil war. Any general could claim to be the President, and anyone could claim to be a general. The Conservatives fought the Revolutionaries, and the Revolutionaries fought each other. In hindsight, this probably was not the best environment for American businesses; it was impossible to keep track of whom to bribe.

By 1920, the civil wars had bled themselves dry, and Mexico had arrived at a political compromise that more or less has lasted to this day: a government of moderate thieves.