Wed, 28 June 2017
The previous episode ended with Pancho Villa breaking out of prison. This episode has another prison break. This is the third or fourth or fifth high-profile prison break we’ve seen in this series. That’s got to be some kind of podcasting record.
Krauze writes that the country was better off with Madero. In the win column Krauze puts a return to business as usual, growing bank assets, growing external trade, creation of the Department of Labor, improved working conditions in textile factories, legalization of labor unions and the right to strike, changes to agrarian policies, creation of industrial and elementary schools, new highways, and numerous political reforms. The people did not support the anti-Madero rebellions. Yet despite all the good things going on, public opinion was being changed by rumors and distortions in the media.
So we’ve got Zapata’s rebellion in the south, which General Felipe Angeles is able to contain but not totally eliminate. There’s Orozco’s rebellion in the north, which General Victoriano Huerta is in charge of combating. American Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson is up to no good, which we haven’t talked about yet. On top of that, the press continued slamming Madero. And now we’re about to have a rebellion in the capital.
Generals Felix Diaz and Bernardo Reyes had been imprisoned by Madero’s army after leading their own revolts. General Mondragon took his cadets and demanded the release of the two generals. When the guy in charge of the prison resisted, he was shot, and the generals were freed.
The next part of the plan was to attack the National Palace. They might have been successful if they hadn’t been spotted by one of the Palace Generals who was walking to his office in civilian clothes that morning. He saw cadets dragging a machine gun with them, and he was able to raise the alarm and get his men ready.
General Reyes was shot and killed during the assault on the National Palace. By the end of the fighting tehre were about 400 dead and 1000 wounded.
Madero’s men defended the National Palace effectively and forced the two rebelling generals back.
The assault started at about 7:30 in the morning. President Madero was three miles away, in Chapultepec Castle. He got word of the attack at 8:00. He fled, on horseback, and went to meet with some of his advisors. Among them was Victoriano Huerta, who swore loyalty to the President. Madero made him Commander of the Army of the Capital. Huerta’s new role would put him in charge of defending the government and the president.
The President stepped out onto a balcony and addressed the public, with Huerta standing next to him. He then got back on his horse and rode to the National Palace.
By this point the surviving generals had retreated to the city armory, the ciudadela, where they stocked up on ammunition.
That evening the President left the city and went to Cuernavaca to keep fighting the Zapatistas. He was confident that the rebellion would be crushed like previous rebellions against him in the capital.
While there, he asked his Army advisors what they would think if he put Felipe Angeles in charge of defending the capital instead of Huerta. They didn’t think it was a good idea, since Felipe had only recently been promoted and was not technically a general, since Congress had not yet made his generalship official.
The next day, February 11, Huerta began bombarding the rebels, who responded in kind. Both sides began tearing the city apart.
American Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson started sending telegraphs to President William Howard Taft, saying the Mexican government had fallen.
During the 10 days, Huerta conspired with Felix Diaz and Ambassador Wilson. They struck a deal. The deal was that Huerta would switch sides and become interim president, then Diaz would become the next president.
Huerta worked from then on as a double agent, conducting battles against Felix Diaz and meeting with him in secret to plan their counterrevolution.
Assassination of Madero
On February 17, 1913 President Madero was sitting in his office when the door opened. His brother Gustavo walked in. Behind him, holding a gun, was General Huerta. Gustavo said he found out that Huerta had made a pact with Felix Diaz, the leader of the army rebellion.
Before this incident, the President’s own mother had warned him about General Huerta. She wasn’t the only person to do so.
Madero considered the situation. He gave Huerta the chance to defend himself against the accusation. Huerta swore loyalty, embraced the president, and said he would eliminate the counterrevolutionary forces within 24 hours. Huerta said his piece, and now Madero had to decide what to do.
Historian Enrique Krauze writes:
“It was a key moment. And Madero made a suicidal decision. In spite of Huerta’s previous commitments to Porfirio Diaz and Bernardo Reyes, in spite of the disrespect and mockery Huerta had shown him in Morelos in 1911, despite the fact that his own mother had warned him against the “counterrevolutionary” Huerta, despite the arrogant threats of Huerta at Ciudad Juarez, despite rumors that Huerta had earlier met with Felix Diaz, despite – at that very moment – the confirmation of his arrangements with the rebels, Madero freed Huerta, personally returned his pistol and granted him the 24 hours he requested to demonstrate his loyalty. He then reprimanded his brother, Gustavo, ‘for being carried away by his impulses.’”
At every single decision point Madero refused to listen to people’s distrust of Huerta. The question has to be Why? It’s a question I haven’t been able to find an answer to.
The next day, February 18, there was another attempt to take the National Palace. One of Huerta’s allies, General Blanquet, led the attack. After a shootout he entered the Palace and approached Madero. The President slapped him in the face and called him a traitor.
Blanquet responded by saying, “Yes, I am a traitor.” He arrested the President.
While that was going on Huerta had invited Gustavo Madero to lunch in a downtown restaurant. He casually asked to see Gustavo’s gun. When Gustavo gave it to him he pointed it at the man and told him he was under arrest. Huerta took him and the quartermaster general of the National Palace to the ciudadela.
The Cuban Ambassador to Mexico at the time, Manuel Marquez Sterling, wrote a book called The Last Days of Madero. In it he describes what followed:
“Jeers, insults, angry shouts mark their arrival. An individual named Cecilio Ocon is the judge who interrogates the defendants. Gustavo rejects all the accusations of his enemies and invokes his privileges as a legislator. But Ocon, after condemning him along with Basso to execution, slaps Gustavo brutally. ‘This is how we respect your privileges,’ he says. Felix Diaz intervenes and they lead the prisoners to another section of the ciudadela. But the mob of soldiers, full of courage, follows them in a frenetic, screaming chorus. Some of them mock Gustavo, others swing their iron fists against him. Gustavo tries to strike out at the worst of them. And a deserter from the 29th battalion pierces Gustavo’s only good eye with his sword, blinding him at once.
The mob breaks into savage laughter. The disgraceful spectacle has amused them. Gustavo, his face bathed with blood, weaves and staggers, groping his way; and the ferocious audience accompanies him with bursts of laughter. Ocon takes him to the room where he is going to be shot. Gustavo, concentrating all his energies, pulls away from the murderer who is trying to force him along. Ocon, rabid, tries to grab him by the lapel of his coat. But his adversary is stronger than he is. The pistol finally ends the fistfight.
More than 20 barrels discharge against the dying martyr, who shudders out a final sigh on the floor. ‘He is not the last patriot,’ shouts Basso. ‘There are still many brave men behind us who will know how to punish these infamies.’ Ocon, with his clouded gaze and unsteady walk, points a finger and says, ‘Now, that one.’
The old sailor, ramrod straight, walks to the place of his execution. One of the executioners tries to put a blindfold on his eyes. For what? ‘I want to see the sky,’ he says, in a strong voice, and raising his face toward the infinite sp[aces, he adds, ‘I can’t find the Great Bear . . . Ah yes! There it is, glittering,’ and then saying his farewell: ‘I am 62 years old. Let it zrbe remembered that I died like a man.’ He unbuttoned his overcoat to show his chest and he gave the order, ‘Fire!’ as if he wanted to overtake Gustavo on the threshold of another life, beyond the Great Bear.”
Unaware of his brother’s death and wanting to prevent any further violence, Madero wrote his letter of resignation.
Congress was called into session to appoint an interim president. Only one congressman, Belisario Dominguez, voted against Huerta. He was shot in the street as he left Congress. Once the interim president was chosen, his only act was to hand power over to Huerta.
Madero’s murder was supposed to look like an accident. Victoriano Huerta’s office called a car rental service. In 1913 cars were still a rarity. The owner of the car rental knew Huerta was a drunk. He wouldn’t trust the new President with his expensive cars.
So the owner sent his son, a boy of 13, to be the driver. Neither of them knew about the plot to kill Madero.
The driver was supposed to take Madero and Suarez from the prison to the military HQ, the ciudadela. The accidental assassination would be led by supposed Madero supporters who were – according to Huerta’s explanation – firing upon a car that they didn’t know Madero was in.
When the shooting started, the driver ran and hid around a corner. He saw Madero and Suarez dragged out of the car and executed. Then the ambush team sprayed the car with bullets. The boy called his father. The father called the newspapers.
Richard Grabman sums up the results of foreign intervention in this part of the Revolution:
“President Taft was outraged. Ambassador Wilson wrote a short article defending himself but left a disaster for the incoming Woodrow Wilson administration. Ironically, Huerta’s government would turn out to be much more radical than Madero’s, and the mild reformer’s murder led to the first 20th century cultural and social revolution. With the United States about to enter its first war overseas, its next door neighbor was in the middle of a full scale war between several forces, none of which trusted their northern neighbor. Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca were in control.”
Huitzilopochtli is the Aztec god of war. Tezcatlipoca is the god of trickery.
Ambassador Wilson’s excuse for conspiring with Diaz and Huerta was that a coup was necessary to keep Mexico from exploding into anarchy. In reality, the coup was exactly what Mexico needed to spark the explosion.
Wilson thought Madero would implement radical reforms that would cost U.S. business interests lots of money. But Madero himself was a landowner and the tiny political reforms he pushed were nothing compared to what the real radicals wanted. And the anarchy that resulted from the coup benefitted the radicals more than anyone.