The Mexico Podcast: History & Present











June 2017
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Revolution 1.4

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.


Decena Tragica


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.


Direct download: Revolution_1.4_2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:49pm EDT

Hey, remember how the last episode had a happy ending? Welcome to Episode 3.

The Congress that was elected in the fraudulent elections of the year before, 1910, stayed in power as part of the negotiations between Diaz and Madero. They did everything they could to undermine the new President, blocking most of his initiatives.

The press, which had fawned over Diaz during his dictatorship, now reveled in their new freedom of speech and slammed Madero.

Madero won the election, but not much changed. Most of the people in government were holdovers from the Diaz regime, and they resented the new President. Then there were the young and ambitious government workers who were disappointed at the relative lack of change.

Labor had been Madero’s biggest supporters in the election, but their working conditions hadn’t improved with the new presidency.

Other supporters wanted land reform. Chief among them was Emiliano Zapata.




The Zapata family had been defending themselves from basically nonstop attempts to steal their land since the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. If anyone was born to carry on a family tradition, it was Emiliano.

He became an orphan at 16 but managed to support himself by taking odd jobs. He used mules to haul corn into town and to haul bricks and lime to construction workers. He farmed. Was always proud of earning his own living. Great on horseback.

In September 1908 the people in his village named him president of their defense committee. He and his secretary, Franco, spent the next 8 days poring over the documents they were in charge of.

In 1910, before Madero published the Plan of San Luis, Zapata had already launched a tiny revolution to get back land that had been stolen in 1607. He was successful. He went back to farming until he heard about the upcoming nationwide revolution. The passages in Plan of San Luis about returning land stolen by plantations resonated with the people of Zapata’s village, and they sent a representataive to Madero in Texas.

It was time for Zapata to join the Revolution. His people gathered in the town plaza to begin their march. Zapata was in the middle of the plaza, on horseback. A shot rang out. Zapata felt his hat shift on his head. He took it off and saw a hole in it.

The crowd saw a man in the town hall begin to run away. Zapata told his people not to move, and he rode toward the building. He went around the building but didn’t find the assassin.

One of his biggest local enemies was a plantation owner from Spain. The man had sent Zapata a message that was probably meant to intimidate, but it provoked the opposite reaction. The message stated that if Zapata were “so brave and so much a man, we have thousands of bullets and enough guns waiting to welcome you and your men as you deserve.”

When he heard the message, Zapata ordered an attack on the Chinameca plantation. It was his first military action. After the fight he and his men loaded up on supplies and marched on. With each town they passed, their army grew bigger.

They slowly pushed the government out of the state of Morelos. By May 1911 only two cities, Cuatla and Cuernavaca, had a strong government presence. The fighting at Cuatla went on for days, but by May 19 the Zapatistas had won.

Later on in Porfirio Diaz’s life he would reflect on those early days of the Zapatista revolt and say, “I was calm until the south rose.”



Foreign land ownership had exploded during the Porfiriato. Now that Porfirio Diaz was gone, Zapata wanted recognition from Madero’s government. The Zapatistas had dealt violently with plantation owners and land grabbers, so the elite of Morelos were now complaining to Madero. The president himself came from one of Mexico’s wealthiest families. Madero would face big problems no matter what he did or did not do about the land.

With respect to that, his Plan of San Luis, which called for Revolution, explicitly stated that all agreements between the Diaz government and foreign governments and corporations would be respected.

At this point in the narrative Madero seems to be doing everything in his power to destroy his own revolution and lose as many allies as possible. He probably would have done a fine job of it himself, but his enemies were more than happy to speed up his fall. Victoriano Huerta saw an opportunity to weaken Madero when the President met with Emiliano Zapata.


Zapata and Madero


Madero was surrounded by flatterers and yes men. Zapata saw this and was disappointed. His disappointment would only deepen later when Madero visited the state of Morelos. The leader of the Revolution was being equally generous with plantation owners and revolutionaries.

On June 21, Zapata and Madero met at Madero’s home. There was tension in the air. Zapata tried to break the tension by pointing at a gold chain hanging from Madero’s neck. Zapata posed a hypothetical situation.

If I took your watch by force, which I can do because I am armed, and our paths cross later on, and we’re both armed, would you have the right to ask me to give it back?

Madero said of course, and I would demand compensation.

Zapata spoke again, “That is exactly what has happened to us in the state of Morelos, where a few plantation owners by force have taken over village lands. My soldiers (the armed peasants and all the villages) insist that I tell you, with all due respect, that they want you to move immediately to restore their lands.”

They met a few times over a month or so. By their third or fourth meeting the combined efforts of plantation owners, the press, the interim president, and General Huerta to turn Zapata against Madero were successful.

When Madero finally came into power he met again with Zapata, who wanted the withdrawal of one federal general and a new law that would improve conditions for plantation workers. Madero was done with Zapata. He told him, “Surrender to good judgement and leave the country. Your rebellious attitude is doing serious harm to my government.”

Madero would later regret those words, but the damage could no longer be undone.

Zapata’s final letter to Madero said, “You can begin counting the days, because in a month I will be in Mexico City with 20,000 men and I will have the pleasure of coming to Chapultepec and hanging you from one of the tallest trees in the forest.”

The Plan of Ayala was signed on November 25, 1911. It was an attack on Madero and an attempt to explain the ideas behind the new revolution. Zapata accused Madero of continuing the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Since Madero hadn’t done anything regarding land reform during his presidency, among other failures, Zapata said he had to be overthrown.  Madero had begun his movement “with the support of god and the people” but had not finished it, and now was the head of a tyrannical government. The only solution was to take up arms.

More and more people were becoming dissatisfied with Madero and his conciliations to the old regime.


The Orozco revolt


Pascual Orozco and Madero’s exVP candidate, Francisco Vazquez Gomez, joined forces and took up arms against the President.

Orozco joined the revolt because his men told him they were going to revolt against Madero. They said they would follow Orozco if he joined their movement. If he didn’t, they would repudiate him. Orozco wasn’t sure he was ready to lead another rebellion, but he knew he probably wouldn’t get another chance, especially if his men abandoned him.

It’s possible that Madero offered Orozco the governorship of Chihuahua in order to keep him on his side.

Nonetheless, on March 2, 1912 Orozco joined his men and they renewed the revolt. Orozco already had Zapata’s endorsement. Back in November 1911 Zapata’s Plan of Ayala called for Orozco to be the leader of the revolution against the President.

Although Orozco and Zapata were basically on the same side of the revolution, they had very different supporters and enemies. In the south, the plantation owners and upper classes were against Zapata. In the north, those same types of people supported and even funded Orozco. Why?

Orozco had made deals with them. One example and one bit of evidence is that on one occasion during a battle he had told his men not to touch land belonging to the most powerful family in Chihuahua, the Terrazas-Creel family.

Orozco was mainly interested in acquiring power. He came from a relatively wealthy family and never really cared about the goals of the people fighting in the revolutionary armies. In some cases his men didn’t know about the deals he had made with plantation owners. Some who found out about it left. Others stayed, happy to use rich people’s money and support against them. If they could use the elite’s resources while making no concessions to them, why not?

Things went mostly according to plan for the oligarchs who funded the revolt when the rebel army was winning, but the summer of 1912 brought defeats, and the rebels began to split off from one another. One group of former rebels pursued land reforms. They distributed plantations among the laborers. Six of those plantations belonged to the Terrazas family, who had been funding Orozco’s rebellion.  Other former rebels turned to banditry and general Robin Hood-ing.


Pancho gets back in the game


Pancho Villa had resigned from service to Madero, but now that Orozco’s men were engaging in their various revolts, the upper classes of Chihuahua looked to Villa to stop them.

There are many perspectives on Pancho Villa’s history and legend. Around the time of the Orozco rebellion he had settled down, gotten married, and had gone into business. Historian Friedrich Katz says that “the most articulate of Villa’s many wives,” describes his story as a classic rags-to-riches tale. He now was a successful businessman who enjoyed the support of Governor Gonzales and President Madero. His only political activity was to carry out missions for the president. According to his enemies and critics, his supposed settling down was a front so that he could continue his old banditry, but now with legal cover. He had gone from being a small town crook to a big city gangster, in their eyes.

Now his powerful friends were asking for his support in putting down Orozco’s rebellion. Villa had grown to hate Orozco after the battle of Juarez and had always hated the Terrazas family who was now funding Orozco.

He wrote a letter to one of the leaders of the Orozco revolt, asking, “Will it be a consolation to those who became widows and orphans during the last revolution to have their ranks swelled by new widows and orphans? Is it a sign of patriotism if we kill each other every time an ambitious man wants to take power?”

He wasn’t exactly thrilled to go back to battle, but he took up arms at the request of Madero and Governor Gonzalez of Chihuahua, both of whom he greatly respected. Despite their disagreements on different policies, Villa still admired them and remained loyal. He felt he couldn’t stay neutral during an armed conflict in Chihuahua. Plus, he had always hated the Terrazas family and he was convinced that Orozco had tricked him into rebelling against Madero at the Battle of Juarez.

He visited cities and towns in Chihuahua, gathering supporters. They were well-organized and well-disciplined. Villa ordered all bars and liquor stores closed when his men came through. They were received well in all towns they visited.

But Orozco had also been campaigning throughout the state and fearmongering about the evil Pancho Villa.

Orozco controlled most of Chihuahua. In one battle his men loaded a train with dynamite and drove it near a building full of federal troops, killing hundreds. The federal general of that battle later committed suicide.

After suffering a few losses against Orozco, Villa was now down to 60 men. Katz writes that Villa had an uncanny ability to do the unexpected. He could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat just as easily as he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Villa was at his least dangerous after a big victory and at his most dangerous when he seemed close to annihilation.

In the town of Parral, the federal military commander had defected to Orozco’s side. Not all of his men agreed to follow him though, and when Pancho Villa arrived with his 60 men, the federal soldiers joined him. Villa captured the defector and sent him to Mexico City, where we was imprisoned.

He appropriated all arms in the town and made the wealthiest families give him a total of 150,000 pesos. He gave them receipts and said the money would be paid back as soon as the federal government won. Anyone who refused was put in jail. Eventually everyone paid up.

He wouldn’t be so…generous…at one bank. Since the Creel and Terrazas families funded Orozco’s revolt, Pancho entered Enrique Creel’s bank and took 50,000 pesos as “spoils of war,” and he threatened to put the bank manager and his son on the front lines when the revolutionaries began their attack.

On April 2nd at 4 a.m., a cannon woke the town up. A battle had broken out on the outskirts of town. A few hours later some of the attacking soldiers began leading a team of mules up a hill. They were carrying a cannon.

An American was among those defending the city. He manned a machine gun and fired at the cannon. When he stopped shooting, the six mules carrying the cannon were dead and the ranking officer had been shot in the head. His men abandoned the mission and ran back down the hill.




Madero had won Pancho Villa’s respect after the battle at Ciudad Juarez. So when Pascual Orozco offered lots of money if Villa supported him and Zapata instead of Madero, Villa turned him down.

Something Villa didn’t like about Madero, though, was the President’s trust in Victoriano Huerta, a brutal man who had been one of Diaz’s favorites.

Pancho Villa remained loyal to Madero and volunteered to take his men to fight against Orozco and Zapata. Madero accepted, but he ordered Villa to report to Victoriano Huerta, who would be his commanding officer.

Villa and Huerta had a contentious relationship…and then it got worse. Huerta sent Villa and his men to fight on open terrain so that they would suffer more casualties and he even bombarded them with his own artillery.


Villa realized that he couldn’t keep taking orders from Huerta, so he announced that he would leave and take his men with him. Huerta took that as treason and ordered Villa to be executed, no trials, no formalities. When it came time to face the firing squad, Villa lost it. He fell to his knees, holding onto an officer’s boot and begging for his life. When he regained his composure he stood up and was taken to the wall. He waited for the gunshots.

At the last second, a message arrived from Madero, saving Villa’s life, but sending him to prison.

In prison he met with radicals and socialists and anarchists. It’s possible he learned to read in prison as well. He appealed to the president, asking for release, but was unsuccessful.


Pancho breaks out of jail.


Metal bars can’t hold the Centaur of the North. I’m gonna quote Earl Shorris here.

“On Christmas Day 1912, Pancho Villa, dressed in a severe black suit of the kind worn by lawyers, finished sawing through the bars of the window of his prison cell, climbed out into the yard, where he was met by a young attorney and, partially covering his face with a handkerchief, walked out of the prison, all the while chatting animatedly with his companion.”

They got in a car and drove to the next state over, to the city of Toluca. From there they got on a train and headed to the coast, to a city called Manzanillo. From Manzanillo they boarded a ship to Mazatlan.


Police all over the country were looking for him by now. He was nearly caught on the ship. He stayed in his cabin and had to bribe one of the ship’s officials. The bribe got him a small boat so he could leave the ship before health authorities boarded for an inspection.


From there he made his way to El Paso, and safety.

Direct download: Revolution_1.3_2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:04pm EDT