The Mexico Podcast: History & Present











June 2017
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30



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

Francisco Madero is described by all my sources as a spiritualist rather than a revolutionary or a military leader or political theorist or philosopher. He came from a wealthy family. As a boy he was often sick.

He studied in the US, lived in France for a few years, and traveled through Europe. It was there that he adopted the ideas of Spiritualism (with a capital S). Spiritualism was based on communicating with spirits of the dead.

It was big. By 1854 there were more than 3 million Spiritualists worldwide. Madero writes the he didn’t just read Spiritualist books, he devoured them.

He finished business school in Paris and then studied a year in Berkeley, improving his English and learning agriculture. The constant illnesses of his childhood had made him deliberately work on becoming physically strong. He wrote a pamphlet on water rights that Porfirio Diaz praised him for. He did charity work as well, giving out homeopathic…..concoctions as well as money to sick people.

At his hacienda he fed about 60 kids, and he paid his staff well. He married in 1903, and they gave out scholarships and created schools, hospitals, and community kitchens.

He felt his mission as a Spiritualist was to be a medium for the spirits of the dead. Specifically a writing medium. He wanted the spirits to speak through him in his writings. Soon he was claiming that his brother Raul, who had died at age four in a fire, was visiting him daily. Francisco gave up smoking, became a vegetarian, and destroyed his wine cellar. His wrote, by way of Francisco, “You can have the only happiness there is in this world solely through practicing charity in the broadest sense of the word.” He later wrote, “Aspire to do good for your fellow citizens . . . working for a lofty ideal that will raise the moral level of society, that will succeed in liberating it from oppression, slavery, and fanaticism.

As government repression in Mexico increased in the first decade of the 1900s Madero came to believe that “charity in the broadest sense” meant politics. He was now seeing his future a little more clearly.


Revolution begins


In the previous episode, Francisco Madero had called for a revolution. He said it would happen on November 20, 1910. Photo ops on November 20 made it look like spontaneous uprisings were happening all over Mexico, and there were, but they were mostly small, isolated groups. In fact, it began so gradually that by January 1911 the government thought the danger had passed.

The Revolution was on though, especially in Chihuahua, a northern state. The armies of Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa were winning battles against the federal army.

Revolutionary fever slowly spread thanks to a weak federal army and widespread social discontent. Small groups of men on horseback rode into villages and towns. They went to the town square and read aloud Madero’s Plan of San Luis, inviting the men of the town to join them. They took the local government’s cash reserves, guns, and horses. They freed the prisoners. Then they went to the next town and did it again. And again.

The Federal army was weak. It relied on conscription – the draft – and didn’t have a single full battalion or regiment. The leaders didn’t know the terrain. Corruption was everywhere. And they were not prepared to fight small, nimble forces. By the time they arrived at a place that was being attacked, the attackers had already disappeared and were in a different area.

As the months wore on, the army had become concentrated in the areas with the most fighting, which left other places basically free of soldiers. In the states of Nayarit, Colima, and Michoacan, the revolutionaries took over the government without firing a single shot.

By May 1911 there was fighting in 26 states and the Federal District – Mexico City.

Earlier, in March, Madero attacked Casas Grandes with about 100 men. He left the battle with a wounded arm and had lost several soldiers. Historian Earl Shorris says the attack was a fiasco that showed Madero to be a poor military commander. Nonetheless, he was the last man to retreat and he earned a reputation for courage.


 Battle of Juarez


If I went into much detail on the battles of the Revolution this series would basically never end. So I’m really glossing over a lot. This is episode 2 and I’m already leaving tons of things out. But the battle of Juarez deserves some attention.

Madero was encouraged by news of more and more uprisings throughout Mexico. He decided to take Ciudad Juarez, partly to control traffic to and from the United States.

The Revolutionary army marched on Juarez on April 7, 1911. It was headed up by two columns of 500 riders each. Leading the columns were Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco. Behind the columns was a force of 1,500 riders led by Francisco Madero. Until this point the army had mostly used guerrilla tactics, attacking swiftly and disappearing into their surroundings. This march was much more conventional.

They surrounded the city on three sides. The Federal Army, which had about 700-1000 soldiers, and the city itself was cut off from communication with the outside world.

Madero hesitated. If he attacked, there was a chance that stray bullets would fly into the neighboring American city of El Paso, possibly killing civilians and forcing the US to intervene. Plus, the Diaz government was now on a peace offensive, and Madero’s own family was asking him to reach some kind of compromise with the President/Dictator, whichever term you prefer.

Madero wanted to avoid bloodshed, and he thought he actually could reach an agreement with Diaz. He came from the upper class, too, and shared their fear of anarchy and possible US intervention.

He accepted a ceasefire that would allow Diaz to stay in power. That specific part of the ceasefire wasn’t made public, but rumors were circulating in the US media that a deal had been struck.

The leaders of the revolutionary army were angry at Madero for the ceasefire. Both sides were now basically in limbo. The ceasefire had been going on for days now, and Madero’s men were getting less enthusiastic and optimistic. Food was running out and they weren’t receiving the pay they had been promised.

Madero met with one of his military leaders, Pascual Orozco. He asked whether he should accept a proposal that would leave Diaz in power, or whether the president’s resignation should be a precondition for peace.

Orozco said, “Don’t ask me these things, since I understand nothing about them. Tell me that the enemy is coming from somewhere, and I shall see what I can do; but these things I know nothing about. You know what you should do.”

When Madero met with government representatives, he said he could no longer accept the terms. The peace negotiations ended, and so did the ceasefire. But Madero still hesitated to attack.

Pascual Orozco and Pancho Villa had had enough. They decided to attack without telling Madero. So they ordered their men to start shooting, and the Federal army returned fire.

Madero sent a message to the Federal commander, Juan Navarro, asking him to order his men to stop shooting. He agreed, and his men stopped. But the revolutionary army did not. They advanced on the city. Madero sent an emissary with a white flag and orders to stop. But they ignored him. The federal army was now returning fire again.

Orozco eventually had to face Madero. So he simply told him the fighting was now impossible to stop.

Not only was that probably true, but by now there were thousands of American spectators right across the river. Both the revolutionaries and the Federal army had to be careful not to accidentally send stray bullets across the border. One of those American onlookers, Timothy Turner, was a reporter. He had crossed into Juarez to watch. He wrote about the battle:


“We sat up there on the hill and saw the river oaks swarming with insurrectos moving into Juarez. They moved in no formation whatsoever, just an irregular stream of them, silhouettes of men and rifles.

Thus they began to move in and to move out along that road throughout the battle. They would fight a while, and come back to rest, sleep, and eat, returning refreshed to the front.

The European-trained soldiers raved at this, tried to turn them back, to make everybody fight at one time. But that was not the way of these chaps from Chihuahua. They knew their business and they knew it well.

That way of fighting, I think, more than any other thing, took Juarez. For by it, the insurrectos were always fresh with high spirits, while the littler brown federals with no sleep and little food or water, with their officers behind them ready with their pistols to kill quitters, soon lost their morale.”


Later Turner actually joined the……. insurrectos….. and reported on their tactics to avoid machine gun fire from the Federal army:


“I heard somebody calling me, and in the doorway was an insurrecto officer I knew, an erstwhile schoolteacher from the state capital, and I ran to where he was and then to the house. He was with some men who carried axes and crowbars in their hands, with their rifles swung onto their backs, and I saw what they were up to. They were cutting their was from one house to the other, chopping through the adobe walls dividing the structures. Thus one could walk a whole block without ever going outside a house. This made a fairly safe way of moving through the center of the town, except, of course, when one had to run across three intersections to the next block of buildings. Nobody was in any hurry.”


Navarro surrendered after two days of fighting. His men were concentrated in a few buildings and were cut off from water.

In previous battles Navarro had ordered his men to execute captured enemy soldiers with bayonets. The revolutionaries wanted to avenge the dead, so they asked Madero to execute Navarro. The request was denied. Now they demanded it, but Madero still refused.

Orozco took out his pistol and pointed it at Madero’s chest. An officer then pointed his gun at Orozco. And now it’s a standoff.

Madero walked right between the two men and out to the street. He got up on a railroad car and gave an impromptu speech that moved Pancho Villa to tears. Villa begged Madero for forgiveness. In other accounts he merely shook Madero’s hand.

It’s not clear what Madero said, just that nobody killed him and he won people to his side.

Then after winning the day with his speech, Madero angered his generals again by taking Navarro in his own car to the US border, and to safety.

Before the battle, the revolutionary soldiers wanted Navarro dead. But it wasn’t just because of the brutal way he executed their comrades. When the revolutionaries had captured federal soldiers, they had made a point of sparing their lives. Plus, Madero’s Plan of San Luis called for federal generals who violated rules of war to be executed. So Madero was going against the desires of his men as well as his stated intentions in the document where he called for revolution.

Before the meeting, Orozco told Pancho Villa to disarm Madero’s guard if Madero didn’t acquiesce to Orozco’s demands. Villa never did that, though. Instead he ran outside to get his 50 men. Later he said that he found out why Orozco wanted him to disarm the guard.


“Orozco, expecting a sum of money from Don Porfirio’s agent, promised to assassinate Senor Madero and wished to involve me. At the last moment, Orozco lacked the courage to go through with it, or to go all the way, and knowing my violent character, he planned for me to disarm the guard, so that I would appear to the be principal instigator of the shooting and the president would challenge me face to face and I would draw my gun and kill him, and everything would be done with Pascual Orozco uninvolved, and me, Pancho Villa, apparently the true and only assassin.”


The allegations are unproven, but what we do know is that Orozco met with representatives of the Diaz government at least four times between the sacking of the city and the confrontation with Madero. And Madero himself wrote a letter speaking of outside influences on Orozco.

Historian Enrique Katz says money probably played a smaller part in Orozco’s alleged assassination scheme than power, since he was the most popular revolutionary figure at the time, behind Madero, and would have had a good shot at the presidency with Madero out of the way.

If Orozco himself had murdered Madero, things might have turned out badly for him. But if a man like Pancho Villa killed Madero, Orozco’s hands would be clean and would have a chance to avenge Madero’s murder.

It’s possible that this whole complicated plot was the reason behind Orozco’s insistence that Madero court martial and execute the enemy general.

Then we come to Madero’s reasons for not court marshalling Navarro. There are a lot of theories on that as well, but one possible explanation is that he wanted to have the Federal army’s loyalty when he took office.

As the revolutionaries racked up win after win throughout Mexico, President Diaz knew it was only a matter of weeks or months before his army was completely defeated. His representatives met with Madero, and they signed the Treaty of Juarez on May 21, 1911.

Many revolutionary leaders strongly opposed the Treaty. They felt it was unnecessary. The revolutionaries already controlled most of the contested regions, and they understood what Diaz understood, that the federal army could not hold out for much longer. The revolutionaries could have a total victory on their terms without any need for negotiation. They felt the Treaty only weakened them while giving more power to people loyal to Diaz.

Pancho Villa opposed the Treaty as well. He wrote about a confrontation that happened just before the signing:


“I attended because he asked me to.” [He meaning Madero.] “But I already felt a deadly hatred for all those perfumed dandies. They had started in with speeches, and that bunch of politicians talked endlessly. Then Madero said to me, ‘And you, Pancho, what do you think? The war is over. Aren’t you happy? Give us a few words.’ I did not want to say anything, but Gustavo Madero who was sitting at my side nudged me, saying, ‘Go ahead, Chief. Say something.’

So I stood up and said to Francisco, ‘You, sir, have destroyed the Revolution.’ He demanded to know why, so I answered, ‘It’s simple: This bunch of dandies have made a fool of you and this will eventually cost us our necks, yours included.’ Madero kept on questioning me. “Fine, Pancho. But tell me, what do you think should be done?’ I answered, ‘Allow me to hang this roomful of politicians and then let the revolution continue.’”


Villa himself is the only person who reported the exchange, so it’s not likely that it took place, but you get a glimpse into his mind there. Not much later he resigned and went back to private life.


Porfirio Diaz Surrenders


After the Treaty of Juarez, Diaz surrendered. All sides would agree to stop fighting and Diaz would step down. He resigned on May 25.

The interim president, Francisco Leon de la Barra, was in charge of organizing new elections. As part of the negotiations, 14 unpopular governors were replaced.

Madero continued angering supporters by distancing himself from them. He broke away from the National Antireelectionist Party and his vice presidential candidate, forming a new party and picking a new VP.

Elections were held on the 1st and 15th of October. Madero won with 99% of the vote. His Vice President, Jose Maria Pino Suarez got 53%.

The antireelectionists had achieved their main goal, but they weren’t the only group participating in the Revolution. The middle classes had goals, the unionists had goals, the anarcho-syndicalists had goals, the land reformers had goals…They were all attached to a vague idea of democracy, but they couldn’t agree on specifics.

In any case the country finally had free elections. They didn’t remain too free for too long, but for now the system appeared to be working properly.

You might think this is where the series ends. We’ve deposed a dictator, we’ve forced out 14 governors, and we have the new President we’ve been fighting for. We’ve blown up the Death Star. Princess Leia gives everybody a medal. The Revolution is over, right?

Well… Madero’s gonna try to disarm the revolutionary army and depend entirely on the Federal army for his protection…. The army he’s just been fighting against.

How do you think that’s gonna go?



Direct download: Revolution_1.2_2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:06pm EDT

This episode is an intro, explaining the factors that led to the Revolution, and then ending just before the Revolution officially began.

The best way to explain the structure of this series is to compare it to TV shows that have seasons and episodes. Like TV shows, the individual episodes in a season will come out regularly, but the seasons will be spaced out a little more. In between the seasons, we’ll have shorter one-off episodes, some of which will be related to the Revolution but not part of the greater narrative, like an episode about an individual person in the Revolution, and there will be episodes completely unconnected to the Revolution, such as the execution of the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtemoc, or about the Cathedral in Mexico City, or news and culture. I also want to feature more pieces by other people, like I did with the mezcal episodes.

Okay, that’s it. Let’s get to work.




The Mexican Revolution wasn’t one thing. It was a series of civil wars, betrayals, assassinations, and reforms that encompass 5-7 years in some senses, and about 20-30 years in a broader sense. Then there’s the romantic (and true) idea that the reverberations are still being felt today.

There weren’t two opposing forces fighting for clear objectives. It was more like Game of Thrones: multiple factions of idealists, opportunists, and freedom fighters making temporary alliances and then turning on each other. And almost every major figure gets assassinated. Spoiler alert.

It’s disorienting and convoluted, with several people taking the role of president, claiming the last guy was illegitimate for X reason, and then doing X.

The wars weren’t fought all over the country. They were more localized. The states of Morelos and Chihuahua were the most violent. Mexico City and the center of the country saw frequent fighting. But most of the country didn’t see much violence.

The most obvious way to explain the conditions that led to the Revolution is to talk briefly about a man called Porfirio Diaz.

He led a coup against a President who he said had served too many terms. He thought a leader should get one term and then step down. Diaz declared himself interim president. Elections were held. Diaz won.

Then he served just one term in 1876 and stepped down when his term was up in 1880. Then he served another just-one-term in 1884. Then another in 1888, 1892, 1896, 1900, and 1904.

Some sources call him a dictator, but it’s important to remember that in a few of those elections he did actually have to face an opponent. That opponent was an astrologer who lived in an expensive private mental institution. The bills were paid for by… Porfirio Diaz.

So the man who said presidents should serve one term ended up ruling for about 30 years.

What happened in those 30 years is described as both dictatorship and development. He stole vast amounts of land, violated property rights, granted monopolies to his supporters, and he made it so that the only way to remove him from power was the same way he had taken it: By force.

During his rule electricity, railroads, trolleys, and the telephone all arrived in Mexico. Gross National Product greatly increased. Life was very good for the coutnry’s elite, who were allowed and encouraged to take land and export natural resources to industrializing nations. Porfirio was stabilizing some aspects of the country, but the trade he made was modernization and increased wealth for the upper classes in exchange for returning Mexico to colonial status: The country almost literally belonged to foreign investors.

The people who worked on haciendas and ranches lived basically as slaves, even if that word wasn’t used. Whipping was a common punishment. Workers were forced to buy from the company store on the ranch or farm. Prices were much higher in those stores than in the nearby towns. Workers who didn’t purchase from those stores were whipped or docked pay.

High officials in Diaz’s government were mostly of European descent. The ideologies in vogue among them were French Positivism and social Darwinism. They called themselves cientificos – scientists.

Legal, paper-based land ownership was a new requirement that the cientificos had imposed on the country, and on people who had inhabited the same land for over 800 years. The people who lived there had never needed a piece of paper saying they lived there, and even if they would have had that custom, the Spanish conquistadors in the 15 and 1600s had been more than thorough in their destruction of indigenous books and documents.

In 1883 a law passed in Congress that allowed foreign companies to come in and take land they considered undeveloped. Now communities that had been living on the same land for generations were suddenly told by outsiders that their farms were actually haciendas belonging to some guy who had never even visited the place, and now the communities were basically forced into something so similar to slavery that we may as well just call it slavery.

They now had to work the lands while paying rent on their own homes and fields. The harvest of course went to the new owner.

A special division of police were given authority to deal with peasants trying to defend their land (or peasants who couldn’t pay the rent, or who protested).

Meanwhile Porfirio Diaz’s regime tried to paint a positive picture of Mexico to the outside world. They claimed Mexico was now safe, tamed, open for business.

The Cientificos sold land to telegraph companies and railroad companies, which allowed the transport of natural resources to port cities.

Mexico City was having a sewage problem at this time. The city is surrounded by mountains and there’s no natural drainage, and population growth was causing problems. When it rained, the sewers overflowed and streets flooded.

In 1886 they began what Richard Grabman calls one of the greatest engineering projects of the 19th century, or any century. It took 14 years, but in the end they had built a 36-mile canal and six-mile tunnel that carried the sewage to the other side of the mountains and dumped it into the Lerma River.

Mexico’s new industrialization came through use of death camps in the Yucatan peninsula and the valley of Oaxaca.

Porfirio Diaz, who was from Oaxaca, has often been called Mexico’s first modern leader, which leads me to a point of speculation. If you’re listening to this, it’s very likely that you know of Dan Carlin’s podcast called Hardcore History. In the first episode of his series on the Mongols, he compares Genghis Khan to Hitler.

He starts the episode by saying he has an idea for a book. It’s a book he wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole, but it’s a book that he’s certain will be written eventually, maybe in a couple hundred years, when the European Holocaust is no longer so close at hand.

What will people say about Hitler in a few hundred years? Dan thinks it might be similar to what people now say about Genghis Khan. They’ll say Hitler was a force for modernization, development, industrialization, etc.

I think the historians who talk about Porfirio Diaz as Mexico’s first modern leader are putting on the Genghis Khan Goggles, which are similar to beer goggles, but for historical events. Today some people wear Genghis Khan Goggles when they think about Hernan Cortes and Porfirio Diaz. Someday people might put on Genghis Khan Goggles when they think of Hitler.

The comparison to Hitler works and is not just a meaningless invocation of Godwin’s Law because Diaz in some cases pioneered the techniques that would be used by the Nazis and by Stalin. Specifically, concentration camps.

In Mexico, these concentration camps are referred to today by the lovely word hacienda. If you travel in Mexico you’ll probably see tempting offers to stay at a bed and breakfast that was an old hacienda, or eat at a restaurant that was a hacienda.

The meal after my wedding was at a restaurant on a hacienda. The neighborhood I live in used to be a hacienda as well.

The haciendas in the Yucatan and Oaxaca were ways to industrialize a place quickly while eliminating unwanted ethnic groups.

One ethnic group that put up resistance was called the Yaquis. About 30,000 of them were deported to the Yucatan peninsula, which was thousands of miles away from their land and was a much different type of climate. The Yucatan is a humid jungle. The Yaquis came from the north of Mexico, the southern US, an arid desert climate. If you’ve never been to the Yucatan jungles, the heat and humidity there is unbearable in December, on vacation.

Like the Jews in the Holocaust, the Yaquis were transported on overcrowded cattle cars. Many of them died along the way. Most of the people who arrived didn’t live long. They slept in overcrowded barracks, were underfed, and were literally worked to death.

All of this was justified to Europe and the United States as the way of civilizing an inferior people.

A reporter called John Kenneth Turner visited these death camps and his publications became very popular in the US. People were outraged, and American citizens began smuggling weapons into Mexico.

Diaz became very disliked by middle class voters in the US. The US government and American business interests thought change was coming to Mexico, and they wanted to control the outcome.

Historian Earl Shorris says there are several probable causes of the Mexican Revolution. The causes, or maybe precipitating factors, worked together. No single cause could have sparked the Revolution on its own, but several of them working all at once could.

First, Porfirio Diaz was old. In his 80s. The average age of his Cabinet was 68. And Mexico was a young country. In 1910 a third of the population was under 10. More than half were under 20, and fewer than 10% were over 50. Dictator or no, he would soon die, as would many of his Cabinet members. Change was inevitable.

Second, economics. The final two years of his rule saw contractions in the economy. These contractions hit the poor harder than anyone else, and made their lives even more difficult.

Third, haciendas. The governance system in most of the country was basically feudalism, at least outside the major cities. There were no limits on how much land someone could own. Anything considered “unused” land could be settled. Any land owned by people who lacked the recently-imposed legal documentation could be taken. An enormous amount of land was stolen.

Fourth, the decline of Positivism. Young Mexicans rebelled against the philosophy of the older generation. The Positivism of Pofrifio’s cientificos was losing its appeal. A new philosophy, sparked by Henri Bergson’s book The Creative Mind, connected with them deeply. Shorris says the impact of the new philosophy on the Revolutionaries is undeniable.

Fifth, Diaz had been quoted as saying that this would truly be his final term and that he would welcome an opposition party in the next elections. He said Mexico should be prepared to change their government at every election and not have to face armed revolution. That interview was read by some of the most influential Revolutionaries, and nobody would forget what he had said.

Sixth, freedom of the press. Diaz allowed the popular socialist polemicists, the Flores Magon brothers, to get out of jail and go to the U.S. and continue publishing articles against him. Many of their ideas made it into the 1917 Constitution, which has been called the first socialist constitution, coming even before the Soviet one.

Seventh, the federal army proved that they were not invincible. An early battle before the Revolution resulted in the massacre of an entire village called Tomochi. But the people in that town of about 200 killed several soldiers in the fighting. One of the federal soldiers who survived wrote a book about it, and he said “every rebel was worth 10 federal soldiers.” The news of the battle spread quickly.

The eighth cause or factor in the Revolution was strikes. A third of the land was owned by foreigners. Foreign investors owned about 90% of the value of industries in Mexico. The French owned the textile industry. The Americans owned mining. Various other countries owned the railroads. The British and Americans owned the oil. In all those industries the owners put their own countrymen in the best positions. In return for all this, foreign governments rewarded Diaz. He got rewards from Switzerland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Venezuela, France, Japan, Italy, Belgium, Prussia, Hungary, Austria, Persia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, China, and Russia. There were at least 250 strikes or demonstrations during his dictatorship. The strikers mostly demanded better working conditions.

In one of those strikes dozens were killed. Local police were helpless to stop the strikers, and the Mexican military was nowhere nearby. So the governor of Sonora actually requested US military, since the strike was at an American-owned copper mine. Eventually the Mexican military arrived and demanded the American soldiers leave.

The presence of foreign soldiers protecting American interests against Mexican workers was….unpopular.

That was 1906. Things did not improve after those strikes. The pressure kept building.

In 1908 a man called Francisco Madero published a book called The Presidential Succession of 1910. He met with Diaz and suggested that he himself be nominated Vice President, rather than the man Diaz was considering. Diaz refused him. Madero later recalled that meeting, saying he was not impressed by the dictator. He must have felt what Christopher Hitchens famously described: The moment you begin interacting with statesmen and realize, to your horror, that they are even less intelligent than you are.

After Diaz refused Madero, Madero continued his own presidential campaign, calling his party the Antireelectionists. He began touring Mexico and founding Antireelectionist clubs all over the north. And he was getting more popular all the time. He was gathering the support of cowboys, railway workers, miners, small town businessmen, cattle rustlers, and indigenous leaders. For the first time, Diaz faced serious competition.

Another contender for the presidency was Bernardo Reyes. Reyes was part of the Diaz government, but he was setting up his own opposition party. Diaz sent him to Europe, ostensibly to study military recruitment systems, but the effect was exile for Reyes. Now without their candidate, his followers joined Madero’s Antireelectionists.

In April 1910 the Antireelectionists held a convention. Madero was voted in as their candidate.

Diaz had pro-Madero newspapers closed, his people attacked Antireelectionist rallies, and he jailed their leaders in several cities. Some were able to flee to safety in the US, but Madero was arrested and imprisoned in San Luis Potosi in June 1910.

In the June 26th elections, Diaz’s people blocked suspected Antireelectionists from voting, so they called Diaz out for committing voter fraud and petitioned Congress to annul the vote. Congress basically ignored them.

While in prison Madero was visited by prominent members of his anti-reelectionist campaign. He said that now was the time to take up arms. They made plans to buy weapons and recruit men willing to die for the cause. The call to arms would go out in October, after the country was done celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican War of Independence.

Madero came from a wealthy family, and his father bailed him out and used his influence with the governor to allow Madero to get around the city during the day.

On October 7, 1910 he escaped his guards on horseback and fled to the US, helped by sympathetic railway workers. He went to San Antonio, TX, where his family owned a house.

The railroads were perhaps Diaz’s biggest accomplishment, and they were the key to controlling Mexico. If you control the railroads you can send soldiers quickly to any part of the country. And the key to the railroads were the workers.

Francisco Madero had the support of those workers. With their help he smuggled guns and propaganda into Mexico. From San Antonio, Texas, he wrote that the revolution would begin on November 20, 1910.

Direct download: Revolution_1.1_2018.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:10am EDT