Where We Stand With Mexico


WHEN Carranza launched his Constitutionalist movement against Huerta, excusable doubt existed as to his purpose and sincerity. No one can draft more convincing platforms, and promulgate finer constitutions, than LatinAmericans. Platforms and constitutions are essential as a fighting basis, but are regularly thrown to the winds after a revolution meets success. So the fine promises of the Constitutionalist revolution made small appeal to those who wanted actual constructive work in Mexico.

The man himself in assuming political headship was handicapped by three facts. (1) He was from the north; (2) he had little or no Indian blood in his veins; (3) he was a land-holder and was associated with the large land-holding class. All these facts militated against his success as a president of Mexico. The north of Mexico is desert and scantily populated. While it is, and will be, the source of much wealth through timber, mines, and cattle, it is not representative of the actual people and the ultimate interests of the country. A man from the north of Mexico is illfitted for the presidential office by the mere fact of his source.

The lack of Indian blood, with its accompanying capacity to understand and sympathize with the Indian, is a serious disadvantage. What two men, in the long list of Mexican presidents, have left the deepest impression as having done something for Mexico’s advancement? Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz. Both had Indian blood. Juarez was a full-blood Zapotec; Diaz had only one-eighth Mixtec blood, but he was markedly Indian, and his really strong points were all inherited from his one-fourth Mixtec mother. Both these men were from the relatively densely populated state of Oaxaca, with a population ninety per cent Indian in blood. In a republic where almost half the population is pure Indian, and where the larger part of the remainder is partly Indian, it is advisable that the president have a strain of Indian blood.

Again, one of the most serious problems in Mexico is that of land. In reality there are two quite separate and distinct land problems. One, the division of large estates, is urgent and presses for settlement; the other, the question of Indian Communal land, can wait. Could it be expected that a man of the land-holding class would be enthusiastic in the cause of true agrarian reform?

Yet, when Carranza was recognized by President Wilson, there was a feeling of relief. It was time that someone was recognized. Every day that we delayed recognition added to the internal problems of Mexico. Disorder prevailed; lives and property were being sacrificed; the land was in chaos, with bands of revolutionists everywhere. Confusion was bound to continue; no reconstruction could seriously be undertaken, until someone was recognized. Recognition of Huerta, legally president, would have been wise. Not that he was an ideal chief magistrate: he was the representative of much that is worst in Mexican politics; he was not in sympathy with the legitimate demands of his people. But he was of Indian blood; he came from the heart of Mexico; he was legally in control; he was a fair soldier; he was no fool — and having seen Diaz and Madero fall from their high position, he would have granted, grudgingly and a little at a time, what the people wanted. If he proved unbearable, the Mexican people would have eliminated him. That was properly their task, not ours.

Having put Carranza in power, we should have backed him loyally, though leaving him a free hand in his affairs. This we have not done. Our policy has been changeable. We have done one thing one day, and another thing the next day. Through his entire administration he has been the subject of attack. He has been called a grafter; he has been asserted to be ruthlessly ambitious; he has been painted as dangerously anti-American; he has been accused of being strongly proGerman, of having sent a telegram of felicitation to the Kaiser on the occasion of his birthday. We do not here propose making either a defense of or an attack upon him. But he has proved an unexpectedly able and resourceful man. He is stubborn, strong-willed, definite in his attitudes and views toward national and international questions. He has made remarkable headway. A few months ago, he seemed to have made marked progress in pacification, in dealing with the money-problem, in restoring the railroads, in reopening mines, in reëstablishing trade-relations. As I write, all that he has accomplished is crumbling; he himself is a fugitive, and any minute may bring the news of his defeat and death. What does it all mean?

We have become familiar with the attacks upon the man. Our newspapers have been so filled with them, that everyone must be convinced that it is no accident, but that a selfish and ruthless propaganda is in progress. Nothing good from Mexico is published. Men who are ready to speak in her behalf cannot secure a hearing. Everything that can be twisted and colored so as to show the Mexican people as depraved, degenerate, incapable, vicious, is seized upon and given large publicity. A continuous effort is made to prove that there is no hope of improvement; that only if we ‘ go in and clean up things ’ can Mexico ever progress. Behind it all lies the assumption that the cleaning up is to be done by development of oil, mines, cattle — all with American money. Of things intended to inflame us and calculated to bring about intervention of some kind, four have been most exploited recently. They have been used to shape our policies, and color our views toward Mexico. They are repudiation of debts, persecution of oil companies, insecurity of American lives and property, and the Jenkins case.


So far as repudiation is concerned, it is true that Mexico has intermitted in the payment of interest on bonds. There is no doubt that payment will be resumed and eventually be made in full. Like other nations, under the conditions of the Great War Mexico desired a breathing-spell; after several years of internal strife and disorder, she needed all income for urgent demands within her borders. No one for an instant expects her to become bankrupt. As for interest on obligations, are France and England paying interest on all their obligations? Why demand of Mexico, torn by ten years of revolution, more than of them? As for the principal—it is reported that Luis Cabrera, when asked about it, said, ‘Why not wait and see what other nations will do?’ The reply is pertinent. Why should Mexico alone be expected to pay? She will no doubt do as well as others.

American lives and property in Mexico should be safeguarded. But when Italian lives and property, or Chinese lives and property, in the United States are not safeguarded, the fact does not constitute a casus belli. It is a matter for diplomatic adjustment and compensation. There is no reason why American lives and property in any country should stand upon a different footing. Do we treat such matters alike in Mexico and in China? If not, why not? Is it really a misfortune to be our neighbor?

American lives and property are far from safe in the United States, yet we pay heavy taxes for guaranties. Why are we so much more outraged and belligerent over the situation there than here? When we give our citizens complete protection in the United States, we shall be in a better position to demand security elsewhere. If we fill our newspapers with announcements of ‘foul outrages’ in Mexico, is it not strange that we suppress the news of outrages on innocent and harmless Mexicans in this country? Many more Mexicans have been murdered on this side of the border, than Americans on the other side, during the last ten years. And the striking fact is that here we have had a nation at peace, in the enjoyment of ordinary conditions, while there has been a nation disturbed by revolution.

The oil situation is important. It is oil interests that have suffered most by ‘persecution,’ It is they that have made monthly payments to Palaez and his gang in open rebellion against the Mexican government. These payments are represented as being necessary, to prevent destruction of property and interference with exploitation. Does anyone believe that, if half the money so spent had been used in measures of coöperation with the government, there would not now have been tolerable conditions of life throughout the Tampico district, and friendly relations between the companies and the Mexican government?

We shall not attempt to restate the facts of the oil situation. They have been repeatedly discussed from every standpoint. It is reported, however, that during the last fiscal year the companies have paid dividends ranging from twelve to more than forty per cent. What more do they want?

As to the Jenkins case, it has dropped out of sight. It was ridiculous, and in our handling of it we showed to poor advantage. Yet it gave occasion to loud outcry; for some days it really seemed to bid fair to involve the two nations in strife. Nothing shows better how nearly we have been brought to the very verge of conflict, by skilfully engineered misrepresentation. Newspaper and magazine articles alike have been incendiary.

Let us examine a few recent illustrations. A catchy article was recently printed under the title ‘Is She Worth Saving?’ the ‘she’ meaning Mexico. The article will make a strong appeal to the ordinary thoughtless reader; its mode of depicting conditions will make many an honest man’s blood boil. But, read with care, it would require a change of title. It is really an answer to the question, ‘Is Mexico Worth Stealing?’ She is well worth stealing. But ought not the people of the United States to be in better business? The article deserves analysis. It is skilfully concocted to cause hatred and rupture. Who can read what the author calls a ‘limelight string of incidents’ without a feeling of active sympathy for the victims he mentions: the New York and New Jersey innocents, who have fallen a prey to Mexican get-rich schemes. The ‘ limelight string ’ ends with these words: ‘Finally, the other day, I was relating the above to a couple of guests in New York, and the maid murmured, “My husband had two rubber plantations in Mexico.”’ What a curious domestic situation! Whose maid was this, who interrupted conversation between a gentleman and his guests by murmuring such a strange observation? Was she with the guests? If so, she needs training. Or was she the author’s maid? If so, has she been trained to break in at this stage? Can the author of the article name any American who has ever had one rubberproducing plantation in Mexico, not to say two? And what pity does any man deserve who starts or acquires a second rubber plantation in Mexico, before someone has demonstrated the ability of one to produce rubber? Later on in the article, the author expresses angry regret that oil companies have, in a given instance, dealt directly with the Mexican government, instead of running to the State Department at Washington with their complaint. In this single case, he shows his attitude to the entire situation.

A witness before a committee of the United States Senates recently outlined what he considered the proper policy for this government to follow. The first step was that taken by the Senate in refusing to confirm the nomination of an ambassador to Mexico. He advocated offering a loan to Mexico sufficient in amount to put her finances on a sound basis, accompanied by a treaty which would give us direct supervision of her economic affairs; this to be followed by withdrawal of our recognition of the Carranza government unless the offer was accepted. The third step, failing such acceptance, should be an embargo; the fourth, a commercial blockade; the fifth, a naval demonstration; and the last, military occupancy.

Here the whole secret is out. Mexico must be delivered over, bound. This is her crime: ‘Because she has not been able to borrow a cent, Mexico is in a sound financial condition.’ She has really been making a splendid and desperate effort to keep out of the hands of New York bankers. She has met with more success than was to be anticipated. As she is in a sound financial condition, we must change matters. It must not be tolerated. And if she refuses our offer? All the rest follows, of course, down to the naval demonstration and the military occupancy.

A year ago it appeared that an agreement had been reached between Carranza and Obregon about the presidential succession. It was understood that an election would take place this summer, and that Obregon would be the only serious candidate. Having finished his term of office, Carranza would go out of power in December and the new man would come in. Could things have gone that way, it would have meant much for Mexico. That a president should serve through to the end of his term, and then give place to an elected successor, would be a cause for congratulation and hope.

Obregon is a successful military leader; he has had some experience as a ruler; he has had some radical ideas in the direction of politics and reform. Though preferring a civilian for president, true friends of Mexico would have been quite content to see him in that office. Just what has happened to mar this plan is not clear. Perhaps there had been personal friction between the two men; perhaps the fumes of power had gone to the head of the president. It is, at all events, certain that Carranza became concerned lest his policies should not be continued. The situation was the same that has twice in recent years occurred among ourselves. When President Roosevelt neared the end of his administration, he was seized with the same panic. That ‘ his policies’ should be continued was the only means of salvation. So he forced Mr. Taft upon the American people as president. Taft proved to have some ideas of his own and the Rooseveltian solution failed. Later, at a certain crisis, Wilson felt that his policies were all important and issued a direct command to the people, with the result that they elected a Republican Congress. The Carranza case is precisely similar. Fearing that Obregon might not continue his policies, he raised up a new candidate, his own safe man.

In fact, as the time of the election neared, there were three candidates. Obregon was already in the field, as we have said; General Pablo Gonzales (nicknamed the calabaza, squash) entered as an independent party candidate; Ignacio Bonillas, who had been ambassador at Washington, was Carranza’s candidate. What happened in the case of Roosevelt and Wilson happened and is happening in Mexico. The precise method of reaction is somewhat different. Here, we had in the one case the disruption of a great party, with resulting war to the knife at the polls; in the other case, repudiation and an overturn by voters unwilling to accept dictation. There, the reaction takes the form of insurrection and armed revolution. Even in the United States the party in control of the government machinery has an enormous advantage, and uses it. In Mexico those in control have an even greater advantage. Obregon, though accustomed to the expectation of becoming president, knew quite well that, in any election, he would not stand the shadow of a chance against an administration candidate. He had to choose between retirement, taking what crumbs might be thrown to him, and heading a revolution. He did the latter.

There are many names connected with the new movement. In Mexico there are Plutarco Elias Calles as spokesman and northern military leader, Adolfo de la Huerta as acting chief, Alvaro Obregon as organizer and heart of the revolution, and Pablo Gonzales, whose forces played their part in the taking of the capital city. At Washington there is Salvador Alvarado, officially representing the Obregonist movement. Of these, two will certainly play an important part in the near future. Governor de la Huerta is already an outstanding figure;2 his friends and enemies are pronounced and partisan; to those, he is a man of the highest ideals, to these he is a scoundrel. Thus, his praises are sounded for his efforts to make Sonora ‘as dry as a bone’; but malignant rumor has it that he has only cornered the liquor supply, and has made much money in the transaction. He has enough Indian blood to give some ground of hope. We shall hear more of him. As to Alvaro Obregon, he has much in his favor. He has military ability, commands a strong personal following and, left to himself, holds profoundly radical views. People have long looked upon him as the next president. If he comes to power unsold, he may not only make a strong ruler, but may carry on the actual constructive work begun by Carranza.

There will, of course, soon be trouble in the group. Pablo Gonzales, the calabaza, is not a great leader, but he represents certain conservative elements that will quickly form an opposition. In the distribution of spoils, he will not receive what he and his will consider his due. Then there is Salvador Alvarado, ex-governor of Yucatan and trusted representative at Washington; his record suggests that Mexico is hardly large enough to hold both him and Obregon.

Such seems to be the present situation. It is unlikely that Mexico will again be plunged into chaos and general confusion by the present movement. The progress made under Carranza was, after all, substantial. Now that Carranza’s government is really out, the new claimants should have little difficulty in coming to an agreement. We have here, not an actual revolution as we understand the term, but only a change of control analogous to our own political upheavals. There are, however, a few additional points to be noted.

Villa is probably eliminated. For a long time he has been a creature of no significance. His followers have dwindled to a handful; he has had no plan of action; he never had a constructive programme. He has aided and then attacked every man in leadership since the beginning of Madero’s revolution. He is about worn out, and for months has not known just how to give up without admitting defeat and running personal danger. He now has the chance to surrender and save his face. He is still likely to burn and loot and assault on occasion, but will hardly again figure as a leader or be considered of national or international importance.

Plutarco Elias Calles has issued a number of statements, some of them disquieting. The high offices, it seems, are to go into northern hands. ‘Educated and qualified Mexicans in Mexican border states, where he declared that living conditions were the best in the country as a result of the people coming into contact with American ideals and methods, will be put at the head of various government departments.’ If the Obregonist movement ends in a carpet-bag government from outside, as if the nation had been conquered by a small section, it will be a national misfortune. The governmental department heads must come for the most part from Central Mexico, not from the northern desert or the remote state of Sonora. Again, Calles is making many vague promises to the interests. American capital is to be welcomed and American enterprises encouraged. Such promises should not be over-emphasized in a popular movement based on national principles. They are suspicious.

Frankly, there may be ground for suspicion. I have long hoped that Obregon would follow Carranza; but the Obregon I believed in was an Obregon of independence of thought, and fearlessness of action. An unsold Obregon, putting into practice the principles he has espoused, might become a great president, to be long remembered as a constructive patriot. But if he has sold himself to outside interests, he will go out of power, no matter how heavily backed financially, cursed as a traitor.

Months ago there went out from Washington a definite rumor that ‘we’ should begin a movement on Mexico about April 15. The coincidence is startling, and one cannot help wondering whether the Obregon movement is not engineered from this side of the Rio Grande, by Americans? It is interesting in this connection to quote from an item in the morning paper of the very day on which I am writing.

‘LAREDO, TEXAS. Manuel Palaez, rebel chieftain in the Tampico oil-region, has declared himself in complete accord with the Obregonista movement, according to Excelsior, a Mexico City newspaper. The article says the petroleum company officials gave a banquet to Palaez last Thursday evening.’

This is not proof, of course, but mere surmise from a newspaper item. It is but one of a number of suspicious circumstances which an honest observer is bound to consider.

If Obregon is honest; if his ‘movement ’ is a spontaneous national movement; if he is a real patriot, working for the interests of Mexico first (as is his duty), he has at once a magnificent opportunity and a most difficult task. He will have to face the same campaign of misrepresentation and falsehood that Carranza had to face. The exercise of proper firmness and independ-

ence will give rise to trouble. Slight untoward incidents will be seized on to precipitate intervention. Through misrepresentation, agitation, the waving of the bloody shirt, and vociferous crying of the slogan, ‘ through to Panama,’ we may be stampeded into another war, a war of criminal aggression on a weak neighbor, whose crime is the possession of great natural wealth. The present is an anxious moment. Two nations are deeply involved. We need ideals of honesty, uprightness, and justice.

  1. The manuscript of this article reached the Atlantic office and was sent to the printer shortly before Carranza’s death. — THE EDITOR.
  2. He is now acting asad interim, President, pending the election of Carranza’s successor. — THE EDITOR.