The Latest Mexican Revolution
THE facts concerning the Revolution are known, and are instantly seized and commented on by eager thinkers trying to explain everything according to American thought and American ways. By a strange process, the subject which, at first, was preëminently Mexican, becomes an American one. Since no rational people would act, in similar circumstances, as the Mexican people do, the Anglo-Saxon writer sincerely believes that dark influences from without Mexico must have been at work.
The present writer watched closely the coming of the Revolution, saw it daily grow in power and strength, till it burst forth the very image of triumphant militarism.
We call it a revolution; it was, in fact, a schism between members of one political family, hitherto associated to prey upon a people of whom they talked much and thought little. If ever a revolution came from within, it was this one.
The army, which, after the downfall of Huerta, elevated Carranza to the Presidency, belonged to everybody else but himself. Even as soldiers go in Mexico where, in case of revolution, every lawyer is a general by right, Carranza was not a military man; stranger still, he never claimed to be one. With Villa eliminated, the army was in the hands of Murguia, Dieguez, Alvarado, Aguilar, and, foremost among all, Obregon and Pablo Gonzalez.
Jealous of one another, no one was powerful enough to impose his personality, however much he may have wished to rule. Carranza had been the outstanding figure of the Revolution, and, because he was not a general and they could not agree between themselves, they bolstered him up. The people at large did not care for him, for the revolutionary hordes had plundered, under his leadership, everything in and out of sight; yet he was thrust upon them.
Between army men who backed but did not like him and a people who did not want him, Carranza had a very hard time indeed. Obregon and Pablo Gonzalez looked to their own advantage, that of their friends and of the military class, while Carranza ruled in so far as he submitted to their wishes. His mind was firm, however; he gradually increased the power of other generals, played them against one another, profited by the rivalry created, and succeeded in imposing many of his views. He was a past master at that game, while his singleness of purpose and his strong will made of him a dangerous adversary. Yet Obregon and Gonzalez remained the most conspicuous figures in the politics of the nation. If some act of the President prodded the fiery Obregon to vehement protests or brought a more than amiable smile to Gonzalez’s lips, Carranza went quickly to work. He would meet Obregon, speak of Obregon’s glory, of his great victories, call him his son, whom alone he considered worthy to succeed him in the presidency; and the lion with the peacock feathers would roar out his fealty, the feathers rising on his back. Then, to cat-like Gonzalez, Carranza would wend his way, smile, kiss, and receive an answering smile and kiss. The diplomacy of Gonzalez would be exalted, his wonderful if wily ways of getting rid of Carranza’s enemies touched upon, and Gonzalez’s smile would grow. The difficulties of international politics, the need of a man such as Pablo Gonzalez to settle these questions when he, Carranza, should leave the presidency, would be discussed, Gonzalez’s smile would broaden, and in soft purring tones Carranza would be assured of devotion.
While this went on, revolution, headed by former Huerta men, was still rampant over the land.
Other destructive forces were at work, also. To succeed in 1914, Carranza had made many promises which, if kept, would have prevented any administration whatsoever from achieving harmony. The new Constitution, for example, gave to Mexican workingmen rights far above their real and industrial value; and, whatever its force may have been, the labor party went over to Carranza in his fight against Huerta. Once in power, Carranza was unable to satisfy the demands of the workingmen and to fulfill his engagements. This, added to the high cost of living, created a deep discontent among the working classes. The Revolution and the new Constitution had frightened the Europeans, who went away, saving what they could of their capital. Without money, without leadership, with no creative power of their own, the Mexicans remained passive, and produced so little that the industrial life of the nation was practically at a standstill. The banks, looted by Cabrera, the new finance minister, who prided himself on taking gold and silver ‘wherever he found it,’ were partly ruined and could not put the finances of the land on a sound basis. The railways were going to pieces. Agriculture kept on in a leisurely way; the increase in oil-taxes, alone, saved the nation from complete ruin. Schoolteachers remained entire months without pay, and the government employees received fictitious salaries. A heavy monthly percentage was taken from them to carry on, so it was said, ‘urgent administrative works.’ This tribute, of course, generally found its way to the pockets of impecunious friends of the Carranza administration. The discontent increased.
The men in power came to realize that the nation, poorer and poorer every day, would not tolerate them much longer. Something had to be done. This brings us to the second phase of Carranza’s political life: the attempt made to placate the classes whose interests had been put in jeopardy by the Carranza Revolution.
Churches and ecclesiastic establishments used as barracks by the Carranzists were given back, bishops and priests received better recognition and fairer treatment. Governors of the states were advised to be amiable and to make advances to the wealthy landowners. Political exiles were recalled, while the greater part of their properties was returned to them. These advances were, in the main, very coldly received; a certain number of exiles, however, took advantage of Carranza’s offers and came back. They pledged him a lip-allegiance and remained his enemies as before; for hatred dies hard in the Mexican heart.
Satisfied with his fancied achievement, which was to cost him so dear, he tried to carry on the pacification of the country. But the generals, who profited by a state of unrest, seconded him half-heartedly, and he failed.
Then a new factor came into play. General Aguilar married one of Carranza’s daughters and here, we may truthfully say, the trouble began. According to the best Mexican traditions, Aguilar should now become the most important man in Mexico; his political rise should be phenomenal. However, this was hardly possible, with an Obregon to roar out defiance and a Gonzalez to smile his dangerous smile. Both had been promised the presidency —one at a time, and at different moments, to be sure; but, despite this ludicrous situation, they were not men to be trifled with. Made a little dizzy by the sudden change that thrust him to the fore, Aguilar quickly realized how the opposition of these two thwarted his political ambition. He began to attack Obregon — the most noisy if not the most dangerous of his opponents.
From that time Aguilar had nothing to hope from Gonzalez, still less from Obregon. If one or the other were elected, his possessions, his influence, his life perhaps, would be in danger. He knew it, and, with his father-inlaw and the camarilla that surrounded the latter, there was evolved a scheme to bar the way to the presidency to Obregon and Gonzalez.
That purpose was, of course, dissimulated under fine words and lofty purposes, to attract sentimentalists on the other side of the border. These wellmeaning but uninformed persons, accustomed to civilizations of a higher type, judge the Mexicans according to Anglo-Saxon standards. They forget that eight tenths of the nation is made up of half-castes and Indians.
This may seem to be very hard on the former Mexican administration. Yet let those who considered Carranza an able and just ruler (who did not succeed in the regeneration of his country because greed and ambition, in and out of Mexico, prevented him) explain how Bonillas came to be chosen as a candidate to succeed him.
Bonillas was unknown in Mexico. He had spent the greater part of his life in the United States, and was said to speak English better than Spanish. He represented the Carranza administration at Washington, and Mexican public opinion believed, rightly or not, that American influence would have been supreme in Mexico if he had been elected. The hatred of every Mexican for anything which savors of ‘Gringo’ influence made of Bonillas the most unpromising candidate.
The foolishness of Carranza and his advisers in choosing such a candidate was more apparent than real. In fact it was craft, deep craft. No civilian could be imposed at such a time upon Mexico unless he had the backing of the army; and this could not be, with Obregon and Gonzalez in the lists. Through governmental pressure, irresistible in a country where standards of education are low, the election of the civilian could be assured; but the revolution, headed by Obregon surely, by Gonzalez possibly, would then begin.
Carranza knew this, but his intention was to force Obregon into a premature revolution, and, in that case, ho expected to be the winner. He understood that the choice of a civilian was bound to make a strong appeal to Anglo-Saxon minds. If, moreover, this civilian should be Bonillas, a fairly good and intelligent man, well known in Washington circles, the appeal would be stronger. A military revolution to oppose him might well arouse the sympathy of the American government in his and Carranza’s behalf. If Carranza had, as he believed, the backing of a part of the population, the revolution was sure to be a protracted affair, and Washington, exasperated, would inquire into the motives of both parties. Bonillas, better known than any other man, had a chance to be kindly judged and discussed; moral help and some ammunition besides might have been offered, and he would have stepped into power. Then, as he had no personal following in the land and needed to be backed by Carranza’s influence, he would have carried on the latter’s politics and prepared the way for Carranza’s son-in-law, Aguilar.
Such was the great plan of Carranza and of his camarilla. That plan might fail, — the opposition to Bonillas’s candidacy might be too great to be overcome, the revolution itself too powerful, — but in that case nothing was lost. A secondary plan was decided upon, and many well-informed persons in Mexican politics considered it, at the time, as most agreeable to Carranza himself. The sympathies of Washing-, ton, assumed to be decidedly on the side of Bonillas as opposed to ‘the dark forces of militarism,’ were to play a new part in it. The outside world would be advised that on account of the condition of the country the elections had to be postponed indefinitely. Carranza would submit to a sweet violence and stay indefinitely in power, to defend poor Mexico against the naughty men who wished to ruin it. The Mexican people, tired of revolutions which never benefit, would remain silent, and venerable Carranza, blessing his loving people, would keep on fleecing them with no protest from Washington.
These are the only reasons to be given for the choice of Bonillas; it is absolutely inexplicable in any other way. The revolution was purely an internal affair and, strange to say, came first and foremost from the governmental side. Could the plans be carried out, as they would have been, if cat-like Gonzalez had not stepped in at the last moment, Obregon would have been lost, the Aguilar and Carranza policy would have triumphed. Involved as this plot may sound, it came within a hair’s breadth of success.
Carranza and his advisers missed some very important and vital points, however. They acted too soon, for the real army belonged either to Obregon or to Gonzalez. A new army, called ‘Supreme Poderos’ (Supreme Powers) and devoted to Carranza, was in the making, but, being too small in numbers, it could not be of very great help before the presidential elections. Carranza never realized how far most of the government employees were against him, the railroad men defiant, the laboring men sulky. His policy of conciliation, whatever he may have thought, did not work. The people, as a whole, were indifferent, a few hated him, many disliked him, none, or few, liked him.
For the pacification of the land, since he himself was not a general, he had to rely upon chiefs of operation who did pretty much what they liked with the rebels, and often made agreements with them that redounded to their benefit and that of their immediate chiefs, Obregon and Pablo Gonzalez. As they knew little about Carranza, the former rebels, hiding their weapons, became staunch supporters of one or the other great general. Carranza and his partisans were not blind to the danger such secret agreements might bring, but they had not the force to oppose them. For that very reason, the progress toward pacification of the land, which looked so well on paper, was a myth.
The new civilian policy of Carranza was received with a smile in Mexico. The Mexicans, whatever else they may be, appreciate satire and irony; Bonillas will remember to his dying day the nicknames given him. But money was lavishly used, to bolster up the candidacy of Bonillas. Many of the governors of the states had been appointed by Carranza. The governors of Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Puebla, were called to Mexico. Not only did they agree to stand by Bonillas, but they even called on the other governors to support him.
Neither Obregon nor Pablo Gonzales underestimated Carranza’s power and wiles. As soon as they heard of the civilian candidacy, they realized the danger and sent in their resignations to the War Office. Obregon, losing no time, started to canvass the country. The government opposed him in every way: its adherents ridiculed him, Aguilar launched forth into violent diatribes against him, his political friends were attacked and imprisoned in many places, military men were forbidden to discuss politics. The latter order was not obeyed, and military men were among the most active and influential politicians.
The danger-point had been reached when Carranza set the match to the powder-cask. The far-off State of Sonora, birthplace of Obregon, was ready to a man to vote for him. That state had a militia and a constitution which permitted the governor to refuse entrance to large federal armies, except in case of war or revolution. It was not in revolution or at war; but Carranza justly feared that his opposition to Obregon, the great man of Sonora, might rouse the anger both of the state and the militia. He decided to send numerous federal troops to the faraway state, to ward off any possible trouble and, especially, to control the elections. Adolfo de la Huerta, Governor of Sonora, shouted defiance.
Obregon meanwhile had not been inactive in his political tour. Satisfied that the army was his in great majority, he sent fiery appeals to the labor party and workingmen at large, and, above all, to the railroad men, who would be most important in a revolution. Obregon made many promises, and serious strikes began throughout the land, in Mexico City, Puebla, Monterey, Vera Cruz, and Tampico. Carranza, worried, played his strongest card, and called Obregon back to Mexico City to disprove a charge which, if true, might cost him his life.
It happened that, not long before, a famous Puebla rebel, Roberto Cejudo, had laid down his arms and recognized the Carranza government. Strange to say, he was appointed general, and left in command of his former troops, to guard for Carranza the territory which he, for some years, had successfully defended against him. Cejudo had stopped harassing Carranza for a very simple reason — he had no more munitions. To assist him, in his new capacity, in pacifying the land, munitions were sent to him; but it was soon found out that he intended to revolt again. Letters between him and Obregon were, so it was reported, discovered. Obregon was taken unaware, and had no time to put the finishing stroke to the intended revolution; he could not but obey Carranza’s order. He came back to Mexico City, and presented himself before the judges to deny his complicity in the Cejudo affair. Everybody wondered if he would ever leave the city alive. According to Mexican political traditions, he should have been assassinated without delay. But Carranza hesitated and that hesitation cost him his life.
Events, meanwhile, moved rapidly forward. Troops and more troops were sent to the North, to be near Sonora. Governor de la Huerta called the militia to oppose them; the Revolution was on. This was bad news to Obregon. His position became critical. Through the complicity of railroad men, he escaped from Mexico City while surrounded by spies.
Some governors of states declared themselves for Sonora. Part of the army, in those states, went over to Obregon. Yet Carranza had quite a number of troops faithful to him, even in the rebellious states; friends and foes were so mixed that they did not know each other, and nowhere did the people take a hand either for or against the revolution. Obregon had been caught napping. He had followers everywhere, but they were scattered all about: the chiefs were at one place, the men at another, cut off by Carranza troops, doubtful troops, or shifty partisans of Gonzalez. Defections were numerous in the Carranza camp, but many men on whom Obregon had counted hesitated. Desultory warfare, undecisive in character, took place in the North. The revolution, such as it was, might last for years. The key to the situation had fallen from Carranza’s and Obregon’s grasp, to go into other hands.
Every eye in Mexico turned to Pablo Gonzalez — to cat-like, shifty Pablo Gonzalez, who had become the master of the hour. That enigmatic personage pawed his heavy moustache, purred, and smiled, and kissed, and was silent. During the events just recorded Gonzalez had worked, half-heartedly, it seems, to further his own candidacy. Never excited, he had swayed, as if hesitatingly, between the two parties, until each was convinced that he would eventually declare himself in its favor.
On Obregon’s side were the greater part of the soldiers, many generals, the railroad men, the workingmen, the Indians, the discontented masses whom his fiery oratory and democratic ways had won.
On Bonillas’s side were Carranza, his administrative officers and employees, with a few thousand soldiers and, above all, gold and American recognition.
Pablo Gonzalez had behind him fewer soldiers than Obregon, but more distinguished officers and older men; while what was left of the aristocracy, united with the Catholic party, followed him. This was a powder to be reckoned with, representing, as it did, some of the best elements in the nation. Carranza recognized that fact and, prevailed upon by his frightened camarilla, sent Breceda, one of his favorites, to Gonzalez. A meeting took place at which both Bonillas and Gonzalez agreed to withdraw their candidacies and, if Obregon kept up the revolution, to unite their forces against him.
The next day the deal was called off. Gonzalez remembered that Bonillas had decided to withdraw his candidacy for the sake of his country, but he himself had done no such thing. Of course, he was a man of his word; and if Carranza gave him command over all the army and recognized him as a candidate later, he would do his duty, like the honest man he was.
Carranza answered not a word, and two days later Pablo Gonzalez found himself so very tired that he decided to go and rest at a little ranch he possessed outside of Mexico City. He went, and Carranza was lost.
In five days Pablo Gonzalez united all the forces south of Mexico City to the Zapatistas, took Puebla, and cut all communication between Carranza and Aguilar, his son-in-law, who had gone to Vera Cruz to recruit an army. General Aguilar, one of the most sinister influences responsible for the downfall of Carranza, was no more heard of in a military way.
With Puebla in the hands of Pablo Gonzalez, the understanding arrived at between that leader and Obregon was the knockout blow to the Carranza régime. From north to south, from east to west, all but a few who feared the vengeance of the revolutionaries, or whose fortune depended upon Carranza, shamefully deserted the old chief in his hour of need.
With 6000 troops, Carranza left Mexico and started toward Vera Cruz. Pie went to his death, a bad but a valiant man.
The very next day Gonzalez and his smile entered Mexico City, followed by the Zapatistas and the revolutionaries. The Carranza administration was no more; the military revolution had triumphed.
What happened to Carranza — the causes which, very probably, made of his assassination a foregone conclusion — may be explained later. How the former adversaries ruled the country jointly, smiling at each other, bowing to each other, yet hating each other, will be told in due time; but the aim of the writer is to explain the Revolution as he saw and understood it.
Months before the Revolution began, many Mexican officers told the writer how and why it would come, and what its ending would be. Carranza and his advisers were blind to the fact that the country which had suffered so much from them supported them only for lack of better leaders, and because of that peculiar apathy so deeply rooted in the Mexican heart. The force of the so-called constitutional government of Carranza was based primarily on bayonets; if the army were moved, the régime would crumble. For a military government to carry on, without the help of public opinion, an anti-militaristic policy, was sheer madness. Actuated by unworthy motives, the Carranza administration committed suicide when it opposed an artificial civilian party to an organized army wishing, for no less unworthy motives, to retain in its hands the destinies of the nation. The army, made up of the worst and the most destructive elements in Mexico, had through revolutions acquired the preponderance of power and meant to keep it. However much such men as Obregon and Gonzalez might be divided by conflicting ambitions, they could do nothing else but unite when their position as leaders was threatened. There was not a military man, however unintelligent, who did not understand the danger to be run by his class if Carranza were to succeed; and the army, to a man, answered the call of its alarmed leaders.
Distrustful of both parties, the people remained neutral. The rôle of the public (taught by many long years of painful experience) is to suffer heavily at the hands of its self-styled liberators. A militaristic rebellion, selfish in character, dangerous for the near future, brought just retribution, however, to those who, in spite or ambition, had engendered it. Such was the deserved fate of Carranza and his advisers, guilty, one and all, of their country’s blood.