A Brief History of the Zapatista Movement

By Springtime of Nations

The Porfiriato

To understand the neo-zapatistas, one must not overlook the importance of Mexican history itself. Before we get to the eponymous Zapata, let us look towards the conditions that made the Mexican people turn to him in the first place.

The man who could be said to have the single greatest influence on the peasant revolt was Profirio Diaz. His importance to Mexican history immortalized as the years encompassing his six terms as president, 1876-1911, as The Porfiriato. Born to a Spanish father and mestizo mother, Diaz came into Mexico during its most tumultuous times. The era after Spanish rule was plagued with revolts, coups, and revolving door government systems. Despite Diaz’s lowborn status, he managed to attend school until he was sent to join the clergy through seminary by his religious parents. The Mexican nation, however, had no shortage of opportunity for the more military minded Diaz as he volunteered as a soldier in the Mexican-American War, participated in the overthrow of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, fought the French during the Second French Intervention of the 1860s, and escaped captivity from the imperial forces backing Emperor Maximillian shortly after. This prestige earned him an appointment as the commander of the central army from his friend Mexican liberal icon, Benito Juarez. Soon after, Diaz challenged Juarez, stating that a 4th reelection was grounds for a dictatorship, running on a campaign slogan that was simply “No Reelection!” Juarez was immensely popular and won, but Diaz called this victory a fraud and announced his Plan de la Noria, calling all to assist him in ousting the liberal hero. Some in the military joined, but the rebellion was ultimately a failure.

Juarez did not enjoy the victory for long as he died of a heart attack and was succeeded by Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada. Diaz’s slogan of “No Reelection!” was not quite as popular with a newfound president. So of course, he waited for Tejada’s reelection. Tejada was significantly less popular than Juarez, securing Diaz support from the military and religious conservatives. This time… it was also a failure with Tejada being elected once more. Diaz tried to overthrow the incumbent president, and his military force was able to secure a foothold in Mexico City. Tejada fled to the US while Diaz set up a provisional president to show how humble he was, then promptly defeated him in the next election. Now successful in becoming the president of Mexico, he amended the constitution to allow no reelections for presidents and quickly formed a circle of pragmatic technocrats for the insurmountable task of peace in Mexico. By stressing the importance of benefactors from the US, Diaz was able to legitimize his government and led to increased investment from their neighbors. At the end of the term, he stepped down and selected a successor, Manuel Gonzalez. Diaz then ran for reelection at the end of Gonzalez’s term, directly opposing his own amendment to presidential terms. Ironically, he amended twice more, allowing two terms, then unlimited terms. Thus starts the Porfiriato, characterized by favoritism towards the technocratic scientificos, foreign investors, and hacendados (landowners) over campesinos (tenant farmers).


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