Message #323:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: History of Modern Mexico, 1810-1996
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 1997 07:20:02 -0700


Haunted by History, Mexico Faces the Modern World. With the fall of the
Soviet Union and despite our fascination with China, the U.S.'s most
important international relationship is with Mexico.  Given stark facts of
geography and demography, this is the single country where the global
superpower has the most to lose, and the most to gain.  Yet even in today's
interconnected world, well-informed Americans have only a hazy
understanding of this creature with whom they are joined at the hip. So how
timely it is that Enrique Krause, heir apparent to Octavia Paz as Mexico's
leading intellectual, gives us a magisterial history, "Mexico, Biography of
Power: A History of Modern Mexico, 1810-1996" (Harper Collins, 872 pages,
$35).  Sketching the lives of the principal actors in Mexican history, he
brings to life the bright mural of the exotic civilization south of the Rio
Grande.  Mr. Krause's book will surely stand for many years as the standard
history of postcolonial Mexico. The basic narrative, sketched alongside, is
a story of tragedy and treachery touched by mysticism.  It flows from three
roots depicted by Mr. Krause in thematic chapters laying the basis for his
later biographies of heroes and fools.  The historical influences could
scarcely have been further removed from those that shaped gringo
civilization. The first was the Spanish crown, embodied in Cortes.  The
Spanish discovered the New World in the same year they expelled the Moors,
and the institutions developed in that struggle provided a colonialism
especially exploitative and especially domineering.  In Mexico a thin crust
of Spaniards held it intact for three centuries. It is scarcely an accident
that the Philippines, another longtime Spanish colony, has in recent
decades often seemed a Latin American state misplaced among Asian tigers.
The second root was the crown's handmaiden, the Catholic Church.  Mr.
Krause reports that Benito Juarez, the only full-blooded Indian to lead
Mexico, said to a disciple: "I wish that Protestantism would become
Mexicanized and convert the Indians; they need a religion that would make
them read instead of wasting their savings on candles for the saints." Yet
when Plutarco Elias Calles, founder of the modem Mexican political system,
tried to suppress the Church in 1926, he fomented the Cristiada, three
years of rebellion and outright war. The third root, indeed a hidden
taproot, is Aztec civilization-or, more properly, the meso- American
culture of which the Aztecs were the final representation.  When Moctezuma
ruled in Tenochtitlan, the pyramids at nearby Teotihuacan were already an
ancient mystery; regimes based on human sacrifice must be prone to sudden
collapse.  Yet in Mexican popular imagination today, Cortes is of course an
arch-villain, while Cuauhtemoc, who fought when Moctezuma surrendered, is
an arch-hero. So even today Mexico often returns to Aztec motifs.  In
particular, Mr. Krause notes, we keep seeing a new tlatoani, the Aztec
chief, re-created as 19th-century strongman Porfirio Diaz or the six-year
dictatorships of modern presidents.  Indeed, the new president is unveiled
as a tapado, chosen in secret deliberation and unveiled to the citizens.
When Lazaro Cardenas attacked the hacienda with land reform, he re-created
the Aztec ejido, a communal land ownership that merely tied the peasant to
new landlords, the party and the state. These colorful and conflicting
legacies provide Mexico with abundant romance but little historical
preparation for a modernizing world.  Mr. Krause believes Spanish and
Indian tensions have been overcome by mestizaje, the notion of a universal
mixed race.  In articles on contemporary Mexico in the Journal and
elsewhere, he's taken heart from the movement toward open democracy that
allowed Cuauhtemoc Cardenas to win the race for mayor of Mexico City a
month ago as an opponent of his father's party. Perhaps inevitably, the
richness Mr. Krause brings to earlier biographies fades into a poster like
depiction of the presidents who represent the decline of the system, which
is to say the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in the wake of the
1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco.  In particular, Miguel de la
Madrid deserves more recognition as the most honorable of them.  Also
inevitably, history told through biography magnifies accidents of
personality and slights issues of policy.  The final chapter on the
presidency of Ernesto Zedillo, for example, tells us much about the
Zapatistas in Chiapas and barely mentions the drug cartels in Tijuana. In
particular, it is an absolutely crucial question whether today's economic
crisis resulted from the failure to defend the peso or from delay in
devaluing it.  Mr. Krause blandly accepts the latter conventional wisdom,
citing author and economist Gabriel Zaid.  Yet his own history showed the
economic success of "stabilizing development," starting when Adolfo Ruiz
Cortines set the rate (12.5 pesos to the dollar) that held for a generation
until Tlatelolco.  For that matter, one would like to have seen a
discussion of the 1905 choice of a silver-gold parity of 32: 1, which
proved to be a deflationary mistake by Diaz and his finance minister, Jose
Limantour, on the eve of revolution. Such issues are central to Mexico's
future.  Clearly, the succession of tlatoanis precludes sustainable policy,
and real democracy not only is a moral imperative but can provide stability
to promote development, as it recently has in the Philippines.  Yet policy
and economic success do matter; Mexico does need the technocrats -
cientficos - so prominent under Diaz and Carlos Salinas.  The great shame
would be if Mexico, again rising against Cortes, throws out not only
authoritarianism but modernism. The success of Mr. Krause's book does not
depend on any immediate application, though, let alone policy details.  We
can argue about precise meanings and interpretations, but with its scope
and color, his mural makes its powerful, unique impression.

Robert L. Bartley is editor of the Wall Street Journal.


>From Cortez to Currency Crisis
Highlights of Mexican history, derived from Enrique Krause:

For nearly three centuries after the arrival of Hernan Cortes in Mexico in
1519, there was no serious challenge to the hegemony of the Spanish crown
and Roman Catholic Church he had imposed on the Aztec Empire.  In 1810, the
Rev.  Miguel Hidalgo and then the Rev.  Jose Maria Morelos raised the
banner of independence, or at least an end to the dominance of peninsulares
actually born in Spain over criollos born of Spanish stock in the New
World.  Both priests were executed by firing squads, but their dream of
independence was consummated in 1821 by Agustin de Iturbide, himself a
creole and the most dashing and most ruthless commander in the royalist
armies that had suppressed the initial rebellion.  After Iturbide's forced
abdication, exile, return and execution, there followed the 11 presidencies
of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a figure so feckless that he, rather than
the colossus of the north, assumes the major blame for the loss of Texas
and California. With Santa Anna, the Creoles yielded power to the mestizos,
and indeed the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood and culture, mestizqie,
became a Mexican totem.  The American Civil War allowed an opening for the
French to impose the short reign of Maximilian von Hapsburg, who ended life
as an honorary Mexican by facing a firing squad of his own.  Benito Juarez,
a full- blooded Zapotec Indian, succeeded in resisting the French and
offered a moment of democracy before bending his own constitution to stand
for re-election and die of a heart attack in the National Palace.  Through
the turn of the century, from 1876 to 1910, Mexico was ruled by Porfirio
Diaz, an economically progressive president-for-life. The Mexican
Revolution, which in a less romantic nation might be called a civil war,
was waged against the Porfiriato.  Francisco Madero, a landowner's son who
communed with spirits including that of Benito Juarez, raised the flag of
democracy and no re-election.  Soon Diaz left for exile, proclaiming
"Madero has un-leashed the tiger." The new president was overthrown and
murdered in a coup led by Victoriano Huefta and encouraged by U.S.
Ambassador Lane Wilson.  Forces arose against the usurpation, then
splintered.  The faction led by Venustiano Carranza and armies commanded by
Alvaro Obregon ultimately prevailed over Francisco Villa and Emiliano
Zapata, both of whom died in ambush.  Carranza, who kept the bullets from
Madero's body in his home, was also betrayed and shot.  When Obregon broke
with tradition and won a second presidential election, he was killed by an
assassin pretending to do his portrait.  By then a million of Mexico's 15
million population had perished-250,000 in combat and 750,000 from related
disease. In 1929, Plutarco Elias Calles, president between the Obregon
terms, cemented peace by forming the political system that still prevails
in Mexico today, dominated by one political party, originally the Parti do
National Revolucionario (PNR) and now the Parti do Revolucionario
Institucional (PRI).  President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the oil
industry in 1938 and also sponsored land reform.  President Miguel Aleman
(1946-52) gave the PRI a pro-business cast and an odor of corruption;
President Ruiz Carbines inaugurated "stabilizing development," a generation
of currency stability and strong economic growth. In 1968, the system came
cropper with the Tlatelolco massacre.  A week before the inauguration of
the Mexico City Olympics, army troops opened fire on student protesters in
La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, the ancient Aztec city, since
incorporated into Mexico City, where Cuauhtemoc took his last stand against
Cortes.  President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz had made his career prosecuting crime
and suppressing labor protesters, but Mexico has never recovered from his
attack on students. President Luis Echeverria, interior minister when the
troops fired, veer wildly to the left and arguably into madness, with
Marxist rhetoric and populist economics that undermined prosperity.  His
devaluation of the peso started a new Mexican tradition of currency
instability and economic crises under successive presidencies.  Today,
President Ernest Zedillo, at odds with much of the rest of the PRI, is
supporting open elections, trying again the short-lived reforms of Juarez
and Madero.