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.