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Presidentes, Insurgentes y Generales: Leaders and Major Players of the Revolution



A renowned and gifted general, Porfirio Díaz fought against the conservatives who fought against Reforma President Benito Juárez, then ran against him for president in 1872, soon after which Juárez died of a heart attack. Díaz’s eventual election led to the “Porfiriato,” a 31-year reign which brought about major technological advances, including the railroad and increased economic properity. A rigged “re-election” campaign in 1910 sparked revolutionary fervor. Trademarks: Napoleonic costume, humble origins, ruthless desire for power.

Francisco Madero, the Coahuila-born scion of one of Mexico’s wealthiest families, was jailed in San Luis Potosí by Díaz for his succesful but thwarted run for president. Madero nonetheless penned a fiery call to arms which called for a collective uprising against the Díaz regime, “The Plan of San Luis Potosí,” which he issued from right here in San Antonio (see sidebar). The revolution dethroned Díaz, and Madero assumed the presidency in 1911. However, the revolution soon devolved into a bloody and chaotic civil war. In 1913 Madero was imprisoned, then murdered, by Victoriano Huerta. Trademarks: vegetarianism, Spiritualism, homeopathic medicine, studying at UC Berkeley (seriously), ruthless desire for rational democracy, shitty relatives.

A general under Porfirio Díaz, General Victoriano Huerta, “The Jackal” took over the presidency in a de facto coup d’etat in 1913, during which he indirectly killed off Madero. However, he did not have the support of revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Álvaro Obregón, or the favor of the U.S. Huerta was pushed out of power in 1914 by U.S. pressure and by the militia forces of Zapata and of Villa. Huerta died of cirrhosis in prison in El Paso in the same year. Trademarks: Looking scary (particularly in sunglasses), betraying people, ruthless desire for the same kind of power Díaz had but not getting it, alcoholism.

The most famous of all the revolutionary leaders. Emiliano Zapata, “El Tigre de Morelos,” was a mestizo from a middle-class family, and a superb horseman and bullfighter. He championed the cause of agrarian reform and human rights for indigenous peoples. Pancho Villa, on the other hand, was a former thug from a poor peasant family in Durango, swayed to the revolutionary cause and loyal to Francisco Madero. He was never quite supprtive of authority figures afterwards, baiting virtually every president after Madero, and thumbing his nose at General John “Black Jack” Pershing during the American’s fruitless attempts to capture him in 1916. Each was assassinated: Zapata in 1919 by supporters of President Venustiano Carranza, and Villa in 1923, likely by operatives of President Álvaro Obregón.Zapata trademarks: elegant vaquero outfits, dashing moustache, ruthless desire for power — though mainly for the campesinos, inspiring modern Zapatista agrarian movement. Villa trademarks: Occasionally invading New Mexico and Texas, toying with Pershing, attacking trains, ruthless desire to not be ruled by anybody, inspiring several metric tons of pop culture.

Venustiano Carranza, a revolutionary opportunist who seized the presidency in 1917, after having been involved in revolutionary military action since 1910, when he accompanied Francisco Madero to San Antonio to help launch The Plan of San Luis Potosí. Drafter of The Plan of Guadalupe, which called for a constitutional government and other reforms. Attempted to assassinate recalcitrant general Álfaro Obregón. In 1920, Carranza was murdered by military officer Rodolfo Herrero. Trademarks: Long pointy beard, fighting with all his former allies, considering allying Mexico with Germany in World War I, but not actually going through with it.

Álvaro Obregón fought against Victoriano Huerta and allied himself with Venustiano Carranza. He then led Carrancista forces against both Zapata and Villa, beating Zapata’s Liberation Army in Puebla, and Villa in the Battle of Celaya in 1915, during which he lost his (literal) right arm. Obregón parlayed his reputation as the military victor of the revolution into a presidency ending the revolution. Obregón’s was the first revolutionary presidential administration to be recognized by the U.S government. Obregón was eventually assassinated, though, by religious activist Catholic José de León Toral in a restaurant in 1928. Trademarks: distinguished photogenic quality, beating everybody in the Revolution, having one arm, seemingly quelling the chaotic Revolutionary Period but falling to another chaotic wartime period afterwards.

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