Thursday, July 22, 2010

Enemy: Benito Juarez

(I apologize for the length but this is the edited down version -I have *real* issues with this guy, which made it all the more ironic when I recently got a load of "fan mail" from two supposedly monarchist Mexicans)

Probably no other President of Mexico has been so celebrated and deified to such an extent as Benito Juarez. To be politically correct in modern Mexico is to hold Juarez sacrosanct and anyone who questions his preeminence should be prepared to be considered a traitor. In his own time he was called (by northern Americans) the “Abraham Lincoln of Mexico” and that comparison endures to this day. However, as is often the case with celebrated republican leaders, the facts do not match the propaganda. In truth, Juarez was a duplicitous, anti-clerical, power hungry hypocrite who, despite being hailed as a champion of democracy, was never fairly elected by the majority of Mexicans and who frequently flouted his own constitution when it pleased him. Despite being upheld as the champion of Mexican sovereignty against foreign intervention he sold out the sovereignty of his country in a treaty that would be considered the most reprehensible in Mexican history if anyone bothered to remember it.

Born in Oaxaca, he first came to notoriety for his opposition to the shifty, vain, long-time strong man and frequent dictator of Mexico Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He helped forge the plan and movement that brought down Santa Anna and he was the driving force behind a new constitution that favored liberal goals. This was completed and implemented in 1857 under the rule of President Ignacio Comonfort who Juarez served as Chief Justice in the newly created Supreme Court. Obviously, the constitution drew heavily on the American model. It also aimed at weakening the Mexican army and the Roman Catholic Church as well as to “modernize” the country which meant becoming a capitalist, federal republic on the model of the USA, quite apart from the more corporatist pattern favored by the conservatives which preserved the traditional laws and privileges inherited from Spain. Courts martial for soldiers and canon law courts for clerics were abolished to make all subject to the liberal-dominated government courts.

The government no longer recognized titles of nobility, hereditary honors, it removed the Church from education, secularized marriage, did away with religious holidays, prohibited government officials from attending Church, confiscated vast amounts of property from the Church and the traditional nobility, removed all official support for the Church, removed its status as the state church of Mexico, abolished the death penalty and forbid the president to succeed himself once his term was over. Civil war broke out with the conservatives naming their own president and the overwhelmed Comonfort resigned, leaving the liberal presidency to Juarez. He did so and vigorously pursued the war against the conservative opposition. Therefore, though hailed as the champion of democracy, Juarez came to the presidency without election and fighting for power just as his conservative opponent had.

As Juarez was using military force to stamp out all conservative opposition to his rule, and amassing huge debts in the process, he assumed vast powers on the basis of a national emergency. He sold out to the United States by signing the often overlooked McLane-Ocampo Treaty which stipulated that the USA would pay Juarez $4million in return for perpetual rights of transit across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, protected trade routes in certain areas and ports on both coasts, the right of the US to intervene militarily at the request of Mexico if trade were threatened or even without the request or permission of Mexico if there was an “emergency”. Juarez also gave the US the right to send in military forces on this transit routes as the US saw fit, Juarez promised that no other nation would be given the same preferential treatment and Mexico would effectively be under the protection of the United States. The American plan at the time was to eventually construct a railroad across Tehuantepec or a canal and thus make vast amounts of money on the lucrative trade with and through Central America (a sort of forerunner of the Panama Canal idea). The extent of this treaty was never completely formalized but it nonetheless demonstrates something which would shock any patriotic Mexican; that is that Benito Juarez was willing to totally sell out the sovereignty of his country to the USA for $4million to ensure victory in a war he was waging for his own power against his own people.

Thus is it not surprising that the US government always supported Juarez against his conservative rivals and the Emperor Maximilian. Juarez occupied Mexico City in January of 1861 and then claimed to be the properly elected president after an election which was conveniently held under the constitution of 1852 and which was done after the conservatives had been defeated in battle and all of their leaders killed, imprisoned, forced into hiding or chased into exile; still not exactly a fair example of democracy in action. He then defaulted on the debts Mexico owed which prompted the French intervention. The conservatives allied with them and the result was, eventually, the coronation of Emperor Maximilian. One of the main supporters of intervention was the Empress Eugenie of France who supported intervention on behalf of the Catholics of Mexico of whom Juarez was an avowed enemy. Not only was Juarez a mason who had secularized the country and nationalized Church property, at one point he even attempted to set up his own government ruled church in Mexico with a pliant bishop as the national “pope” but his plan was thwarted when Pope Pius IX refused to ordain the man and forbid any Catholic to go along with such a move and even among those most inclined toward the liberals the common people were overwhelming Catholic and would not go along with outright break with Rome. Thus Mexico was soon at war again between Juarez and his liberal republicans on one side and the French and conservative Mexicans on the other.

Juarez and his forces were soon defeated by the French, but before fleeing, however, the liberal controlled Congress granted Juarez dictatorial powers for the duration of the national emergency. To the unbiased eye in might seem rather odd for the self-proclaimed champion of democracy and republicanism to be granted absolute power for the second time in an over extended presidency to which he was never fairly elected by a majority of all people. However, an even more significant action by Juarez had already taken place when he issued an order in 1862 that any foreigner taken in arms in Mexico would be shot, any Mexican opposing his regime taken prisoner armed would be shot and any Mexican citizen who gave any aid to any of these people would also be shot. Today history still condemns Emperor Maximilian for his "Black Decree" of October 1864 (which was rarely enforced as Maximilian was constantly granting pardon to captured rebels) which stated that any rebel taken in arms would be shot within 24 hours. However, very few historians are honest enough to relate that Juarez had issued a far worse decree years earlier, which violated his own constitution and which meant death not only for all prisoners of war but even for any citizen who so much as gave them food or water! This is the side of the Juarez regime that is never talked about.

Defeated, driven from his capital, Juarez fled to the barren deserts of the Mexican frontier, as close as possible to the United States. He still claimed power but he held sway only where his “government on wheels” passed and he was forced to order his troops to stop fighting pitched battles and to focus only on harassing actions to the point that the republican armies became little more than scattered groups of bandits. He appealed to the US for help but with a civil war north of the border nothing could be done for the moment. The US Congress did vote a unanimous condemnation of the French presence in Mexico and the establishment of the monarchy under Maximilian. President Lincoln also supported the formation of “republican clubs” across the northern US to raise money for Juarez and his bandit government. Juarez also spurned all offers of clemency, pardon and peace from Emperor Maximilian to end the war and reconcile the country. He even offered him the post of prime minister but Juarez refused, still claiming to be president of the whole country and unwilling to accept any lesser office.

On November 8, 1864 in yet another trampling of his own democratic propaganda, Juarez had his term in office extended because of the continuing war, even though that war had basically been reduced to raids by irregular forces and self-serving civilian bandits and brigands who merely paid lip service to the republican cause. He was, once again, violating the terms of his own constitution. Fortunately for Juarez, time was on his side as his friends in Washington DC were on the cusp of victory over their own southern enemies. 1865 was one of the darkest years for Juarez but by the spring he had the greatest victory his cause would ever have. Oddly enough, it did not take place in Mexico but in southern Virginia at a little town called Appomattox Court House where the primary Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses Grant; effectively ending the American Civil War. By 1866 the United States used strong-arm diplomacy to block the Emperor of Austria from sending his brother additional troops and demanded that the French withdraw their forces as well. With a massive US army dispatched to the south Texas border for the intimidation factor and with problems in Europe mounting, Emperor Napoleon III felt he had no choice but to cut his losses and abandon Mexico.

So it was that just as the French were pulling out their forces from Mexico, Juarez was gaining more support than ever that same year from the United States. Officially, of course, the US was neutral but went to little effort to hide their favoritism toward Benito Juarez. Tens of thousands of rifles and artillery pieces were sent to Mexico including the most modern Henry repeating rifles and parrot rifled artillery so that the northern republican army had every advantage over their imperial enemies. Uniforms, equipment and supplies of every kind were sent to Juarez so that many of his troops were fighting in complete Union blue US Army uniforms with US stamped buckles, belts, ammo boxes and so on. Even troops were sent over, unofficially. These were men who would often be given leaves of absence on the understanding that they would go to Mexico to fight for Juarez. Others were listed as deserters who would return when the war was over and who were never punished. In all, it is estimated that some 3,000 Union army veterans served with the forces of Juarez against Maximilian. In a study undertaken by the United States roughly 109,000 US soldiers expressed their willingness to fight in Mexico if needed to ensure the victory of Benito Juarez. Surely such numbers should give any proud Mexican pause.

With all of this support, having Emperor Maximilian outmatched in every way thanks to his big brother north of the border, Juarez defeated the imperial forces at Queretaro on May 15, 1867. As we all know, soon thereafter Juarez had Emperor Maximilian executed by firing squad along with his top generals Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia. It is worth remembering at this point that this was yet another violation of the very constitution Juarez had enacted which had abolished the death penalty. However, just as he had continuously violated his own rules to stay in power and keep his dictatorial powers he did so again to eliminate Maximilian and his loyalists.
Of course, the brief unity enjoyed by Juarez while the Emperor lived was also cut down with the crack of rifle fire on the Hill of Bells at Queretaro and President Juarez immediately had to deal with internal rebellions with reared their head again almost as soon as Maximilian was dead. After numerous other Mexican monarchists were killed, again, all in violation of the very constitution Juarez had enacted, factions amongst the republicans began to battle for power in states as well as on the national level when General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega rose up to challenge Juarez for the presidency which he continued to hold in spite of numerous violations to his term limit.

Juarez used the dictatorial powers he still held to crush the rebellion as well as to ensure his success in a certainly unfair reelection in 1867. His former general Porfirio Diaz rose in rebellion later to challenge him for the leadership of Mexico but Juarez had already been so deified as to be almost impossible to oppose and this first bid for power by Diaz was crushed, though he would be seen again in the years to come. In 1871 Juarez was elected president again, yet another example of his violating his own constitutional term limit as well as the prohibition against a president succeeding himself which he himself had pushed to get put into law. That point cannot be stressed enough. In the end, all together, Juarez had served FIVE terms as president according to his own liberal followers who did not recognize the conservative opposition governments and the monarchy of Maximilian set up during that same period. It was all done under the authority of a constitution which Juarez himself had enacted and which said that the president was limited to one term only. In all, Benito Juarez was the professed President of Mexico for a span of 15 years.

During many of those years his power was contested and the vast majority of those years (by any legal stretch) his administration was absolutely unconstitutional according to his own constitution. Furthermore, throughout many of those years he held absolute, dictatorial power with absolutely no checks on his authority in any area under his control at the time. Does this sound like the record of a champion of democracy, republicanism and the rule of law? Looking at the entire life and career of Benito Juarez it would extremely difficult if not impossible for any dispassionate observer to conclude that he was anything other than yet another case in the long history of Mexico of a president who clawed his way to the top, assumed power at the point of lances and bayonets and who did whatever was necessary to remain in power for as long as possible. In this, he was at least more successful than most Mexican potentates in that Juarez held power until his own death in July of 1872 by a heart attack still at his desk in the National Palace in Mexico City.

Looking at the whole of his career we certainly do not see that of a great statesman. We see someone who came to power by succession and conquest rather than fair election. We see someone who nationalized private property, who championed the government taking over lands, education, marriage and even tried to assert government control of religion by his attempt to set up his own anti-pope in Mexico. We see a man who ruled absolutely to stay in power, who sold out the sovereignty of his country to the United States to stay in power, who violated his own rules to extend his term of office when it suited him, who violated his own abolition of the death penalty to kill off his political enemies and who violated his own term limits to remain in power as long as he lived. In short, Juarez was far from being a great statesman and certainly not worthy of the adulation and deification he continues to receive to this day. If there was a leader of Mexico truly worthy of such acclaim it would much more justly be applied to Emperor Maximilian rather than Benito Juarez.

14 comments:

  1. The very worst of snakes, One can only hope the Monarchists in Mexico spread the truth of this abdominal man so that more may yet turn from heathen republican doctrine he represented

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  2. I really enjoyed this piece:-) Poor Maximilian and Carlota didn't stand a chance, with these forces arrayed against them. As for Juarez's deification, even Queen Marie-Jose, when she was in Mexico, was subjected to a long, adulatory account of this man, who had killed her great-uncle. She later related the incident with some humor.

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  3. Monsters need to be Deified, in order to further the Myths that justufy the existance of the Governments they created. Had Adolf Hitler succeeded, then I am sure that Germany, which would have a Boarder that woudl extend to Emcompass once Soverign Austria,Poland, France, and much of Eastern Europe, woudl have Staties to this day to the man, speakign highly fo him as a National Hero and a man who brought fourth a new Age of Freedom, Prosperity, and Glory to the Motherland, united the Masses, and Saved Gera Culture form Extinction. Of coruse Hitler coudl do no wrong, either.

    The same existed in the Soviet Union where Lennin and even Stalin to an extend in some Cirvcles where highly Venerated as Superhuman heroes who guided their peopel to Greatness.

    Objective analysis of thir lives and how they accomplished hings simply doens't enter into it, rather he Sanitised Myth becomes all emcopmpassing as it is needed to slidify the Identity of the people, in the new Culture.

    We see the same thign in the American and French Revolution. Most Americans view the American Revolution like the Mel Gibson Movie "The Patriot" whewre the Evil British came in, all of whom where shpped in from England, to crusht he Gentle, peae loving COlonists who simply wanteds Freedom, and the Saintly Foundign Fathers ros eup to fight this Tyranny, never wavering, never questionign the Cause, and never doign anythign wrong.

    In France, the Republican Cause is Celirbated in much the same way and Roppespeirre is seen as a wonderful man who tried hard ot brign Democracy. We overlook the Terror.

    We need to, else the Myth collapses, and we get a gang of selfish men driven by Ideology and ignorign reality to foist their cause or increase their own power. Besides, if we ignore the Reality we can wrap purselves int he same IDeals.

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  4. If Maximilian would have won, Mexico would not be in the shape it is today.

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  5. And then Mussolini's parents named him after President Juarez.

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  6. That is true Zarove, when it comes to someone so bad the only options are to admit it and disavow them or deify them to such a degree that the truth will never be tolerated. Also true Ingemar, Mussolini was named after Juarez as Papa Mussolini was a violently anti-clerical socialist (as was Mussolini before deciding that socialism was preventing Italian greatness). I would also add that the insult of Emperor Maximilian did not end with his death. The Mexican government prevented his body being returned to Mexico for some time (and it was in ghastly condition when it was) but most infuriating to me is that, in the early 20th Century, Austria paid to have a small chapel built on the Hill of Bells to commemorate Maximilian and generals Mejia and Miramon. The Mexican government allowed this but then built a HUGE, massive statue of Juarez, the man who killed them, right in front of it so that his shadow would fall on the chapel and no one could see the chapel without being overwhelmed by the gigantic statue of the 'god' Juarez. Disgusting.

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  7. *that should be "returned to Austria" of course

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  8. Well, in that way I suppose he can be compared Fairly to Abraham Lincoln.

    A man who used force to overthrow a LEgitimate Government, and imposed his rule by force of arms, and who ignored his own Constitution and by so his own Ideals in order to maintain Power, The Description could be applied to Either Lincoln or Juarez. So can the fact that both are Imbewed with a Sacred and Inviolable Aura aroudn them, and that the IDeals that have become associated with them do not align with those they actually held, and they have both become Receptors for a Revisionary History.


    Of course the Revisionist Hisotry is all i ever heard of Juarez. I never beleived it as it was too grand and I had my own expeirnves in Studying the American and French Revolution to guide me away from the claism of Popular Revolutionary Leaders whose Revolutions actually succeeded.

    I could never find any of this that you just said about the man, so woudl liek to know where you aquired your information. I have a derth regarding him. Surprisingly I can find an overwhel,ming number of books that are Sympathetic to the Tzars, even by Americans, mainly because of Anti-Communism, and can even find some American-written books that aren't overly hostile to King George. (THough most do still say the Revolution was good, and the King was wrong. They just shy away form the claim that he was a Tyrant)

    It seems Mexican and American Authors will not write anythign Critical of Juarez, even those on the Fringes. Lincoln has even received a Fair Amount of Critisism by Modern Historians, so not sure why Juarez has yet to succumb to the scrutiny of Later Generations.

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  9. Very true re: Lincoln. Regardless of one's view of his politics the man killed more Americans than Hitler, Mao, Ho etc combined and he was not a great enough statesman to accomplish his goals without resorting to military force.

    I wish I could quote chapter and verse on the above but this is an edited version of a paper I wrote many years ago while I had access to a university library so I went through a pile of books putting that together. If you have the time to dig, it is not hard to find, however it will invariably be painted in a positive way, much like how the murder of the Bourbons and the genocide in the Vendee is still portrayed as something ultimately positive because the republic was an absolute good and the ends justify the means.

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  10. The Irony to the Machiavelli Principle, that the ends Justify the means, is that it is selectively applied. Most simply do not know, or else ignore, the Brutality, Hypocricy, and Treasonour nature of the Rebublican heroes and prefer to adhere tot he Mythic retelling of Revolutionary Heroes standing firm against an evil, oppressive Tyrany, and how Monarchy is always cruel and Vicious, and Repubics, now Democracy, good and just.


    Those who are confronted with the reality, either by Primary Soruces, Translated Primary Soruces, or even via simple accounts of the day, or by History Books, will invariabley still seek to put a Positive Spin on these matters, due to an Emotional Investment, in both the Heroes they have in mind, and wantign them to remain heroes, and int he Ideals they ( at least supposedly) fought for.

    They need to, else the Justification for the Revolutions collapses.

    Besides, if your already sold on Republicanism, you may be made uncomfortable by the way it was brought about, but its treated as an unquestioensd good, so naturally peole will see the ends justyfing the means in its regards.

    The same thing is not applied to Communism, or even to Religious beleifs. While the actual History of Christianity is unknown to most, and they buy into the wretched History presented by Atheists for a whiel now that reduces Christianity to nothign more than the Inquisition and Crusades and Witch Trials, none will say "Yes those where bad, and slaughterign the Pagans was bad, but the ends justify the means and it gave us Christian Culture." If you trieds this sort of argu,ent both Atheists and Christians woudl balk, yet they use it for their beoved Republic.

    We're conditioned to be critical of Christianity and to accept that its heavily at fault, and we are conditioned to beleive Republicanism and Democracy are good, so it conflicts with how we're suppose to feel to ask such questions.

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  11. And after Juarez came Porfirio ... (Diaz, I recall). He killed off many Yaquis.

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  12. True and sadly this was fairly typical of all the republican governments in Mexico which is why the Yaquis (who have a very beautiful culture) were willing to rise up in favor of the French and Emperor Maximilian. The Yaquis had very little contact with the Emperor but, from their perspective, any change from the succession of republican governments that had so oppressed them was preferable.

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  13. This is what i was looking for :)
    thanks for the post.

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  14. I just checked out The Cactus Throne at the library. There was another book called Maximilian and Carlota A Tale of Romance and Tragedy, has anyone read or heard of this book.

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