Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama and changing Mexico: a twentieth-century political journey.

Author:Lucas, Jeffrey K.

When Vicente Fox Quesada became president of Mexico on December 1, 2000, conservatives celebrated the ascendancy of the Partido Accion Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). For the first time since 1929, a political organization other than the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) held supreme power in Mexico. Where did all of this conservatism originate? What brought this party of middle-class and wealthy professionals, businesspersons, executives, and real estate magnates to power?

Shockingly, that conservatism originated with a group of individuals who had been anarchists, Marxists, or socialists at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1939, as tradition dictated, President Lazaro Cardenas handpicked his heir-apparent for the national presidency. A cadre of former revolutionaries then met in Mexico City to nominate an opposition candidate who supported Roman Catholic Christian family values, free enterprise, and an end to state-mandated public education. Among the group's leaders was Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama, often described as one of Mexico's leading revolutionaries) (1)

Soto y Gama had undergone a political transformation; an anarchist at the turn of the century, he had evolved into a devout Roman Catholic conservative. By the 1930s, he was a staunch anticommunist and, after World War II, acquired a reputation as a stalwart Cold Warrior. His activities and experiences leads one through the heart of Mexican political culture from the early 1890s through the late 1960s.

To understand what happened to the Mexican Revolution, one should follow Soto y Gama. The path he travelled certainly differs from that of other revolutionaries in both detail and magnitude. The general route and the sights to see along the way are strikingly illustrative. Soto y Gama leads the historian from late-nineteenth-century anti-Porfirismo, that is, opposition to the dictatorial reign of President Porfirio Diaz (1876-1880, 1884-1910), through turn-of-the-century anarchism, the anarcho-syndicalism of the early twentieth century, and the Mexican Revolution to the ascendancy of revolutionary caudillos, or strongmen, in the 1920s. His public career then crosses the De la Huerta rebellion (1923-24), the militant Roman Catholic Cristiada (1926-29), the Escobar rebellion (1929), and the Great Depression. He then appears in two simultaneous and equally critical moments in twentieth-century Mexican history, both of which occurred in 1938: the nationalization of British and North American petroleum assets in Mexico, and the violent confrontation in San Luis Potosi between the forces of regional strongman Saturnino Cedillo and the national government.

Soto y Gama's life provides a microcosm of Mexican political culture as it evolved over the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. By following his trail, one can understand not only pre-1967 Mexican political history, but also its trajectory thereafter. Soto y Gama's strong-willed self-righteousness impacted every situation he encountered. This is especially true during the Revolutionary Convention at Aguascalientes in October 1914, the aftermath of the assassination of former President Alvaro Obregon in 1928, and throughout the Cold War. More importantly, his life brings us into contact with a plethora of history-making people and events, including Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, Presidents Obregon, Calles, and Cardenas, and the bitter confrontation between leftists and right-wing extremists at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM) in 1948.

The Journey

Born in 1880, Soto y Gama reached adulthood without knowing any government other than that of Porfirio Diaz, known as the Porfiriato. He learned early to criticize that government, in large part, because his parents and grandparents had all been supporters of President Benito Jufirez and his successor, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, whom Diaz overthrew in 1876. Soto y Gama delivered his first anti-Porfirian speech at age thirteen in 1893, comparing the Spaniards treatment of the Aztecs to Diaz's genocidal policies toward the Yanqui, Mayo, and Apache tribes of northern Mexico during an annual Mexican Independence Day celebration on his family's patio before relatives and neighbors. (2)

By 1896, Soto y Gama, now a pre-law student in San Luis Potosi, was delivering tracts that smacked of anarchism. (3) Such views would become more robust several years later, when he helped organize the Partido Liberal Mexicano (Mexican Liberal Party). (4) Headed by the notorious anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, its members advocated radical change in Mexico's labor and land laws. Soto y Gama endorsed and proselytized Magonismo with alacrity. He and classmate Camilo Arriaga formed the Club Liberal Ponciano Arriaga (Ponciano Arriaga Liberal Club) in San Luis Potosi, which became part of a nationwide network of liberal political clubs whose implicit purpose was to remove the Porfiriato from power?

Between 1900 and 1903, Soto y Gama and other Mexican liberals spent time in jail for openly criticizing the Porfiriato. (6) As the crackdown against criticism of the Porfiriato intensified, Soto y Gama and Arriaga were forced to flee to the United States. They were soon joined in Texas by others, including Ricardo and Flores Magon. Some of these exiles established an intricate anarchist organization in St. Louis, Missouri, before relocating to Los Angeles, California. (7)

Family matters compelled Soto y Gama to return home in 1904. The Porfirian government promised to leave him alone provided that he avoid publicly criticizing the national government. While honoring this pledge, Soto y Gama worked quietly as a barrister in San Luis Potosi (1904-08), and in Mexico City (1908-10). (8) Despite his efforts to maintain a low profile, Soto y Gama corresponded surreptitiously with Flores Magon from time to time, and seems to have had a hand in composing the Partido Liberal Mexicano (Mexican Liberal Party, or PLM) manifesto of 1906, which vigorously laid out party demands for social and agrarian reform. (9)

Like many Mexicans, Soto y Gama was invigorated in 1910 when Francisco Madero, a well-financed activist from Coahuila called for revolution in his Plan de San Luis Potosi. For a brief period, Soto y Gama became a Maderista. More importantly, the Madero rebellion--the first phase of the Mexican Revolution--emboldened Soto y Gama and other detractors of the Porfiriato. (10) For the first time in six years, he became vocal and vituperative in his writings, which appeared in the Mexico City edition of Regeneracion (Regeneration)--the same name as Flores Magon's Los Angeles-based newspaper. (11)

Soto y Gama's excitement about the Madero rebellion soon turned to bitterness and anger after the signing of the Treaties of Ciudad Juairez (May 1911). The federal army, under the command of aging generals, had surrendered to Madero's forces. Madero had the chance to annihilate them, and to rid Mexico once and for all of every last vestige of Porfirian oppression. Instead, he mercifully agreed to a more-than-generous peace. (12)

With this agreement, Madero showed that his real interest lay in eliminating Diaz. Once the old dictator had stepped down and sailed for France, fighting ceased, and Madero allowed numerous Porfiristas to keep their government jobs. He even recommissioned the federal army, commanders and all, apparently based on the belief that they would forget the past. Furthermore, rather than immediately declaring himself president, Madero scheduled new elections for October--five months away. Meanwhile, Francisco Leon de la Barra, one of Diaz's leading advisors, served as interim president. (13)

Soto y Gama was livid, because it seemed to him that Madero, the victor, was losing the peace. Here was an opportunity to bring about meaningful social, economic, and political change in Mexico, and Madero was botching it. Over the next several months, Soto y Gama lambasted Madero for reneging on promises, particularly those concerning land reform that he had made in his Plan de San Luis Potos. (14)

Throughout the summer of 1911, the federal army marched across the state of Morelos, immediately south of Mexico City. There, they battled Madero's former allies, led by Emiliano Zapata. The southern agrarian movement under Zapata's leadership had enthusiastically embraced Maderismo in 1910. In fact, their fight against large Porfirian land-holders had begun even before Madero's rebellion. (15)

For awhile, Madero tried to mediate matters in the south. He traveled to Morelos, met with Zapata, and persuaded him and his men to lay down their arms. When many did so, General Victoriano Huerta turned on the Zapatistas and tried to annihilate them. Clearly, the Porfiristas whom Madero had defeated on the battlefield were determined to sabotage the peace and undo his revolution. As Madero scampered about, wringing his hands in frustration, the resistence of the Zapatistas hardened as they resumed hostilities against the federal government. (16)

During the summer of 1911, Soto y Gama became intrigued with Zapatismo. For Soto y Gama, the agraristas (farmers) of Morelos embodied the opposition to privilege and exploitation that he had championed since adolescence. He communicated with the Zapatistas, and even helped them with logistics by shipping quinine to Morelos to combat the spread of malaria. (17) At the same time, he hammered away at Madero. In public speeches and newspaper articles, Soto y Gama reminded Madero of his promises regarding land reform, and criticized Diaz's successor for the unsavory alliance he seemed to have entered into with the Porfiristas. (18)

Madero was elected president in October 1911, and took office one month later. Almost immediately, he began to distance himself from the Zapatistas. He did so following a meeting with Zapata, in which...

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