Harris III, Charles H., and Louis R. Sadler. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. xv + 488 pages. Cloth, $37.50.
The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the first great revolution of the twentieth century, ended Porfirio Diaz's thirty-five year authoritarian rule in Mexico. Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, emeriti professors of history at New Mexico State University-Las Cruces, begin their fascinating book about El Paso during the Mexican Revolution with an account of the first presidential summit in American history. The summit between Diaz and U.S. President William Howard Taft took place in the neighboring border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in 1909. Seeking yet another term as president, Diaz knew that in order to maintain control of Mexico he needed the backing of the United States, whose citizens had several billion dollars of capital invested in Mexico. The Taft administration hoped that Diaz's supporters in Mexico would be strengthened by the U.S. president's public display of friendship during the summit.
The citizens of El Paso and the Diaz administration worked together to ensure the summit's success. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent in El Paso on decorations, flags, and cleanup. Across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's largest border city, a vast amount of money was expended on a summit banquet in the Juarez Customs House, which was transformed into a replica of one of the grand salons of the Palace of Versailles. Yet, at the same time, El Paso served as a base of operations for Mexican exiles struggling to overthrow Diaz. "Ironically," Harris and Sadler point out, "Diaz himself had set the precedent of using Texas soil as a revolutionary sanctuary when he made Brownsville his headquarters for the 1876 rebellion that had elevated him to power" (p. 16). Four thousand U.S. and Mexican troops were deployed to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez to maintain peace. In El Paso, security was bolstered by employing police and sheriff's department personnel, as well as U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Customs agents.
After emphasizing that U.S. and Mexican covert operatives collaborated to keep their respective nations' presidents safe during the summit, Harris and Sadler present an engagingly-written and meticulously-researched account of the activities of U.S. and Mexican intelligence...