Introduction to Mexican History

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The struggle of the masses in Mexico dates back to the early 16th century when Spanish forces invaded the Yucatan and Mexican coasts.
Henadez de Corboda and Herman Cortes were the Spanish officers in charge of the expedition to conquer the vast Aztec and Mayon civilisations. In 1521, after two years of vicious fighting, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) fell to Cortes, and by 1525 Francisco Montejo had conquered the Mayon people. By 1540 most of northern Mexico was under Spanish rule.

Years of oppression followed as the Spanish conquerors tried to pacify the indigenous population. For the next three hundred years Mexico was ruled as a Spanish colony. The native population revolted in 1541, but the uprising was crushed. The Spanish rulers proceeded to rob Mexico of all its natural resources, mainly silver, and created vast plantations for the export of wheat, sugar cane, etc. By the 17th century the economy of ‘New Spain’ collapsed. Disease and overwork cut the native population from 12 million in 1520 to one million by 1720, but it was not until the early l9th century that major threats to Spanish rule began.

The first revolt occurred in 1810. It was led by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a parish priest who issued ‘Grito de Delores’, calling for an end to Spanish rule, redistribution of land, and empowerment of the masses. Costilla and his followers were captured and executed. A following uprising by Jose Maria Moreles y Pavon in 1814 was also crushed, and the disintegrating independence movement turned to guerilla warfare.

Vicente Guerrero led this new struggle and in 1821 he negotiated a treaty with the ruling Spanish elite to gain self determination for the colony. A congress was elected, and after a military rebellion in 1823 Mexico became a republic.

In 1845 the U.S. Congress voted to annex Texas and war with Mexico ensued. By 1848 North American superiority overwhelmed the Mexican Army, and Utah, Texas, Nevada, California, New Mexico, and most of Colorado came under American control.

In 1857 Benito Juarez issued a new constitution in an effort to abolish the remnants of colonialism. Land reforms did nothing however to improve the lives of the majority of the population who lived in poverty. To make matters worse, civil war broke out in 1858 between the liberals led by Juarez and the conservatives. Juarez was victorious and some of his later reforms helped to lessen the excessive power of the church and the army. His liberal successors were not as successful.

In 1876 Porfio Diaz seized power and his monopoly on political power over the next thirty years was a major cause of the revolution in 1910.

The 1910 revolt was led by Francisco i Madero, who advocated neither social reforms nor drastic change. With conservative support, another general, Victoriano Huerta, overthrew Madero. The peasants continued the revolt begun in 1910 and Pancho Villa and Emile Zapata became the two key figures in the struggle against Huerta. Huerta was defeated and control fell into the hands of Venustiano Carranza, a rich landowner who had supported Madero. Civil war broke out between his forces and those of Villa in the north and Zapata in the south. By 1920 the popular uprising had been crushed.

A new party, the PNR, then consolidated power, and depression in the 1930’s caused a reversal of land reforms and an increase in the rich/poor divide. The PNR (now PRI) has ruled Mexico ever since with a peculiar one party system.

In 1968 a major student uprising was crushed and the PRI party became more indifferent towards the oppressed masses On 1 January 1994 the EZLN, an unheard-of revolutionary organisation, seized power in parts of Chiapas, southern Mexico, calling for the reforms Zapata had fought and died for. Forty thousand federal troops now surround the revolutionaries, and the Mexican government is again under extreme pressure to reform. The struggle of the indigenous and oppressed people of Mexico has never ceased and the EZLN have captured the imagination and won the support of many.