Diaz and the Porfiriato 1876-1910




When Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915) ( full name: José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori ) ,who was a Mestizo, of Mixtec and Japanese ancestry on his mother's side,seized over control of Mexico in 1876 that had an empty treasury, huge foreign debts and a large bureaucracy whose salaries were in arrears .Despite the efforts of the liberals mining, the main engine of the economy, still had not recovered from the chaos of the preceding decades .Farming methods had changed little from colonial days . Like Juarez before him, Diaz felt the key to modernizing the country was to pacify it so foreigners would invest in it . Mexico was still troubled by banditos , agrarian revolts and revolt in favor of the ousted President Lerado on the US border .Theses Diaz dealt with forcefully and had the leaders executed shortly after capture and greatly increased the power of the rurales . The era of Porfirio Díaz’s government from 1876-1911 is known as the Porfiriato and its motto was ' Order and Progress.' During his 33 year rule, Mexico entered the industrial age .


Weaving the Past: Mexico in the Era of Porfirio Diaz



Mexico 1910 Porfiriato

Within several years of taking power most European and Latin American countries recognized Diaz's government, but the US held out The US had several claims against Mexico over debts and banditos crossing into US territory .These raids almost led to war with the US in 1877. Diaz came to an agreement with the Americans and agreed to repay over 14 million in claims .Diaz reduced the number of civil servants to ease the burden on the treasury and tried to stimulate trade and crack down on smuggling . At the end of his first term, Diaz was true to his ' no-reelection ' pledge and did not seek another term . For once Mexico had a peaceful transfer of power and foreign governments began to believe Mexican politics was maturing .Diaz threw his support behind Manuel Gonzalez, who won the election with a large majority in 1880 .

Porfirio Diaz

Paul Garner

A new biography of the controversial Mexican dictator who was toppled by the 1910 Revolution


President Gonzalez 1880 - 84


Gonzalez lost his right arm during the sieges of Puebla in 1867


Gonzalez strove to modernize the country, but the strain was too much for the treasury .During his administration, the railway from Mexico City to El Paso, Texas was inaugurated and the Banco Nacional de México was founded He felt he could not cut back on foreign repayment and railroad construction, so he cut the salaries of government officials .The administration of Gonzalez was accused of corruption and graft and Gonzalez himself was accused of sexual improprieties .Diaz ran again for president in 1884 and easily won . In the future he would not be bothered by his former ' no-reelection' pledge . Díaz had the constitution amended, first to allow two terms in office, and then to remove all restrictions on re-election.


The Return of Diaz and economic Progress




Diaz continued his modernization drive and the country had great economic growth .Jose Limantour, secretary of the treasury, made economic changes such as changing tariffs, switching Mexico to the gold standard and getting more favorable foreign loans for Mexico and reduced corruption .By 1890, the Mexican treasury was running in the black .


One of Jose Posada calaveras(skull) cartoons,satirizing life among the upper classes



 The work of José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), important Mexican satirist during the Porfiriato.


There was a marked increase in railroad construction during Diaz's rule, from 400 miles of rail in 1876 to 15,000 by 1911 and greatly helped transform the country from its backwardness .Diaz had the laws changed to be more favorable to foreign investment and the mines, such as silver and cooper mines , became much more productive .silver production increased from 24,000,000 Pesos in 1877 to 85,000,000 Pesos in 1908.  After the turn of the century oil exploration began in earnest , which large oil fields in Tampico and Tuxpan being exploited and soon Mexico was one of the largest petroleum producers in the world .


The army was modernized and observers were sent to America, France and Germany . Soldiers were given modern uniforms and more modern weapons and the army was reduced in size .


The Price of Peace and Economic Progress


Diaz kept the country free of civil war but at a cost .He kept himself in power through a skillful use of persuasion, threats and intimidation and strong arm tactics of the rurales and federal army and even assassination. Elections were held, but they were shams for the most part, manipulated by the powerful . From 1892 onwards Díaz's perennial opponent was Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda, who lost every election but always claimed fraud and considered himself to be the legitimately elected president of Mexico.The press was tightly censored. generals were shifted from one military zone to another to keep them from amassing political power . Powerful Mexicans who cooperated with the Diaz regime were rewarded with lucrative contracts and concessions . Diaz himself did not seem to amass a personal fortune .

Land Grab


The effects of the Díaz regime were greatly felt in agrarian land reform and land was increasingly concentrated into the hands of the privileged. By 1910 only 2 percent of the population held title to land . Only 10 percent of the Indian communities held land.  Many farmers were forced into debt peonage to survive .Land was confiscated from ordinal owners and land much land seized from the church reform laws or deemed 'public' land was sold to Diaz favorites for a pittance .




The hacendado owners used their vast tracts of land to grow export crops, and by 1910 their was less maize produced than in 1877. Prices increased and many Mexicans started starving .16 percent of the population was homeless .

In 1910 life expectancy was 30, in contrast to 50 in the US at the time .Peasant uprisings became common and were put down mercilessly .The Yanqui Indians of Sonora battled the government for years, but were finally defeated and forced to work on large plantations as chained slaves .Diaz was advised by cientificos, who promoted a scientific based social Darwinistic agenda. They promoted science, but many of the cientifico advisors saw the Indians as unteachable and a drag on society . It seemed a waste to educate them or better their plight .The high mortality among the Indians was seen as Social Darwinism at work .

Under Porfirio Díaz laws had been implemented which gave foreign investors the title of large sections of land and concentrated  land holdings and many of the poor were forced off their land .Some Hacienda owners amassed vast landholding, such as Don Terrazas in Chihuahua .Foreigners also were given ownership of large areas of Mexican resources in order to develop them .

This painting by Alfaro Siqueiros shows Diaz trampling the Constitution

The Economic Depression of 1907-08

The slowing US economy and high inflation cause the economy to fall into a depression by 1907. Prices for the basics of life were increasing while wages remained the same or fell .In some areas wages fell 20% while living expenses increased 80 %. the laissez-faire policies of the Porfiriato did little to provide relief .The middle and upper classes supported the Porfiriato when the economy was good . Now, they were suffering as foreign banks tightened credit and the government raised taxes . They joined the poor and the Indians in demanding government change in increasing numbers .

Downfall of the Porfiriato

There were cracks showing in the pax Porfiriato. The new economic expansion did not trickle down and wages remained low for workers, who often worked in appalling conditions .The educational reforms Diaz promoted also helped bring about the Porfiriato downfall as a greater number of the educated and members of the growing middle class were insulted of the charade of democracy under Diaz .Like many powerful leaders before, he had overstayed his welcome . By the early 1900s there were three national opposition groups formed, some advocating violent overthrow.


The Regeneracion


By the early 1900s there was more opponents to Diaz's rule,such as the Flores Magon brothers , who published Regeneracion which exposed the excesses of the Diaz government. They were forced into exile an went to San Anontio, where Diaz sent an assassin to silence them. After this, they went further inland into the US for safety to St.Louis where they continued to publish Regeneracion and smuggled it into Mexico which helped fuel the anti-Diaz movement . They organized a revolutionary party. In St. Louis in 1906 they issued a plan which resounded with many Mexicans who launched strikes throughout Mexico .


In a 1908 interview with the U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would step down and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Many liberals supported the governor of Nuevo León, Bernardo Reyes as a candidate for the presidency, although Bernardo Reyes under the orders of Díaz never formally announced his candidacy. Despite Reyes silence, however, Díaz continued to perceive him as a threat and sent him on a mission to Europe, so that Reyes was not in the country for the elections.


The 1910 Election



Francisco Madero , an upper class politician who was affected by the plight of the peons under the dictator Porfirio Díaz, wrote the influential book on the presidential succession and argued that Mexico should return to the Constitution of 1857 with free press and free elections .Modero was a member of the upper class whose family owned large estates. He thought political, not social reform would solve the nation's problems and social and land reforms were not part of his platform . Madero did not like Diaz's dependence on foreign capital and the growing domination of American businesses .Madero became involved in politics  and ran for president of an  Anti-re-electionist party as Diaz himself had done so long ago .Diaz had him jailed  on trumped up charges at San Luid Potosi during the election in 1910 with many other anti re-electionists throughout Mexico .

Despite what he had told Creelman, decided to run for president again .When the official results were announced by the government, Díaz was proclaimed to have been re-elected almost unanimously. This caused aroused widespread anger. Diaz began plans for his last hurrah. In September he would be 80 as well as the 100th anniversary of Mexican Independence and huge celebrations were held in which more was spent than for education that year.The poor were rounded up as to not offend the foreigners who came to the celebration.

On his release and subsequent flight to the US, Madero issued his Plan de San Luid Potosi from San Antonio, which called for the nation to rise in revolt on November 20.Town after town responded to the call of Viva la Revolucion ! The guerrilleros were supported in the countryside as well.  

Rebels fire on federal positions at Ciudad Juarez

Diaz was not prepared to give up and sent army units all across Mexico to control the rebellion. In Chihuahua, the rebellion continued to grow under the leadership of Pascual Orozco and local leaders such as Pancho Villa placed themselves under his command .On Jan 2, 1911 the rebels destroyed a large federal army sent against them.  

In late 1911 Orozco and Villa convinced Madero that the rebels should use most of their force to take Ciudad Juarez. At the last minute,Madero changed his mind and called of the attack, afraid stray shells might land in nearby El Paso, brings the US into the conflict .  Orozco ignored this order an launched an attack. On May 10, the outnumbered federal commander surrendered .Madero was angry at Orozco for ignoring his order and did not give him a position in his cabinet and showed that the coalition was falling apart . After the victory at Ciudad Juarez, others towns such as Tehuacan, Durango and Cuatla fell to the rebels .the press began to turn against Diaz and many federal troops began deserting. Diaz realized his time was over and sent negotiators to talk with Madero .In the following Treaty of Ciudad Juarez Diaz agreed to resigned and left for France .Diaz had been overthrown, but the revolution had just started .

In 1915, Díaz died in exile in Paris. There was tremendous economic advance during the Diaz years, yet there is no Ciudad Diaz today or even a street named after him . His rule became associated with social and political abuses that were too great . The progress enjoyed by the upper classes came at the expense of the masses .

Afterwards, Mexico was racked by 10 years of fighting known as the Mexican Revolution where successive leaders tried to create a stable government .



Restored republic