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By Amanda Layfield
Venustiano Carranza was a man of bold confidence and deliberate character. He triumphed in a revolution when most men his age were relaxing in retirement. Though he never fit the conventional image of a revolutionary, he was a man in contact with the needs of his people. An economist by experience and liberal by conviction, his vision called for national unity. He jealously guarded Mexico's sovereignty through his keen intellect and fearless action. His serene nature was only denoted more emphatically through his unwavering loyalty. His concentration of power overthrew one of the most feared, cynical, and powerful military dictatorships in the history of Mexico. What follows is his story.
Venustiano Carranza, born in 1859, was one of fifteen children born to Colonel Jesús Carranza and María de Jesús Garza. Venustiano Carranza grew up hearing his father's stories about his life fighting the Indians while serving in the forces for Benito Juárez. Carranza spent most of his childhood on a large farming ranch in the state of Coahuila outside the town of Cuatro Ciénegas. He attended school in Satillo and then the National Prepatory School in Mexico City. Carranza's schooling was characterized by liberal tradition. Carranza received training in law and economics but could not pursue a professional career due to abnormal eye sensitivity. He then returned back home where he continued his study of economics and dedicated his efforts to ranching and farming.
Carranza did not stay home for long. He heeded the call of political office in 1887 with the support of his family. At the age of twenty-eight, he was elected municipal president (mayor) of his hometown. Carranza enjoyed his political success. After serving another term as mayor, Carranza joined his brother Don Emilio on the warpath against Garza Galán. Garza Galán was appointed as Governor of Coahuila by Porfirio Díaz. Garza Galán used his power to rob, expropriate lands and even went as far as to kidnap young girls of wealthy families. After much growing unrest, the people expected Garza Galán's rule to end at the completion of his term. However, upon the backing by Romero Rubio, Garza Galán was mysteriously reelected. Romero Rubio was the father-in-law of President Díaz and one of his most respected advisors. Upon a fraudulent reelection, Venustiano and Don Emilio Carranza arose in arms against the state troops of Garza Galán. Díaz sent federal troops to quiet the revolt, but Venustiano and Don Emilio Carranza had defeated the state troops repeatedly. Following the advice of his counselors, Díaz withdrew his troops and recalled the candidacy of Garza Galán. After appointing another governor more to the Carranzas' liking, Venustiano Carranza politically aligned himself with General Bernardo Reyes, governor of the neighboring state of Nuevo León and proconsul to Díaz.
With Reyes's support, Venustiano Carranza became a deputy in the state legislature, a federal deputy, a federal senator and, in 1908, was appointed provisional governor of Coahuila. Carranza decisively sought the position of governor of Coahuila. Seeking Díaz's approval, Carranza publically denounced Madero's Anti-Reelection Party in 1909. Carranza sought political backing from Díaz; when he supported another man for governor, Carranza quickly joined Madero in outrage against Díaz. Carranza's wounded pride and unwavering spirit prompted the following statement: ' " Tell General Díaz that as long as there is a single person, who will propose and work in favor of my candidacy, I shall not renounce it, and I shall accept all the consequences of my conduct" ' ( Fornaro 13 ). Carranza's deliberate answer placed him in the political spotlight with America and found his new position under Madero as Minister of War.
Carranza continued the Mexican liberal tradition and wished to steer the revolutionary movement towards the liberal heritage valued in the Constitution of 1857. Carranza was elected governor of Coahuila in December 1911 where he assumed leadership of the rebellion against Huerta who had assassinated Madero and stolen the presidency. In 1913, Carranza drew up the Plan of Guadalupe in response to Huerta's actions in which he refused to accept the powers of the dictator. The plan called for the continuity of liberal ideas which highlighted municipal freedom, independence of the judicial branch, and equality in the eyes of the law. Calling Huerta's coup unconstitutional, the Plan of Guadalupe became the charter for the Constitutionalist movement and an open declaration of civil war. Carranza was quickly named the First Chief of the Constitutionalist movement.
With the clear vision to force Huerta's resignation, Carranza called for the military support of Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregón, and Emiliano Zapata. As a result of Huerta's tyrannical rule, Carranza did not have trouble obtaining the backing of the Mexican people. Huerta made the mistake of confusing cruelty, brutality, and treachery with power. This false sense of security ultimately led to the victorious fifteen month campaign that forced Huerta's resignation on July 10, 1914. After Huerta's flight into exile, division among the Carranza and Villa emerged.
Villa supported the interim president Eulalio Gutiérrez. However, Carranza refused to give executive power over to Gutiérrez; Carranza did not politically recognize the Convention that placed Gutiérrez in power. Villa and Zapata declared Carranza and Obregón in rebellion and quickly resorted to military settlement. Villa and Zapata's soldiers, overrun by Carranza and Obregón's superior forces, deserted and returned home. In a divided victory, Carranza and Obregón quickly set their eyes toward a higher political prize. The presidency would be won independently.
In succeeding fashion, Carranza was elected president on March 11, 1917 with a wide margin of victory. He quickly got to work enacting the new constitution as the first order of business. In September 1916, before his presidency, Carranza had ordered a group of people be convened for the sole purpose of composing a new constitution. This new charter was adopted on February 5, 1917 and was based on the liberal 1857 Constitution. The key liberal issues proposed standards for labor, rights over Mexican territory, and restriction of the power of the Church. This radical new constitution, in modified form, is still in effect today.
Carranza held optimistic ideals pertaining to the future of Mexico under his presidency. He believed that in order to strengthen national unity, future reforms must begin in the family household. By empowering the common citizen, Carranza proposed that Mexico would lead change throughout Latin America. He held to the view that under his leadership, Mexico would maintain national sovereignty, economic development, and basic freedoms. By securing his power from the bottom up, Carranza sought nationalist characteristics on the regional level. As a former governor himself, Carranza knew that the Mexican regime would only strengthen by linking the state governments to the interior. In response to the liberal constitution, political culture began to take shape beyond the central government. This was partly due to Carranza's open nature. He commonly met ordinary citizens to talk with them and understand their life. He was a man in constant contact with his people. Carranza also sought to increase the Mexican standard of living. He strived to inject moral virtue into the lives of the Mexican citizens. Venereal diseases, alcoholism, and prostitution were a common problem in Mexico City and the countryside. He worked tirelessly to help his people achieve a higher standard. He valued education and increased classroom budgets to allow more children to attend school. By the end of his presidency school attendance had increased by 20%.
In regards to national ideals, Carranza was opposed to outside intervention in Mexican affairs. On November 1, 1918, the Carranza Doctrine was passed which upheld the equality between the states and condemned all intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. He securely guarded national interests and called for internal change in the Mexican government. Carranza intended this change to be carried out by Ignacio Bonillas, his handpicked successor. However, Obregón had different intentions and planned to fill the presidency himself. Obregón sabotaged Bonillas political campaign and became, ironically, a fast enemy of Carranza. Obregón became the thorn in Carranza's side as he destroyed the carefully thought out plans of the determined President. On April 30, 1920, Obregón declared arms against Carranza and the city soon came under heavy fire. Carranza and his following headed into the Puebla sierra in order to escape the continuous rebel attacks. However, upon the invitation by a local cacique named Rodolfo Herrera, Carranza and his men rested the night in huts provided by Herrera. On the night of May 20, 1920, Carranza was assassinated by Herrera following a blanket of bullets that bombarded the sleeping President.
Despite all of his obstacles, Venustiano Carranza accomplished much. He defied tyrants as a time when conformance was the norm. With only a handful of followers, Carranza changed the history and future of Mexico through his legendary stubbornness and skillful determination. Furthermore, he is known as the father of Mexico's constitution. He was the motivating force behind the democratic and liberal changes. Carranza has not only impacted Mexico's history, he has shaped her future into what she can become. Carranza was more than a hero; he did what no one else could or even wanted to do. He sacrificed his life for the betterment of the Mexican citizen. He jealously guarded the principles that made him proud to be a Mexican. This determined yet flawed man deserves just regard for his accomplishments for the Mexican people and for the country he so dearly loved.
Fornado, Carlo. Carranza and Mexico. Mitchell Kennerley. New York, 1915.
Instituto Nacional de Solidaridad. Microbiografía; Personajes en la historia de México, Venustiano Carranza. México, 1993.
Mexico Connect. Venustiano Carranza. www.mexconnect.com/mex_/history/vcarranzo.html
Richmond, Douglas W. Venustiano Carranza's Nationalist Struggle, 1893-1920.
University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Stout, Joseph A. Border Conflict. Texas Christian University Press. 1999.