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By Lane Clark
Known as one of the World's Great Men of Color Vincente Guerrero was considered the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln combined of Mexico. Guerrero was born in Tixtla, a small village in the sierra that furnishes a backdrop to Acapulco, on August 10, 1782. Vincente Guerrero was the second president of Mexico and the first to come from as clases populares (the “popular” classes), which in Spanish is a euphemism for an individual of peasant or working class background.
When the Independence War began with Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous grito, Guerrero was working as a gunsmith in his home town. He joined the rebellion in November 1810 and enlisted in a division that independence leader José María Morelos had organized to fight in the south. Guerrero distinguished himself so well in the battle of Izucar, in February 1812, that he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel when the insurgents seized Oaxaca in November of the same year.
In late 1815, following the capture and execution of Morelos, Guerrero was the only major rebel leader still at large. This was the independence movement’s darkest period, but Guerrero persevered, keeping the rebellion alive through a protracted campaign of guerrilla warfare. Guerrero won victories at Ajuchitán, Santa Fé, Tetela del Río, Huetamo, Tlalchapa and Cuautlotitlán, all communities in that southern region he knew so well.
In 1819 drama started taking place. Apodaca, the Spanish viceroy, had persuaded Guerrero’s aged father to try and talk his son into surrender. Scared, the old man wrapped his arms around his son’s legs and begged him to accept the Viceroy’s terms. Turning to his men, Guerrero spoke these words, “Compañeros, this old man is my father. He has come to offer me rewards in the name of the Spaniards. I have always respected my father but my country comes first.” Today there is a plaque on the wall of Guerrero’s house in Tixtla containing this misquotation of his actual words: “Independence and liberty—or death! My country comes before my father.” He pledged himself no rest until the hated Spaniard had been driven into the sea.
Failing to induce Guerrero’s surrender, Apodaca sent an army against him under the command of Agustín de Iturbide. This force left Mexico City on November 16, 1820. Guerrero, with his tactical skills and knowledge of the terrain, got the better of Iturbide in several skirmishes. On January 10, 1821, Iturbide sent Guerrero a letter proposing that the two join forces and fight for Mexican independence under what he referred to as the “three guarantees”: that Mexico should be an independent constitutional monarchy; that distinctions between Spaniards, Creoles, mestizos and Indians be abolished; and that Catholicism should be the state religion.
With Guerrero’s agreement, the Three Guarantees were proclaimed in a February 21, 1821, manifesto called the Plan de Iguala. The two men combined their forces into what became known as the Trigarante Army (“Army of the Three Guarantees”) and prepared to attack Mexico City. Juan O’Donojú, who had succeeded Apodaca as viceroy, realized that the situation was hopeless and agreed to Mexican independence. On September 27, 1821, the Trigarante Army marched into the capital. On May 21, 1822, the vainglorious Iturbide proclaimed himself Emperor Agustín I. The coronation was sparked by a “spontaneous” demonstration on May, led by a picked band of his soldiers, that he accept an imperial crown.
Though Guerrero initially supported Iturbide’s claim, by early 1823 he was in revolt against him. Iturbide was then being undermined by an even more adventurer, Antonio López de Santa Anna. Santa Anna, posing as a defender of republican liberty, declared against Iturbide because the latter had deposed Congress when his reign began and replaced it with a council of handpicked advisers. Guerrero and Nícolas Bravo, another independence leader, joined Santa Anna and forces led by Guerrero and Bravo defeated Iturbide’s troops at Almalonga on January 23, 1823.
In March, seeing that the tide was turning against him, Iturbide abdicated and sailed into European exile where Guerrero had him captured and shot. At this time a definite liberal-conservative split was developing in Mexican politics. The liberals were federalists and the conservatives (who favored not less but more government) as centralists. These fractions were also aligned with two wings of Masonry, the centralists favoring the Scottish rite and the federalists the York rite. Following still was revolt over the nation. The Yorkinos issued a proclamation that named Guerrero president. It said, "The name of the hero of the South is echoed with indescribable enthusiasm everywhere. His valor and constancy combined have engraved themselves upon the hearts of the Mexican people. he is the image of their felicity. They wish to confide to him the delicate and sacred task of the executive power."
Mexico adopted what was then the U.S. practice of choosing a president and vice-president from different parties. It was then when the government surrendered and Guerrero became president on the 25th of April.
ThoughManuel Guadalupe Victoria completed his full four-term, Bravo launched a rebellion against him in late 1827. Guerrero, Bravo’s old comrade-in-arms, defeated the rising and Bravo was sent into exile. In the 1828 election, Guerrero was the choice of the liberals while the conservatives rallied behind General Gómez Pedraza, a moderate, and General Anastasio Bustamante, a right-winger. Though Gómez Pedraza was declared the winner, Guerrero refused to recognize the official election result. Pedraza apparently won but Guerrero had himself inaugurated as president in 1829. Meanwhile Spain was not accepting the independence of Mexico and in August of 1829 sent an invasion force from Cuba. The force landed in Tampico and took control of the town. A military officer named Antonio López de Santa Anna led the Mexican force sent to Tampico to stop the Spanish. Guerrero was then duly “elected” and assumed the presidency on April 1, 1829. As a sop to the conservatives, Bustamante continued as vice-president.
After the defeat of the Spanish invasion in 1829, without any time to waste, Guerrero started improving the conditions of the masses, including Indians, half-breeds, and Negroes. He established a coinage system, suspended the death penalty and ordered schools to be built. After this, he did the unthinkable and abolished slavery in Mexico. This was his most important act he did. He ordered the immediate release of every slave in Mexico approximately being 10,595 blacks and 1050 mulattoes. The only significant group of slaveholders in Mexico was the Americans who had settled in the northern part of the state of Coahuila, called Texas. Clearly the Mexican government was becoming concerned about the growing strength of this settlement.
Though Guerrero was a redoubtable soldier, he was out of his element in the political arena. The real power behind the throne was the ultra-liberal Zavala and, the conservatives claimed, the gringo diplomat Joel Poinsett. In July 1829, the ambitious Santa Anna defeated an attempted Spanish invasion of Mexico, thus becoming a national hero. Though Guerrero was still too popular to become the main target of conservative attacks, they concentrated their fire on Zavala and Poinsett. This campaign was successful. Zavala, whom Guerrero had appointed as war minister, was compelled to resign in November 1829 and Poinsett to leave the country. Joined by Bravo, who had returned from exile, Bustamante mounted a revolt against Guerrero on December 4. On January 1,1830, Bustamante assumed the presidency as Congress stripped Guerrero of his powers. Returning to his homeland in the south, Guerrero mounted an insurrection against Bustamante.
Though Bustamante’s forces suffered initial defeats, Guerrero was captured through a ruse. Bustamante’s minister of war and marine, José Antonio Facio, paid a Genoese captain by the name of Pucaluga, fifty thousand pesos to invite Guerrero aboard his vessel, and anchored in Acapulco. Boarding the ship, Guerrero was seized and taken to the city of Oaxaca. There, after a court-martial, he was executed on February 14, 1831. His death was followed by nationwide revolt. Bustamante was then removed of his presidency and Pucaluga was executed. Streets, cities, and even a state was named in his honor.